How to Be Upwardly Mobile

Photo: Dimitry B

For those of us in our teens, twenties, and thirties, we like to believe the world is at our doorstep. While many of us appreciate the lifestyles our parents offered us while growing up, we are constantly striving for more.

This is known as upward mobility — the ability to go beyond your parents’ social and/or economic class and potentially live the life you’ve dreamed about.

Unfortunately, as an article in the Star Tribune points out, the crushing reality of the situation is that only a third of American adults have moved beyond the income class of their parents. The study, done by the nonpartisan group Pew Charitable Trusts’ Economic Mobility Project, was quick to point out that 84% of individuals surveyed are indeed earning more than their parents. But the fact remains that moving up the economic class ladder is more difficult for this generation than it was for previous ones. (See also: Passing for Middle Class)

So how could you attain the fading dream of upward mobility?

Go for Pay Over Passion

If you’re about to enter college or currently undecided on a major, consider pursuing a career track that may not be your first choice but offers a higher income level than your “dream job.” For instance, you may be infatuated with a career in the film industry, but given the poor job prospects and comparatively low pay, you might think about majoring in something such as business or marketing and either leaving your passion as a hobby or finding a way to incorporate it into your career (these are just examples).

It comes down to what matters more to you — chasing your dream job (even if the future outlook on employment seems grim in comparison to other industries) or “keeping up with the Joneses” (or in this case, your parents) by moving up the income ladder with a high-paying job.

Remember: It's Not About Owning More “Stuff”

Speaking of the Joneses, upward mobility is not so much about the fact that your dad only drove Fords and you want to drive Porsches as much as it is about investing and saving for the future. The key to acquiring wealth is through investing, and the more you sock away now, the more you’ll have when you reach your parents’ current age. Exhibiting riches through the purchases of fancy homes and flashy sports cars will only take you so far up the socio-economic ladder; true wealth is displayed in your portfolio and, unlike a luxe car or extensive wine collection, the investments you make now can support you for the rest of your life.

Consider Relocation

A final consideration for members of Gen Y seeking upward mobility is to relocate to a place where the cost of living is substantially less. This could mean a state where income or property taxes are lower (or nonexistent at the state level when it comes to the income tax) or a location where the cost of basic living necessities is lower than where you grew up. For instance, if your parents raised you in California, perhaps you’d consider moving to Florida, where the climate is still warm and there’s no state income tax.

Other considerations aside (such as distance from family, climate, job prospects, etc.), this could be an excellent option for those hoping to live a relatively affluent lifestyle without getting bogged down by things such as an unsustainable mortgage or the high cost of food in an area.

Upward mobility — is it foolish fantasy? For those willing to make the lifestyle changes required to attain it, moving past your parents on the income ladder is most certainly possible.

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Guest's picture

When I was in the academe, I had a student who took up engineering because his parents wanted it and not because he really dreamed to become one. Let's call him John. Recently, I found out from his friends that he is now successful.... painter and sculptor. I learned that after college, John worked in a semiconductor industry as a researcher; however, he did not enjoy his job so he resigned and while waiting for his next job, he made a painting and gave it to a friend as a wedding gift. He made another one and sold it. He followed his heart. He enjoys what he is doing. He made a career and succeeded.

Guest's picture

Great points! They sort of encourage you to follow your passion in high school onward to university. Well, it turns out I *loved* history once a day for an hour, but not 24/7! I learned this the hard way. Now my passions stay passions (and hobies!) because trying to turn them into serious sources of income sucks all the fun out of them! I also always loved playing guitar and did fairly well in an independent band. ...The thought of trying to make any money at it is as depressing as hell. Nope, my music is fun, not business.