Americans Overestimate Class Mobility in Society

Americans are brought up on the idea that if someone works hard enough, they can move up in society. When in reality this kind of social mobility—a rags-to-riches story—is hard to come by.

Americans are brought up on the idea that if someone works hard enough, they can move up in society. When in reality this kind of social mobility—a rags-to-riches story—is hard to come by, according to Tom Jacobs of Pacific Standard. He says that the statistics don't back up the reality of this idea. What's more, new research has found that people tend to overestimate the possibility of class mobility in this country.


The researchers wrote of their results, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology:

“Across four studies, samples of online survey participants and university students exhibited substantial and consistent overestimates of class mobility—overestimating the amount of income mobility and educational access in society by a wide margin.”

Those who were most likely to be the most naïve about the realities of social mobility were young, conservative, and part of the upper class. But over the course of four separate studies that became part of the psychologists' larger research, participants still overestimated American class mobility by 23 percent.

The researchers offered an explanation that fulfills a psychological need:

“Overestimates of class mobility satisfy the need to believe that the societal status of (oneself) and others is determined fairly and justly.”

Of course there may be a lack of information and first-hand experience people may not be exposed to. We've seen these kinds of experiences enlighten and change politicians in the past, like Senator Rob Portman. He stood against gay marriage, but then something happened to change his stance on the issue. He said to Reuters:

"Something happened that led me to think through my position in a much deeper way."

His son came out of the closet.

Unfortunately, the researchers asked participants to assess social mobility from their own perspective, and they still believe that it's possible to move up through work hard.

The researchers write:

“American culture is filled with anecdotes about the promise of equal opportunity and the pursuit of happiness. Beliefs in the American Dream permeate our parenting decisions, educational practices, and political agendas, and yet, according to data we present in this manuscript, Americans are largely inaccurate when asked to describe actual trends in social class mobility in society.”

Perhaps policies should strive to make this idea an attainable one with more opportunities for education and assistance.

Read more at Pacific Standard.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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