Tara B. drew my attention to a New York Times article on economic mobility in the U.S. and Europe. This chart compares intergenerational mobility in the U.S. and Denmark, showing where men raised in each quintile of the population (based on income) end up as adults (lighter bars = Denmark, dark bars = U.S.):
For both countries, there is more movement in the middle of the income distribution than at the extremes. However, there are important differences. As we see, in the U.S. men whose dads were in the bottom fifth in terms of income are much more likely to remain in the bottom earnings tier than men in Denmark are, with over 42% experiencing no mobility. We also see that they are less likely to move to the highest levels of the income ladder than are their Danish equivalents. However, this is partially due to differences in the overall distribution in income; because there is more income inequality in the U.S., an individual would have to gain much more income to make it from the lowest to the highest quintile than would someone living in Denmark, where the income distribution is more compact.
The full article from which this data is drawn, “American Exceptionalism in a New Light: A Comparison of Intergenerational Earnings Mobility in the Nordic Countries, the United Kingdom and the United States,” is available for free here.