Social Mobility

  • Gary Solon
  • Raj Chetty
  • Florencia Torche

Leaders: Raj Chetty, Gary Solon, Florencia Torche

The purpose of the Social Mobility RG is to develop and exploit new administrative sources for measuring mobility and the effects of policy on mobility out of poverty. This research group is doing so by (a) providing comprehensive analyses of intergenerational mobility based on linked administrative data from U.S. tax returns, W-2s, and other sources, and (b) developing a new infrastructure for monitoring social mobility, dubbed the American Opportunity Study, that is based on linking census and other administrative data. Here’s a sampling of projects:

Small place estimates: The Equal Opportunity Project, led by Raj Chetty, uses tax return data to monitor opportunities for mobility out of poverty. In one of the new lines of analysis coming out of this project, the first round of results at the level of “commuting zones” are being redone at a more detailed level (e.g., census block level), thus allowing for even better inferences about the effects of place.

The American Opportunity Study: This research group is also collaborating with the Census Bureau to develop a new infrastructure for monitoring mobility that treats linked decennial census data as the spine on which other administrative data are hung.

Colleges and rising income inequality: Where do poor children go to attend college? The “Mobility Report Card” will convey the joint distribution of parent and student incomes for every Title IV institution in the United States.

The “absolute mobility” of the poor: What fraction of poor children grow up to earn more than their parents? Have rates of absolute upward mobility changed over time? This project develops a new method of estimating rates of absolute mobility for the 1940-1984 birth cohorts.

Intergenerational elasticities in the U.S.: There remains some debate about the size of intergenerational elasticities in the U.S. A rarely-used sample of 1987 tax data provides new evidence on U.S. elasticities.

Mobility - CPI Research

Title Author Media
State of the Union 2017: Intergenerational Mobility Florencia Torche

State of the Union 2017: Intergenerational Mobility

Author: Florencia Torche
Publisher: Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality
Date: 06/2017

The persistence of affluence is stronger for whites, while the persistence of poverty is stronger for blacks. However, beginning with generations that came of age in the mid-1960s, the white-black gap in the chance of escaping poverty has closed significantly.

Mobility Report Cards: The Role of Colleges in Intergenerational Mobility Raj Chetty, John N. Friedman, Emmanuel Saez, Nicholas Turner, Danny Yagan

Mobility Report Cards: The Role of Colleges in Intergenerational Mobility

Author: Raj Chetty, John N. Friedman, Emmanuel Saez, Nicholas Turner, Danny Yagan
Publisher:
Date: 01/2017

We characterize rates of intergenerational income mobility at each college in the United States using administrative data for over 30 million college students from 1999-2013. We document four results. First, access to colleges varies greatly by parent income. For example, children whose parents are in the top 1% of the income distribution are 77 times more likely to attend an Ivy League college than those whose parents are in the bottom income quintile. Second, children from low and high-income families have very similar earnings outcomes conditional on the college they attend, indicating that there is little mismatch of low socioeconomic status students to selective colleges. Third, upward mobility rates – measured, for instance, by the fraction of students who come from families in the bottom income quintile and reach the top quintile – vary substantially across colleges. Much of this variation is driven by differences in the fraction of students from low-income families across colleges whose students have similar earnings outcomes. Mid-tier public universities such as the City University of New York and California State colleges tend to have the highest rates of bottom-to-top quintile mobility. Elite private colleges, such as Ivy League universities, have the highest rates of upper-tail (e.g., bottom quintile to top 1%) mobility. Finally, between the 1980 and 1991 birth cohorts, the fraction of students from bottom-quintile families fell sharply at colleges with high rates of bottom-to-topquintile mobility, and did not change substantially at elite private institutions. Although our descriptive analysis does not identify colleges’ causal effects on students’ outcomes, the publicly available statistics constructed here highlight colleges that deserve further study as potential engines of upward mobility.

