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Rags-to-Riches Stories Are Less Common Than You Might Think


Forty percent of us still think it’s pretty common to go from poverty to wealth in the U.S., according to research from the Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts, quoted in the Wall Street Journal. The reality is quite different: only 4 percent of Americans go from rags to riches.

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(Photo Credit: 401(k) 2013/Flickr)

“Forty-three percent of Americans raised in the bottom quintile of household income remain there a generation later (with income of less than $28,900 in 2009 dollars, adjusted for family size),” writes Lauren Weber. “Twenty-seven percent rise up slightly into the second quintile, 17 percent land in the middle of the distribution, and 9 percent end up in the 4th quintile.”

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Those who believe in American meritocracy will be especially disappointed to learn that these numbers compare poorly with countries like Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, and the U.K. In those countries, only 25 to 30 percent of people born in the lowest quintile, stay there.

In the U.S., the biggest predictor of who will rise from the lowest economic ranks to the highest remains a college education. Eighty-six percent of those who climbed from the bottom to the top had college degrees, according to Pew’s research.

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Are you surprised to hear how rare it is to rise from poverty to riches in the U.S.? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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