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
It's Not Like I'm Poor: How Working Families Make Ends Meet in a Post-Welfare World Sarah Halpern-Meekin, Kathryn Edin, Laura Tach, Jennifer Sykes

It's Not Like I'm Poor: How Working Families Make Ends Meet in a Post-Welfare World

Author: Sarah Halpern-Meekin, Kathryn Edin, Laura Tach, Jennifer Sykes
Publisher: University of California Press
Date: 01/2015

The world of welfare has changed radically. As the poor trade welfare checks for low-wage jobs, their low earnings qualify them for a hefty check come tax time—a combination of the earned income tax credit and other refunds. For many working parents this one check is like hitting the lottery, offering several months’ wages as well as the hope of investing in a better future. Drawing on interviews with 115 families, the authors look at how parents plan to use this annual cash windfall to build up savings, go back to school, and send their kids to college. However, these dreams of upward mobility are often dashed by the difficulty of trying to get by on meager wages. In accessible and engaging prose, It’s Not Like I’m Poor examines the costs and benefits of the new work-based safety net, suggesting ways to augment its strengths so that more of the working poor can realize the promise of a middle-class life.

A Summary of What We Know About Social Mobility Michael Hout

A Summary of What We Know About Social Mobility

Author: Michael Hout
Publisher: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Date: 01/2015

Academic research on social mobility from the 1960s until now has made several facts clear. First, and most important, it is better to ask how the conditions and circumstances of early life constrain adult success than to ask who is moving up and who is not. The focus on origins keeps the substantive issues of opportunity and fairness in focus, while the mobility question leads to confusing side issues. Second, mobility is intrinsically symmetrical; each upward move is offset by a downward move in the absence of growth, expansion, or immigration. Third, social origins are not a single dimension of inequality that can be paired with the outcome of interest (without significant excluded variable bias); they are a comprehensive set of conditions describing the circumstances of youth. Fourth, the constraints of social origins vary by time, place, and subpopulation. These four “knowns” should inform any attempt to collect new data on mobility.

Monitoring Social Mobility in the Twenty-First Century. The Annals, volume 657 David Grusky, Timothy Smeeding, C. Matthew Snipp

Monitoring Social Mobility in the Twenty-First Century. The Annals, volume 657

Author: David Grusky, Timothy Smeeding, C. Matthew Snipp
Publisher: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Date: 01/2015

The last major survey on U.S. social mobility was fielded in 1973.  Since then, the country’s capacity to monitor trends in mobility has languished, making it difficult to evaluate new concerns that mobility may be declining or to develop evidence-based policy on mobility and opportunity.  Once a leader in mobility research, the U.S. is now one of the few advanced industrial countries that lacks a high-quality infrastructure for monitoring trends in mobility, a surprising state of affairs for a country so committed to openness and equal opportunity.  The purpose of this volume, which brings together the country’s top scholars of mobility, is to examine how the U.S. can rectify this state of affairs and restore its capacity to monitor trends in mobility and to speak to the effects of social programs on opportunity.   

A New Infrastructure for Monitoring Social Mobility in the United States David B. Grusky, Timothy M. Smeeding, C. Matthew Snipp

A New Infrastructure for Monitoring Social Mobility in the United States

Author: David B. Grusky, Timothy M. Smeeding, C. Matthew Snipp
Publisher: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Date: 01/2015

The country’s capacity to monitor trends in social mobility has languished since the last major survey on U.S. social mobility was fielded in 1973. It is accordingly difficult to evaluate recent concerns that social mobility may be declining or to develop mobility policy that is adequately informed by evidence. This article presents a new initiative, dubbed the American Opportunity Study (AOS), that would allow the country to monitor social mobility efficiently and with great accuracy. The AOS entails developing the country’s capacity to link records across decennial censuses, the American Community Survey, and administrative sources. If an AOS of this sort were assembled, it would open up new fields of social science inquiry; increase opportunities for evidence-based policy on poverty, mobility, child development, and labor markets; and otherwise constitute a new social science resource with much reach and impact.

Where is the Land of Opportunity? The Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Patrick Kline, Emmanuel Saez

Where is the Land of Opportunity? The Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States

Author: Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Patrick Kline, Emmanuel Saez
Publisher:
Date: 06/2014

The United States is often hailed as the “land of opportunity,” a society in which a child’s chances of success depend little on his family background. Is this reputation warranted? We show that this question does not have a clear answer because there is substantial variation in intergenerational mobility across areas within the U.S. The U.S. is better described as a collection of societies, some of which are “lands of opportunity” with high rates of mobility across generations, and others in which few children escape poverty.

We characterize intergenerational mobility using information from de-identified federal income tax records, which provide data on the incomes of more than 40 million children and their parents between 1996 and 2012.

mobility - CPI Affiliates

Mikk Titma's picture Mikk Titma Senior Research Scholar
Stanford University
Adrian E. Raftery's picture Adrian E. Raftery Professor of Statistics and Sociology
University of Washington
Moshe Semyonov's picture Moshe Semyonov Bernard and Audre Rapoport Chair Professor of the Sociology of Labor, Tel Aviv University; Professor of Sociology, University of Illinois at Chicago
University of Illinois at Chicago and Tel Aviv University
Anthony Heath's picture Anthony Heath Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Fellow of Nuffield College
University of Oxford
Nan Dirk De Graaf's picture Nan Dirk De Graaf Professor and Official Fellow, Department of Sociology, Nuffield College
University of Oxford

Pages

Mobility - Other Research

Title Author Media
The Credential Society: An Historical Sociology of Education and Stratification Randall Collins

The Credential Society: An Historical Sociology of Education and Stratification

Author: Randall Collins
Publisher: Academic Press
Date:
The Winner-Take-All Society Robert H. Frank and Philip J. Cook

The Winner-Take-All Society

Author: Robert H. Frank and Philip J. Cook
Publisher: Penguin Books
Date:
Job Displacement and Social Participation over the Lifecourse: Findings for a Cohort of Joiners Jennie E. Brand and Sarah A. Burgard

Job Displacement and Social Participation over the Lifecourse: Findings for a Cohort of Joiners

Author: Jennie E. Brand and Sarah A. Burgard
Publisher: Social Forces
Date:
Birth and Fortune: The Impact of Numbers on Personal Welfare Easterlin, Richard

Birth and Fortune: The Impact of Numbers on Personal Welfare

Author: Easterlin, Richard
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Date:
The Constant Flux: A Study of Class Mobility in Industrial Societies Erikson, Robert and John H. Goldthrope

The Constant Flux: A Study of Class Mobility in Industrial Societies

Author: Erikson, Robert and John H. Goldthrope
Publisher: Clarendon Press
Date:

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