The Son Also Rises

The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility

Neil Cummins
Yu Hao
Daniel Diaz Vidal
Tatsuya Ishii
Zach Landes
Daniel Marcin
Firas Abu-Sneneh
Wilfred Chow
Kuk Mo Jung
Ariel M. Marek
Kevin M. Williams
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    The Son Also Rises
    Book Description:

    How much of our fate is tied to the status of our parents and grandparents? How much does this influence our children? More than we wish to believe. While it has been argued that rigid class structures have eroded in favor of greater social equality,The Son Also Risesproves that movement on the social ladder has changed little over eight centuries. Using a novel technique-tracking family names over generations to measure social mobility across countries and periods-renowned economic historian Gregory Clark reveals that mobility rates are lower than conventionally estimated, do not vary across societies, and are resistant to social policies. The good news is that these patterns are driven by strong inheritance of abilities and lineage does not beget unwarranted advantage. The bad news is that much of our fate is predictable from lineage. Clark argues that since a greater part of our place in the world is predetermined, we must avoid creating winner-take-all societies.

    Clark examines and compares surnames in such diverse cases as modern Sweden, fourteenth-century England, and Qing Dynasty China. He demonstrates how fate is determined by ancestry and that almost all societies-as different as the modern United States, Communist China, and modern Japan-have similarly low social mobility rates. These figures are impervious to institutions, and it takes hundreds of years for descendants to shake off the advantages and disadvantages of their ancestors. For these reasons, Clark contends that societies should act to limit the disparities in rewards between those of high and low social rank.

    Challenging popular assumptions about mobility and revealing the deeply entrenched force of inherited advantage,The Son Also Risesis sure to prompt intense debate for years to come.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5109-6
    Subjects: Economics, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. ONE Introduction: Of Ruling Classes and Underclasses: The Laws of Social Mobility
    (pp. 1-16)

    Figure 1.1 shows a boy in Govan, a grim, deprived district of my hometown, Glasgow, in my youth in the 1970s. Will his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren be found in similar circumstances? To what extent would the chances of a middle-class child of equal ability, placed in the same family in Govan, be reduced by the poverty of his parents? Figure 1.2, in contrast, shows the pleasant suburban Glaswegian street I grew up in, appropriately named Richmond Drive. To what extent is the status of the children raised in that street predictable just from that picture? To what extent would...

  5. PART I Social Mobility by Time and Place
    • TWO Sweden: Mobility Achieved?
      (pp. 19-44)

      In exploring social mobility using surnames, we begin with Sweden for two reasons. First, by conventional measures, modern Sweden has social and economic mobility more rapid than that of either the United Kingdom or the United States. And Sweden is representative of a group of Nordic countries—Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden—believed to have achieved low inequality, widespread educational attainment, and fast social mobility. In recent years these societies have been cited as a reproach to the economic model of the United Kingdom and the United States. Both have greater inequality in outcomes and lower apparent rates of...

    • THREE The United States: Land of Opportunity
      (pp. 45-69)

      This chapter examines social mobility rates in the United States using the same methods as those applied to Sweden, again using surnames as the diagnostic. Measured by surname distributions, U.S. social mobility rates are also low. But, importantly in light of recent political debates, they are no lower than Sweden’s, and they show no sign of a decline in recent years.

      Using surnames, we identify a variety of elite and underclass groups whose mobility can be tracked across three generations. The elite groups are the descendants of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, the descendants of the wealthy individuals as of 1923...

    • FOUR Medieval England: Mobility in the Feudal Age
      (pp. 70-87)

      Measured using surnames, social mobility is surprisingly low in modern Sweden and in the United States. How do mobility rates compare for the preindustrial era, before the whole panoply of public education and fair-employment laws of the modern state? Using surname evidence, we can estimate social mobility rates in England back to 1300 and the feudal world of lord and bishop, serf and slave.

      What most people would expect from this study is obvious: the illustration of a class-ridden past, with the majority of the population trapped under the feudal yoke, condemned to a brutish existence cultivating the heavy sod...

    • FIVE Modern England: The Deep Roots of the Present
      (pp. 88-106)

      This chapter estimates social mobility rates in England for the period 1830–2012. It does so using rare surnames, as most common surnames in England now differ little in social status: regression to the mean may be slow, but over the seven hundred years since surnames were formed in England, it has done its work in this respect. The use of rare surnames offers a means of addressing one objection to the conclusions in chapters 2–4: that if people know that certain surnames convey high or low status, then this awareness itself may affect social mobility rates. If the...

    • SIX A Law of Social Mobility
      (pp. 107-125)

      This book estimates social mobility rates by measuring the rate at which surnames that originally had high or low social status lose that status connotation. If a surname such asPepysorBrudenellBruce had a high status in 1800, how rapidly does that surname regress to average status? IfBaskervillewas an elite name in the Domesday Book of 1086 in England, is there any echo of that distinction in 1300, 1500, or now? The book examines how surnames reflect the rate of social entropy, the rate at which original status information leaves the social system.

      The four previous...

    • SEVEN Nature versus Nurture
      (pp. 126-140)

      The preceding chapters explain why social mobility is lower than traditionally measured. But why are mobility rates seemingly constant across very different social regimes? Here I conjecture that this is because status inheritance is indistinguishable in form from the inheritance of genetically controlled attributes. This is not to say that social status is determined genetically. But whatever drives it is, on the tests performed here, indistinguishable from genetic inheritance. Status may or may not be genetically inherited, but for all practical purposes, nature dominates nurture.