The Fading American Dream: Trends in Absolute Income Mobility Since 1940 Raj Chetty, David Grusky, Maximilian Hell, Nathaniel Hendren, Robert Manduca, Jimmy Narang

The Fading American Dream: Trends in Absolute Income Mobility Since 1940

Author: Raj Chetty, David Grusky, Maximilian Hell, Nathaniel Hendren, Robert Manduca, Jimmy Narang
Publisher:
Date: 12/2016

We estimate rates of “absolute income mobility” – the fraction of children who earn more than their parents – by combining historical data from Census and CPS cross-sections with panel data for recent birth cohorts from de-identified tax records. Our approach overcomes the key data limitation that has hampered research on trends in intergenerational mobility: the lack of large panel datasets linking parents and children. We find that rates of absolute mobility have fallen from approximately 90% for children born in 1940 to 50% for children born in the 1980s. The result that absolute mobility has fallen sharply over the past half century is robust to the choice of price deflator, the definition of income, and accounting for taxes and transfers. In counterfactual simulations, we find that increasing GDP growth rates alone cannot restore absolute mobility to the rates experienced by children born in the 1940s. In contrast, changing the distribution of growth across income groups to the more equal distribution experienced by the 1940 birth cohort would reverse more than 70% of the decline in mobility. These results imply that reviving the “American Dream” of high rates of absolute mobility would require economic growth that is spread more broadly across the income distribution.

Opportunity without Equity: Educational Inequality and Constitutional Protections in Egypt Michelle Jackson, Elizabeth Buckner

Opportunity without Equity: Educational Inequality and Constitutional Protections in Egypt

Author: Michelle Jackson, Elizabeth Buckner
Publisher: Sociological Science
Date: 08/2016

The claim that the law can be an inequality-reducing weapon is a staple of legal and political discourse. Although it is hard to dispute that legal provisions sometimes work to reduce inequality, we argue that, at least in the domain of equal opportunity in education, the pattern of these effects can be more perverse than has typically been appreciated. Positive laws implemented in the name of promoting equality of opportunity may yield only a narrowly formal equality, with the goal of substantive equality undermined because a high-profile reform will often expose the pathway to educational success. The pathway, once exposed, can then be navigated and successfully subverted by the socioeconomically advantaged. We illustrate such pitfalls of a positive legal approach by examining educational inequality in Egypt, a country with long-standing constitutional protections for equality of opportunity in education. Using data recently collected from a cohort of young people, we show that despite the institutional commitments to equality of opportunity present in Egypt, privileged families have a range of options for subverting the aims of positive legal provisions. We argue that the pattern of educational inequality in Egypt is distinctive relative to countries without similar legal protections.

Twenty-First-Century Globalization and Illegal Migration Katharine M. Donato, Douglas S. Massey

Twenty-First-Century Globalization and Illegal Migration

Author: Katharine M. Donato, Douglas S. Massey
Publisher: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Date: 07/2016

Also labeled undocumented, irregular, and unauthorized migration, illegal migration places immigrants in tenuous legal circumstances with limited rights and protections. We argue that illegal migration emerged as a structural feature of the second era of capitalist globalization, which emerged in the late twentieth century and was characterized by international market integration. Unlike the first era of capitalist globalization (1800 to 1929), the second era sees countries limiting and controlling international migration and creating a global economy in which all markets are globalized except for labor and human capital, giving rise to the relatively new phenomenon of illegal migration. Yet despite rampant inequalities in wealth and income between nations, only 3.1 percent of all people lived outside their country of birth in 2010. We expect this to change: threat evasion is replacing opportunity seeking as a motivation for international migration because of climate change and rising levels of civil violence in the world’s poorer nations. The potential for illegal migration is thus greater now than in the past, and more nations will be forced to grapple with growing populations in liminal legal statuses.

mobility - CPI Affiliates

David Grusky's picture David Grusky Director, Center on Poverty and Inequality; Professor of Sociology
Stanford University
Emmanuel Saez's picture Emmanuel Saez Income and Wealth Research Group Leader; Professor of Economics; Director, Center for Equitable Growth
University of California, Berkeley
Florencia Torche's picture Florencia Torche Mobility Research Group Leader, Professor of Sociology
Stanford University
Raj Chetty's picture Raj Chetty Mobility Research Group Leader, Income and Wealth Research Group Leader, Director of Opportunity Lab
Stanford University
Gary Solon's picture Gary Solon Mobility Research Group Leader; Eller Professor of Economics; Research Associate, National Bureau of Economic Research; Research Fellow, IZA; Fellow, Society of Labor Economists.
University of Arizona

Pages

Mobility - Other Research

Title Author Media
And Their Children After Them? The Effect of College on Educational Reproduction Matthew Lawrence, Richard Breen

And Their Children After Them? The Effect of College on Educational Reproduction

Author: Matthew Lawrence, Richard Breen
Publisher: American Journal of Sociology
Date: 09/2016

Conventional analyses of social mobility and status reproduction retrospectively compare an outcome of individuals to a characteristic of their parents. By ignoring the mechanisms of family formation and excluding childless individuals, conventional approaches introduce selection bias into estimates of how characteristics in one generation affect an outcome in the next. The prospective approach introduced here integrates the effects of college on marriage and fertility into the reproduction of educational outcomes. Marginal structural models with inverse probability of treatment weighting are used with data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study to estimate the causal effect of pathways linking graduating from college with having a child who graduates from college. Results show that college increases male graduates’ probability of having a child who completes college; for female graduates there is no effect. The gender distinction is largely explained by the negative effects of college on women’s likelihood to marry and have children.

