Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

John Skvoretz, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Donileen Loseke, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Maralee Mayberry, Ph.D.


inequality, stratification, income, welfare


In this research I first examine how Americans’ perceptions of what it takes to get ahead are influenced by their income and then compare those perceptions to measured levels of intergenerational socio-economic mobility. By better understanding these relationships I hope to gain insight into the paths people see to upward mobility, how this varies by income, and to what extent this belief is reflected in past mobility measurements. Additionally, I compare perceptions of what it takes to get ahead with responses regarding attitudes towards public assistance. The results of such a comparison could have important implications for public policy.

The results reveal that there is a significant correlation between income and views of what it takes to get ahead with those at higher income levels perceiving greater levels of opportunity for mobility. Perceptions of opportunity for mobility appear high across all incomes relative to previous measurements of mobility. However, the low income group perceived less opportunity than the middle income group which reflects the pattern of measured levels of mobility. Also, views on the importance of educated parents and working hard are significant predictors of attitudes on public assistance. Belief in the less meritocratic indicators was associated with support for public assistance while belief in the more meritocratic indicators was associated with opposition.