Professor: The American Dream Is Just A "Myth" That We Tell Ourselves

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The U.S. has far worse social mobility than other developed countries.

According to World Economic Forum, a new study revealed that social mobility is more correlated to the occupation of a person’s parents rather than their effort. The study was authored by Michael Hout, a professor of sociology at New York University.

“A lot of Americans think the US has more social mobility than other western industrialized countries. This makes it abundantly clear that we have less.”

Previously, research used occupation metrics to measure social status across generations by relying on averages. This phenomenon, also called “intergenerational persistence,” is the degree to which one generation’s success depends on the resources of the preceding generation. These studies found strong associations between a parent’s occupation and intergenerational persistence, but they understated the significance that a parent’s job can have on their child’s status.

The study’s findings, which appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, find that children of high-status parents have more advantages in the labor force than earlier estimates suggested. This is due to the study tracking medians instead of averages for a clearer outcome. The findings are based on General Social Survey data from 1994 through 2016.

GSS interviewers asked for detailed descriptions of the respondent’s occupation, their father’s occupation, and their mother’s occupation. Answers were then categorized into a socioeconomic score ranging from 9 (shoe shiner), to 53 (flight attendant) to 93 (surgeon). Half the sons and daughters whose parents had top tier occupations now work in occupations that score 76 or higher on the 100 point scale. Half of the children of parents who had jobs in the bottom tier now have jobs that score 28 or less on the same scale.

“Your circumstances at birth—specifically, what your parents do for a living—are an even bigger factor in how far you get in life than we had previously realized,” observes Hout. “Generations of Americans considered the United States to be a land of opportunity. This research raises some sobering questions about that image.”

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