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Income Inequality, Equality of Opportunity, and Intergenerational Mobility

  • Miles Corak

My focus is on the degree to which increasing inequality in the high-income countries, particularly in the United States, is likely to limit economic mobility for the next generation of young adults. I discuss the underlying drivers of opportunity that generate the relationship between inequality and intergenerational mobility. The goal is to explain why America differs from other countries, how intergenerational mobility will change in an era of higher inequality, and how the process is different for the top 1 percent. I begin by presenting evidence that countries with more inequality at one point in time also experience less earnings mobility across the generations, a relationship that has been called "The Great Gatsby Curve." The interaction between families, labor markets, and public policies all structure a child's opportunities and determine the extent to which adult earnings are related to family background -- but they do so in different ways across national contexts. Both cross-country comparisons and the underlying trends suggest that these drivers are all configured most likely to lower, or at least not raise, the degree of intergenerational earnings mobility for the next generation of Americans coming of age in a more polarized labor market. This trend will likely continue unless there are changes in public policy that promote the human capital of children in a way that offers relatively greater benefits to the relatively disadvantaged.

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.27.3.79
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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 27 (2013)
Issue (Month): 3 (Summer)
Pages: 79-102

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:27:y:2013:i:3:p:79-102
Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.27.3.79
Contact details of provider: Web page: https://www.aeaweb.org/jep/
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References listed on IDEAS
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  1. Jo Blanden, 2013. "Cross-Country Rankings In Intergenerational Mobility: A Comparison Of Approaches From Economics And Sociology," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 27(1), pages 38-73, 02.
  2. Eric P. Bettinger & Bridget Terry Long & Philip Oreopoulos & Lisa Sanbonmatsu, 2009. "The Role of Simplification and Information in College Decisions: Results from the H&R Block FAFSA Experiment," NBER Working Papers 15361, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. repec:idb:brikps:60098 is not listed on IDEAS
  4. Ricardo Paes de Barros & Francisco H.G. Ferreira & Jose R. Molinas Vega & Jaime Saavedra Chanduvi, 2009. "Measuring Inequality of Opportunities in Latin America and the Caribbean," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 2580.
  5. Philippe Belley & Lance Lochner, 2007. "The Changing Role of Family Income and Ability in Determining Educational Achievement," NBER Working Papers 13527, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Miles Corak & Andrew Heisz, 1999. "The Intergenerational Earnings and Income Mobility of Canadian Men: Evidence from Longitudinal Income Tax Data," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 34(3), pages 504-533.
  7. Linda Datcher Loury, 2006. "Some Contacts Are More Equal than Others: Informal Networks, Job Tenure, and Wages," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(2), pages 299-318, April.
  8. Arnaud Lefranc & Nicolas Pistolesi & Alain Trannoy, 2008. "Inequality Of Opportunities Vs. Inequality Of Outcomes: Are Western Societies All Alike?," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 54(4), pages 513-546, December.
  9. Sara Mclanahan, 2004. "Diverging destinies: How children are faring under the second demographic transition," Demography, Springer, vol. 41(4), pages 607-627, November.
  10. Morten Bennedsen & Kasper Meisner Nielsen & Francisco Pérez-González & Daniel Wolfenzon, 2007. "Inside the Family Firm: the Role of Families in Succession Decisions and Performance," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 122(2), pages 647-691, 05.
  11. Björklund, Anders & Roine, Jesper & Waldenström, Daniel, 2012. "Intergenerational top income mobility in Sweden: Capitalist dynasties in the land of equal opportunity?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(5), pages 474-484.
  12. Philippe Belley & Marc Frenette & Lance Lochner, 2011. "Post-Secondary Attendance by Parental Income in the U.S. and Canada: What Role for Financial Aid Policy?," University of Western Ontario, Economic Policy Research Institute Working Papers 20113, University of Western Ontario, Economic Policy Research Institute.
  13. Daniel Aaronson & Bhashkar Mazumder, 2008. "Intergenerational Economic Mobility in the United States, 1940 to 2000," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 43(1).
  14. Roland Benabou & Efe A. Ok, 1998. "Social Mobility and the Demand for Redistribution: The POUM Hypothesis," NBER Working Papers 6795, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Brunori, Paolo & Ferreira, Francisco H. G. & Peragine, Vito, 2013. "Inequality of Opportunity, Income Inequality and Economic Mobility: Some International Comparisons," IZA Discussion Papers 7155, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  16. Chul-In Lee & Gary Solon, 2006. "Trends in Intergenerational Income Mobility," NBER Working Papers 12007, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Ferreira , Francisco H. G. & Gignoux, Jeremie, 2008. "The measurement of inequality of opportunity : theory and an application to Latin America," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4659, The World Bank.
  18. Dan Andrews & Andrew Leigh, 2008. "More Inequality, Less Social Mobility," CEPR Discussion Papers 566, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.
  19. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 1999. "The Returns to Skill in the United States across the Twentieth Century," NBER Working Papers 7126, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  20. Caroline M. Hoxby & Christopher Avery, 2012. "The Missing "One-Offs": The Hidden Supply of High-Achieving, Low Income Students," NBER Working Papers 18586, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  21. Becker, Gary S & Tomes, Nigel, 1986. "Human Capital and the Rise and Fall of Families," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 4(3), pages S1-39, July.
  22. Thomas Lemieux, 2006. "Postsecondary Education and Increasing Wage Inequality," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(2), pages 195-199, May.
  23. Francisco Pérez-González, 2006. "Inherited Control and Firm Performance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(5), pages 1559-1588, December.
  24. Zimmerman, David J, 1992. "Regression toward Mediocrity in Economic Stature," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 409-29, June.
  25. Corak, Miles & Piraino, Patrizio, 2010. "Intergenerational Earnings Mobility and the Inheritance of Employers," IZA Discussion Papers 4876, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  26. Corak, Miles & Curtis, Lori & Phipps, Shelley, 2010. "Economic Mobility, Family Background, and the Well-Being of Children in the United States and Canada," IZA Discussion Papers 4814, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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