Social mobility, the amount that a typical American moves up or down the economic ladder from where their parents and grandparents stood, has became a major focus of political discussion, academic research and popular outrage in the years since the global financial crisis. While Americans have traditionally seen their country as a place where anyone can make through hard work and a stroke of luck, data collected in the past decade have shown otherwise.
Compared with many European countries, for example, few Americans end up with an income or educational level that is substantially different than their parents. Research by economists from Harvard and Berkeley found that fewer than 10 percent of people in the bottom fifth of the wealth distribution will make it into the top fifth. Things weren’t much better for the middle class: Only about 20 percent of people in the middle fifth would rise into the top fifth over the course of their lives.
– Washington Post