The Impact of Race and Inherited Wealth on Social Mobility

Palma Joy Strand, Inheriting Inequality: Wealth, Race and the Laws of Succession, 89 Oregon L. Rev. 453 (2010), available at SSRN. Paula Monopoli In her recent article, Inheriting Inequality: Wealth, Race and the Laws of Succession, Palma Joy Strand unpacks the connection between social mobility and inherited wealth. She situates this discussion within the broader picture of the increasing gap between rich and poor in the United States. Strand isolates the role of race in that trend and she argues that the transmission of inherited wealth, as much if not more than income levels, is a dominant predictor of whether a family will move between classes in American society. Her goal is to develop a theory of the relationship between inheritance and the reproduction of our economic structure. It is an ambitious goal and Strand makes substantial steps toward it in this article. Strand first presents the data on the increasing inequality of overall wealth accumulation in this country, noting the distinction between "income" and "wealth." She defines the former as the inflow of resources over time offset by outflows to cover expenses and the latter as accumulated assets most often accrued within the family. Strand cites sociologist Seymour Spilerman for the proposition that "even modest levels of wealth have the ability to "cushion" families, particularly low-income families from economic shocks such as illness or job loss" and that wealth levels are correlated with educational achievement and well-being. With this data, Strand lays the foundation for her argument that we must reform inheritance laws because they have a disparately negative impact on the accumulation of wealth in certain kinds of families. Continue reading "The Impact of Race and Inherited Wealth on Social Mobility"

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