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
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.

Twenty-First-Century Globalization and Illegal Migration Katharine M. Donato, Douglas S. Massey

Twenty-First-Century Globalization and Illegal Migration

Author: Katharine M. Donato, Douglas S. Massey
Publisher: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Date: 07/2016

Also labeled undocumented, irregular, and unauthorized migration, illegal migration places immigrants in tenuous legal circumstances with limited rights and protections. We argue that illegal migration emerged as a structural feature of the second era of capitalist globalization, which emerged in the late twentieth century and was characterized by international market integration. Unlike the first era of capitalist globalization (1800 to 1929), the second era sees countries limiting and controlling international migration and creating a global economy in which all markets are globalized except for labor and human capital, giving rise to the relatively new phenomenon of illegal migration. Yet despite rampant inequalities in wealth and income between nations, only 3.1 percent of all people lived outside their country of birth in 2010. We expect this to change: threat evasion is replacing opportunity seeking as a motivation for international migration because of climate change and rising levels of civil violence in the world’s poorer nations. The potential for illegal migration is thus greater now than in the past, and more nations will be forced to grapple with growing populations in liminal legal statuses.

Consumption Inequality Orazio P. Attanasio, Luigi Pistaferri

Consumption Inequality

Author: Orazio P. Attanasio, Luigi Pistaferri
Publisher: Journal of Economic Perspectives
Date: 04/2016

In this essay, we discuss the importance of consumption inequality in the debate concerning the measurement of disparities in economic well-being. We summarize the advantages and disadvantages of using consumption as opposed to income for measuring trends in economic well-being. We critically evaluate the available evidence on these trends, and in particular discuss how the literature has evolved in its assessment of whether consumption inequality has grown as much as or less than income inequality. We provide some novel evidence on three relatively unexplored themes: inequality in different spending components, inequality in leisure time, and intergenerational consumption mobility.

Coming of Age in the Other America Stefanie DeLuca, Susan Clampet-Lundquist, Kathryn Edin

Coming of Age in the Other America

Author: Stefanie DeLuca, Susan Clampet-Lundquist, Kathryn Edin
Publisher: Russell Sage Foundation
Date: 04/2016

Recent research on inequality and poverty has shown that those born into low-income families, especially African Americans, still have difficulty entering the middle class, in part because of the disadvantages they experience living in more dangerous neighborhoods, going to inferior public schools, and persistent racial inequality. Coming of Age in the Other America shows that despite overwhelming odds, some disadvantaged urban youth do achieve upward mobility. Drawing from ten years of fieldwork with parents and children who resided in Baltimore public housing, sociologists Stefanie DeLuca, Susan Clampet-Lundquist, and Kathryn Edin highlight the remarkable resiliency of some of the youth who hailed from the nation’s poorest neighborhoods and show how the right public policies might help break the cycle of disadvantage.

Shared Prosperity in America's Communities

Shared Prosperity in America's Communities

Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press
Date: 03/2016

While the nation's GDP has doubled in the last thirty years, significant increases in family income have been restricted to a small subset of the American population. This disjunct between national economic growth and stagnating incomes in all but the very top tier of the population corresponds with increasing economic inequality and a lack of social and economic mobility. As a consequence, neighborhoods and metropolitan areas have become more polarized. Stark geographic differences in levels of poverty, income, health outcomes, job opportunities, lifetime earning potential, and educational attainment highlight the degree to which place matters in terms of social and economic opportunity. Shared Prosperity in America's Communities examines this place-based disparity of opportunity and suggests what can be done to ensure that the benefits of economic growth are widely shared. Contributors' essays explore social and economic mobility throughout the country to illuminate the changing geography of inequality, offer a portfolio of strategies to address the challenges of place-based inequality, and show how communities across the nation are implementing change and building a future of shared prosperity.

mobility - CPI Affiliates

Lawrence Wu's picture Lawrence Wu Professor of Sociology, Director, NYU Population Center
New York University
Miles Corak's picture Miles Corak Professor of Economics; Economist in Residence, Employment and Social Development Canada
Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa
Pablo Mitnik's picture Pablo Mitnik Research Associate, 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
Jonathan Kelley's picture Jonathan Kelley Director at International Survey Center; Adjunct Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Nevada, Reno
University of Nevada


Mobility - Other Research

Title Author Media
Health Selection into Neighborhoods Among Families in the Moving to Opportunity Program Mariana C. Arcaya, Corina Graif, Mary C. Waters, S. V. Subramanian

Health Selection into Neighborhoods Among Families in the Moving to Opportunity Program

