The Decline Of Upward Mobility In One Chart
For decades, a majority of Americans have been able to climb the economic ladder by earning higher incomes than their parents. These improving conditions are known as upward mobility, and form an important part of the American Dream.
However, each consecutive generation is finding it harder to make this ascent. In this graphic, we illustrate the decline in upward mobility over five decades using data from Opportunity Insights.
Understanding The Chart
This graphic plots the probability that a 30-year-old American has to outearn their parents (vertical axis) depending on their parent’s income percentile (horizontal axis). The 1st percentile represents America’s lowest earners, while the 99th percentile the richest.
As we move from left to right on the chart, the portion of people who outearn their parents takes a steep decline. This suggests that people born into upper class families are less likely to outearn their parents, regardless of generation.
The key takeaway, though, is that the starting point of this downward trend has shifted to the left. In other words, fewer people in the lower- and middle-classes are climbing the economic ladder.
|Decade Born||Chance of Outearning Parents (Bottom Percentile)||Chance of Outearning Parents (50th Percentile)||Chance of Outearning Parents (Top Income Percentile)|
Declines can be seen across the board, but those growing up in the middle-class (50th percentile) have taken the largest hit. Within this bracket, individuals born in 1980 have only a 45% chance of outearning their parents at age 30, compared to 93% for those born in 1940.
Stagnating Wage Growth a Culprit
One factor behind America’s deteriorating upward mobility is the sluggish pace at which wages have grown. For example, the average hourly wage in 1964, when converted to 2018 dollars, is $20.27. Compare this to $22.65, the average hourly wage in 2018. That represents a mere 11.7% increase over a span of 54 years.
However, this may not be as bad as it sounds. While the prices of some goods and services have risen over time, others have actually become more affordable. Since January 1998, for example, the prices of electronic goods such as TVs and cellphones have actually decreased. In this way, individuals today are more prosperous than previous generations.
This benefit is likely outweighed by relative increases in other services, though. Whereas inflation since January 1998 totaled 58.8%, the costs of health and education services increased by more than 160% over the same time frame.
While wages have been stagnant as a whole, it doesn’t paint the full picture. Another factor to consider is America’s changing income distribution.
|Income Class||1970 Share of U.S. Aggregate Income||2018 Share of U.S. Aggregate Income|
Source: Pew Research Center
Like the data on upward mobility, the middle class takes the largest hit here, with its share of U.S. aggregate income falling by 19 percentage points. Over the same time frame, the upper class was able to increase its share of total income by 20 percentage points.
Is It All Bad News?
Americans are less likely to earn more than their parents, but this doesn’t mean that upward mobility has completely disappeared—it’s just becoming less accessible. Below, we illustrate the changes in size for different income classes from 1967 to 2016.
The upper middle class has grown significantly, from 6% of the population in 1967 to 33% in 2016. At the same time, the middle class shrank from 47% to 36% and the lower middle class shrank from 31% to 16%.
The data suggests that some middle class Americans are still managing to pull themselves up into the next income bracket—it’s just not an effect that was as broad-based as it’s been in the past.
Does The American Dream Still Exist?
The American Dream is the belief that upward mobility is attainable for everyone through their own actions. This implies that growth will be continuous and widespread, two factors that have seemingly deteriorated in recent decades.
Researchers believe there are numerous complex reasons behind America’s stagnating wages. A decline in union membership, for example, could be eroding employees’ collective bargaining power. Other factors such as technological change may also apply downwards pressure on the wages of less educated workers.
Income inequality, on the other hand, is clearly shown by the data. We can also refer to the Gini-coefficient, a statistical measure of economic inequality. It ranges between 0 and 1, with 0 representing perfect equality and 1 representing perfect inequality (one person holds all the income). The U.S. currently has a Gini-coefficient of 0.434, the highest of any G7 country.
Long story short, the American Dream is still alive—it’s just becoming harder to come by.
Mapped: The Top 10 Billionaire Cities
Where do the most billionaires live? For years, NYC has topped the list of billionaire cities, but 2020 marked a monumental shift.
Mapped: The Top 10 Billionaire Cities in 2020
In 2020, the world gained 493 new billionaires—that’s one every 17 hours.
For the last seven years, New York City has been home to more billionaires than any other city in the world. However, last year marked a monumental shift in the status quo.
