Rising Tides Lift Which Boats? Connecting Absolute and Relative Mobility Across Generations

Deirdre Bloome , University of Michigan

In assessing the extent to which individuals escape childhood disadvantages (or maintain childhood advantages), researchers often study relative mobility across generations (individuals' movements up or down the income rankings from their parents' position). Yet many people experience absolute income gains across generations without upward relative mobility. This paper explores the connection between absolute and relative mobility. I show how absolute mobility depends on relative mobility at the population level, in addition to economic growth and income inequality. I connect these population-level absolute and relative mobility patterns to individual-level mobility experiences. Finally, I propose measures to characterize the joint distribution of individual-level absolute and relative mobility experiences. Using National Longitudinal Survey of Youth data, I describe these joint mobility experiences, including the probability of experiencing upward absolute mobility without upward rank mobility. People from advantaged demographic groups appear particularly likely to enjoy this experience of floating with the rising tide.

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 Presented in Session 7. Intergenerational Transmission of Privilege and Disadvantage