New Brookings Paper on “Downward Mobility”

A new paper by Richard Reeves and Kimberly Howard at the Brookings Institution investigates the possibility of a “glass floor” when it comes to those born into affluent families. The main findings were as follows:

1. Skills, as measured in adolescence by the Armed Forces Qualifying Test (AFQT) and coding speed, strongly predict the chances of being in a higher-income household as an adult.

2. A sizable proportion (43%) of those who remain in a higher-income household are of modest skill, and would be expected on the basis of skill to fall.

3. Getting a college degree is associated with a 23% greater chance of an adolescent of modest skills—i.e., predicted to fall—remaining in a higher-income household as an adult.

4. Lower-income adolescents with the smarts and drive to get into the higher-income bracket have a 42% greater chance of making it if they have a college degree.

Brookings also provides some helpful interactive graphs regarding mobility between quintiles, the use of cognitive and non-cognitive skills, and the importance of a college degree (check out Nathaniel’s post about college tuition).

One thing that stood out to me was that 60% of those born into the bottom quintile move into a higher one by the time they are adults (with virtually the same percentage of those born at the top moving down).

Definitely worth checking out.