On ‘Downton Abbey,’ downward mobility in period garb

Downton AbbeyPart of [Downton Abbey’s] appeal is the smugness of hindsight. Just like “Mad Men” helps us think, “At least we’re not that sexist,” “Downton” lets us congratulate ourselves about American social mobility. Sure, we’ve got our 1 percent, the series reassures us, but we’re not all consigned to being masters and servants forever…

But the show seems most entranced with the notion of downward mobility. Consider the coming-of-age daughters of the wealthy Crawley family, raised in a palace that’s even bigger than Mitt Romney’s house in New Hampshire. Lady Mary is about to marry a common-born newspaper mogul, who sees their union as a business partnership. Lady Sybil is flirting with her Bolshevik chauffeur. Lady Edith steals a snog with a local farmer…

Then again, how satisfied should Americans be that our own country replaced rigid class with opportunity? In a 2007 study funded by the Russell Sage Foundation, researchers found that the United States lags behind most developed countries in social mobility, defined as the likelihood that someone will grow up to be better off than his parents.

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