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The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World) Hardcover – 18 Feb 2014


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (18 Feb. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691162549
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691162546
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 16.5 x 24.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 42,862 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

Honorable Mention for the 2015 PROSE Award in Economics, Association of American Publishers
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2014
One of Vox’s "Best Books We Read in 2014"

"The Son Also Rises . . . suggests that dramatic social mobility has always been the exception rather than the rule. Clark examines a host of societies over the past seven hundred years and finds that the makeup of a given country's economic élite has remained surprisingly stable."--James Surowiecki, New Yorker

"An epic feat of data crunching and collaborative grind. . . . Mr. Clark has just disrupted our complacent idea of a socially mobile, democratically fluid society."--Trevor Butterworth, Wall Street Journal

"Audacious . . ."--Barbara Kiser, Nature

"[A]n important book, and anybody at all interested in inequality and the kind of society we have should read it."--Diane Coyle, Enlightened Economist

"The Son Also Rises. . . . That is the new Greg Clark book and yes it is an event and yes you should buy it."--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

"Startling. . . . Clark proposes a new way to measure mobility across nations and over time. He tracks the persistence of rare surnames at different points on the socio-economic scale. The information he gathers is absorbing in its own right, quite aside from its implications."--Clive Crook, Bloomberg View

"Clark casts his net wider. He looks at mobility not across one or two generations, but across many. And he shows by focusing on surnames--last names--how families overrepresented in elite institutions remain that way, though to diminishing degrees, not just for a few generations but over centuries."--Michael Barone, Washington Examiner

"Deeply challenging . . ."--Margaret Wente, Globe & Mail

"Who should you marry if you want to win at the game of life? Gregory Clark . . . offers some answers in his fascinating new book, The Son Also Rises."--Eric Kaufmann, Literary Review

"This intriguing book measures social mobility in a novel way, by tracing unusual surnames over several generations in nine different countries, focusing on intergenerational changes in education, wealth, and social status as indicated by occupation."--Foreign Affairs

"No doubt this book will be as controversial as its thesis is thought-provoking."--Library Journal

"Gregory Clark's analysis of intergenerational mobility signals a marked shift in the way economists think about social mobility."--Andrew Leigh, Sydney Morning Herald

"The thesis of The Son Also Rises is, fundamentally, that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Ingeniously, Clark and his team of researchers look at the persistence of socioeconomic status through the lens of surnames in more than 20 societies."--Tim Sullivan, Harvard Business Review

"Clark has a predilection for investigating interesting questions, as well as for literary puns. . . . [J]ust as Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century, calls into question the role of capitalism in wealth creation, Clark calls into question the role of capitalism in social mobility."--Theodore Kinni, Strategy+Business.com

"Clark's book is not merely intellectually clever, it's profoundly challenging. Especially for Americans, it calls into question of ourselves as individuals, as well as our long-standing image of our society. Let's hope he's wrong."--Benjamin M. Friedman, The Atlantic

"Adopting an innovative approach to using surnames to measure social mobility, The Son Also Rises engages the reader by presenting data that comes to life as it is anchored by names we see in our daily life. . . . A book with valuable insights derived from a well-designed research, it is strongly recommended to all serious readers interested in building strong democracies, for high social mobility is at the heart of a vibrant democracy. Policy makers will gain the benefits of counter-intuitive conclusions that this book throws up with its multi-generational study. Academicians interested in social justice and social activists engaged in promoting social mobility too will have a lot to chew on."--BusinessWorld

"Clark continues the project begun in his A Farewell to Alms. Here, he offers a controversial challenge to standard ideas that social mobility wipes out class advantages over a few generations. . . . An important, challenging book."--Choice

"[T]his is a well written and thought-provoking book. . . . I look forward to his next book--and his next Hemingway pun!"--Edward Dutton, Quarterly Review

"Clark's book begins a fascinating and important conversation about social mobility. . . . Clark's findings are important to engage with, and they will factor into discussions about social mobility for years to come."--Laura Salisbury, EH.Net

