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Senior Vice-President for Research and Innovation, Professor of Theoretical Physics, Michigan State University

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Greg Clark: Are there ruling classes?

While at UC Davis to give a colloquium earlier this week, I had the pleasure of meeting economic historian Greg Clark in person. Here's a sample of his latest work, which suggests that convergence of social classes has been surprisingly slow: averaged parent-child correlations of variables such as wealth, education and occupation are in the 0.7 -- 0.8 range over the last 200 years, the same as found in India, with its caste system! IIRC, Greg said he got the idea of using rare surnames from Nicholas Wade during an interview :-)

Are there Ruling Classes? Surnames and Social Mobility in England, 1800-2011

Using rare surnames we track the socio-economic status of descendants of a sample of English rich and poor in 1800, until 2011. We measure social status through wealth, education, occupation, and age at death. Our method allows unbiased estimates of mobility rates. Paradoxically, we find two things. Mobility rates are lower than conventionally estimated. There is considerable persistence of status, even after 200 years. But there is convergence with each generation. The 1800 underclass has already attained mediocrity. And the 1800 upper class will eventually dissolve into the mass of society, though perhaps not for another 300 years, or longer.

More discussion, including recent US data, here.


Steve Sailer said...

Nathanael Weyl found that Americans named Clark, Clarke, and Palmer (i.e., whose English direct male line ancestors 700 years ago were "clerks" -- i.e., literate) were more likely found in highly literate occupations today such as writer or lawyer. Sounds ridiculous, but I'd like to see if anybody could reproduce his finding.

steve hsu said...

That is exactly what Greg finds, across a variety of cultures. Doctors in Sweden and India, Oxbridge attendees in England, etc. 200 years is not enough time for an extended group to regress fully to the mean. This suggests an invisible dynamics of assortative mating and values transmission that operates in every society he's studied.

Carney3 said...

Hm. Are people named "Smith" brawnier?

Robert Sykes said...

This post requires that you comment on Charles Murray. If his analysis is true, then the social classes are currently diverging. You just can't throw this out there and walk away.

steve hsu said...

It's possible that both Clark and Murray are correct. Clark's convergence may have stopped and reversed in the last 30 years due to globalization, meritocratic sorting, etc.

Aleks Jakulin said...

Some comments at http://andrewgelman.com/2012/02/generational-mobility-and-wealth-convergence/

ben_g said...

Gintis and Bowles found that only a small portion of the inheritance of inequality can be explained by IQ heritability: www.umass.edu/preferen/gintis/intergen.pdf .  However, wealth itself is significantly heritable so there must be other factors at play.  The question is -- what are they?

JustinLoe said...

One possibility:
Compare class mobility rates over time in England, Sweden, Massachusetts, each of which has varying levels of social equality and educational success across all social groups.

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