Social Mobility

Tim Soutphommasane's recent philosopher column in The Australian dealt with the underrated issue of social mobility - how far does the apple fall from the tree?

I penned a short letter in response, which the Oz kindly ran on Tuesday.
Dear Editor,

I enjoyed Tim Soutphommasane's article on social mobility. As he correctly points out, it's fundamental to how we think about inequality, since most of us are willing to put up with a bigger gap between rich and poor if the lottery is redrawn each generation than if social position is immutable from birth.

Tim quotes my research as finding that Australia is "among the most socially mobile societies in the world". Not quite. My study found that we are more socially mobile than the US, but less socially mobile than the Scandinavians.

For those who like numbers, a 10 percent rise in a father's income is associated with a 1-2 percent rise in his son's income in Denmark and Sweden, 2-3 percent in the UK and Australia, and 4-6 percent in the US and China.

So it's not as hard to jump from rags to riches in Australia as in some other societies. But we could still do more to ensure that every child - no matter their circumstances - has the opportunities that should be their birthright.

Andrew Leigh
Member for Fraser.

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