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Where’s the Land of Opportunity? Pittsburgh, Says Harvard Study

Landmark study of social mobility finds Pittsburgh is the second-best place in the U.S. to climb the income ladder.

Photo by Dave DiCello


This is a big deal. In July, we tipped you off on a major multigenerational study from researchers at Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley. Last week, the full 94-page report was released. The researchers mined data records on the incomes of more than 40 million children and their parents to calculate intergenerational social mobility.

Pittsburgh ranked second in terms of upward mobility among large metro areas, just behind Salt Lake City. All this is even more impressive when you consider that many nearby rust-belt cities, such as Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Columbus, ranked near the bottom of the list.

Our city is surrounded in the top tier by high-tech and financial hubs San Jose, San Francisco and Boston.

We hear of rags-to-riches stories of American economic exceptionalism. But the study reveals a rather eye-opening truth. Want to know the chance of a child born into the bottom-fifth of income distribution reaching the top-fifth? 7.8 percent nationwide.

Or, from The New Yorker’s analysis: “For children who are born in the second fifth of the income distribution, those who might be categorized as working class or lower-middle class, the probability of moving up to the top quintile has fallen significantly. For someone born in 1971, it was 17.7 per cent; for someone born in 1986, it was 13.8 per cent.”

Better start building that app. It’s never too early.



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