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Confirmation Bias, Perhaps?

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Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:

Fareed Zakaria writes that “The most comprehensive comparative study, done last year by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, found that ‘upward mobility from the bottom’ … was significantly lower in the United States than in most major European countries, including Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark” (“The downward path of upward mobility [2],” Nov. 10).

Not so.

Here are this OECD-study’s [3] three bullet points summarizing findings on economic mobility directly (rather than findings on the connection between family background and educational achievement).  Does the U.S. stand out from “major European countries”?

“* Parental or socio-economic background influences descendants’ educational, earnings and wage outcomes in practically all countries for which evidence is available.

“* Mobility in earnings across pairs of fathers and sons is particularly low in France, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States, while mobility is higher in the Nordic countries, Australia and Canada.

“* Across European OECD countries, there is a substantial wage premium associated with growing up in a better-educated family, and a corresponding penalty with growing up in a less-educated family. The premium and penalty are particularly large in southern European countries, as well as in the United Kingdom. The penalty is also high in Luxembourg and Ireland. In these countries the wage premium is more than 20%, while the penalty is some 16% or more (relative to wages earned by individuals raised in a family with average education).”

As for this study’s other measures of social mobility (which examine family-background’s influence on students’ educational achievements), on these, too, U.S. mobility simply does not stand out as being significantly or consistently lower than in other – including major European – countries.

Donald J. Boudreaux