- A key part of the American Dream is the idea that anyone can make it to the top, no matter where you come from.
- But a World Bank report shows that it’s more likely for children from modest backgrounds to reach a higher economic echelon in most countries than it is in the US.
- Nearly all of the high-income countries in the study fared better on a metric of intergenerational educational mobility than the US.
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One of the core elements of the American Dream is the idea that anyone can make it to the top, regardless of where one starts out in life.
But, according to a 2018 report on intergenerational educational and economic mobility from the World Bank, that dream is more realistic in most other high-income countries than in the US.
The report and its associated Global Database on Intergenerational Mobility include several metrics of how the economic and educational opportunities of children are related to the situations of their parents.
One of the World Bank’s measures is the share of children born to parents in the bottom half of the educational attainment in a country that end up in the top quarter of that distribution as adults — that is, how likely it is that someone born into a family with a more modest background can grow up to have similar educational opportunities to his or her peers with more affluent parents.
The US does not fare particularly well on this metric: 12.5% of children born in the 1980s to parents in the bottom half of the educational attainment distribution ended up in the top quarter. 88 of the 135 countries for which the World Bank estimated this figure had a higher share, and all but three of the 35 countries the World Bank identified as high-income, developed economies had a higher share.
Here are the 31 high-income countries in the World Bank’s database where a higher share of children born into the bottom half ended up in the top quarter, ranked from lowest to highest on that measure:
31. Ireland: 12.9% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.
30. Italy: 13.0% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.
29. Hungary: 13.3% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.
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