Long-term decline in intergenerational mobility in the United States since the 1850s.

TitleLong-term decline in intergenerational mobility in the United States since the 1850s.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsSong, X, Massey, CG, Rolf, KA, Ferrie, JP, Rothbaum, JL, Xie, Y
JournalProc Natl Acad Sci U S A
Date Published2020 01 07
ISSN Number1091-6490
KeywordsCensuses, Family Characteristics, Female, History, 19th Century, History, 20th Century, Humans, Income, Intergenerational Relations, Male, Parents, social mobility, Socioeconomic factors, United States

We make use of newly available data that include roughly 5 million linked household and population records from 1850 to 2015 to document long-term trends in intergenerational social mobility in the United States. Intergenerational mobility declined substantially over the past 150 y, but more slowly than previously thought. Intergenerational occupational rank-rank correlations increased from less than 0.17 to as high as 0.32, but most of this change occurred to Americans born before 1900. After controlling for the relatively high mobility of persons from farm origins, we find that intergenerational social mobility has been remarkably stable. In contrast with relative stability in rank-based measures of mobility, absolute mobility for the nonfarm population-the fraction of offspring whose occupational ranks are higher than those of their parents-increased for birth cohorts born prior to 1900 and has fallen for those born after 1940.

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Alternate JournalProc Natl Acad Sci U S A
Citation Key12080
PubMed ID31767745
PubMed Central IDPMC6955340