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Where is the Land of Opportunity? The Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States

  • Raj Chetty
  • Nathaniel Hendren
  • Patrick Kline
  • Emmanuel Saez

We use administrative records on the incomes of more than 40 million children and their parents to describe three features of intergenerational mobility in the United States. First, we characterize the joint distribution of parent and child income at the national level. The conditional expectation of child income given parent income is linear in percentile ranks. On average, a 10 percentile increase in parent income is associated with a 3.4 percentile increase in a child's income. Second, intergenerational mobility varies substantially across areas within the U.S. For example, the probability that a child reaches the top quintile of the national income distribution starting from a family in the bottom quintile is 4.4% in Charlotte but 12.9% in San Jose. Third, we explore the factors correlated with upward mobility. High mobility areas have (1) less residential segregation, (2) less income inequality, (3) better primary schools, (4) greater social capital, and (5) greater family stability. While our descriptive analysis does not identify the causal mechanisms that determine upward mobility, the publicly available statistics on intergenerational mobility developed here can facilitate future research on such mechanisms.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 19843.

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Date of creation: Jan 2014
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Publication status: published as The Quarterly Journal of Economics (2014) 129 (4): 1553-1623.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19843
Note: CH ED EFG LS PE
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  1. Raj Chetty & Nathaniel Hendren & Patrick Kline & Emmanuel Saez & Nicholas Turner, 2014. "Is the United States Still a Land of Opportunity? Recent Trends in Intergenerational Mobility," NBER Working Papers 19844, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Chul-In Lee & Gary Solon, 2006. "Trends in Intergenerational Income Mobility," NBER Working Papers 12007, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. 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.
  4. Adam Thomas & Isabel Sawhill, 2002. "For richer or for poorer: Marriage as an antipoverty strategy," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 21(4), pages 587-599.
  5. Grawe, Nathan D., 2006. "Lifecycle bias in estimates of intergenerational earnings persistence," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(5), pages 551-570, October.
  6. Miles Corak, 2013. "Income Inequality, Equality of Opportunity, and Intergenerational Mobility," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 27(3), pages 79-102, Summer.
  7. Patrick Kline & Andres Santos, 2010. "Sensitivity to Missing Data Assumptions: Theory and An Evaluation of the U.S. Wage Structure," NBER Working Papers 15716, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Fields, Gary S. & Ok, Efe A., 1996. "The Measurement of Income Mobility: An Introduction to the Literature," Working Papers 96-05, C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University.
  9. Raj Chetty & John N. Friedman & Nathaniel Hilger & Emmanuel Saez & Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach & Danny Yagan, 2011. "How Does Your Kindergarten Classroom Affect Your Earnings? Evidence from Project Star," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 126(4), pages 1593-1660.
  10. Oreopoulos, Philip, 2007. "The Long-Run Consequences of Living in a Poor Neighborhood," Berkeley Program on Housing and Urban Policy, Working Paper Series qt9np9p7m5, Berkeley Program on Housing and Urban Policy.
  11. John Bound & Alan B. Krueger, 1989. "The Extent of Measurement Error In Longitudinal Earnings Data: Do Two Wrongs Make A Right?," NBER Working Papers 2885, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Jäntti, Markus & Bratsberg, Bernt & Røed, Knut & Raaum, Oddbjørn & Naylor, Robin & Österbacka, Eva & Björklund, Anders & Eriksson, Tor, 2006. "American Exceptionalism in a New Light: A Comparison of Intergenerational Earnings Mobility in the Nordic Countries, the United Kingdom and the United States," IZA Discussion Papers 1938, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  13. Patrick Kline & Enrico Moretti, 2013. "People, Places and Public Policy: Some Simple Welfare Economics of Local Economic Development Programs," NBER Working Papers 19659, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Debraj Ray, 2010. "Uneven Growth: A Framework for Research in Development Economics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 24(3), pages 45-60, Summer.
  15. Laura Chadwick & Gary Solon, 2002. "Intergenerational Income Mobility Among Daughters," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(1), pages 335-344, March.
  16. Heisz, Andrew & Corak, Miles, 1998. "The Intergenerational Earnings and Income Mobility of Canadian Men: Evidence from Longitudinal Income Tax Data," Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series 1998113e, Statistics Canada, Analytical Studies Branch.
  17. Raj Chetty & John N. Friedman & Jonah E. Rockoff, 2013. "Measuring the Impacts of Teachers II: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood," NBER Working Papers 19424, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Gary Solon, 2002. "Cross-Country Differences in Intergenerational Earnings Mobility," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 16(3), pages 59-66, Summer.
  19. Zimmerman, David J, 1992. "Regression toward Mediocrity in Economic Stature," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 409-29, June.
  20. Joseph G. Altonji & David Card, 1989. "The Effects of Immigration on the Labor Market Outcomes of Natives," NBER Working Papers 3123, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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