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
Educational Homogamy in Two Gilded Ages: Evidence from Intergenerational Social Mobility Data. Robert Mare

Educational Homogamy in Two Gilded Ages: Evidence from Intergenerational Social Mobility Data.

Author: Robert Mare
Publisher: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Date: 01/2016

Patterns of intermarriage between persons who have varying levels of educational attainment are indicators of socioeconomic closure and affect the family backgrounds of children. This article documents trends in educational assortative mating throughout the twentieth century in the United States, using socioeconomic data on adults observed in several large cross section surveys collected between 1972 and 2010 and on their parents who married a generation earlier. Spousal resemblance on educational attainment was very high in the early twentieth century, declined to an all-time low for young couples in the early 1950s, and has increased steadily since then. These trends broadly parallel the compression and expansion of socioeconomic inequality in the United States over the twentieth century. Additionally, educationally similar parents are more likely to have offspring who themselves marry within their own educational level. If homogamy in the parent generation leads to homogamy in the offspring generation, this may reinforce the secular trend toward increased homogamy.

Intergenerational Mobility and Gender in Mexico Florencia Torche

Intergenerational Mobility and Gender in Mexico

Author: Florencia Torche
Publisher: Social Forces
Date: 12/2015

This article studies intergenerational socioeconomic mobility in Mexico comparing men and women. In contrast to most sociological work that uses individual-level measures to proxy family socioeconomic status, we use a direct measure of family living standards for both generations, based on an index of economic well-being. Strong intergenerational persistence is found in Mexico compared to other countries. Persistence is stronger for men than women, particularly among advantaged families. The role of education in the mobility process is examined. Findings indicate that “excess immobility” of men is not mediated by education. Wider gender differences among married/cohabiting than single respondents suggests parents are more likely to transfer socioeconomic resources to their married sons than married daughters. We argue for the advantages of measuring socioeconomic status directly at the household level, and of evaluating gender differences to gain insight about mobility mechanisms.

Intergenerational Mobility and Equality of Opportunity Florencia Torche

Intergenerational Mobility and Equality of Opportunity

Author: Florencia Torche
Publisher: European Journal of Sociology
Date: 12/2015

Intergenerational mobility—the association between parents’ and adult children’s economic wellbeing—is an important sociological concept because it provides information about inequality of opportunity in society, and it has gained relevance in the recent past due to the increase economic inequality in most of the affluent world. This article provides an overview of the different measures of mobility used by sociologists and economists, as well as main empirical findings about mobility. I then move to topics that push mobility analysis beyond its bivariate focus: The association between intergenerational mobility and economic inequality, the mechanisms for mobility, and the validity of mobility as a measure of inequality of opportunity. I suggest that the association between mobility and inequality is likely spurious, driven by varying institutional arrangements across countries, and that mobility analysis is most useful when focused on describing the bivariate intergenerational association across countries and over time.

Severe Deprivation in America: An Introduction Matthew Desmond

Severe Deprivation in America: An Introduction

Author: Matthew Desmond
Publisher: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences
Date: 11/2015

Poverty researchers from across the social sciences have the opportunity to reach collectively toward a new paradigm—not just a new way of thinking but a whole different approach to the study of vulnerability, violence, and marginality, one that carries methodological, policy-relevant, and normative implications. Most research is rooted in theories now a few decades old. These theories have stood the test of time because they are incisive, sweeping, and validated. But they also were developed before the United States began incarcerating more of its citizens than any other nation; before urban rents soared and poor families began dedicating the majority of their income to housing; before welfare reform caused caseloads to plummet; and before the crack epidemic tore apart poor minority communities. In recent years, the very nature of poverty in America has changed, especially at the very bottom. A new poverty agenda is needed for a world that is itself quite new.

