In America, the 1 percent are the villains. Everyone else—the 99 percent—are the good guys. Right? Not so, argues Brookings Senior Fellow Richard Reeves in a new book Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It. The real class divide, he says, is not between the upper class and everyone else; it is between the upper middle class and everyone else.
This separation is both economic and social, he writes, and the practice of “opportunity hoarding” is especially prevalent among parents who want to perpetuate privilege to the benefit of their children. While many families believe this is just good parenting, it is actually hurting others by reducing their chances of securing these opportunities. As Reeves shows in the book, there is a glass floor created for each affluent child helped by his or her wealthy, stable family. That glass floor is a glass ceiling for another child.
To illustrate Reeves’s argument, the Brookings Creative Lab created a short, interactive game to help you determine whether or not you are hoarding the American dream for your own child. Play it now:
If you’re a top earner, helping your child succeed can mean hurting the chances of a less privileged child.
Are you a Dream Hoarder?
If you’re in the upper middle class—the top 20% of income distribution—you may be. By helping your child succeed, you may be denying opportunities for another, less fortunate child.
The goal of this game is to see if you can help your own child without hurting the chances of someone else’s child.
You and your spouse have one child and make over $120,000 a year. That means you’re in the “favored fifth” of income distribution—and that your child has an automatic leg up.
Your family lives in a single–family home in an upscale neighborhood. New legislation could change the zoning code to allow multi–family housing, which often leads to an increase of lower–income residents.
Will you support the legislation?
Multi–family housing will likely increase traffic, lower property values, and crowd your child’s quality school. Will you still support the legislation?
By giving low–income students the chance to attend a high–quality school, you’re promoting economic opportunity.
Keeping lower–income families out of your neighborhood prevents diversity, deepens the wealth divide, and increasing gaps in school quality.
The zoning law passed. Your neighborhood will now have multi–family housing.
The zoning law didn’t pass. Your neighborhood won’t have multi–family housing.
Your child is applying to your alma mater, but he/she has a low SAT score. You know that your legacy status—and a sizeable donation to the school—will help his/her chances of getting in. Do you make the donation?
Helping your child succeed is important. Will you reconsider, make a donation, and use your legacy status?
You’re helping a motivated child in the lower 80 percent. But now your child may not be accepted to your alma mater.
You’re keeping out a more qualified student who can’t afford to make a donation.
Your child wasn’t accepted to your alma mater
Your child was accepted to your alma mater.
Your child is interested in law and looking for a summer internship.
Do you help him/her secure one at your friend’s firm?
It’s a tough job market, and internships often lead directly to job offers. Will you call your friend?
You’re contributing to a more meritocratic world. But opening the door for a less privileged applicant means your child may not get the internship.
By hoarding opportunity, your action gives an unfair advantage to those who need it less. Talented but less fortunate students don’t always have networks that lead to internships.
Your child didn’t get the internship.
Your child got the internship!
You’re helping hard working children move up the ladder and creating a more socially mobile society. But there’s a cost: in a world where relative mobility is a zero–sum game, your child is no longer in the top 20%.
Your child has succeeded. But by hoarding opportunities, you’ve helped him/her and hurt a talented, less–fortunate child. You’ve perpetuated an unfair system already tilted toward the top 20%. You’re a Dream Hoarder!
author of Dream Hoarders:
Created by Jessica Pavone and Yohann Paris.
Music by Gastón Reboredo.
Inspired by “The Voter Suppression Trail.”
If you are a dream hoarder, do not fear. Reeves has a list of five things you can do right now to start increasing social mobility.
For more on Dream Hoarders, listen to Reeves on the Brookings Cafeteria podcast and buy the book.
Disclaimer: To create this game, we simplified the situations that would determine whether or not you are hoarding opportunities for your children. Please read Dream Hoarders for context and the evidence-based research behind the questions.
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