Beijing has unseated the Big Apple, and is now home to 100 billionaires. That’s one more billionaire than the 99 living in New York City.
Today’s map uses data from Forbes to display the top 10 cities that house the most billionaires.
Where do the Most Billionaires Live?
The richest of the rich are quite concentrated in cities, but some cities seem to best suit the billionaire lifestyle. Here’s a breakdown of the top 10 billionaire capitals and the collective net worth of all the ultra wealthy that live there.
|Rank||City||Region||Number of Billionaires||Net Worth of the City's Billionaires|
|#2||New York City||🇺🇸 North America||99||$560.5B|
|#3||Hong Kong||🇨🇳 Asia||80||$448.4B|
|#9||San Fransisco||🇺🇸 North America||48||$190.0B|
Some cities have some obvious billionaires that come to mind. New York’s richest person and former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is worth $59 billion. Beijing’s richest billionaire is the founder of TikTok (among other things), Zhang Yiming with a net worth of $35.6 billion.
In terms of the locations themselves, London, New York, and San Francisco are the only Western cities to make the list. Though New York was ousted from the top position last year, altogether the city’s billionaires are still worth more than Beijing’s.
One new city to make the top 10 list of billionaire cities was Hangzhou, the home of Jack Ma. It booted out Singapore from the 10th spot.
East Meets West
More than half of the top 10 cities are located in Asia, providing evidence of the shift eastwards when it comes to seats of wealth. Five of the six Asian cities listed are all in China.
What’s helped lead to this?
The country has seen an e-commerce boom, not in the least thanks to the pandemic. Additionally, the efficient handling of COVID-19 has allowed the economy to get back on track much more quickly than other countries. According to the BBC, 50% of China’s new billionaires have made their wealth either through tech or manufacturing.
Four of the Chinese cities on the list also had the biggest billionaire growth in 2020. Each of them gained more than 10 net new billionaires:
- 🇨🇳 Hangzhou: 21
- 🇨🇳 Shanghai: 18
- 🇨🇳 Shenzhen: 24
- 🇨🇳 Beijing: 33
The only other city to gain more than 10 new billionaires in 2020 was San Francisco with 11.
Now sitting at 698 billionaires, China is coming up on the 724 held by the United States. Beijing overtaking NYC could be the beginning of a larger tipping point.
Asia-Pacific’s collective 1,149 billionaires are worth $4.7 trillion, while U.S. billionaires are worth $4.4 trillion in total wealth.
Overall, it looks like the wealth tides may be turning as China continues to progress economically and more billionaires become based in the East over the West.
Visualized: The Richest Families in America
The net worth of the 50 richest families in America combines for $1.2 trillion. Here’s how multi-generational family wealth stacks up in the country.
Visualizing the Richest Families in America
When we think about the richest people in America, individual names often come to mind like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Bill Gates. But often, it’s the richest families in America that hold a deeper legacy, and sometimes, even deeper pockets.
The country’s 50 richest families hold a collective wealth of $1.2 trillion. This ranking goes beyond nuclear family units and self-made fortunes, and it instead measures the wealth of multi-generational or extended families.
Our visualization, which leverages the latest data from Forbes, reveals the wealthiest families in America and the enterprises that helped them earn their billions.
Editor’s note on methodology: in this ranking, Forbes leaves out self-made entrepreneurs that appear with their nuclear families on the billionaires list. For example, Jeff Bezos founded Amazon and Rupert Murdoch founded News Corp, but these successes did not come from family wealth that was passed down to them.
Say the name Rockefeller or Vanderbilt, and everyone knows who you’re talking about—but how do these household names hold up in the modern rankings?
