The United States is built upon the promise of the 'American Dream' - the idea that anyone can come from humble beginnings and become President of the United States, or at least own a nice house. That dream is what has brought countless immigrants to the shores of the United States and is the underpinning for nearly every speech by politicians during both the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention.

And yet, says a researcher from the University of Michigan, the idea of upward mobility is mostly a myth. The placement of your parents on the economic ladder is just as important here, in the United States, as it is in the rest of the developed world, if not more.

Fabian Pfeffer, sociologist from the University of Michigan, has studied inequality for years, long before Occupy Wall Street. His research came from data on two generations of the United States, as well as the same two generations in Sweden and Germany. He found that parental wealth plays an incredibly important role, even beyond the measures that researchers have previously covered, like parental education, income and occupation.

"Wealth not only fulfills a purchasing function, allowing families to buy homes in good neighborhoods and send their children to costly schools and colleges, for example, but it also has an insurance function, offering a sort of private safety net that gives children a very different set of choices as they enter the adult world," Pfeffer said in a statement. "Parental wealth also serves as a private safety net that not even the more generous European public programs and social services seem to provide."

What he means by this, he clarifies in his report, is that parents' wealth has the ability to buffer negative "socioeconomic and sociopsychological consequences".

For example, during our own recession, people with wealthier parents were able to rely on them when they were unemployed or if they dropped out of college, lessening the effect of the bad economy. These individuals are able to pursue careers that are less lucrative, or pursue greater amounts of education. Even the ability to go to college or pursue a post-graduate education is, in many cases, only afforded to people whose parents have a certain amount of wealth.

The report says that, obviously, people who are more educated tend to have higher incomes while people with higher social status tend to have greater wealth. But interestingly, he makes a distinction between wealth and income, preferring to tie wealth to assets. Income, after all, can stop flowing.

Occupation can provide connections and networking opportunities, but mainly if children follow in the same occupational footsteps as their parents. Parental education is most directly linked to providing intellectual stimulation, but not necessarily wealth. (After all, a person with a PhD in English may not necessarily be wealthy, but will probably have a lot of books in their home for their children to read).

The report also adds that wealthier parents have the opportunity to send their children to better schools, whether by sending children to private schools or by living in towns with better school districts. Those towns, also, tend to have higher property taxes. High schools, particularly in the United States, tend to be hugely important in determining whether a child goes to college, and to which college they go, particularly because the American university system is so expensive.

In Germany, schooling is even more stratified, as there are three high school tracks, and only one leads directly into college. These tracks are chosen when students are between the ages of 11 and 13. Since college education is less expensive there in the United States, college entrance is directly linked with how well parents can navigate the system.

Sweden, on the other hand, has education that is free and standardized at all levels, which lessens the difference between advantaged and disadvantaged schools.

Pfeiffer will be presenting his report at the Panel Study of Income Dynamics Conference. The report can be found in its entirety here.