Recent evidence suggests that Americans' beliefs about upward mobility are overly optimistic. Davidai & Gilovich (2015a), Kraus & Tan (2015), and Kraus (2015) all found that people overestimate the likelihood that a person might rise up the economic ladder, and underestimate the likelihood that they might fail to do so. However, using a different methodology, Chambers, Swan and Heesacker (2015) reported that Americans' beliefs about mobility are much more pessimistic. Swan, Chambers, Heesacker and Nero (2017) provide a much-needed summary of these conflicting findings and question the utility of measuring population-level biases in judgments of inequality and mobility. We value their summary but argue that their conclusion is premature. By focusing on measures that best tap how laypeople naturally think about the distribution of income, we believe that researchers can draw meaningful conclusions about the public's perceptions of economic mobility. When more ecologically representative measures are used, the consistent finding is that Americans overestimate the extent of upward mobility in the United States. To explain the divergent findings in the literature, we provide evidence that the methods used by Chambers et al. (2015) inadvertently primed participants to think about immobility rather than mobility. Finally, using a novel method to examine beliefs about economic mobility, we show that Americans indeed overestimate the degree of mobility in the United States.
Davidai, Shai, and T. Gilovich. "How Should We Think About Americans' Perceptions of Socioeconomic Mobility." Judgment and Decision Making 13, no. 3 (2018): 297-304.
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