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

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


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

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 Rises proves 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 Rises is sure to prompt intense debate for years to come.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691162546
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 02/23/2014
Series: Princeton Economic History of the Western World Series
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 1,244,771
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Gregory Clark is professor of economics at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of "A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World" (Princeton).

Table of Contents

Preface ix
1 Introduction: Of Ruling Classes and Underclasses: The Laws of Social Mobility 1
PART I Social Mobility by Time and Place
2 Sweden: Mobility Achieved? 19
3 The United States: Land of Opportunity 45
4 Medieval England: Mobility in the Feudal Age 70
5 Modern England: The Deep Roots of the Present 88
6 A Law of Social Mobility 107
7 Nature versus Nurture 126
PART II Testing the Laws of Mobility
8 India: Caste, Endogamy, and Mobility 143
9 China and Taiwan: Mobility after Mao 167
10 Japan and Korea: Social Homogeneity and Mobility 182
11 Chile: Mobility among the Oligarchs 199
12 The Law of Social Mobility and Family Dynamics 212
13 Protestants, Jews, Gypsies, Muslims, and Copts: Exceptions to the Law of Mobility? 228
14 Mobility Anomalies 253
PART III The Good Society
15 Is Mobility Too Low? Mobility versus Inequality 261
16 Escaping Downward Social Mobility 279
Appendix 1: Measuring Social Mobility 287
Appendix 2: Deriving Mobility Rates from Surname Frequencies 296
Appendix 3: Discovering the Status of Your Surname Lineage 301
Data Sources for Figures and Tables 319
References 333
Index 349

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