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Intergenerational mobility between and within Canada and the United States

Intergenerational mobility is lower in the United States than in Canada, but the border only partially distinguishes the two countries with mobility varying significantly within each. The within-country differences and similarities hint at some of the reasons why the United States has lower social mobility than many other rich countries.

This is the main theme of a study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, based upon Canadian data my co-authors and I constructed with the cooperation of Statistics Canada. Our research offers a more accurate comparison between these two countries than any cross-country comparisons made in the literature to date: tax-based administrative data, used to define similar measures of income, and coming close to covering the total population of similarly aged young people and their parents.

We cluster more than 1,000 communities in these two countries—709 American Commuting Zones and 288 Canadian Census Divisions—into four broad regions according to their similarity across a comprehensive set of five different measures of intergenerational income mobility, all referring to the strength of the tie between parent incomes and child adult incomes.

Source: Connolly, Corak, Haeck (2019, Figure 7). Click on image to enlarge.

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The “middle class” is within easier reach for low income Canadian children, than it is for low income Americans

Upward mobility is more likely in Canada than in the United States, with the middle class within easier reach for Canadian children raised in low income families than for low income American children.

Canadian children raised by parents with incomes at the bottom 10 percent can expect to be earning enough as a young adults to place them much higher, above the 40th rung of a 100 rung income ladder, and significantly higher than their American counterparts. To reach a similar point on the income ladder an American child would have to have parents who ranked as high as the 39th percentile. Read more…

If there is such a thing as the “Canadian Dream,” it would look very much like what Americans say is the “American Dream”

Public opinion polls suggest that Canadians and Americans share basic attitudes toward inequality and opportunity, and toward the underlying drivers of upward mobility. If there is such a thing as the “Canadian Dream,” it would look very much like what Americans say is the “American Dream.”

The Pew Charitable Trusts conducted a number of public opinion polls asking Americans what meaning they attach to the phrase “The American Dream,” and these have been adapted and conducted in Canada with remarkably similar responses.

In these polls respondents were asked to indicate the degree to which they agreed with a series of possible definitions of the American Dream. Sixty percent of American respondents ranked “being able to succeed regardless of family background” eight or higher on a ten point scale, while 59 percent of Canadians did so. The percentage indicating that the statement “Your children being financially better off financially than you” represents the American Dream was 64 percent in the United States, and 57 percent in Canada.

These two options relate most directly to social mobility as measured by social scientists, and the country differences in responses to them are not statistically significant. In fact, this was the case for the ratings given to all but one of the other ten options presented to these representative samples, Americans ranking “Owning your own business” more highly.

Source: Connolly, Corak, Haeck (2019) using data from Corak (2010).

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Equality of opportunity is a choice

Tony Atkinson, the great British economist, encourages us to think of inequality as a choice, something that can be influenced by public policy.

If this is the case for equality of outcomes, then it is surely also so for equality of opportunity; the significant differences in social mobility between the rich countries hinting at the role governments play in determining the degree to which family background is destiny, the rich raising the next generation of rich adults, the poor seeing their children face low chances of upward mobility.

Some of these differences may simply reflect different social priorities, but others may teach us about the power of different policies. Read more…

Rest in peace Alan Krueger

Alan Krueger did everything an economist should aspire to achieve: strong research grounded in a solid understanding of theory and statistical method; framed to uncover facts important to the way people lead their lives, to the challenges they face; and communicated to resonate among policy makers, compelling them to do better for their citizens.

Writing in 1924, upon the death of his teacher and mentor Alfred Marshall, the great British economist John Maynard Keynes said that the “study of economics does not seem to require any specialised gifts of an unusually high order. Is it not, intellectually regarded, a very easy subject compared with … philosophy and pure science? Yet good, or even competent economists are the rarest of birds. An easy subject at which very few excel !”

And just as Keynes said of Marshall, that this paradox is explained by the fact that the “master-economist” needs to embody “a rare combination of gifts,” so to it can be said of Alan Krueger, the Princeton University labour economist who died on March 16th, 2019 at the age of 58. Read more…

The changing nature of work calls for enhancing the human and financial capital of children in less wealthy families

The Canadian federal government should enhance the human and financial capital of children in less wealthy families, enhance market incomes of lower paid workers, and enhance the security of working incomes by adapting three existing programs to new realities: widening their scope, making them more flexible, and making them easier to obtain.

The changing world of work is also a changing world of pay, a world that will likely lean toward greater wage rate inequalities, lower or stagnating incomes for the bottom 40 percent, and greater income insecurity for the broad majority.

I suggest three changes to current public policies that take incremental, but important, steps toward fostering capital accumulation among children from less wealthy families, increasing market incomes earned from that capital for the working poor, and finally enhancing income security for the broad majority.

These policies lean toward encouraging inclusive growth, in which the benefits of the new world of work and pay are broadly shared.

In this post I discuss the first policy proposal, which is:

Enhance human and financial capital by making community colleges tuition-free, and making the Canada Learning Bond more flexible

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