"[I]t's one of those rare, invigorating arguments which, if correct, totally upends your understanding of the way the world works. Right or wrong, I've thought about it more than anything else I read in 2014."--Dylan Matthews, a Vox "Best Books We Read in 2014" selection

From the Back Cover

"This is the most exciting research on the 'American Dream' of social mobility to come along in many years. The Son Also Rises provides deep insights into not only the ability or inability of children to surpass their parents' socioeconomic class, but also into the surprising importance of the family to generate prosperity in general."--William Easterly, author of The White Man's Burden

"The Son Also Rises is a remarkable challenge to conventional wisdom about social mobility. Using highly original methods and ranging widely across world history, Clark argues that the activities of governments impact mobility much less than most of us think--and that the only sure path to success is to be born to the right parents. Everyone interested in public policy should read this book."--Ian Morris, author of Why the West Rules--for Now

"An important and original contribution to the literature on social mobility, The Son Also Rises is provocative and adversarial, and a brilliant tour de force. Bravo!"--Cormac O Grada, author of Famine: A Short History

"The Son Also Rises is clever, thoughtful, and well written, and provides a completely new perspective on an enduring issue--the extent of social mobility. This very provocative book will garner a great deal of attention."--Joseph P. Ferrie, Northwestern University


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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Volkmar Weiss on 22 Mar. 2014
Format: Hardcover
Hundreds of papers and books have been written, in which the authors are trying to prove by data on social mobility that human society is on the march to greater social equality. Most of these authors are not aware that their results are a function of their scaling of inequality. In order to measure social mobility you have to scale wealth, overall income, years of education, taxable income, social status or other appropriate variables none of which remained constant in the course of history. Because of random effects and imperfect scaling all these studies tend to overestimate intergenerational mobility. Already some researchers, who tried to scale recent and historical professions, jobs and social status according to underlying general intelligence to be successful, concluded that movements on the social ladder had changed little over the past centuries. This was substantiated by two books using samples of representative genealogical data covering several generations: La societe francaise au XIXe siecle: Tradition, transition, transformations (French Edition) and:Bevoelkerung Und Soziale Mobilitaet in Sachsen 1550-1880 (German Edition).

To measure social mobility in quite different countries and across centuries, Clark invented a novel technique: Tracking the frequency of surnames. Needed for such an approach are always data on the frequency of surnames in the general population and in the selected sample in the past and in the present.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By AnaAlberta on 19 April 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Grecory Clark is a good writer, but he is no Steven Spinker. In any case, the research is very original and conclusions for social sciences and social policies sound.

Good reading for anyone interested in inequalities and overall functions of societies :)
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Colin C. on 10 July 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
compelling and robust analysis with many implications for society
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Amazon.com: 33 reviews
65 of 67 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating, but the results need to be interpreted with caution 6 Mar. 2014
By Brad Foley - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
[major edit: I spent a couple days working through the math, and checking it with my own simulations, and have convinced myself that my earlier mathematical reservations were completely wrong. I've changed the review to reflect that]

The "Son Also Rises" was a fascinating read that seems likely to provoke controversy, but also to advance evidence-based discussions of equality and social mobility. Clark makes two major (somewhat separable) arguments in "Rises". First, that social mobility is much lower, and consistent across societies than anyone would have predicted. Second, that this low-mobility is biologically (in fact genetically) based. The first argument is better supported than the second. Clark's strong genetic conclusions seem rely on unassailable modelling (I tried) but some shakier genetic conclusions. They can't be dismissed entirely, however. Clark's evidence and reasoning is strong enough that the burden of proof is squarely on those who disagree with him. The implications the modern reader is left to draw are unsettling.

Clark's conclusions about the facts of mobility are astonishing. Typically, studies of mobility showed that intergenerational correlations (parent-offspring, typically father-son) in wealth are on the order of 0.4. This suggests ancestor-descendant correlations in wealth should be unobservable after about 4 generations. Across many cultures and times, and many different measures of status, Clark notes that identifiable elite or low-status groups regress to the mean at a rate between 0.75-0.85. This means that in fact differences in status persist for more than 10 generations.

