Where is the Land of Opportunity? The Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States
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.
The opinions expressed in this paper are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Treasury Department, or the National Bureau of Economic Research. This work is a component of a larger project examining the effects of tax expenditures on the budget deficit and economic activity. All results based on tax data in this paper are constructed using statistics originally reported in the SOI Working Paper "The Economic Impacts of Tax Expenditures: Evidence from Spatial Variation across the U.S.," approved under IRS contract TIRNO-12-P-00374 and presented at the National Tax Association meeting on November 22, 2013. We thank David Autor, Gary Becker, David Card, David Dorn, John Friedman, James Heckman, Nathaniel Hilger, Richard Hornbeck, Lawrence Katz, Sara Lalumia, Adam Looney, Pablo Mitnik, Jonathan Parker, Laszlo Sandor, Gary Solon, Danny Yagan, numerous seminar participants, and four anonymous referees for helpful comments. Sarah Abraham, Alex Bell, Shelby Lin, Alex Olssen, Evan Storms, Michael Stepner, and Wentao Xiong provided outstanding research assistance. This research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Lab for Economic Applications and Policy at Harvard, the Center for Equitable Growth at UC-Berkeley, and Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Publicly available portions of the data and code, including intergenerational mobility statistics by commuting zone and county, are available at www.equality-of-opportunity.org.
The Quarterly Journal of Economics (2014) 129 (4): 1553-1623. citation courtesy of