Why Is Economic Mobility Higher in Canada than the U.S.?
In a recent post for the the New York Times' Room for Debate, Tim Smeeding noted that the 'American Dream' may actually make more sense in places like Canada, which has a higher economic mobility rate. "Unless the U.S. can learn from countries like Canada how to enhance mobility," he writes, "Americans in search of an equal-opportunity society might just as well move north." The comparison is interesting because of the cultural similarity between the two countries; in a recent poll, Canadians reported feeling just as strongly as Americans that individual hard work matters much more for getting ahead than factors beyond a person's control (like your family's personal income).
So what explains the different mobility rates? In another post in the forum, Miles Corak (also an RSF author) listed some of the reasons the odds are better for Canadian kids:
If I were born to parents in the bottom 10 percent, I would rather they were raising me in Canada. Being in the bottom 10 percent would mean less hardship: my family income would be greater; I would be more likely to be living with both of my biological parents; I would be visiting a doctor regularly; and I would spend more time with my parents, particularly my mother during my infancy as she would have almost one year of paid parental leave.
My physical and mental well-being, general happiness and cognitive development would be noticeably superior even at a very young age.
My early education would be of higher quality because it is funded through progressive income taxes, not local property taxes. I would have access to a good college or technical training at relatively affordable tuition fees of $5,000 to $10,000 a year.
If my parents lived in the U.S., I would have more than a 1 in 5 chance of being stuck in the bottom 10 percent of the earnings distribution and a 50 percent chance of staying in the bottom third. In Canada I’d be less likely to remain in the bottom, and would have a 50 percent chance of reaching the top half. In short, the Canadian playing field is more level than the American, and my chances of moving into the middle class would be higher.
Corak discussed his data more extensively in a chapter of Persistence, Privilege, and Parenting.
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