Beliefs about socioeconomic mobility have important consequences, writes Mesmin Destin, especially for young people. Moreover, research by psychologists shows that such beliefs are malleable, based on the information and circumstances people encounter.
The consequences of beliefs about mobility can be quite positive. When young people perceive that they have opportunities and financial resources to help them reach their goals, they are more likely to take the steps that can lead to upward socioeconomic mobility. But the consequences can also be negative. Overemphasizing opportunities while de-emphasizing systematic barriers and inequality, Destin writes, makes it less likely that people will take collective action against discrimination and address inequality’s structural roots.
Destin proposes several ways that policymakers and others could navigate this tension. One, for example, is to convey a more balanced notion to young people: that opportunities are available, but unfair barriers exist that particularly affect members of certain groups. In the end, though, he concludes, perhaps the most effective way to shape people’s perceptions of opportunity is to expand the pathways to upward socioeconomic mobility and make them more accessible to all young people.