A recent study has revealed that there is even less social mobility among Americans than previously thought. The research has found that the occupational status of workers in the United States is strongly influenced by that of their parents, and that this association is a major contributor to the lack of social mobility across generations.
Study author Michael Hout is a professor of Sociology at New York University.
“A lot of Americans think the U.S. has more social mobility than other western industrialized countries,” explained Professor Hout. “This makes it abundantly clear that we have less.”
While previous studies have showed a strong association between parental occupation and intergenerational income persistence, these investigations understated the effect of the parents’ jobs on the status of their children.
The new study has revealed a more powerful link by accounting for the pay and education of those in a given occupation. The investigation was focused on General Social Survey (GSS) data from 1994 through 2016.
The GSS participants provided detailed descriptions of their current occupation and their parents’ occupations when they were growing up. The responses were classified under 539 occupational categories and then given a socioeconomic score. For example, a score of 9 would be assigned to a shoe shiner, while a 93 would be assigned to a surgeon.
“The underlying idea is that some occupations are desirable and others less so,” explained Professor Hout.
The study revealed that the sons and daughters of high-status parents have more advantages in the labor force than what has been estimated. Half of the participants who had parents in the top tier of occupations now work in occupations that score 76 or higher. On the other hand, half of the individuals with parents in the bottom tier now work in occupations that score 28 or less on the scale.
“Your circumstances at birth – specifically, what your parents do for a living – are an even bigger factor in how far you get in life than we had previously realized,” said Professor Hout. “Generations of Americans considered the United States to be a land of opportunity. This research raises some sobering questions about that image.”
The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.