Intergenerational mobility refers to the change in social or economic status from one generation to the next. Specifically, it gauges the extent to which children achieve a different socioeconomic status compared to their parents.
The degree of intergenerational mobility can be an important measure of a society’s fairness or equality of opportunity. A society with high intergenerational mobility is often seen as meritocratic, where personal effort and capabilities determine outcomes rather than the circumstances of one’s birth. Conversely, low intergenerational mobility suggests that socioeconomic status is more “inherited” and that societal barriers, such as limited access to quality education or systemic discrimination, play a larger role in determining individual outcomes.
A related concept is intergenerational elasticity, which measures the association between parents’ income and the income of their offspring. A high elasticity indicates low mobility (children’s income is highly predictable based on their parents’ income), while a low elasticity indicates higher mobility (children’s income is less tied to that of their parents).