Technically, Clark here models status as a single order Markov process, with three major components: time, [measurement] error, an underlying [latent] "social inertia" (my name) term. By this he emphasises we can model inheritance of social status from one's parents in exactly the same way we do height or eye color based on genetics. He notes that if we do so, we don't need to invoke any more complicated processes to explain the observed data (such as the status of extended family).

It turns out he's completely right about the models. I checked. If you model the inheritance process without the underlying latent term, you fail to match the data he's presented. If you model the process in the same way you would model additive genetic inheritance you get exactly the right answer. (I did this assuming a heritability of 0.4, parental-midpoint genotypes for the kids, renormalised mean and SD every generation, and a modelled range of assortative mating based on phenotype. I took beta and b vales from a number of the examples presented in the book.)

But here is where we begin to need to exercise caution. As a colleague is fond of quoting, "All models are wrong, but some are useful." We shouldn't let the simplicity of the model force us into a hasty overinterpretation of the underlying mechanisms. Clark jumps to a much less-cautious genetic interpretation of his results than almost any behavioural geneticist would (or at least should). Inheritance can be both genetic and epigenetic. Epigenetic is just a term that describes inheritance by any means but DNA (this isn't a magical thing: think language or religion). For instance, some primates and hyaenas inherit rank from their mothers. Fetal nutrition, maternal stress, early-life stress, and even languages and dialects, have effects on status and all have effects that are known to be transmitted across generations. Famously, maternal grooming in rats has profound (non-genetic) transgenerational effects on a range of personality measurements. It is extremely difficult to separate epigenetic and genetic effects when studying heritability.

Clark claims that because he can model inheritance of status as a first order Markov process, it actually is a first order Markov process based on transmitted characteristics inherent in the parents. Therefore, he claims, status is a deterministic product of a genetic "social competence" (his term). This is a strong claim. To his credit he discusses possible objections (such as inheritance of social networks). He also tries to quantify the non-genetic component of status in the best way possible, by examining adoption studies. Two studies, one on Korean adoptees in America, and another on adopted vs biological offspring in Sweden, seem to show a genetic heritabilty of income or education (here proxies for status) many times higher than conferred familial status.

The magnitude of these results is certainly far too high, as any number of factors (such as differences in the way parents and society treat adopted and biological children---see Hannah Williams) will bias these numbers. But at the very least we can find no reason to reject Clark's model, and I was persuaded that there is likely to be a higher effect of genetics on status metrics than I would ever have previously expected. Clearly more, and better, studies need to be conducted in this area.

At this point, any reasonable modern reader will be squirming. Raised under the spectre of the effects of early eugenics, racial determinism, and Manifest Destiny, we are rightly disturbed by attempts to reify social differences with biology. I'm reminded of the unproductive furor around "Sociobiology" and "The Bell Curve" (and Gould's error-filled attempt to rebut "The Bell Curve"). Clark spends much time demonstrating that there are no simplistic racial superiority claims to be taken from his data. His biologizing of hereditary class is inescapable, however. He tries to sugarcoat these interpretations with bland liberal prescriptions and platitudes, but they still rankle.

There have been notable failures in trying to increase social mobility (like Head Start in the US). But other recent studies have shown that good urban planning (access to public transport, and jobs, and good schools) can dramatically increase social mobility. Even if there is a genetic component to social status, Clark has almost certainly exaggerated it. Genetics certainly doesn't preclude other measures to increase social mobility. Then too, as Clark notes, inequality and mobility are different things, and we shouldn't confuse them.

