Relatively Accurate but Absolutely Off: U.S. Residents’ Estimates of Relative and Absolute Economic Mobility
economic mobility; social mobility; survey; lay beliefs
CC BY-NC CC BY-NC-ND
Using results from two treatment arms of a larger nationwide survey experiment in the United States, we add evidence on how Americans perceive social mobility. In one arm, respondents estimate both upward and downward relative economic mobility, while in the other, respondents estimate the absolute economic mobility (that is, do children out-earn their parents?) for each quintile of the parental income distribution. This latter question has been overlooked in the literature. We find respondentsʻ average estimates of relative downward mobility to be remarkably close to reality. The average estimate of relative upward mobility is also close, though both estimates underestimate relative mobility. There are small partisan differences in accuracy on relative mobility, with Republican-leaning respondents providing the most accurate estimates, but respondentsʻ perception of absolute mobility significantly underestimate (overestimate) mobility for the poorest (highest-income) children irrespective of partisan affiliation. Our results provide important insights on the implementation of redistribution policies.