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Inequality from Generation to Generation: The United States in Comparison

Listed author(s):
  • Corak, Miles

    ()

    (University of Ottawa)

To understand the degree of intergenerational mobility in the United States, and the differences between Americans and others, it is important to appreciate the workings and interaction of three fundamental institutions: the family, the market, and the state. But comparisons can also be misleading. The way in which families, labor markets, and government policy determine the life chances of children is complicated; the result of a particular history, societal values, and the nature of the political process. It might be one thing to say that the United States has significantly less intergenerational mobility than Denmark or Norway, but it is entirely another thing to suggest that these countries offer templates for the conduct of public policy that can be applied on this side of the Atlantic. There is no way to get from here to there. It is helpful to focus on a particularly apt comparison, that between the United States and Canada, in order to illustrate how the configuration of the forces determining the transmission of inequality across generations differs in spite of the fact that both of these countries share many other things in common, particularly the importance and meaning of equality of opportunity and the role of individual hard work and motivation.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 9929.

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Length: 16 pages
Date of creation: May 2016
Publication status: published in: Robert Rycroft (editor). The Economics of Inequality, Poverty, and Discrimination in the 21st Century. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2013
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp9929
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  1. Gary S. Becker & Nigel Tomes, 1994. "Human Capital and the Rise and Fall of Families," NBER Chapters,in: Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis with Special Reference to Education (3rd Edition), pages 257-298 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Solon, Gary, 1992. "Intergenerational Income Mobility in the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 393-408, June.
  3. Becker, Gary S & Tomes, Nigel, 1979. "An Equilibrium Theory of the Distribution of Income and Intergenerational Mobility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(6), pages 1153-1189, December.
  4. Zimmerman, David J, 1992. "Regression toward Mediocrity in Economic Stature," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 409-429, June.
  5. 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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