Much other research on economic mobility has focused on income, but that's only part of the picture. When it comes to dealing with dealing with economic setbacks such as the loss of a job, or making a long-term investment in your child's future by ponying up money for college tuition, it matters to have money in the bank or other forms of built up equity.
Moreover, wealth, education, and income all build on each other. The more money families have saved to finance tuition, the more likely children are to get a degree that will land them a lucrative job, enabling them to sock away money to send their kids off to college.
The center based its analysis on family-wealth data gathered from 1984 to 2003 as part of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a national study that follows families and individuals over time. The researchers looked at people who were from 6 to 21 in 1984 and measured their family wealth then and their own wealth in the 1999-to-2003 period, when they were 24 to 40 years old.
As discussed in more depth in a Chronicle of Higher Education article, white children born to wealthy families are much more likely to become wealthy adults than black children born to such families, the center's analysis found. Among those born to families in the top fourth of society in terms of accumulated wealth, 55 percent of white children and 37 percent of black children grow up to be in the top fourth as adults. At the other end of wealth distribution, 35 percent of white children and 44 percent of black children born to families in the bottom fourth end up in the bottom fourth as adults, the report says.Although the researchers did not specifically study what factors account for the black-white gap in wealth accumulation, their report suggests that discrimination in housing, employment, and other areas plays a role. The report also notes that black families in the top fourth tend to be in the bottom of that category, making it more likely, simply as a statistical matter, that they would fall into a lower bracket if they lost any wealth at all.
Similar conclusions were contained in a recent report on upward mobility published by the Economic Mobility Project—a collaborative involving the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution, the Heritage Foundation, and the Urban Institute.
That report, by Bhashkar Mazumder, an economist, said the entire black-white gap in upward economic mobility can be explained by gaps in academic-test scores. Both black and white children with the same test scores experienced similar rates of upward mobility, and there was no racial gap in economic mobility among white and black people who had finished four years of college.