Work: Which of these kids will have more opportunity? you read further: Choose between these two generic images of children. Which one is more likely to have a chance to rise economically?

At left is an example of a Swedish child, representing his country’s kids.
At right is a typical American child, representing “our” kids.

Did you pick the American child?
After all, “we” are the land of opportunity. This assumption is built into our culture. But how true is it?

If you work hard and perhaps have a bit of luck, can you still get ahead in America?

Is this still the land of opportunity?

Two economists at the Brookings Institution, Isabel V. Sawhill and Ron Haskins, tackled this land-of-opportunity question, looking at different aspects of it. For example, if America is still the land of opportunity, Americans should have more economic opportunities than people living in other countries. However, say Sawhill and Haskins, “some other advanced economies offer more opportunity than ours does.” Compared to the U.S., a child raised in a lower-income family of origin in the United Kingdom and Nordic countries like Denmark and Sweden has a better chance of creating a higher-income family in adulthood. People born into a middle-class family have a 50:50 chance of improving their lot over time. But those born into a poor family tend to stay poor. Immigrants, however, do better in America than they would have done in their countries of origin.

Generally, the standard of living in each generation rises over time. But that’s no longer true. “Today, men in their 30s earn 12 percent less than the previous generation did at the same age,” write Sawhill and Haskins. “Women have joined the labor force in a big way, and their earnings have increased…. But with so many families now having two earners, continued progress along this path will be difficult unless wages for both men and women rise more quickly.”

Do you believe America is still the land of opportunity?

Have those times passed?

If so, can we return to the land of opportunity?


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Originally published at, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.

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