Perception of economic inequality weakens Americans’ beliefs in both upward and downward socioeconomic mobility

Alexander S. Browman*, Mesmin Destin, David B. Miele

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The prospect of socioeconomic mobility has long been a prominent concept in American life; however, research has shown that economic inequality can weaken Americans’ beliefs in the prospect of upward mobility for poorer individuals in their country. In one correlational study, two experimental studies, and an internal meta-analysis, we extend this work by demonstrating that Americans’ perceptions of inequality can also influence their beliefs about another form of mobility that is necessary in a truly mobile society: downward mobility for richer individuals. Specifically, we found that the more that Americans’ perceptions of inequality in their country shifted toward extreme levels—toward the view that a small minority of the population holds a much greater proportion of the state’s wealth than all other groups combined—the more likely they were to believe that both upward and downward mobility were unlikely. That is, they believed that social class groups in their country were largely ossified and impermeable, and thus that Americans were unlikely to move out of the groups they were born into. We discuss the potential implications of these findings for important motivational and behavioural outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAsian Journal of Social Psychology
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • beliefs
  • inequality
  • mobility
  • perceptions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Social Sciences(all)


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