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
Prenatal Exposure to an Acute Stressor and Children’s Cognitive Outcomes Florencia Torche

Prenatal Exposure to an Acute Stressor and Children’s Cognitive Outcomes

Author: Florencia Torche
Publisher: Demography
Date: 08/2018

Exposure to environmental stressors is highly prevalent and unequally distributed along socioeconomic lines and may have enduring negative consequences, even when experienced before birth. Yet, estimating the consequences of prenatal stress on children’s outcomes is complicated by the issue of confounding (i.e., unobserved factors correlated with stress exposure and with children’s outcomes). I combine a natural experiment—a strong earthquake in Chile—with a panel survey to capture the effect of prenatal exposure on acute stress and children’s cognitive ability. I find that stress exposure in early pregnancy has no effect on children’s cognition among middle-class families, but it has a strong negative influence among disadvantaged families. I then examine possible pathways accounting for the socioeconomic stratification in the effect of stress, including differential exposure across socioeconomic status, differential sensitivity, and parental responses. Findings suggest that the interaction between prenatal exposures and socioeconomic advantage provides a powerful mechanism for the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage.

Who Becomes an Inventor in America? The Importance of Exposure to Innovation Alexander M. Bell, Raj Chetty, Xavier Jaravel, Neviana Petkova, John Van Reenen

Who Becomes an Inventor in America? The Importance of Exposure to Innovation

Author: Alexander M. Bell, Raj Chetty, Xavier Jaravel, Neviana Petkova, John Van Reenen
Publisher: NBER
Date: 11/2017

We characterize the factors that determine who becomes an inventor in America by using de-identified data on 1.2 million inventors from patent records linked to tax records. We establish three sets of results. First, children from high-income (top 1%) families are ten times as likely to become inventors as those from below-median income families. There are similarly large gaps by race and gender. Differences in innate ability, as measured by test scores in early childhood, explain relatively little of these gaps. Second, exposure to innovation during childhood has significant causal effects on children's propensities to become inventors. Growing up in a neighborhood or family with a high innovation rate in a specific technology class leads to a higher probability of patenting in exactly the same technology class. These exposure effects are gender-specific: girls are more likely to become inventors in a particular technology class if they grow up in an area with more female inventors in that technology class. Third, the financial returns to inventions are extremely skewed and highly correlated with their scientific impact, as measured by citations. Consistent with the importance of exposure effects and contrary to standard models of career selection, women and disadvantaged youth are as under-represented among high-impact inventors as they are among inventors as a whole. We develop a simple model of inventors' careers that matches these empirical results. The model implies that increasing exposure to innovation in childhood may have larger impacts on innovation than increasing the financial incentives to innovate, for instance by cutting tax rates. In particular, there are many “lost Einsteins” — individuals who would have had highly impactful inventions had they been exposed to innovation.

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: NBER
Date: 07/2017

We characterize intergenerational income mobility at each college in the United States using 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 similar earnings outcomes conditional on the college they attend, indicating that low-income students are not mismatched at selective colleges. Third, rates of upward mobility – the fraction of students who come from families in the bottom income quintile and reach the top quintile – differ substantially across colleges because low-income access varies significantly across colleges with similar earnings outcomes. Rates of bottom-to-top quintile mobility are highest at certain mid-tier public universities, such as the City University of New York and California State colleges. Rates of upper-tail (bottom quintile to top 1%) mobility are highest at elite colleges, such as Ivy League universities. Fourth, the fraction of students from low-income families did not change substantially between 2000-2011 at elite private colleges, but fell sharply at colleges with the highest rates of bottom-to-top-quintile mobility. 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.

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.

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
Harvard 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
How Cultural Capital Emerged in Gilded Age America: Musical Purification and Cross-Class Inclusion at the New York Philharmonic Fabien Accominotti, Shamus R. Khan, Adam Storer

How Cultural Capital Emerged in Gilded Age America: Musical Purification and Cross-Class Inclusion at the New York Philharmonic

Author: Fabien Accominotti, Shamus R. Khan, Adam Storer
Publisher: American Journal of Sociology
Date: 05/2018

This article uses a new database of subscribers to the New York Philharmonic to explore how high culture became a form of socially valuable capital in late-19th-century America. The authors find support for the classic account of high culture’s purification and exclusiveness, showing how over the long Gilded Age the social elite of New York attended the Philharmonic both increasingly and in more socially patterned ways. Yet they also find that the orchestra opened up to a new group of subscribers hailing from an emerging professional, managerial, and intellectual middle class. Importantly, the inclusion of this new audience was segregated: they did not mingle with elites in the concert hall. This segregated inclusion paved a specific way for the constitution of cultural capital. It meant that greater purity and greater inclusiveness happened together, enabling elite cultural participation to remain distinctive while elite tastes acquired broader social currency.

Social Mobility and Stability of Democracy: Reevaluating De Tocqueville Daron Acemoglu, Georgy Egorov, Konstantin Sonin

Social Mobility and Stability of Democracy: Reevaluating De Tocqueville

Author: Daron Acemoglu, Georgy Egorov, Konstantin Sonin
Publisher: Quarterly Journal of Economics
Date: 05/2018

An influential thesis often associated with de Tocqueville views social mobility as a bulwark of democracy: when members of a social group expect to join the ranks of other social groups in the near future, they should have less reason to exclude these other groups from the political process. In this article, we investigate this hypothesis using a dynamic model of political economy. As well as formalizing this argument, our model demonstrates its limits, elucidating a robust theoretical force making democracy less stable in societies with high social mobility: when the median voter expects to move up (respectively down), she would prefer to give less voice to poorer (respectively richer) social groups. Our theoretical analysis shows that in the presence of social mobility, the political preferences of an individual depend on the potentially conflicting preferences of her “future selves,” and that the evolution of institutions is determined through the implicit interaction between occupants of the same social niche at different points in time.

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.