National Study of Economic Mobility Uses Northeast Center’s Social Capital Data

Posted: March 2, 2014

The Northeast Center’s social capital data collection continues to be a valuable resource for the research community. Most recently, it was used in work by the Equality of Opportunity Project, a research team led by economists from Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley.

That research recently was featured on the National Bureau of Economic Research website. For more information, see the non-technical summary or the complete paper. An abstract follows.

  • Title: “Where is the land of opportunity? The geography of intergenerational mobility in the U.S.”
  • Abstract: 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 new publicly available statistics on intergenerational mobility by area developed here can facilitate future research on such mechanisms.
  • Authors: Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Patrick Kline, and Emmanuel Saez