To the Deluxe Apartment in the Sky!

I’ve cited this Alesina et. al paper that reportsthat the widespread belief in high income mobility is the source of the fact that high inequality has no negative effect on the self-reported happiness of poor Americans, but a significant negative effect for wealthier Americans, who understand that mobility is a two way street, and that the inequality gap is the distance one can fall. Well, here’s a bit of survey evidence on the the less wealthy side of the equation, reported in the Washington Post:

About two-thirds locally and nationally say there’s a good chance they will be rich someday. Nearly one-third also predict they’ll be famous, including a majority of local African American teens, who expect both celebrity and riches. Even many less affluent black teens foresee wealth and fame: a finding that may indicate reassuring confidence — or media-fed delusions.

It’s not clear to me what “rich” is supposed to mean here. I wonder if a certain amount is specified in the poll question. If it’s up to the kids to interpret, then almost all of them may be correct. I remember thinking that $100,000 per year made you rich as a teenager. There’s a good chance I’ll get there, sooner or later. Of course, I won’t see it as rich when I do. (I already don’t.) However, fame is much more of a winner-take-all market, even if we’re talking “ghetto famous.” So, clearly, someone’s going to be disappointed.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center