It’s Not Just The Royals: In The US, Your Parents’ Wealth Determines Your Own

Americans may be mocking the royal baby fever gripping the United Kingdom after Kate Middleton gave birth to a son on Monday, but our social structures may be just as fossilized as in the monarchy. American children have very little chance of climbing out of the social class they’re born into, a new study described in the New York Times suggests.

A third of people who grew up in the top 1 percent of the income distribution makes $100,000 by the age of 30, the study reports. By contrast, just one out of every 25 people who grew up in the bottom half of the income distribution was making that much at that age.

The study also notably found that economic mobility depends heavily on where someone grows up. It is harder for low-income children to climb the economic ladder in the Southwest and industrial Midwest, and in particular Atlanta, Charlotte, Memphis, Raleigh, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Columbus are particularly challenging. But the highest rates of mobility are found in the Northeast, Great Plains, and the West, in cities such as New York, Boston, Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, and Seattle. The mobility rates aren’t necessarily tied to higher average incomes, however, as areas that have similar income levels can have very different rates.

Growing income inequality is a phenomenon effecting nearly the entire country, however. It has increased in nearly every state over the past 30 years. On the whole, incomes for the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans are eight times greater than those at the bottom 20 percent thanks to the fact that top incomes have seen far faster growth. The social safety net has blunted the blow, but other government policies are helping to fuel the growing disparity between the rich and everyone else.