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
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.

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.

mobility - CPI Affiliates

Miles Corak's picture Miles Corak Professor of Economics; Senior scholar of James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality
City University of New York
Pablo Mitnik's picture Pablo Mitnik Social Science Research Scholar, Center on Poverty and Inequality
Stanford University
Robert M. Hauser Vilas Research Professor of Sociology, Director, Center for Demography of Health and Aging
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Mariah Debra Ruperti Evans's picture Mariah Debra Ruperti Evans Professor of Sociology
University of Nevada, Reno
Marlis Buchmann Professor, Soziologisches Institut
University of Zurich

Pages

Mobility - Other Research

Title Author Media
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.

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