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 United States. 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 (i) less residential segregation, (ii) less income inequality, (iii) better primary schools, (iv) greater social capital, and (v) greater family stability. Although our descriptive analysis does not identify the causal mechanisms that determine upward mobility, the publicly available statistics on intergenerational mobility developed here can facilitate research on such mechanisms. (author abstract)
This article was previously published as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research.