Wealth Mobility of Families Raising Children in the Twenty-First Century
Wealth inequality between the top and bottom deciles has grown over the last 20 years (Piketty and Zucman in Wealth and inheritance in the long run, Centre for Economic Policy Research, London, 2014), as has the racial wealth gap (Shapiro et al. in The roots of the widening racial wealth gap: explaining the black–white economic divide. Institute on Assets and Social Policy, Brandeis University, Waltham, 2013. http://iasp.brandeis.edu/pdfs/Author/shapiro-thomas-m/racialwealthgapbrief.pdf). Within these broad trends of inequality, some families are able to get ahead and grow their wealth, while others are not. Yet we do not understand well the critical variables that increase the likelihood of wealth mobility across the life course—within the same generation. This paper addresses this gap and investigates the following questions: What accounts for intra-generational relative and absolute wealth mobility for families with children in the first decade of the twenty-first century? And how does it differ by race? The paper draws on two longitudinal data sets—the Panel Study of Income Dynamics household survey data matched with neighborhood-level US Census data (1999–2011), and the IASP Leveraging Mobility (LM) study (1998–2011). Applying an integrated mixed methods design, analyses are conducted in three stages: (1) A grounded theory analytic approach of the LM data determines key variables of wealth mobility: homeownership, income, employment characteristics, extended family wealth, negative life events, and neighborhood factors; (2) regression analyses test these indicators for absolute and relative wealth mobility; and (3) recontextualization through further analyses of LM data deepen the regression results by illustrating the pathways of significant wealth mobility predictors. Results reveal that increasing family income, larger family transfers, consistent long-term homeownership, and in some cases white-collar occupations increase the likelihood of upward relative wealth mobility. Negative life events, higher rates of neighborhood poverty, and black race are negatively correlated with the amount of wealth growth. These key drivers of wealth mobility highlight the need for targeted policies that reinforce and expand opportunities for all families to build wealth over the life course.