The Potential and Limitations of Cross-Context Comparative Research on Migration Fernando Riosmena

The Potential and Limitations of Cross-Context Comparative Research on Migration

Author: Fernando Riosmena
Publisher: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Date: 07/2016

This article discusses major methodological challenges in the comparative study of the drivers of international mobility (between different times and places) when using household surveys. Noting the difference between the study of coterminous and stage-specific drivers of migration, I highlight the problems of obtaining data with adequate representation across periods and geographies, which are pressing for all social science research but especially for cross-local comparative endeavors. I discuss the advantages and drawbacks of a broad constellation of prospective and retrospective approaches, paying particular attention to the migration ethnosurvey. After briefly describing the general commonalities and differences of ethnosurvey approaches adopted around the world, I suggest how post hoc case selection and other adjustments can help to ameliorate retrospective biases and comparability problems. I conclude with ideas on a priori case selection that can help to bolster comparative migration studies.

Social Mobility Among Second-Generation Latinos Van C. Tran

Social Mobility Among Second-Generation Latinos

Author: Van C. Tran
Publisher: Contexts
Date: 04/2016

New data shows that Latinos weathered the recession well and are poised to seize opportunities for further social mobility.

Social Mobility in a High-Inequality Regime Pablo A. Mitnik, Erin Cumberworth, David B. Grusky

Social Mobility in a High-Inequality Regime

Author: Pablo A. Mitnik, Erin Cumberworth, David B. Grusky
Publisher: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Date: 01/2016

Are opportunities to get ahead growing more unequal? Using data from the General Social Survey (GSS), it is possible to provide evidence on this question, evidence that is suggestive but must be carefully interpreted because the samples are relatively small. The GSS data reveal an increase in class reproduction among young and middle-age adults that is driven by the growing advantage of the professional-managerial class relative to all other classes. This trend is largely consistent with our new “top-income hypothesis” that posits that rising income inequality registers its effects on social mobility almost exclusively in the divide between the professional-managerial class and all other classes. We develop a two-factor model in which the foregoing effects of the inequality takeoff are set against the countervailing effects of the expansion of mass education. As the model implies, the trend in intergenerational association takes on a convex shape in the younger age groups, with the change appearing to accelerate in the most recent decade. These results suggest that the takeoff in income inequality may account in part for the decline in mobility.

Changing Family Structures Play a Major Role in the Fight Against Poverty Lawrence Aber, Stuart Butler, Sheldon Danziger, Robert Doar, David T. Ellwood, Judith M. Gueron, Jonathan Haidt, Ron Haskins, Harry J. Holzer, Kay Hymowitz, Lawrence Mead, Ronald Mincy, Richard V. Reeves, Michael R. Strain, Jane Waldfogel

Changing Family Structures Play a Major Role in the Fight Against Poverty

Author: Lawrence Aber, Stuart Butler, Sheldon Danziger, Robert Doar, David T. Ellwood, Judith M. Gueron, Jonathan Haidt, Ron Haskins, Harry J. Holzer, Kay Hymowitz, Lawrence Mead, Ronald Mincy, Richard V. Reeves, Michael R. Strain, Jane Waldfogel
Publisher: AEI-Brookings Working Group on Poverty and Opportunity
Date: 12/2015

Improving the family environment in which children are raised is vital to any serious effort to reduce poverty and expand opportunity.  Twenty-five years of extensive and rigorous research has shown that children raised in stable, secure families have a better chance to flourish.

The family structure in and of itself is an important factor in reducing poverty: children raised in single-parent families are nearly five times as likely to be poor as those in married-couple families.

In Chapter 3 of a new report from the AEI-Brookings Working Group on Poverty and Opportunity, the Working Group recommends policies that:

  1. Promote marriage as the most reliable route to family stability and resources;
  2. Promote delayed, responsible childbearing;
  3. Promote parenting skills and practices, especially among low-income parents; and
  4. Promote skill development, family involvement, and employment among young men as well as women.