Does perceived social mobility shape attitudes toward government and family educational investment? By: Wen, Fangqi; Witteveen, Dirk. Social Science Research. Aug2021, Vol. 98, pN.PAG-N.PAG. 1p.

Education is considered a key driver of intergenerational social mobility in the United States. However, the past several decades have witnessed a dramatic increase in the costs of college attendance, which puts political pressure on what the roles of government and families in education financing ought to be. In this study, we examine how individuals’ perception of society’s intergenerational mobility affects their willingness to financially support children in college, as well as their opinion on whether the government should take a smaller or bigger role. Perceptions of mobility matter because they reflect individuals’ estimated opportunity structure and thereby an important component of returns to education. Using data from a nationally representative online survey and a novel design to measure perceived mobility, we show that (1) individuals who believe to live in a more mobile society exhibit more aversion toward government spending and a preference for students relying on family support; (2) these associations are stronger among higher-SES groups; and (3) information treatments randomly assigning objective social mobility facts make individuals who overestimate the level of social mobility even more eager to contribute to tuition costs. These findings suggest that learning about factual levels of mobility reinforces existing beliefs and possibly their consequences for educational investment.