Finding Prosperity for More: What Contributes to Lifetime Income?

In 2023, Camber Collective and the Economic Mobility & Opportunity team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) partnered to publish and disseminate a first-of-its-kind meta-analysis of life experiences that contribute to lifetime income—and the different ways in which Americans perceive the impact of these life experiences.

In the United States and in absolute intergenerational terms, economic mobility has been declining for decades. While plenty of research has been conducted to understand the different causes and manifestations of this decline, few have looked at the relative importance of diverse experiences along the life path, nor integrated the beliefs and experiences of people across the country at such scale. Applying these prisms availed an opportunity to fill the evidence gaps; bring data to inform investments, programs, and policies; and begin to challenge common misbeliefs around the largely systemic drivers of economic prospects.

The study identifies the relative economic impact of 28 different life experiences from birth through adulthood, drawing upon a meta-analysis of peer-reviewed academic literature, program evaluations, expert consultations, and a first-of-its kind survey of 4000 Americans to provide important lived experience insights. We are excited to expand upon, and disseminate, our findings throughout 2024 as part of Camber’s new research series Mobility Experiences: A Research Series on Pathways to Economic Mobility. Key insights will be made available to technical user groups such as funders, local decision-makers, and direct service delivery organizations at the community level, alongside a broader push to embed findings within the general public discourse via media and website dissemination.

When we center people in research, our insights are consistently richer—supplementing the ‘what’ with the ‘why’ and the ‘how’. The Mobility Experiences research not only strengthens the evidence base of what is already shown to contribute to economic mobility, it also highlights opportunities for further investigation to strengthen evidence on the impact of life experiences we known to be critical, but for which evidence is currently less abundant. Moreover, this research helps to start shed light on the biases and inequities of traditional academic methods where the experiences of marginalized communities are often erased in data.

As a firm, we are hopeful this report activates greater, and more effective, investment toward research and integrated interventions that eliminate barriers and enhance access to important experiences across the life course for more Americans. We look forward to providing follow-on support to organizations who express interest in applying these findings, via more sustained technical assistance.