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
What Do We Know So Far about Multigenerational Mobility? Gary Solon

What Do We Know So Far about Multigenerational Mobility?

Author: Gary Solon
Publisher:
Date: 03/2015

“Multigenerational mobility” refers to the associations in socioeconomic status across three or more generations. This article begins by summarizing the longstanding but recently growing empirical literature on multigenerational mobility. It then discusses multiple theoretical interpretations of the empirical patterns, including the one recently proposed in Gregory Clark’s book The Son Also Rises.

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.

mobility - CPI Affiliates

Nan Dirk De Graaf's picture Nan Dirk De Graaf Professor and Official Fellow, Department of Sociology, Nuffield College
University of Oxford
Dennis Gilbert's picture Dennis Gilbert Professor of Sociology Emeritus; Lecturer in Sociology
Hamilton College
Nan Lin's picture Nan Lin Oscar L. Tang Family Professor of Sociology, Academician, Academia Sinica (Taiwan)
Duke University
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

Pages

Mobility - Other Research

Title Author Media
Inequality and Growth Revisited Robert Barro

Inequality and Growth Revisited

Author: Robert Barro
Publisher:
Date:
Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community Putnam, Robert D.

Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

Author: Putnam, Robert D.
Publisher: New York: Simon and Schuster
Date:
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 Theory of the Leisure Class Thorstein Veblen

The Theory of the Leisure Class

Author: Thorstein Veblen
Publisher: Modern Library
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:

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