31 countries where the 'American Dream' is more attainable than in the US

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  • A key part of the American Dream is the idea that anyone can make it to the top, no matter where you come from.
  • But a World Bank report shows that it's more likely for children from modest backgrounds to reach a higher economic echelon in most countries than it is in the US.
  • Nearly all of the high-income countries in the study fared better on a metric of intergenerational educational mobility than the US.

People in the Netherlands have a better shot at upward social mobility than Americans, by one metric. Reuters

People in the Netherlands have a better shot at upward social mobility than Americans, by one metric. Reuters

One of the core elements of the American Dream is the idea that anyone can make it to the top, regardless of where one starts out in life.

But, according to a 2018 report on intergenerational educational and economic mobility from the World Bank, that dream is more realistic in most other high-income countries than in the US.

The report and its associated Global Database on Intergenerational Mobility include several metrics of how the economic and educational opportunities of children are related to the situations of their parents.

One of the World Bank's measures is the share of children born to parents in the bottom half of the educational attainment in a country that end up in the top quarter of that distribution as adults — that is, how likely it is that someone born into a family with a more modest background can grow up to have similar educational opportunities to his or her peers with more affluent parents.

The US does not fare particularly well on this metric: 12.5% of children born in the 1980s to parents in the bottom half of the educational attainment distribution ended up in the top quarter. 88 of the 135 countries for which the World Bank estimated this figure had a higher share, and all but three of the 35 countries the World Bank identified as high-income, developed economies had a higher share.

Here are the 31 high-income countries in the World Bank's database where a higher share of children born into the bottom half ended up in the top quarter, ranked from lowest to highest on that measure:

31. Ireland: 12.9% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

31. Ireland: 12.9% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.Madrugada Verde/Shutterstock

30. Italy: 13.0% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

30. Italy: 13.0% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.Getty Images

29. Hungary: 13.3% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

29. Hungary: 13.3% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.Reuters

28. Latvia: 13.3% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

28. Latvia: 13.3% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.Karolis Kavolelis/Shutterstock

27. Croatia: 13.9% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

26. France: 14.9% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

26. France: 14.9% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.Reuters

25. Switzerland: 14.9% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

25. Switzerland: 14.9% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.
Geneva, Switzerland
 S-F / Shutterstock

24. Spain: 15.0% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

24. Spain: 15.0% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.Reuters/YVES HERMAN

23. Poland: 15.0% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

23. Poland: 15.0% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.Reuters

22. Austria: 15.1% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

22. Austria: 15.1% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.Sean Gallup/Getty Images

21. Belgium: 15.3% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

21. Belgium: 15.3% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.
European Union flags fly outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels
Reuters

20. Finland: 15.6% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

20. Finland: 15.6% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.Reuters

19. Lithuania: 15.7% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

19. Lithuania: 15.7% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.
People in Vilnius, Lithuania in 2018.
 Max Rossi / Reuters

18. Slovak Republic: 15.7% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

18. Slovak Republic: 15.7% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.
Slovakia's President Zuzana Caputova takes office in Bratislava
 Reuters

17. Norway: 15.9% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

17. Norway: 15.9% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.
Norway's Defense Station Vardø on the Barents Sea.
 Norwegian Ministry of Defense

16. Australia: 16.1% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

16. Australia: 16.1% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.Getty Images

15. Portugal: 16.3% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

15. Portugal: 16.3% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.Rolf E. Staerk/Shutterstock

14. Canada: 16.3% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

14. Canada: 16.3% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.Reuters

13. Taiwan: 16.3% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

13. Taiwan: 16.3% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.Getty Images

12. Czech Republic: 16.7% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

12. Czech Republic: 16.7% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.Shutterstock

11. Israel: 16.8% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

11. Israel: 16.8% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.Karl Good / EyeEm / Getty Images

10. South Korea: 17.0% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

10. South Korea: 17.0% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.
Seoul, South Korea.
 Travel man / Shutterstock.com

9. Netherlands: 17.1% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

9. Netherlands: 17.1% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.
People cool off underneath a tree during a sunny day in the Vondelpark in Amsterdam
Reuters

8. Germany: 17.1% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

7. Estonia: 17.6% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

7. Estonia: 17.6% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.
Fiery sunset with vivid clouds over Suru Suursoo bog, reflection on water, Harju county, Estonia
 Shutterstock

6. Japan: 18.1% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

6. Japan: 18.1% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.Jon Connell/Flickr/Attribution license

5. Sweden: 18.5% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

4. United Kingdom: 18.6% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

4. United Kingdom: 18.6% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.Marissa Perino/Business Insider

3. Slovenia: 19.2% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

3. Slovenia: 19.2% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.Roman Babakin/Shutterstock

2. Denmark: 21.1% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

2. Denmark: 21.1% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.Reuters

1. Cyprus: 22.8% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.

1. Cyprus: 22.8% of children with parents in the bottom half ended up in the top quarter.Shutterstock

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