In the end, "The Son Also Rises" was a thought provoking book, and one I'll read carefully again. I'd recommend it, as long as the reader doesn't accept any of the major conclusions without consideration.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Witty Title with Great Primary Research 5 April 2014
By Stanley - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Seven other reviews have preceded mine so I won't attempt to till plowed ground. Interestingly enough Clark begins his book by absolving the graduate students and paid research assistant who helped him in his research. Why do that? Here is the summary from book's end, "Most likely. . .the majority of status is actually genetically determined. You hit the jackpot in the great genetic casino or you go bust." In other words, the book is politically incorrect.

Some folks are familiar with Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks, the novels that follow a family from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations. Clark pretty much destroys this idea by following families with unique names in several distinct cultures, including communist China, Chile, England, Japan, and the United States. His null hypothesis is that over time families will regress to the mean in terms of status as measured by occupation and wealth. While his research shows a slight movement to the mean as generations come and go, for the most part those families who are on top stay there and those families not achieving stay at the bottom.

Clark comes up with some interesting tidbits. In Chile, for example, the leftist Allende government increased spending on education. The Pinochet government cut spending after taking power. Did the increase in education spending by the leftists have any effect on social mobility? Nope. None. What about the Cultural Revolution under Mao? Same story, the family names of those on top with the Nationalists stayed on top with the communists.

Now I don't believe Clark's hypothesis is all that new but his in depth research certainly has great merit. A book published in the early 1960's named The Geography of Intellect mentioned that families with the name Clark tended to have higher IQ's than the general population. The Clarks were medieval clerks. That should please the author and he notes the correlation on page 89..

Now for the negative. Clark has a conundrum. By going against the Standard Social Science Model (everybody is equal and all social traits are learned) Clark has to provide undeniable evidence or face ridicule. He does this with formulas and graphs. Unfortunately the book becomes something not for the general reader. Regression is easy enough to understand but when Clark gets in "first order Markov" I'm lost. And this may be my own ignorance and the fact that the last statistics class I sat in was over fifty years ago. Now Clark provides evidence for his hypothesis but in doing so leaves some folks (like me) in the dust.

Four stars for sure and a good book with an interesting conclusion. The difficult read in places costs it a five star rating.
25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Intriguing ideas but I'm uncertain about its conclusions 7 Mar. 2014
By Grue - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In this book, Clark makes conclusions about the nature and mobility of social mobility and status by examining surname research, and, to a lesser extent, twin studies.

Surname research seems to be Clark's specialty and most of the book is devoted to it. Basically Clark picks rare family names (like Pepys) and combs through historical databases (such as lists of Oxford graduates, members of Parliament, or wills proved in court) looking for that surname. Because these records can stretch back hundreds of years, he is able to get a sense of the rise and fall of different families. He assumes, for instance, that a group family that has more Oxford graduates (or more licensed physicians per person, etc.) than average has above-average social status.

The surname research, pulled together from a number of different countries (US, Britain, China, Korea, Japan, India) all seems to suggest that families rise and fall at a slower rate than what other sociologists were assuming. He thinks the correlation between generations is generally around 0.75, meaning that it'll take about 10 generations for the effect of a family's current status to almost totally dissipate, instead of the 4 generations other researchers assume. According to Clark, the basic limitation of other research is that it failed to account for the fact that, conditionalizing on the income of the parents, the income of the grandparents and other relatives is still predictive of children's income.

The surname part of the book is pretty exhaustive, and in my opinion got a bit boring in parts. However I was glad he presented so much evidence for the people who want to delve deeper. The other part of the book cited twin studies and argued that the best explanation of this high correlation is genetic. Although adoptive parents do have a small effect on their children, children tend to become much more similar to their biological parents. Given the above according to Clark, if you want successful kids, all you need to do is closely scrutinize your spouse's family and make sure she has a distinguished pedigree! After that you can just coast, because your parenting style won't have a significant long-term effect.

Clark also thinks (and cites research to support) that this effect isn't because of discrimination. He thinks societies are pretty meritocratic in the long run. Although this line of thought could lead some to eugenics, the author is pretty liberal about the ramifications. For instance, Clark thinks this implies we should have a bigger safety net in society, because it's useless to punish people for the limitations of their genes.

