Education's Contribution to Social Mobility Trends in the United States

Fabian T. Pfeffer, University of Michigan

Modern education systems are expected to fulfill two fundamental functions: equipping students with knowledge that allows them to take part in economic, social, and political life as well as providing individuals with opportunities for social mobility. Much of educational policy focuses on the former goal. The social mobility goal certainly also receives great attention in public and political discourse but research has been much less rigorous in studying the complex relationship between education and social mobility. Based on nationally representative data (General Social Survey and Current Population Survey) and using a recent methodological innovation, this paper assesses how education accounts for trends in social mobility in the United States across the 20th and 21st century. In particular, it demonstrates the role of the changing distribution of educational degrees and educational opportunities for long-term trends in social mobility.

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Presented in Session 200: Education and Social Mobility