Below are the 50 richest families in America, based on net worth:
|Rank||Family||Net Worth||Origin of Wealth|
|#2||Koch Family||$100.0B||Koch Industries|
|#3||Mars Family||$94.0B||Mars Inc.|
|#4||Cargill-MacMillan Family||$47.0B||Cargill Inc.|
|#5||Lauder Family||$40.0B||Estee Lauder|
|#6||S.C. Johnson Family||$37.0B||SC Johnson|
|#7||Edward Johnson Family||$36.0B||Fidelity|
|#8||Cox Family||$34.5B||Cox Enterprises|
|#9||Pritzker Family||$32.5B||Hyatt Hotels|
|#10||Newhouse Family||$30.0B||Condé Nast|
|#11||Duncan Family||$22.0B||Enterprise Products Partners L.P.|
|#12||Hearst Family||$21.0B||Hearst Corporation|
|#14||Marshall Family||$18.5B||Koch Industries (6% stake)|
|#17||Du Pont Family||$16.0B||DuPont|
|#18||Hunt Family||$15.5B||Hunt Oil and Petro-Hunt|
|#19||Dorrance Family||$15.0B||Campbell Soup Co.|
|#23||Goldman Family||$13.2B||Real Estate|
|#24||Rollins Family||$13.1B||Orkin Pest control|
|#25||Gallo Family||$12.4B||E&J Gallo Winery|
|#26||Reyes Family||$12.0B||Reyes Holdings|
|#27||Kohler Family||$11.7B||Kohler Co.|
|#29||Smith Family||$11.3B||Illinois Tool Works, Northern Trust|
|#31||Sackler Family||$10.8B||Purdue Pharma|
|#32||Johnson Family||$10.7B||Johnson & Johnson|
|#33||Marriott Family||$10.4B||Marriott International|
|#35||Hughes Family||$10.2B||Public Storage Inc.|
|#38||Fisher Family||$8.9B||Gap Inc.|
|#39||Jenkins Family||$8.8B||Publix Super Markets|
|#40||Chao Family||$8.6B||Westlake Chemical Corp.|
|#41||(Charles & Rupert) Johnson Family||$8.6B||Franklin Resources Inc.|
|#42||Phipps Family||$8.6B||Carnegie Steel, Bessemer Trust|
|#43||Rockefeller Family||$8.4B||Standard Oil|
|#44||E.W. Scripps Family||$8.4B||Scripps Network Interactive|
|#47||Durst Family||$8.1B||Real Estate|
|#48||Taylor Family||$7.8B||Enterprise Rent-A-Car|
|#50||Barbey Family||$7.3B||VF Corp|
The richest family in the U.S. is the Waltons, founders of Walmart. Their net worth adds to an approximate $247 billion, making them also the richest family in the world. Over the last year, they’ve grown their family fortune by $25 billion, equal to nearly $3 million per hour.
Interestingly, the Vanderbilts—the railroad tycoons that were once the richest family in the country in the late 19th century—have been ousted from the rankings entirely. Other notable American families, like Ford and Astor, have lost their place on the list as well.
On the other hand, the Rockefellers still hold their status today, ranked at number 43 with a net worth of $8.4 billion. John D. Rockefeller became America’s first billionaire back in 1916, despite the breaking up of Standard Oil for antitrust reasons.
Over the last five years, nearly every family on this list has seen wealth increase. Many of the behemoth companies on which these families built their fortunes are staples in America, like Campbell’s Soup, Cargill, Dixie Cups, Estee Lauder, and M&Ms and Snickers.
For example, the South’s beloved fast food chain, Chick-fil-A, was founded by the Cathy family and generated $12.67 billion in sales as of the latest annual data, making it the third most popular chain restaurant in the country.
Some of the newer families to make the list also owe it to the success of their enterprises:
- The Kohler family: Kohler Co. (manufacturers of kitchenware, plumbing products, furniture, etc.)
- The Taylor family: Enterprise Rent-A-Car (car rental services)
However, a few families have experienced significant losses since the last Forbes ranking. Here’s a look at some notable net worth decreases:
|Family||Company||Change in Net Worth from 2015-2020|
|Fisher||Gap Inc.||Negative growth (exact $ amount unknown)|
|Johnson (Charles and Rupert)||Mutual Funds||Negative growth (exact $ amount unknown)|
Purdue Pharma recently filed for bankruptcy. The Sackler family’s plan is to reformulate the company into a new venture whose profits would go towards the opioid crisis, for which they are largely blamed. It would also cost the family around $4.3 billion directly.
Keeping it in the Family
While some families may have experienced decreases in their wealth, for many this is just a small bump in the road.
Overall, the richest families in America are the keepers of immense wealth that has accumulated over generations. For some, their names are now cultural landmarks across the U.S. and their brands have become synonymous with life in America.
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