Although this may be the big controversial opinion of the book, there are other intriguing ideas in it also. For instance, the author looks at the social fortunes of blacks (descendants of slaves) in the United States and finds they fit his overall equation. Thus we don't need discrimination to explain why they make less than average today---they are just genetically inferior. Clark stops a bit shy of putting it this way, but I believe that is his exact conclusion. He doesn't appear to be racist however; he thinks that African blacks in the US (presumably including Obama) are actually an elite subgroup in the US, presumably again because of their superior genes. Most US blacks would be inferior, according to Clark's theory, because they were a low-status group selected out of the general African population to be shipped to the US.

Compare blacks to a white group of Americans who have French surnames (e.g. Gagnon) and immigrated from Canada. This group is also genetically inferior, and has also made less than the US average for 100 years. In some sense they form the same kind of disadvantaged US ethnic group as blacks, but they were hitherto unnoticed because they don't have a distinctive skin color.

To summarize, the author using surname and twin research concludes that 1) genetics is the main driver of social status, 2) societies are meritocratic, and 3) the genes for over- or under-performance are straightforwardly passed down in families. Personally, his conclusions make me feel very uneasy, and are probably overstated, but his evidence cannot be dismissed. I look forward to reading what other experts on surname and twin studies think about this book.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
No math no Law of Social Mobility 30 July 2014
By Gaetan Lion - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Based on his own extensive data gathering covering centuries, the author derives that there is a law of social mobility associated with an intergenerational correlation or persistence rate (the same thing per his own definition) of 0.75 of the status of a son vs the one of his father: Social Status of a Son = 0.75(Social Status of Father). This denotes a much lower level of social mobility (or much higher persistence rate) than any other economists had derived for OECD countries. It also entailed that social mobility is nearly fixed regardless of eras or societies. The author advances that his findings contrast with other economists because the latter had studied only one narrow aspect of status independently such as income or wealth. Meanwhile, he had studied a much broader measure of social status. And, the author had focused on the propagation of social status through surnames. Meanwhile, other economists studied the general population. For the time being, not questioning Clark's rational but simply looking at his own calculations of social mobility or persistence rate I found numerous issues.

Clark states that although Sweden, U.K, and U.S. have very different conventional social mobility measures, they have nearly identical and much lower social mobility measures or high persistence rates by his own broader measures.

Before investigating the math, let's clarify what we should look at. We are interested in observing how social status for a specific surname reverses to the Average (or the Mean) for the total population. So, the dependent variable is: Social Status of a Son - Average Social Status. And, the independent variable is: Social Status of his Father - Average Social Status. Clark's narrative and calculations appear to state: Social Status of a Son = 0.75(Social Status of Father). But, such a function would eventually have a son from an elite surnamed clan inevitably fall to the lowest status in society. Indeed, over just the next 6 generations the last heir in that surnamed group would have a social status equal to only 0.18 the one of the original ancestor. Indeed, 0.75^6 = 0.18. That would put the most recent generation in a destitute state with little in common with its earlier predecessors.

It makes a lot more sense to look at Social Status above the Average, so the calculation's meaning now is that the most recent generation is not nearly as privileged as the original one, but is still above the Average (instead of destitute). Additionally, Clark's formula structure does not work for surnames that start with Social Status much below Average. Those would never revert back to the Average, but instead drop quickly asymptotically towards a Social Status near zero at the absolute bottom. My formula structure works in both cases (for starting Social Status above or below the Average).

