How inequality may affect intergenerational mobility

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Inequality and social mobility go together intuitively. For hundreds of years social observers have treated both as measures of a nation's ability to offer opportunity and to treat its citizens fairly. Robert Mare (2002) notes that the sociological study of social mobility is rooted in concerns with the causes of social inequality.1 Closer inspection reveals that these core social indicators are far from equivalent. Though each does indeed reflect an aspect of opportunity and fairness, inequality and mobility are very different phenomena. Most important, they have different perspectives on time. Inequality refers to the contemporary differences in wages, incomes, and wealth at some point in time; mobility refers to the difference from one generation to the next in these and other indicators of standards of living. As such, there is no necessary connection between them.2 This disconnect regarding time reveals itself in the research literature as a parallel disconnect between the literatures on inequality and mobility. What, then, are we to make of the intuitive connection between inequality and mobility? Intuitions are often rooted in substance, and so it is with the connection between inequality and mobility. The literature may be thin, and the connection may not be necessary, yet it merits more consideration than it has gotten to date. Thus, I propose in this review an agenda for exploring the possibility that there is a contingent relationship between inequality and mobility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSocial Inequality
PublisherRussell Sage Foundation
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)0871546205, 9780871546210
StatePublished - 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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