Global trends in cross-cultural endorsement of social mobility : Evidence from 167 countries

Meanne CHAN, Felix CHEUNG, Charlie LAU, Ting Fung MA

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


The American Dream-the perception that upward social mobility depends on effort-is a central cultural ethos in the United States. The belief in upward social mobility is not unique to Americans, and cultural groups across the world endorse it to varying degrees. The current study aims to examine cross-cultural trends in perceived mobility and to test possible mechanisms that may explain changes in perceived mobility. Using a dataset of over 1.4 million participants across 167 countries from 2005 to 2019, we comprehensively document cultural variations in perceived mobility. Citizens in Bhutan, Qatar, and Uzbekistan reported the highest levels of perceived mobility, and the United States ranked 107. We further examined the trajectories of perceived mobility across a 15-year timespan and found rapid declines in perceived mobility in countries experiencing sociopolitical crises (e.g., in Syria and Hong Kong). Multilevel analyses revealed high-income individuals are 32% (95% confidence interval, CI [24%, 39%]) more likely to perceive mobility than low-income individuals, and the level of disparity did not decrease over time. Preregistered time-series analyses showed education privatization and economic condition Granger-cause perceived mobility, but these temporal associations showed heterogeneity across countries. Overall, we performed the world's largest global monitor of perceived mobility and discussed how the cultural value of perceived mobility unfolds in social, economic, and political contexts. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)917-932
Number of pages16
JournalThe American psychologist
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021

Bibliographical note

This article is part of the special issue “Psychological Perspectives on Cultural Change” published in the September 2021 issue of American Psychologist. Michael E. W. Varnum and Igor Grossmann served as guest editors of the special issue, with Lillian Comas-Díaz as advisory editor.


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