Visualizing the Decline of Upward Mobility in One Chart
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The Decline of Upward Mobility in One Chart

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Decline Upward Mobility

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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 BornChance of Outearning Parents (Bottom Percentile)Chance of Outearning Parents (50th Percentile)Chance of Outearning Parents (Top Income Percentile) 
194095%93%41%
195090%81%15%
196086%62%7%
197090%59%16%
198079%45%8%

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.

Income Distribution

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 Class1970 Share of U.S. Aggregate Income2018 Share of U.S. Aggregate Income
Upper 28%48%
Middle62%43%
Lower 10%9%

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.

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Mapped: The 3 Billion People Who Can’t Afford a Healthy Diet

More than three billion people across the globe are unable to afford a healthy diet. See which countries are most affected.

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The 3 Billion People Who Can’t Afford a Healthy Diet

While they aren’t often the focus of news media, hunger and undernourishment are problems plaguing millions of people every day.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than 3 billion people could not afford a healthy diet in 2020, an additional 112 million more people than in 2019. The increase was partly because of rising food prices, with the average cost of a healthy diet rising by 3.3% from 2019 levels.

As of August 2022, the FAO food price index was up 40.6% from average 2020 levels. Unless income levels increased by a similar magnitude, the healthy diet crisis is likely to have worsened, especially in low-income countries experiencing rampant food inflation.

Using data from the FAO, the above infographic maps the share of people unable to afford a healthy diet in 138 different countries as of 2020 (latest available data).

The Cost and Affordability of a Healthy Diet

According to the FAO, a healthy diet is one that meets daily energy needs as well as requirements within the food and dietary guidelines created by the country.

The (un)affordability is measured by comparing the cost of a healthy diet to income levels in the country. If the cost exceeds 52% of an average household’s income, the diet is deemed unaffordable.

Here’s a look at the share of populations unable to afford a healthy diet, and the cost of such a diet around the world:

