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History Lessons: The End of American Exceptionalism? Mobility in the United States Since 1850

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  • Joseph P. Ferrie

Abstract

New longitudinal data on individuals linked across nineteenth century U.S. censuses document the geographic and occupational mobility of more than 75,000 Americans from the 1850s to the 1920s. Together with longitudinal data for more recent years, these data make possible for the first time systematic comparisons of mobility over the last 150 years of American economic development, as well as cross-national comparisons for the nineteenth century. The U.S. was a substantially more mobile economy than Britain between 1850 and 1880. But both intergenerational occupational mobility and geographic mobility have declined in the U.S. since the beginning of the twentieth century, leaving much less apparent two aspects of the "American Exceptionalism" noted by nineteenth century observers.

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  • Joseph P. Ferrie, 2005. "History Lessons: The End of American Exceptionalism? Mobility in the United States Since 1850," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(3), pages 199-215, Summer.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:19:y:2005:i:3:p:199-215
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/089533005774357824
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    1. Thomas Piketty, 1995. "Social Mobility and Redistributive Politics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 110(3), pages 551-584.
    2. Gary Solon, 2002. "Cross-Country Differences in Intergenerational Earnings Mobility," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 16(3), pages 59-66, Summer.
    3. Alesina, Alberto & Di Tella, Rafael & MacCulloch, Robert, 2004. "Inequality and happiness: are Europeans and Americans different?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(9-10), pages 2009-2042, August.
    4. Nathan D. Grawe & Casey B. Mulligan, 2002. "Economic Interpretations of Intergenerational Correlations," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 16(3), pages 45-58, Summer.
    5. Thomas F. Cooley & Steven J. DeCanio, 1974. "Varying-Parameter Supply Functions and the Sources of Economic Distress in American Agriculture, 1866-1914," NBER Working Papers 0057, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Jason Long & Joseph Ferrie, 2005. "A Tale of Two Labor Markets: Intergenerational Occupational Mobility in Britain and the U.S. Since 1850," NBER Working Papers 11253, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Ganzeboom, H.B.G. & de Graaf, P.M. & Treiman, D.J. & de Leeuw, J., 1992. "A standard international socio-economic index of occupational status," WORC Paper 85970031-d601-46e3-befb-1, Tilburg University, Work and Organization Research Centre.
    8. Kim, Sukkoo, 1998. "Economic Integration and Convergence: U.S. Regions, 1840–1987," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 58(03), pages 659-683, September.
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