Author: Mariana C. Arcaya, Corina Graif, Mary C. Waters, S. V. Subramanian
Publisher: American Journal of Epidemiology
Date: 03/2015

Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing was a randomized experiment that moved very low-income US families from high-poverty neighborhoods to low-poverty neighborhoods starting in the early 1990s. We modeled report of a child's baseline health problem as a predictor of neighborhood outcomes for households randomly assigned to move from high- to low-poverty neighborhoods. We explored associations between baseline health problems and odds of moving with the program upon randomization (1994–1997), neighborhood poverty rate at follow-up (2002), and total time spent in affluent neighborhoods and duration-weighted poverty. Among 1,550 households randomized to low-poverty neighborhoods, a smaller share of households reporting baseline child health problems (P = 0.004) took up the intervention (38%) than those not reporting a health problem (50%). In weighted and covariate-adjusted models, a child health problem predicted nearly 40% lower odds of complying with the experimental condition (odds ratio = 0.62, 95% confidence interval: 0.42, 0.91; P = 0.015). Among compliers, a baseline child health problem predicted 2.5 percentage points' higher neighborhood poverty at take-up (95% confidence interval: 0.90, 4.07; P = 0.002). We conclude that child health problems in a household prior to randomization predicted lower likelihood of using the program voucher to move to a low-poverty neighborhood within the experiment's low-poverty treatment arm and predicted selection into poorer neighborhoods among experimental compliers. Child morbidity may constrain families attempting to improve their life circumstances.

The Counter-Cyclical Character of the Elite Shamus Khan

The Counter-Cyclical Character of the Elite

Author: Shamus Khan
Publisher: Research in the Sociology of Organizations
Date: 02/2015

This paper begins by outlining the basic attitudinal differences between the elite and the rest of society. Understanding these divergent views does not require resorting to arguments that reply upon error, ignorance, manipulation, or differences in individual character. Instead, both elites and others are correct in their understanding of these processes because they overgeneralize from their own experience. The major proposition of this paper is that if we compare the economic conditions of the average American and to that of the elite, we find that they are, in important ways, the inverse of one another. During times when Americans as a whole were experiencing economic advancement and mobility, elites were comparatively stagnant. And today, as most Americans are locked in place, elites observe tremendous mobility. The counter-cyclical character of the elite has important implications for our understanding of elite culture, and elite response to inequality and redistribution.

The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, Linda Olson

The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood

Author: Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, Linda Olson
Publisher: Russell Sage Foundation
Date: 06/2014

West Baltimore stands out in the popular imagination as the quintessential “inner city”—gritty, run-down, and marred by drugs and gang violence. Indeed, with the collapse of manufacturing jobs in the 1970s, the area experienced a rapid onset of poverty and high unemployment, with few public resources available to alleviate economic distress. But in stark contrast to the image of a perpetual “urban underclass” depicted in television by shows like The Wire, sociologists Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, and Linda Olson present a more nuanced portrait of Baltimore’s inner city residents that employs important new research on the significance of early-life opportunities available to low-income populations. The Long Shadow focuses on children who grew up in west Baltimore neighborhoods and others like them throughout the city, tracing how their early lives in the inner city have affected their long-term well-being. Although research for this book was conducted in Baltimore, that city’s struggles with deindustrialization, white flight, and concentrated poverty were characteristic of most East Coast and Midwest manufacturing cities. The experience of Baltimore’s children who came of age during this era is mirrored in the experiences of urban children across the nation.

Class Rules: Exposing Inequality in American High Schools Peter W. Cookson, Jr.

Class Rules: Exposing Inequality in American High Schools

Author: Peter W. Cookson, Jr.
Publisher: Teachers College Press: Multicultural Education Series
Date: 08/2013

Class Rules challenges the popular myth that high schools are the “Great Equalizers.” In his groundbreaking study, Cookson demonstrates that adolescents undergo different class rites of passage depending on the social-class composition of the high school they attend. Drawing on stories of schools and individual students, the author shows that where a student goes to high school is a major influence on his or her social class trajectory. Class Rules is a penetrating, original examination of the role education plays in blocking upward mobility for many children. It offers a compelling vision of an equitable system of schools based on the full democratic rights of students.

Earnings Inequality and Mobility in the United States: Evidence from Social Security Data since 1937 Wojciech, Kopczuk, Emmanuel Saez and Jae Song

Earnings Inequality and Mobility in the United States: Evidence from Social Security Data since 1937

Author: Wojciech, Kopczuk, Emmanuel Saez and Jae Song
Date: 12/2010