In a Harvard study, “Where is the Land of Opportunity? The Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States,” economists analyzed factors that influence social immobility. While it should come as no surprise that the “American Dream” is a myth, this Harvard study helped to understand the determinants of mobility, or a lack thereof.


For the majority of citizens in the U.S., the largest determinant of social mobility is something out of their control — parents. The socioeconomic position that a child is born into greatly influences where the child will end up.


Comfort and success in life are heavily determined by factors out of your control.

Comfort and success in life are heavily determined by factors out of your control.

The income of a child’s parents not only influences the income that he/she will end up earning but also influences other social factors. The children of higher income parents, for instance, have an 80 percent higher chance of college attendance, in comparison with children from poorer families. College attendance heavily relates to parental income.


Martial status is important, too. Even in areas with higher rates of separation, the children of parents who stay together end up having a much higher chance of an upward progression in social status. Researches from the study claimed that, “the fraction of children living in single-parent households is the strongest correlate of upward income mobility among all the variables we explored.”


Parents also matter for geographical reasons, too — where your parents live is where you live. Therefore, since opportunities that influence social mobility vary by region, where your parents decide to (or can afford to) live will impact your success in life.


The study reminds us that the social trajectories of American lives are more influenced by parents than ever before.


What other factors do you think are important to consider in understanding social mobility? Let me know below, or on Twitter @ryanlawlessness