Class Mobility is Limited (by Anonymous first-year student)

posted Jun 1, 2017, 6:43 AM by Daniel Laurison

The dentist’s claims on class reproduction—that he “worked his way into” the same position as his father—do not reflect the realities class mobility and class inequality in the United States. Put simply: The class position that one is born into has immense impact on the class position that you end up in.

 Recent data on intergenerational mobility reveals that class mobility has remained at the same levels since the 1970s. If you are born in the top quintile, there is thirty percent chance that you will end up there. If you are born in the bottom quintile, there is a ten percent than that you will end up in the top quintile. What has changed since the 1970s is income inequality. A helpful metaphor for this distinction is thinking of income distribution as a ladder with a rung for each quintile: “The rungs of the ladder have grown further apart (inequality has increased), but children’s chances of climbing from lower to higher rungs have not changed (rank-based mobility has remained stable)” (141).

 Increasing income inequality is paralleled in Black Wealth, White Wealth, where we see that not only is there an immense wealth gap between the wealthy and the working class, but there is a large gap between whites and Blacks—and this gap is growing. The disparity in wealth between whites and Blacks was $16,000 in 1967, but had risen to $72,000 by 1978. This racist difference has numerous implications. One’s wealth has a bearing on the ability to get and maintain quality housing (which itself has many impacts on children’s education), one’s ability to get credit, to afford post-secondary education, and—most looked over but perhaps most critical—to have resources on hand in times of unforeseen crisis. This gap in wealth is something Pattillo also details in Black Picket Fences. The Black middle class fraught with class anxieties, as some families are a crisis away from poverty.

 The effect of on one’s class on the likelihood of attaining elite jobs also demonstrates the immense effect of class upon one’s life chances and the class one “ends up in.” For instance, students at elite schools are disproportionately wealthy and these same schools are heavily targeted as recruitment sites by high-paying firms. America’s elite colleges and universities thus function as major sites of class reproduction, as wealthy students get into these schools largely because of class advantage, and these schools then confer access to high-paying positions through their status.

 By exploring the big data on class mobility, and its implications for the Black middle class and students at elite colleges, it is clear that, when it comes to life chances and class reproduction, class matters. The dentist’s own experiences of working through college may personally contest this, but the larger trends remain true.

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