Given the above framework, I revisited the calculations of social mobility for Sweden, US, Medieval England, and Modern England. His average persistence rates are: Sweden 0.77, US 0.75, Medieval England 0.90, and Modern England 0.78. So, based on his own calculations we can see that his Law of Social Mobility at 0.75 holds up very well in three cases out of four (except for Medieval England that is much higher at 0.90). My own calculations using his own data generated the following estimates: Sweden 0.60, US 0.82, Medieval England 0.85, and Modern England 0.59. Those figures are very different. While Clark could advance that the European more abundant government support for public education at all levels, health care, and overall safety net had no impact on social mobility as the latter was no different in Sweden vs the UK and the US; my calculations indicate just the opposite. And, that is that social mobility with much lesser Government support is much lower (higher persistence rate) in the US vs Sweden and the UK. Actually, the US persistence rate is not far off Medieval England's. That's a pretty different finding using the same data set.

Just to illustrate how our calculations diverge, let's look at a precise example. On pages 94-96, he shows that the wealth of the Rich surnames in one generation in 1860 was 187 times greater than the average wealth. And, four generation later it was still 4 times greater than average. He associates this regression-to-the-mean with a persistence rate of 0.71. Instead, I calculate it as follows: the starting point above the Mean is 187 - 1 = 186. After 4 generations, the end point above the Mean is 4 -1 = 3. And, the persistence rate over the next 4 generations is: (3/186)^(1/4) = 0.356. Indeed, 186(0.356)^4 = 3. Meanwhile, using Clark's persistence rate you get: 186(0.71)^4 = 47. I since learned from B. Foley that Clark's calculation actually works out if you log the mentioned variables because he uses the log(wealth) in this case. So, I should take back this criticism. However, it opens up another. When you log such variables, it somehow greatly artificially boosts the perseverance rate coefficient. In this case, as demonstrated it doubles it. So, if you want to prove that social mobility is lower than anyone else was thinking (and perseverance rates are higher), just log the variables and that will do the trick. But, this is just a mathematical artifact. This is not robust social science. What is also obfuscating is to associate and compare such high coefficients on log basis with many other coefficients on other social status dimensions where you did not use logged variables. This is an explicit Apples and Oranges situation that just leads to much noise and no signal. Log variables have a different meaning than nominal ones. They represent the % change in a variable. In this case, the log(wealth) of the Son = 0.75 log(wealth) of the Father means that the Son's wealth change in % represents 0.75 of the Father's wealth change in %. This is a very different concept than his overall intergenerational correlation that he uses on all the other variables (education, occupation, probate, etc...).

Chapter 12 `The Law of Social Mobility and Family Dynamics' is also associated with dissonant calculations. On page 214, he shows the hypothetical paths of the social status of above average families vs below average ones over the past 10 generations and the next 10 prospective ones. The paths for the two are symmetrical. And, they show increase in social status as well as decrease in social status. However, his function as described: Son Social Status = 0.75(Father Social Status) could never accommodate such directional changes. This function would instead have the social status of both families inevitably fall towards the very bottom. Their respective social status could never increase. To increase his "0.75" coefficient needs to be greater than 1. Even my more flexible equation would have both families regress to the Mean. The above average one would regress downward. The below average one would regress upward. Yet, the respective paths would not change direction. They could not all of a sudden regress away from the Mean. For my function to cause social status to regress away from the Mean, I also would need the "0.75" coefficient to be greater than 1.

Within the same chapter 12, looking at his historical data knowing the social status of a given group in one generation gives you no information regarding the subsequent generations. You can see that on the graphs on pages 218 and 219. The graph on page 218 shows an above average group steadily increases their social status over the next 5 generations (moving from 3 to 8 times the average social status). Meanwhile, a very similar group experiences a steady decline in social status from 4 down to 2 times the average over the next 4 generations. And, the time periods very much overlap. So, if you know a group had a social status much above the average around the early 1700 you have no way of knowing whether this group's social status will increase or decrease over the next several generations. Thus, Clark advances that his model is highly predictive (the past is highly predictive of the future of social status), meanwhile his own data set suggests the opposite. The past does not tell you any information whether prospective social status will increase or decrease in the next generations.

