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Surnames and a Theory of Social Mobility - University of Chicago ...

Surnames and a Theory of Social Mobility - University of Chicago ...

Surnames and a Theory of Social Mobility - University of Chicago

Surnames and a Theory of Social Mobility Gregory Clark, University of California, Davis gclark@ucdavis.edu, March 25, 2013 Using the information content of surnames to measure social mobility, it is shown that the true intergenerational correlation of social status is in the order of 0.7-0.8, much higher than is estimated by conventional methods. This intergenerational correlation is similar across dramatically different societies: medieval England, modern England, pre-industrial Sweden, modern Sweden, the USA, Quing and Communist China, Meiji and modern Japan, and Chile. Surnames also show mobility to follow a simple law-like process across many generations. One simple Law of Motion seems to capture all social mobility. In this paper I offer a theory as to why these measures differ from conventional mobility estimates. I also argue that the nature of the process suggests biological inheritance of abilities, as opposed to intergenerational capital transfers, is the main determinant of social position. Introduction This paper summarizes the results of Clark, 2012, 2013, Clark et al., 2012, Clark and Cummins 2012, 2013, Clark and Ishii, 2012, Clark and Landes 2013, and Hao and Clark, 2012, which examine social mobility rates over many generations, across countries, and across different measures of social status, using the information content of surnames. The framework adopted is very simple. We assume that we have measures of status that are cardinal, or can be approximated as cardinals: earnings, income, wealth, years of education, level of education, occupational status, or longevity. Then if y t is this status measure (or in the case of income or wealth its logarithm), and is normalized to have a constant standard deviation and a mean of 0, the intergenerational correlation of y, β, is inferred just as the regression coefficient from (1)

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