Intergenerational Mobility Isn’t Always a Good Thing

Over at Learn Liberty, I take on the recent kerfuffle over intergenerational mobility. Some scholars and journalists are saying that the U.S. has a major “problem” with mobility because its “churn” numbers (the rate at which children of rich parents fall into lower income deciles and children of poor parents rise into higher ones) are lower than those of some other advanced industrial economies. The problem is that “churn” can come from anywhere. It might mean openness of opportunity, but it might also mean instability or political control of the economy.

In a free society, people’s incomes correlate with the marketable value they create for others. The traits that help you create marketable value include your work ethic, honesty, conscientiousness, and intelligence. Parents often pass down these traits to their children, whether through their genetic contributions or through training and socialization. So if two parents have traits that correlate with creating value for others, their kids are more likely to have those traits, too. And in a free society, that means parents with high incomes will tend to have kids who go on to earn high incomes, too.

(And before anyone asks, I didn’t write the “different…than” construction. My formal blog posts are edited into informal, conversational English over there!)

3 thoughts on “Intergenerational Mobility Isn’t Always a Good Thing

  1. *Luck*! Don’t forget luck, Dr. Sorens! It has a huge effect on lifetime outcomes (I didn’t get blown up in Vietnam, for instance). Of course, it helps a huge amount o have work ethic, honesty, conscientiousness, and intelligence; all of that is true.

    But don’t forget luck…including the lack thereof.

    1. Oh yes, luck matters. But we don’t want it to matter *too* much. If everything were random, there’d be a lot of intergenerational mobility… but also no reason to work hard, plan for the future, etc.

      1. Point taken, and agreed. In this context, a workable definition of “luck” is “when preparation meets opportunity.” (Emphasis on “preparation.”)

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