The Heritability of Social Class: Insights from Gregory Clark’s “The Son Also Rises”


Social mobility, the ability for an individual, no matter his familial background, to move up or down the social ladder, is part of the American conscience.  The idea that anyone can be the president, a doctor, a businessman, or an inventor is pervasive in our culture.  In fact, those on the lower end of the social pyramid are often blamed for lacking effort (from conservatives) or deemed as victims of discrimination, whether blatant or hidden (from liberals).  Different countries are even ranked based on the level of social mobility that exists in their population.  Scandinavian countries are ranked amongst the highest in the world for achieving perfect social mobility, where anyone can literally become anything.  Whereas places like the United States or United Kingdom are ranked less favorably, and income disparity is much more evident.

Gregory Clark intrudes by asking what makes one country more socially mobile than another.  How fast does social mobility take place? Have we become more socially mobile since the dark days of antiquity and the medieval period?  The evidence points in a surprising direction.  Gregory Clark’s method is to use rare surnames to track families’ social fate ...

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