….new research from Raj Chetty and Emmanuel Saez indicating that social mobility in the United States is not falling,
offering the not-so-reassuring news that the reason it isn’t falling is
that it’s been low for a long time.
………a different research program, associated with UC–Davis economic historian Gregory Clark, which argues that economic mobility is low almost everywhere. He reaches this conclusion with a different research method that lets
him explore much longer-term trends than most of the research you see
on this. …….if you have a noble surname in Sweden today, we know that
your father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s father (or
whatever) was a member of the Swedish elite more than 300 years ago. By
contrast, if you have the last name “Andersson” then that means that
wasn’t a nobleman and probably didn’t practice a skilled trade either.
That’s why he wound up with the generic surname. So we can look at the
present-day incomes of people with noble surnames and compare them to
the present-day incomes of people named “Andersson” and get a picture of
the long-term persistence of the noble/Andersson class gap.
And it’s all the more striking precisely because this identification
strategy is rather crude. A person with a noble surname could still be
of mostly lower- or middle-class ancestry and vice versa, so the
surname thing should underestimate the long-term persistence of the
class gap in Sweden.
According to a new book, The Son Also Rises, by academic Gregory Clark, our chances of getting on in life are largely down to what our family did 300 years ago. Contrary to brighter estimates, which suggest that
past prosperity or poverty can be erased in three to four generations,
Clark reckons it takes 10 to 15.
“Social mobility rates are similar across societies that vary
dramatically in their institutions and income levels. Cradle-to-grave
socialist Sweden and dog-eat-dog, free-to-lose America have similar
rates. Communist China and capitalist Taiwan have similar rates.