CountryPercent of population unable to afford a healthy dietCost of Healthy Diet (USD per Person per Day)
Burundi 🇧🇮97.2%$2.9
Madagascar 🇲🇬97.0%$3.2
Liberia 🇱🇷96.8%$3.9
Malawi 🇲🇼96.6%$3.1
Nigeria 🇳🇬95.9%$4.1
Central African Republic 🇨🇫95.1%$3.6
Guinea 🇬🇳94.9%$4.1
Angola 🇦🇴94.3%$4.5
Congo 🇨🇬92.4%$3.4
Sudan 🇸🇩91.8%$4.3
Mozambique 🇲🇿91.5%$3.2
Democratic Republic of Congo 🇨🇩90.0%$2.1
Sierra Leone 🇸🇱89.2%$2.9
Niger 🇳🇪88.8%$2.9
Zambia 🇿🇲88.0%$3.3
Tanzania 🇹🇿87.6%$2.7
Guinea-Bissau 🇬🇼87.2%$3.5
Ethiopia 🇪🇹86.8%$3.4
Rwanda 🇷🇼86.3%$2.7
Haiti 🇭🇹85.9%$4.5
Sao Tome and Principe 🇸🇹84.7%$3.6
Nepal 🇳🇵84.0%$4.4
Lesotho 🇱🇸83.5%$4.3
Pakistan 🇵🇰83.5%$3.7
Chad 🇹🇩83.4%$2.8
Benin 🇧🇯82.9%$3.7
Uganda 🇺🇬82.2%$2.7
Kenya 🇰🇪81.1%$3.0
Burkina Faso 🇧🇫80.1%$3.3
Laos 🇱🇦79.8%$4.1
Mali 🇲🇱74.3%$3.1
Bangladesh 🇧🇩73.5%$3.1
Egypt 🇪🇬72.9%$3.4
Eswatini 🇸🇿71.8%$3.4
India 🇮🇳70.5%$3.0
Indonesia 🇮🇩69.1%$4.5
Philippines 🇵🇭68.6%$4.1
Jamaica 🇯🇲66.2%$6.7
South Africa 🇿🇦65.2%$4.3
Myanmar 🇲🇲65.1%$4.2
Gambia 🇬🇲64.0%$3.1
Djibouti 🇩🇯63.9%$3.1
Botswana 🇧🇼61.4%$3.7
Ghana 🇬🇭61.2%$4.0
Cameroon 🇨🇲60.7%$2.8
Mauritania 🇲🇷60.7%$3.7
Fiji 🇫🇯60.4%$3.9
Suriname 🇸🇷58.8%$5.7
Namibia 🇳🇦56.8%$3.5
Bhutan 🇧🇹53.0%$5.0
Mongolia 🇲🇳51.4%$5.1
Honduras 🇭🇳51.3%$3.5
Iraq 🇮🇶49.6%$3.5
Kyrgyzstan 🇰🇬49.6%$3.2
Sri Lanka 🇱🇰49.0%$3.9
Senegal 🇸🇳46.0%$2.3
Guyana 🇬🇾43.0%$4.9
Armenia 🇦🇲42.9%$3.2
Tajikistan 🇹🇯42.1%$3.5
Cabo Verde 🇨🇻38.1%$3.6
Belize 🇧🇿36.4%$2.1
Gabon 🇬🇦36.3%$3.6
Nicaragua 🇳🇮35.7%$3.3
Algeria 🇩🇿30.2%$3.8
Vietnam 🇻🇳30.0%$4.1
Colombia 🇨🇴26.5%$3.1
Mexico 🇲🇽26.3%$3.3
Bolivia 🇧🇴24.7%$3.8
Palestine 🇵🇸23.1%$3.4
Ecuador 🇪🇨21.4%$2.9
Saint Lucia 🇱🇨20.6%$3.6
Peru 🇵🇪20.5%$3.3
Iran 🇮🇷20.3%$3.6
Tunisia 🇹🇳20.3%$3.6
Albania 🇦🇱20.1%$4.2
Brazil 🇧🇷19.0%$3.1
Dominican Republic 🇩🇴18.3%$3.9
Panama 🇵🇦18.2%$4.5
North Macedonia 🇲🇰18.0%$3.4
Paraguay 🇵🇾17.8%$3.5
Montenegro 🇲🇪17.5%$3.5
Thailand 🇹🇭17.0%$4.3
Costa Rica 🇨🇷16.8%$4.1
Morocco 🇲🇦16.7%$2.8
Serbia 🇷🇸16.3%$4.2
Jordan 🇯🇴14.9%$3.6
Mauritius 🇲🇺13.5%$3.6
China 🇨🇳12.0%$3.0
Trinidad and Tobago 🇹🇹11.6%$4.2
Romania 🇷🇴8.8%$3.2
Bulgaria 🇧🇬8.5%$4.1
Seychelles 🇸🇨6.8%$3.8
Moldova 🇲🇩6.7%$2.8
Chile 🇨🇱3.8%$3.4
Croatia 🇭🇷3.8%$4.3
Bosnia and Herzegovina 🇧🇦3.7%$4.0
Uruguay 🇺🇾3.6%$3.4
Russia 🇷🇺3.5%$3.4
Greece 🇬🇷3.2%$3.1
Italy 🇮🇹2.9%$3.1
Japan 🇯🇵2.5%$5.8
Hungary 🇭🇺2.0%$3.5
Spain 🇪🇸2.0%$2.8
Malaysia 🇲🇾1.9%$3.5
Latvia 🇱🇻1.8%$3.2
South Korea 🇰🇷1.7%$5.2
United States 🇺🇸1.5%$3.4
Maldives 🇲🇻1.4%$3.9
Estonia 🇪🇪1.3%$3.3
Kazakhstan 🇰🇿1.2%$2.7
Lithuania 🇱🇹1.2%$3.1
Slovakia 🇸🇰1.2%$3.2
Israel 🇮🇱1.0%$2.5
Poland 🇵🇱1.0%$3.2
Austria 🇦🇹0.8%$3.0
Australia 🇦🇺0.7%$2.6
Canada 🇨🇦0.7%$3.0
Malta 🇲🇹0.7%$3.8
Sweden 🇸🇪0.6%$3.3
Portugal 🇵🇹0.5%$2.7
United Kingdom 🇬🇧0.5%$1.9
Denmark 🇩🇰0.4%$2.5
Norway 🇳🇴0.4%$3.5
Cyprus 🇨🇾0.3%$3.0
Belarus 🇧🇾0.2%$3.3
Belgium 🇧🇪0.2%$3.1
Czechia0.2%$3.0
Germany 🇩🇪0.2%$3.0
Netherlands 🇳🇱0.2%$3.0
Finland 🇫🇮0.1%$2.7
France 🇫🇷0.1%$3.2
Ireland 🇮🇪0.1%$2.2
Luxembourg 🇱🇺0.1%$2.7
Slovenia 🇸🇮0.1%$3.1
Azerbaijan 🇦🇿0.0%$2.5
Iceland 🇮🇸0.0%$2.4
Switzerland 🇨🇭0.0%$2.7
United Arab Emirates 🇦🇪0.0%$3.1
World 🌎42.0%$3.5

In 52 countries, more than half of the population cannot afford a healthy diet. The majority of these are in Africa, with the rest located across Asia, Oceania, and the Americas.

By contrast, in four countries—Azerbaijan, Iceland, Switzerland, and the UAE—everyone is able to afford a healthy diet. The picture is similar for most European and developed high-income countries, where more than 95% of the population can afford a healthy diet.

When the percentages are translated into numbers, Asia contains the most number of people unable to afford a healthy diet at 1.89 billion, of which 973 million people are in India alone. Another 1 billion people are in Africa, with around 151 million people in the Americas and Oceania.

While hunger is a worldwide concern, it is particularly acute in African countries, which cover all of the top 20 spots in the above table.

