My introduction to sociology classes have been looking at class mobility the past couple of weeks. As I result, I have been looking more intensely at class mobility the past couple of weeks. I ran into a very thoughtful series of reports about the realities of mobility in the U.S. from the Pew Charitable Trust’s Economic Mobility Project.
What is common knowledge to most sociologists, but is not always well known elsewhere is that the myth of mobility and the reality of mobility in the U.S. are very different. We like to present ourselves as the place where anyone can make it to the top. It is true that it is possible to make it from the bottom of the class system to the top, but it is not true that anyone given enough effort can do this. It is largely dependent on outside factors like the quality of the school system and catching the right opportunities. So, two equally talented and equally hard working people may have very different outcomes despite their own efforts.
What really struck me when looking at some of these reports was that, in addition to not offering the possibility for mobility as easily as we say we do, we also don’t do that well compared to other Western Industrialized nations.
Here is a graph from the Pew’s Economic Mobility in America: Is the American Dream Alive and Well?