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
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.

The E ffects of Exposure to Better Neighborhoods on Children: New Evidence from the Moving to Opportunity Experiment Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Lawrence F. Katz

The E ffects of Exposure to Better Neighborhoods on Children: New Evidence from the Moving to Opportunity Experiment

Author: Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Lawrence F. Katz
Date: 08/2015

The Moving to Opportunity (MTO) experiment offered randomly selected families living in high-poverty housing projects housing vouchers to move to lower-poverty neighborhoods. We present new evidence on the impacts of MTO on children's long-term outcomes using administrative data from tax returns. We find that moving to a lower-poverty neighborhood signicantly improves college attendance rates and earnings for children who were young (below age 13) when their families moved. These children also live in better neighborhoods themselves as adults and are less likely to become single parents. The treatment effects are substantial: children whose families take up an experimental voucher to move to a lower-poverty area when they are less than 13 years old have an annual income that is $3,477 (31%) higher on average relative to a mean of $11,270 in the control group in their mid-twenties. In contrast, the same moves have, if anything, negative long-term impacts on children who are more than 13 years old when their families move, perhaps because of the disruption effects of moving to a very dierent environment. The gains from moving fall with the age when children move, consistent with recent evidence that the duration of exposure to a better environment during childhood is a key determinant of an individual's long-term outcomes. The findings imply that offering vouchers to move to lower-poverty neighborhoods to families with young children who are living in high-poverty housing projects may reduce the intergenerational persistence of poverty and ultimately generate positive returns for taxpayers.

Economic Mobility in the United States Pablo A. Mitnik

Economic Mobility in the United States

Author: Pablo A. Mitnik
Publisher: The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Russell Sage Foundation
Date: 07/2015

Given the substantial body of research on economic mobility, one might imagine that little remains unknown. This is not the case. Although it is well established that a person’s income is related to that of his or her
parents, the estimates of mobility range widely, making it difficult to reach a consensus on how evenly or unevenly opportunity is distributed. These and other limitations can be addressed with a new data set based on tax data and other administrative sources that was developed by the Statistics of Income (SOI) Division of the Internal Revenue Service. This data set, created to study tax policy and intergenerational mobility, allows for one of the most robust assessments of the intergenerational transmission of economic advantage yet conducted in the United States. This assessment finds the following:

1. Approximately half of parental income advantages are passed on to children. The intergenerational elasticity (IGE), when averaged across all levels of parental income, is estimated at 0.52 for men and 0.47 for women. These estimates are at the high end of previous estimates and imply that the United States is very immobile.

2. The persistence of advantage is especially large among those raised in the middle to upper reaches of the income distribution. The IGE among adults whose parents were between the 50th and 90th income percentiles is 0.68 for men and 0.63 for women. This means that approximately two-thirds of parental income differences within this region of the income distribution persist into the next generation.

3. Children born far apart in the income distribution have very different economic outcomes. The expected family income of children raised in families at the 90th income percentile is about three times that of children raised at the 10th percentile.

4. Parental income matters more for men’s earnings than for women’s. The average earnings IGE for men (0.56) is more than 40 percent higher than that for women (0.32). Although both men and women benefit from being born into higher-income families, men benefit much more—at least when it comes to their own earnings.

5. Parental income matters more for women’s chances of marriage, and of marrying better-off partners. The income IGE is large for men (0.52) mainly because children from higher-income families tend to have higher earnings as adults. For women, the income IGE is nearly as large (0.47), mainly because those from higher income origins are more likely to be married in their late 30s—and to marry higher-earnings partners.

These results show that children born into lower-income families can expect very different futures relative to those from higher-income families. Given the country’s commitment to equality of opportunity, the findings may suggest the need for policies that increase economic mobility. Because a wide range of institutions affect mobility, including the family, schools, labor markets, and the tax system, many entry points are possible for developing such policies. Although the findings of this report can inform public policy, they do not lead to particular policy prescriptions or indicate which of these many possible intervention points should be given priority.

Promoting Social and Economic Mobility in Washington, DC Gregory Acs, Lauren Eyster, Jonathan Schwabish

Promoting Social and Economic Mobility in Washington, DC

Author: Gregory Acs, Lauren Eyster, Jonathan Schwabish
Publisher: The Urban Institute
Date: 04/2015

As Mayor Bowser settles into her office, she leads a city that is growing more prosperous. Yet too many DC residents are not sharing in that prosperity. Since the last recession began in 2007, median income in DC has grown by three times the national average, reaching nearly $61,000 in 2013. Yet DC’s unemployment rate persistently remains about 1 percentage point higher than in the nation as a whole. Removing barriers to mobility and creating meaningful opportunities for all DC residents to prosper require various strategies. DC’s new mayor should adopt strategies and policies that can help city residents who struggle the most with becoming and staying connected to the labor market.

mobility - CPI Affiliates

Dennis Gilbert's picture Dennis Gilbert Professor of Sociology Emeritus; Lecturer in Sociology
Hamilton College
Petr Mateju's picture Petr Mateju Professor
Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic
Reinhard Pollak's picture Reinhard Pollak Head of the National Educational Panel Study: Vocational Training and Lifelong Learning, Social Science Research Center; Professor of Sociology, Freie Universität Berlin
Freie Universität Berlin
Rick Fantasia's picture Rick Fantasia Barbara Richmond 1940 Professor in the Social Sciences and Professor of Sociology; Director, Kahn Liberal Arts Institute
Smith College
Robert Erikson's picture Robert Erikson Professor, Institute for Social Research
Stockholm University


Mobility - Other Research

Title Author Media
Positional Externalities Cause Large and Preventable Welfare Losses Frank, Robert H.

Positional Externalities Cause Large and Preventable Welfare Losses

Author: Frank, Robert H.
Publisher: American Economic Review
Date: 01/2005
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.

Urban Poverty and Juvenile Crime: Evidence from a Randomized Housing-Mobility Experiment Jens Ludwig, Greg J. Duncan and Paul Hirschfield

Urban Poverty and Juvenile Crime: Evidence from a Randomized Housing-Mobility Experiment

Author: Jens Ludwig, Greg J. Duncan and Paul Hirschfield
Publisher: Quarterly Journal of Economics
Date: 05/2001
Skill-Biased Technological Change and Wage Inequality: Evidence from a Plant Retooling Roberto M. Fernandez

Skill-Biased Technological Change and Wage Inequality: Evidence from a Plant Retooling

Author: Roberto M. Fernandez
Publisher: American Journal of Sociology
Date: 02/2001
The Transition to Home Ownership and the Black-White Wealth Gap Charles, Kerwin Kofi, Erik Hurst

The Transition to Home Ownership and the Black-White Wealth Gap

Author: Charles, Kerwin Kofi, Erik Hurst
Date: 03/2000

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