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more on the myth of the american dream

in this weekend’s globe and mail, there is more debunking of the american dream. apparently, for the less advantaged if you really want your children to live the american dream, you’d be better first stepping across the border to canada.

You know how it goes: The kid born in the log cabin becomes the president of United Steel. The prairie girl takes the bus to Hollywood and Vine and gets her name in lights. The ghetto kid makes it in the NBA.

It may be called the American dream, but it is far more likely to happen in Canada. We owe this observation to Miles Corak of Statistics Canada, who analyzed more than 400,000 tax files in the first really major and credible study of “intergenerational mobility.”

A kid born to a poor family in Canada (that is, a family with an income below $28,000) has only a 25-per-cent chance of earning the equivalent amount of money in adulthood. There’s about the same likelihood that he will earn up to $46,000, a 20-per-cent chance he will earn up to $65,000, another 1-in-5 chance he’ll make up to $95,000, and a 13-per-cent chance, better than 1 in 10, that he will pull a six-figure salary.

In other words, as my colleague Margaret Philp noted in a close look at Mr. Corak’s work, if you’re born in the bottom fifth of the income ladder, the odds are 3 out of 4 that you will do better than your parents. If you’re born at the bottom 10 per cent, you have less than a 1-in-6 chance of staying there. And if you’re born into the bottom half of the great divide, there’s a 40-per-cent chance you’ll wind up in the top half. We do get to see how the other half lives.

And how do our southern neighbours compare? Not so well at all. Mr. Corak compares different countries in a number of ways. In terms of interclass mobility, Canada ranks near the top, along with the northern European nations, no matter how you measure it. The United States and Great Britain rank fairly low. Mr. Corak concludes that the odds that a poor Canadian will make it into a higher snack bracket are two to three times better than for an American.

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