The American dream is getting harder to achieve, according to a new report published in this week’s issue of Science.

Infographic with results by Chetty et al., revealing that the probability for children to attain a higher income than their parents has dropped dramatically – from more than 90 percent for children born in 1940 to 50 percent for children born in the 1980s. Reserach paper published the 28th of April 2017, issue of Science, published by AAAS. Image and caption: Carla Schaffer/AAAS/Science)

Children in the United States are less likely to attain a higher income than their parents, according to researchers at Stanford University.

90 percent of Americans born in the 40s were able to earn more than their parents. But for people born in the 1980s, this prospect has fallen to 50 percent.

Economic distribution

The authors write that the decline was particularly acute “in the industrial Midwest,” states like Michigan, and hit the middle class hardest, though they note “that declines in absolute mobility have been a systematic, widespread phenomenon throughout the United States since 1940.”

According to researchers, the economic growth today is also more unevenly spread over income groups compared to earlier. Those with lower income do not see the same increases as those with higher income.

The study authors conclude:

Increasing GDP growth rates alone cannot restore absolute mobility to the rates experienced by children born in the 1940s. However, distributing current GDP growth more equally across income groups as in the 1940 birth cohort would reverse more than 70% of the decline in mobility. These results imply that reviving the “American dream” of high rates of absolute mobility would require economic growth that is shared more broadly across the income distribution.

The American dream

The meaning of the “American Dream” has changed over the course of history but is widely regarded as to have the freedom to pursue and the opportunity to make your own life into what you would like it to be. That the opportunity for prosperity and success can be achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers.

The definition of the American Dream by James Truslow Adams in 1931, “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.


Chetty R, et al:The fading American dream: Trends in absolute income mobility since 1940, April 28, 2017, Vol 356 issue 6336, Science, doi: 10.1126 / science.aal4617