The above raises the issue of when does an above average group experiences an inflection point from an increasing trend to a decreasing trend in social status. On page 222, two graphs show that for various upper class groups that inflection point can greatly vary from 16 to 64 times the average social status. So, if a group is at 16 times, is it only early on its path to amassing more wealth and status? Or, is it at its apex? And, it will inevitably regress to the Mean in future generations? You actually have no way to tell. That's what the data conveys. On page 226 and 227, Clark looks at similar trends for China. Now, for some reason China has a lot lower and constant inflection point at 8 times. In this case, if the future is like the past one could say that a Chinese group at 8 times the average social status is quite likely to revert downward to the Mean going forward. But, if a Chinese group is at 4 times which way is it going up or down? There is no way to tell.

Now, getting away from calculations and graphs let's revisit some of his rational. Clark states that his derived social mobility is so much lower because he looks at a broader measure of social status vs other economists who just focused on one single dimension at a time like wealth, or income, or education. But, Clark does not do what he preaches. He like the other economists he criticizes focuses on a single aspect of social status at a time. He never ever combines two or more dimensions to create a broader measure of social status. This would have entailed creating principal components within a Principal Component Analysis framework or factors within a Factor Analysis one. But, he does not go anywhere near those methodologies that would have facilitated his creation of a broader social status measure.

However, on page 110 and 111 Clark comes up with a second argument of why his social mobility measure results in lower social mobility. It is simply because he looked at subgroups (surnames). And, he indicates the resulting lower social mobility directionally would have been similar if he had used different subgroups such as race, religion, nationality of origin, etc... as long as those categorical dimensions do not correlate with the error term of the original regression. But, to reduce the error term in the original regression those dimensions (race, religion, etc...) should correlate with the error term (in other words explain the error term). Otherwise, I don't know how they would reduce the error term. Also, his explanation entails that by using subgroups that do reduce the error term of the original regression it would automatically increase the regression coefficient of his function. And, that's how he gets a 0.75 meanwhile other economists typically got much lower coefficients. I am not sure that is correct. Let's take the simple example of stock returns. A stock index has a given stock return and volatility. It is the aggregate of the stock returns of the stock in the index, and a resulting volatility associated with the interaction of the volatility of each stock return and their respective correlation with each other. Clark's rational would suggest that by looking at a single sector, you could develop a model with a lower standard error than if you modeled the index. And, given that you have reduced the standard error it would automatically have resulted in measuring a more accurate and higher stock return for this specific sector. But, we know that to be false. Some sectors will have higher or lower returns than the index. But, their weighted average return will be exactly the index's. However, in most cases a sector will have a much higher volatility of return than the index because it is so much less diversified. This analogy contradicts Clark's second argument of why his social mobility is much lower than other economists.

Another trap Clark may have fallen into. Autoregressive models (Son = 0.75(Father)) can work very well at predicting over a single period. They can work very well whenever a trend does not change sign (no inflection point). But, they can't handle inflection points. Even when they can predict very well, they fall into statistical fallacies (Unit Root and stationary issues) that entail that the model is no better than just a trend (counting periods 1, 2, 3, ...). In summary, his model is no better than observing that during some time periods the trends in social status went in a certain direction. But, it does not provide any information regarding why that trend shifted direction in the past or present, and what will it be in the future.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Empirically based social history of great originality 21 Mar. 2014
By Volkmar Weiss - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Hundreds of papers and books have been written, in which the authors are trying to prove by data on social mobility that human society is on the march to greater social equality. Most of these authors are not aware that their results are a function of their scaling of inequality. In order to measure social mobility you have to scale wealth, overall income, years of education, taxable income, social status or other appropriate variables none of which remained constant in the course of history. Because of random effects and imperfect scaling all these studies tend to overestimate intergenerational mobility. Already some researchers, who tried to scale recent and historical professions, jobs and social status according to underlying general intelligence to be successful, concluded that movements on the social ladder had changed little over the past centuries. This was substantiated by two books using samples of representative genealogical data covering several generations: La societe francaise au XIXe siecle: Tradition, transition, transformations (French Edition) and: Bevoelkerung und Soziale Mobilitaet in Sachsen 1550-1880 (German Edition).

