What you'll learn

  • Explore the history of the American Dream—where children often grew up to financially outperform their parents—and why that dream has faded.

  • Understand why upward mobility has geographically shifted significantly and what led to those changes.

  • Study the characteristics of places with high upward mobility by looking at historical data and the price of opportunity.

  • Compare economic mobility trends across the U.S. and other countries around the globe.

Course description

"Those who pursue the American Dream believe that no matter how much they accomplish, there is always something better to strive for." – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Many families in the United States dream of a future where children will surpass their parents’ wealth and seek a higher standard of living, through economic mobility, better education, and increased earning potential. While that may have been a reality for some in the mid-20th century, the “American Dream” is drastically fading– highlighting even greater socio-economic divides.

While researchers have explored the many contributing factors to this decline, the answer is not a simple one. The rise of inequality in the United States is a strong indicator of the decline in mobility and often is impacted by geographic location, quality of education, and household size and income.

In Evaluating Upward Mobility: The Fading American Dream , you will explore these factors in detail in order to understand the historical characteristics of high-mobility groups and factors that impact growth, like geography and access to opportunity. Using big data sets and data science, you will learn to compare trends across the U.S. and understand the causal effect of policies that can expand opportunities in specific neighborhoods. By the end of this course, you will have a foundational understanding of how big data can be used to measure mobility and solve social problems.


William A. Ackman Professor of Public Economics at Harvard University, Director of Opportunity Insights

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Think critically about social questions such as education policy, upward income mobility, and racial disparities, and understand how big data can answer these questions as well as impact policies that lead to improved outcomes around the world.

4 weeks long
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