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 I took up a study of opportunity and social mobility after observing in earlier studies on Escaping Poverty and Becoming Poor that individuals who escaped poverty rarely moved very far from their original situations. No matter how talented and how hardworking they were, individuals rising above poverty achieved very limited upward mobility. Realistic opportunities for converting ability and determination into results are out of reach for young people in poverty.

Regularly, in research trips to rural areas and urban slums I came across young individuals as bright as any I met at the university. It shocked me that smart young individuals who grew up in situations of poverty knew very little of alternative career pathways, had a limited set of middling role models, and exceedingly low career ambitions. 

I study social mobility and opportunity in a number of different ways:

  • investigating who gets to desirable career locations (like elite universities and leading professions), who does not get there, and why.
  • interrogating large data sets to compare parents’ and children’s education levels and occupational status and identify the underlying reasons.
  • helping bring together the best available knowledge on social mobility in developing countries.
  • identifying geographical sinkholes, areas with the least scope for upward mobility.
  • convening a group of more than three dozen non-government organizations in India that in different ways – through providing career guidance and information, exam preparation, supplementary education, role models and mentoring, etc. – help substantially elevate the career prospects of young low-income individuals. Helping increase the number and extend the reach of social mobility promoting organizations (SMPOs).
  • studying exemplary Ladders of Opportunity in different countries.