Yesterday we played monopoly with rules that more closely affect the real rules of the US class system. Players started with different amounts of income and different amounts of property; the upper-upper class started with the most, and the working class the least. They rolled the dice to see what class they were. I told them them not worry about who "wins" the game, instead just try moving up to the next level of class. Playing monopoly according to the rules of the U.S.'s class structure should have some revealing insight about the state of mobility within the U.S.'s class structure.
From the Brookings Institute:
Recent studies suggest that there is less economic mobility in the United States than has long been presumed. The last thirty years has seen a considerable drop-off in median household income growth compared to earlier generations. And, by some measurements, we are actually a less mobile society than many other nations, including Canada, France, Germany and most Scandinavian countries. This challenges the notion of America as the land of opportunity.
And from the New Yorker,
“Social mobility is low and has been for at least thirty or forty
years.” This is most obvious when you look at the prospects of the poor.
Seventy per cent of people born into the bottom quintile of income
distribution never make it into the middle class, and fewer than ten per
cent get into the top quintile. Forty per cent are still poor as
adults....The middle class isn’t all that mobile, either: only twenty per cent of
people born into the middle quintile ever make it into the top one.
From the NY Times series about social class, this graphic shows that mobility does exist but one's starting point plays a strong role in where that person ends up.
Mobility in America tends to be within the middle classes (from working class to uppermiddle class). The wealthy class tends to stay wealthy and the impoverished class tends to stay in poverty, especially in comparison to other most developed nations.
When someone changes social class within their lifetime, this is called intragenerational mobility.
1. Was anyone from your group able to change classes? If so, who? What class? If not, then who was the closest to moving up or down?
2. Does your groups' mobility reflect the findings above from the Brookings Institute?
Social class mobility might also be intergenerational mobility or structural mobility. Intergenerational mobility means that the children of one group will have a different class than their parents. This is much more common than intragenerational mobility. My own family's history reflect this as well. How has your family's mobility been? Are you growing up in the same social class as your parents? How about from your grandparents? Where do you see your future in terms of social class?
Structural mobility is when the structure of society changes in such a way that a group is moved up or down. For example, many people in the 1950s and 60s were able to finish high school and go right to work in a factory. When those jobs moved overseas, many of those people were thrust downward.
3. Tell the group about your family's intergenerational mobility. Did they go up or down or stay the same?
4. Using the monopoly game yesterday, what are some ways that we could exemplify intergenerational mobility and structural mobility as part of the game?
A second way that we can look at this simulation is in how players react. Below is a TED talk about how people react to playing the game. Think about how that reaction might show up in everyday life.