What We Know About Economic Inequality and Social Mobility in the United States

July 12, 2016

A new research brief from the Russell Sage Foundation’s Social Inequality program draws on research on economic mobility by economists, sociologists, and political scientists funded by the foundation over the last decade.

The brief seeks to address some of the unresolved questions regarding the extent to which rising inequality affects social mobility. Is upward mobility still a defining characteristic of American society or has increased inequality diminished opportunity and weakened social mobility? How likely is it that children born into the bottom of the income distribution will be able to move up the economic ladder? What factors contribute to a more mobile society? To what extent can public policies foster greater economic mobility?

Key Points:

  • Inequality in the U.S. is high, with families at the very top of the income distribution making particularly large gains over the past several decades.
  • Social mobility in the U.S. appears to be lower than prior research suggests.
  • The children of affluent parents are more likely to remain well-off and the children of poor parents are more likely to remain near the bottom of the economic ladder.
  • Large socioeconomic disparities in mobility-relevant school readiness skills emerge before kindergarten.
  • Education does not significantly reduce or eliminate early socioeconomic skills gaps.

Click here to download and read the research brief in full.



RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of original empirical research articles by both established and emerging scholars.


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