Estimating Intergenerational Mobility With Grouped Data: A Critique of Clark’s the Son Also Rises

Alejandro Corvalan
Sociological Methods & Research

This article distinguishes three measures of intergenerational economic mobility that emerge when the population is divided into groups: overall individual mobility, within-group mobility, and between-group mobility. We clarify their properties and the relationship between them. We then evaluate Clark’s use of surname between-group persistence as a preferred measure of intergenerational mobility in the book The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility. We show that aggregate surname-level intergenerational persistence cannot be compared with individual persistence because group-level income averages captures diverse individual-level and group-level factors impossible to disentangle without additional identifying information. Furthermore, measures of group persistence do not address the problem of measurement error leading to attenuation bias, which is Clark’s rationale to study surname mobility. An empirical example partitioning the population into groups based on racial/ethnic origins and a simulation clarify the relationship between these different measures of mobility.