      Discussion about the mechanisms that drive the inheritance of social status has been limited. The...

  6. PART II Testing the Laws of Mobility
    • EIGHT India: Caste, Endogamy, and Mobility
      (pp. 143-166)

      India is an interesting society in which to test two aspects of the theory of social mobility outlined in chapters 6 and 7: that social institutions can do little to change the rate of social mobility and that a key controller of mobility rates is the degree of marital endogamy among elite and underclass groups. This chapter calculates social mobility rates for colonial and modern India for Hindu groups of different original status and for Muslims. These social mobility rates are low—much lower than the rates calculated for India by conventional methods. By some measures, social mobility is nonexistent....

    • NINE China and Taiwan: Mobility after Mao
      (pp. 167-181)

      In all the societies we have looked at so far, mobility rates have been slow—or, in the case of India, almost nonexistent—at the group level. But these are all societies whose institutions and social structures have been stable and continuous over many centuries.

      England famously had only one lasting Political Revolution, the Glorious Revolution of 1688–89.¹ And even that revolution was made by the upper classes of English society for their own benefit and did not involve fighting on English soil. A new king and queen were invited in, and the tiresome old one, bereft of support,...

    • TEN Japan and Korea: Social Homogeneity and Mobility
      (pp. 182-198)

      Conventional studies suggest that modern Japan is a socially mobile and meritocratic society. In this view, although Japan before the Meiji restoration of 1868 was a society of rigid class divisions, the reforms of 1868 and 1947 transformed it into an egalitarian, homogeneous, and classless society. Does a society such as Japan, with a high degree of cultural homogeneity, have faster social mobility than societies such as the United States, which are fractured by religious, racial, and ethnic differences? Korea is a society of similar cultural homogeneity, profoundly remade after World War II as a supposedly modern and meritocratic society,...

    • ELEVEN Chile: Mobility among the Oligarchs
      (pp. 199-211)

      Chile is now one of south america’s more prosperous economies. Its income per capita equals that of Argentina, although it is still only about one-third that of the United States. But like its neighbors, Chile is characterized by inequalities in income and wealth that are among the highest in the world. The Gini coefficient measuring income inequality is 0.55 for Chile, compared to 0.26 for Sweden (see figure 1.3). Despite Chile’s relatively high average income, poverty is highly visible, as illustrated by the shanty town in the port city of Valparaiso shown in figure 11.1.

      A trope of modern discussions...

    • TWELVE The Law of Social Mobility and Family Dynamics
      (pp. 212-227)

      Chapter 6 conjectures that all social mobility is governed by a simple underlying law, independent of social structure and government policy:

      ${x_{t + 2}} = b{x_t} + {e_t}$

      where${x_t}$is the underlying social status of a family in generationt,${e_t}$is a random component, andbis in the region 0.7–0.8.¹ This simple law of mobility makes surprising predictions about the earlier history of social elites and underclasses observed at any point in time.

      The social status of any individual family can follow any possible path over many generations. But when we observe that a family has high or low status in some...

    • THIRTEEN Protestants, Jews, Gypsies, Muslims, and Copts: Exceptions to the Law of Mobility?
      (pp. 228-252)

      The cases examined above indicate that across a broad range of societies and epochs, there appears to be a general rule of social mobility. All groups feel the pull of regression to the mean. Variations in social position are maintained by random shocks to families’ underlying social competence.

      It is assumed, however, that each population has a given, similar, distribution of talent, and that elites and underclasses are simply draws from this pool of God-given talent. Within societies, social mobility acts as though it were a biological phenomenon, as if the factors affecting mobility were genetically inherited.

      Some features of...

    • FOURTEEN Mobility Anomalies
      (pp. 253-258)

      The previous chapter listed some seeming deviations from the social law of motion that can be explained by processes of selection, selective affiliation to groups, or differential fertility within groups. There are some other anomalies that are not so easy to explain and that violate the idea that there is one underlying rate of persistence for all social groups.

      One of these anomalies concerns the composition of the English and Welsh Members of the Westminster Parliament. We have records of the composition of Parliament since 1295. It is a small group: until the seventeenth century, MPs numbered between two and...

  7. PART III The Good Society
    • FIFTEEN Is Mobility Too Low? Mobility versus Inequality
      (pp. 261-278)

      Reports in earlier working papers that the true persistence rate of social status is on the order of 0.75, even in the United States and Sweden, were greeted by many commentators with dismay.¹ And indeed, even with the earlier reports of persistence rates of 0.5, many people already regarded U.S. society as mired in unfairness. Thus James Heckman, the eminent economist, states in a recent essay titled “Promoting Social Mobility”: “While we celebrate equality of opportunity, we live in a society in which birth is becoming fate. . . .This powerful impact of birth on life chances is bad for...

    • SIXTEEN Escaping Downward Social Mobility
      (pp. 279-286)

      Most parents, particularly upper-class parents, attach enormous importance to the social and economic success of their children. They spare no expenditure of time or money in the pursuit of these goals. In these efforts, they seek only to secure the best for their children, not to harm the chances of others. But the social world only has so many positions of status, influence, and wealth. Inevitably it seems that in pushing their own children up the social ladder, parents are stamping on the fingers of those climbing up from below. As a character in an Iris Murdoch novel says, “It...

    (pp. 287-295)
    (pp. 296-300)
    (pp. 301-318)
    (pp. 319-332)
    (pp. 333-348)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 349-364)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 365-368)