One of my classmates suggested I unstack the bars in my previous visualization of international comparison of social mobility, by gender and class of origin. He was right, the pattern I noted becomes very clear once the bars were unstacked. Click on the images for their full sizes (or click here and here):
The bar chart on the left represents social mobility for sons of low-earning fathers. The green bars measure the percentage of these sons who end up in the bottom 40% (close to no upward mobility), the red bars represent the percentage of these sons who end up in the top 40% (upward mobility). As you can see, these sons are more likely to be stuck in the bottom 40% in the US and UK than in Scandinavian countries.
The bar char on the right represents social mobility for daughters of low-earning fathers. The blue bars measure the percentage of these daughters who end up in the bottom 40% (close to no upward mobility), the brown bars represent the percentage of these daughters who end up in the top 40% (upward mobility).
At first glance, it definitely looks like the daughters move up in larger proportion than the sons, with still less mobility in the US, but the UK looks a lot more like the Scandinavian pattern for daughters.
Now, if we compare those who end up in the bottom 40% (sons + daughters) and those who end up in the top 40% (sons + daughter), we get this (big image here and here), keeping the same color palette, for convenience:
The bar chart on the left represents the sons and daughters of low-earning fathers who end up in the bottom 40%, and the one on the right represents the sons and daughters of low-earning fathers who end up in the top 40%. Here again, you can clearly see the greater mobility in Scandinavian countries and especially for daughters, less likely to be stuck at the bottom 40%, more likely to move up to the top 40%, with less mobility in the US and UK.
As the scatterplots in my previous post showed, there is no simple and straightforward explanation for this. More likely, there are multiple variables at work that would require more elaborate statistical testing. But there is no doubt about the lower level of social mobility in the US, compared to Scandinavian countries. At this point, one can assert that the Horatio Alger narrative is a myth. I would taking it further and assert that it is a damaging myth because it presents false expectations, and does not allow for the very serious lack of social mobility to ever make it into the public discourse outside of individualistic, moralistic or racist narratives (those who don’t succeed do so because of their individual / moral failings or their different “values”… i.e. they’re lazy). The issues of structural obstacles to mobility in the context of increasing inequalities and the consolidation of class privilege never get discussed and therefore never enter the arena of public policy.