Income mobility

3 Myths About American Decline

Politicians and the media are telling bogus stories about falling fertility rates, rising inequality, and lack of economic mobility.


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The American Enterprise Institute sociologist Scott Winship says that Americans are prone to believing "declension narratives," or stories about how the Golden Age ended sometime in the past and we have the bad luck to live in a world that is uniquely awful, unfair, and corrupt. Three of today's most prominent and influential declension narratives hold that we're having fewer children because they cost too much money, the rich have captured all the economic gains of the past several decades as income inequality has increased, and that economic mobility has effectively ended.

Winship says such stories are incomplete at best and completely false at worst. He finds that millennial women are more likely to hit their fertility goals than boomer women, strongly suggesting that having fewer children is a cultural choice, not an economic hardship. The Gini coefficient, which measures inequality, has stayed relatively flat since 1989, especially when after-tax transfers are taken into account. Over the same time period, the inflation-adjusted median household income has increased by about $25,000 even as poverty has declined. Contrary to scare stories about younger Americans doing worse than their parents, Winship finds that about 70 percent of 30-year-olds are doing better than their parents at the same age.

For a full discussion of these topics between Nick Gillespie and Winship, go here.


Produced by Noor Greene; written and narrated by Nick Gillespie; audio by Ian Keyser; additional graphics by Isaac Reese.

Music: Aerial Cliff by Michele Nobler, Artlist.

Photos: CNP/AdMedia/SIPA/Newscom, CNP/AdMedia/SIPA/Newscom, ZUMAPRESS/Newscom, Photo 85015883 © Joe Sohm |, College of DuPage Flicker.