MIP network leader Richard V. Reeves spoke to HCEO about his work studying issues of intergenerational mobility and inequality.

His new book, "Dream Hoarders," examines one particular aspect of this topic: the lack of mobility at the the top of the income distribution, broadly the top 20 percent. "I argue that the U.S. has a ruthlessly efficient class reproduction machine, which actually results in less mobility, especially at the top," Reeves says. The book contrasts social mobility in the U.S., where Reeves now lives, with his native country, the U.K.

"There's a sense of classlessness, the myth of meritocracy, in the U.S.," Reeves says. "It makes it a harder conversation to have here in some ways." 

Reeves' research looks at relative mobility rather absolute mobility. "Relative mobility is necessarily a zero-sum game," he says. "That's my sense of a fair society - quite a fluid one, an open one." The distinction is much debated, and results in vastly different policy implications.

"I've always been interested in this issue of intergenerational, relative mobility," Reeves says. "I've always had this sense that fairness lies not in the gaps between rich and poor, but in the opportunities there are to swap places, and the extent to which birth is destiny."
He believes the labor market, for the most part, acts meritocratically. "The inequality is in the preparation for the market competition," Reeves says. "It's really in the gaps we see in human capital formation and accumulation in the first quarter century of life."
Reeves is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, where he co-directs the Center on Children and Families. Learn more about his book, "Dream Hoarders," here.