Prospective Versus Retrospective Approaches to the Study of Intergenerational Social Mobility Xi Song, Robert Mare

Prospective Versus Retrospective Approaches to the Study of Intergenerational Social Mobility

Author: Xi Song, Robert Mare
Publisher: Sociological Methods and Research
Date: 11/2015

Most intergenerational social mobility studies are based upon retrospective data, in which samples of individuals report socioeconomic information about their parents, an approach that provides representative data for offspring but not the parental generation. When available, prospective data on intergenerational mobility, which are based on a sample of respondents who report on their progeny, have conceptual and practical advantages. Prospective data are especially useful for studying social mobility across more than two generations and for developing joint models of social mobility and demographic processes. Because prospective data remain relatively scarce, we propose a method that corrects retrospective mobility data for the unrepresentativeness of the parental generation and thus permits them to be used for models of social mobility and demographic processes. We illustrate this method using both simulated data and data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. In our examples, this method removes more than 95 percent of the bias in the retrospective data.

Mobility - CPI Affiliates

Anthony Giddens Professor Lord (Emeritus); Director, Center for the Study of Global Governance London School of Economics and Political Science
Anthony Heath Emeritus Professor of Sociology; Fellow of Nuffield College University of Oxford
Carlos-Antonio-... Professor Intituto Universitario de Pesquisas do Rio de Janeiro
Dalton Conley University Professor of the Social Sciences and Adjunct Professor of Community Medicine, Mt. Sinai School of Medicine; Research Associate, National Bureau of Economic Research New York University
Dennis Gilbert Professor of Sociology Hamilton College


Mobility - Other Research

Title Author Media
The Race Between Education and Technology Goldin, Claudia, Lawrence F. Katz

The Race Between Education and Technology

Author: Goldin, Claudia, Lawrence F. Katz
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Date: 03/2010
Trends in U.S. Wage Inequality: Revising the Revisionists David H. Autor, Lawrence F. Katz and Melissa S....

Trends in U.S. Wage Inequality: Revising the Revisionists

Author: David H. Autor, Lawrence F. Katz and Melissa S....
Publisher: Review of Economics and Statistics
Date: 04/2008
Making it in America: Social Mobility in the Immigrant Population George Borjas

Making it in America: Social Mobility in the Immigrant Population

Author: George Borjas
Publisher: National Bureau of Economic Research
Date: 03/2006
The End of American Exceptionalism? Mobility in the U.S. Since 1850 Joseph P. Ferrie

The End of American Exceptionalism? Mobility in the U.S. Since 1850

Author: Joseph P. Ferrie
Publisher: National Bureau of Economic Research
Date: 04/2005
Social Mobility in Europe Richard Breen

Social Mobility in Europe

Author: Richard Breen
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Date: 01/2005

Social Mobility in Europe is the most comprehensive study to date of trends in intergenerational social mobility. It uses data from 11 European countries covering the last 30 years of the twentieth century to analyze differences between countries and changes through time. The findings call into question several long-standing views about social mobility. We find a growing similarity between countries in their class structures and rates of absolute mobility: in other words, the countries of Europe are now more alike in their flows between class origins and destinationsthan they were thirty years ago. However, differences between countries in social fluidity (that is, the relative chances, between people of different class origins, of being found in given class destinations) show no reduction and so there is no evidence supporting theories of modernization whichpredict such convergence. Our results also contradict the long-standing Featherman Jones Hauser hypothesis of a basic similarity in social fluidity in all industrial societies 'with a market economy and a nuclear family system'. There are considerable differences between countries like Israel andSweden, where societal openness is very marked, and Italy, France, and Germany, where social fluidity rates are low. Similarly, there is a substantial difference between, for example, the Netherlands in the 1970s (which was quite closed) and in the 1990s, when it ranks among the most open societies. Mobility tables reflect many underlying processes and this makes it difficult to explain mobility and fluidity or to provide policy prescriptions. Nevertheless, those countries in which fluidity increased over the last decadesof the twentieth century had not only succeeded in reducing classinequalities in educational attainment but had also restricted the degree to which, among people with the same level of education, class background affected their chances of gaining access to better class destinations.