Africa’s Deepening Food Crisis

In many countries across sub-Saharan Africa, more than 90% of the population cannot afford a healthy diet.

Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly susceptible to extreme climate events and the resulting volatility in food prices. Roughly one-third of the world’s droughts occur in the region, and some sub-Saharan countries are also heavily reliant on imports for food.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has deepened the crisis, with many African countries importing over 50% of their wheat from the two countries in conflict. The rising food prices from this supply chain disruption have resulted in double-digit food inflation in many African nations, which means that more people are likely to be unable to afford healthy diets.

The Horn of Africa region at the Eastern tip of Africa is particularly in turmoil. All the countries in the region are reliant on wheat from Russia and Ukraine, with Eritrea (100%) and Somalia (>90%) high up in the import dependency chart. Additionally, the region is facing its worst drought in 40 years alongside ongoing political conflicts. As a result, 22 million people are at risk of starvation.

Population Growth and Food Insecurity

In November of 2022, the global population is projected to surpass 8 billion people, and many of the fastest growing countries are also food-insecure.

By 2050, the global population is likely to increase by 35%, and to meet the growing demand for food, crop production will need to double. Given that agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, this increase in crop production will also need to be environmentally sustainable.

As the impacts of climate change intensify and food demand increases, reducing food waste, building climate-resilient agricultural infrastructure, and improving agricultural productivity will all play a key role in reducing the levels of food insecurity sustainably.

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How Do Americans Spend Their Money, By Generation?

This interactive graphic shows a breakdown of how average Americans spend their money, and how expenses vary across generations.

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Annual Expenditure in the U.S. by Generation

How Americans Spend Their Money, By Generation

In 2021, the average American spent just over $60,000 a year. But where does all their money go? Unsurprisingly, spending habits vary wildly depending on age.

This graphic by Preethi Lodha uses data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to show how average Americans spend their money, and how annual expenses vary across generations.

A Generational Breakdown of Overall Spending

Overall in 2021, Gen X (anyone born from 1965 to 1980) spent the most money of any U.S. generation, with an average annual expenditure of $83,357.

GenerationBirth Year RangeAverage Annual Expenditure (2021)
Silent1945 or earlier$44,683
Boomers1946 to 1964$62,203
Generation X1965 to 1980$83,357
Millennials1981 to 1996$69,061
Generation Z1997 or later$41,636

Gen X has been nicknamed the “sandwich generation” because many members of this age group are financially supporting both their aging parents as well as children of their own.

The second biggest spenders are Millennials with an average annual expenditure of $69,061. Just like Gen X, this generation’s top three spending categories are housing, healthcare, and personal insurance.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, members of Generation Z are the lowest spenders with an average of $41,636. per year. Their spending habits are expected to ramp up, especially considering that in 2022 the oldest Gen Zers are just 25 and still early in their careers.

Similarities Across Generations

While spending habits vary depending on the age group, there are some categories that remain fairly consistent across the board.

One of the most consistent spending categories is housing—it’s by the far the biggest expense for all age groups, accounting for more than 30% of total annual spending for every generation.

GenerationAverage Spend on Housing (2021)% of Total Spend
Silent (1945 or earlier)$16,65637.3%
Boomers (1946 to 1964)$21,27334.2%
Generation X (1965 to 1980)$26,38531.7%
Millennials (1981 to 1996)$24,05234.8%
Generation Z (1997 or later)$15,44937.1%

Another spending category that’s surprisingly consistent across every generation is entertainment. All generations spent more than 4% of their total expenditures on entertainment, but none dedicated more than 5.6%.

GenerationAverage Spend on Entertainment (2021)% of Total Spend
Silent (1945 or earlier)$2,0274.5%
Boomers (1946 to 1964)$3,4765.6%
Generation X (1965 to 1980)$4,6945.6%
Millennials (1981 to 1996)$3,4575.0%
Generation Z (1997 or later)$1,6934.1%

Gen Zers spent the least on entertainment, which could boil down to the types of entertainment this generation typically enjoys. For instance, a study found that 51% of respondents aged 13-19 watch videos on Instagram on a weekly basis, while only 15% watch cable TV.

Differences Across Generations

One category that varies the most between generations and relative needs is spending on healthcare.

As the table below shows, the Silent Generation spent an average of $7,053 on healthcare, or 15.8% of their total average spend. Comparatively, Gen Z only spent $1,354 on average, or 3.3% of their total average spend.

GenerationAverage Spend on Healthcare (2021)% of Total Spend
Silent (1945 or earlier)$7,05315.8%
Boomers (1946 to 1964)$6,59410.6%
Generation X (1965 to 1980)$5,5506.7%
Millennials (1981 to 1996)$4,0265.8%
Generation Z (1997 or later)$1,3543.3%

However, while the younger generations typically spend less on healthcare, they’re also less likely to be insured—so those who do get sick could be left with a hefty bill.

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