American geography of opportunity reveals European origins

Thor Berger, Per Engzell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A large literature documents how intergenerational mobility—the degree to which (dis)advantage is passed on from parents to children—varies across and within countries. Less is known about the origin or persistence of such differences. We show that US areas populated by descendants to European immigrants have similar levels of income equality and mobility as the countries their forebears came from: highest in areas dominated by descendants to Scandinavian and German immigrants, lower in places with French or Italian heritage, and lower still in areas with British roots. Similar variation in mobility is found for the black population and when analyzing causal place effects, suggesting that mobility differences arise at the community level and extend beyond descendants of European immigrant groups. Our findings indicate that the geography of US opportunity may have deeper historical roots than previously recognized.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6045-6050
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social and Economic Geography
  • Economic History

Free keywords

  • Great gatsby curve
  • Immigration
  • Income inequality
  • Intergenerational mobility
  • Melting pot


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