Authors: Miles Corak, Matthew J. Lindquist, and Bhashkar Mazumder

Publication: Labour Economics. vol. 30. pp. 185-200

Date: October 2014


We use new estimators of directional rank mobility developed by Bhattacharya and Mazumder (2011) to compare rates of upward and downward intergenerational mobility across three countries: Canada, Sweden and the United States. These measures overcome some of the limitations of traditional measures of intergenerational mobility such as the intergenerational elasticity, which are not well suited for analyzing directional movements or for examining differences in mobility across the income distribution. Data for each country include highly comparable, administrative data sources containing sufficiently long time spans of earnings. Our most basic measures of directional mobility, which simply compare whether sons moved up or down in the earnings distribution relative to their fathers, do not differ much across the countries. However, we do find that there are clear differences in the extent of the movement. We find larger cross-country differences in downward mobility from the top of the distribution than upward mobility from the bottom. Canada has the most downward mobility while the U.S. has the least, with Sweden in the middle. We find some differences in upward mobility but these are somewhat smaller in magnitude. An important caveat is that our analysis may be sensitive to the concept of income we use and broader measures such as family income could lead to different conclusions. Also, small differences in rank mobility translate into rather large differences in absolute mobility measured in dollars, due to large differences in income inequality across countries.

Link: A Comparison of Upward and Downward Intergenerational Mobility in Sweden, Canada, and the United States