To measure social mobility in quite different countries and across centuries, Clark invented a novel technique: Tracking the frequency of surnames. Needed for such an approach are always data on the frequency of surnames in the general population and in the selected sample in the past and in the present. In a number of countries Clark and his coworkers were able to overcome these difficulties and to find or generate the databases necessary. The originality of this research deserves high praise.

However, to use surnames in such a way is not as new as Clark believes. About 1940 Karl Valentin Müller used frequencies of surnames of Czech and German origin to investigate their contribution to the upper stratum of cities in Bohemia. - Crow, J. F. and A. P. Mange published: Measurement of inbreeding from the frequency of marriages between persons of the same surname. Eugenics Quarterly 12 (1965) 199-203. Crow and Mange founded with this seminal paper a new branch of population genetics. Surnames can be understood as alleles of one genetic locus, and surname distribution and evolution can be analyzed by the theory of neutral mutations in finite populations. One may describe the genetic structure of a human population in terms of the inbreeding within its subpopulations and the extent of the sharing of genes among them. In the following decades, instead using marriage data, surname frequencies were also extracted from directories or census data. By applying these methods, the application of surname genetics was extended to measure genetic distance and historical changes within subpopulations and social strata, see, for example: Inbreeding and genetic distance between hierarchically structured populations measured by surname frequencies. Mankind Quarterly 21 (1980). And for an even wider outlook see: Familiennamenhäufigkeiten in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart als Ausgangspunkt für interdisziplinäre Forschungen von Linguisten, Historikern, Soziologen, Geographen und Humangenetikern. Namenkundliche Informationen 31 (1977) 27-32. However, 30 years ago, the databases for such an empirical approach were still lacking.

Outgoing from the medieval practice of giving surnames based on ones profession Günther Bäumler suggested a genetic-social theory of assortative distribution of traits of body build such as height, weight, and stature in a population of men called `Smith' (German: Schmied) and`Tailor' (German: Schneider). From this the hypothesis was deduced that among the top ranking athletes of the `heavy weight' branches of athletics, which require body strength and body height, there are relatively more persons that go by the name of Schmied than in the `light weight' branches of athletics, where more persons go by the name of Schneider. The hypothesis was empirically supported. See: Psychology Science 45 (2003) 254-262.

In the modern world we have a general negative relationship between the number of surviving children and the social status of their parents, in sharp contrast to the preindustrial world, where more children of the rich survive. Oded Galor and Moav Omer in their paper "Natural Selection and the Origin of Economic Growth" (2002) came to the conclusion that before 1850 the upper and medium stratum of society must have been more surviving children than the poor. Indeed, as a byproduct of his research with rare surnames Clark confirms that this turning point in differential fertility was in England already about 1850 (in Germany three or four decades later). Despite Clarkes conclusion that the most probable variable underlying social status and hence social mobility is the inheritance of general cognitive ability he dares not to cite the book IQ and the Wealth of Nations, supporting in such a way his argument on a global scale.

On some pages Clark seems to foster the belief that regression to the mean is a force equalizing any society in the long run. On other pages he is stating clearly that at the same time the random counterforce of segregation of genes is always creating new inequality in each new generation. Genetically pure lineages regress only to the mean of the line and not to the mean of the overall population. It is possible not only to study the decay of a social upper stratum by surname frequencies, but also its rise and creation in the course of some generations. In 1869 Francis Galton was the first to replace mere speculation on the inheritance of talent with statistical data. 100 highly gifted and very successful men had 26 fathers, 47 brothers, 60 sons. 14 grandfathers, 16 uncles, 23 nephews, 14 grandsons, 5 uncles of parents and 16 first cousins with similar giftedness and accomplishments. Astounding similar frequencies were found in other studies in different countries.

One can be sure that Clark will find followers studying the distribution and frequencies of French, Italian (Venice!), Dutch, German and other surnames in the respective countries.
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