The Latin American DREAM: A Game of Social Mobility in the Hemisphere

Americas Quarterly, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

The Latin American DREAM: A Game of Social Mobility in the Hemisphere


FOR 1-550 MILLION PLAYERS OF ALL AGES

Instructions: The object of the game is to move up. To begin, not all players start at the same spot. It depends on the country you're in. Players can climb ladders and move forward only when conditions favor mobility. When they don't, the player loses a turn or slides down. Good luck!

For all that we discuss inequality in the hemisphere, ultimately the most important, long-term issue is inter-generational mobility. If you are born poor and to parents with limited education, how likely is it that you will change your social station? The question has implications not just for social justice but for economics and politics as well. A country that provides the prospect of moving up fosters innovation, hard work and risk taking; and as it rewards talent it also provides returns for the economy. In contrast, low levels of social mobility, especially in highly unequal societies, can engender apathy or frustration.

Unfortunately, despite the topic's importance, there have been few comparative studies of social mobility in the hemisphere. Because of the difficulties of measuring economic advancement for a large sample population, cross-country studies use educational attainment as a proxy for economic advancement.

The gameboard contains most of the variables that are associated with social mobility. The penalty or reward for a square is a very rough (and ironic) way to convey the importance of the variable to social mobility. Not all scholars include the same factors or measure them in the same way. Birdsall and Szekely include inflation, trade openness and the depth of financial markets. Anderson includes family variables such as birth placement and the age of the parents. Nor do they all measure the variables (such as school quality) the same way.

With a few exceptions in the middle ranges, the studies agree on which countries are the most and least socially mobile-which is not necessarily correlated with inequality or GDP per capita. Guatemala is the least socially mobile country, with Brazil close behind; Bolivia and Ecuador follow. …

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