Sociologists and economists are probably psyched that the work they’ve been doing on inequality and social mobility for decades has finally gotten attention from the average American. But one downside of having your message saturate the media is that people might start to take your findings for granted, which can obscure something that’s true of any data-based endeavor: Researchers are always learning new things, always trying to better map the extent of a phenomenon.
In this spirit, a Pew report out today tells us things about American social mobility that are new—and at the same time all too familiar. Scads of reports have documented how parents’ income dictates how financially successful someone will go on to be. But this report suggests the effects are at the high end of previous estimates. “One might think we’d have nailed it by now, but there was some uncertainty,” says David Grusky, the director of Stanford’s Center on Poverty and Inequality and an author of the report.
Grusky and Pablo Mitnik, his co-author and colleague at the Center on Poverty and Inequality, use a new data set provided to them by the IRS to show that in the U.S., roughly half of parental income advantages are passed onto the next generation in the form of higher earnings. This proportion increases for the wealthier: For people whose parents are between the 50th and 90th percentiles of earners, about two-thirds of this parental edge is perpetuated. (It’s also worth noting that two-thirds of 90th-percentile earnings is substantially more money than two-thirds of 50th-percentile earnings.)