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Was There Ever a Ruling Class? A Proposal for the study of 800 Years of Social Mobility

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  • Gregory Clark

    () (University of California, Davis)

Abstract

This paper reports on a preliminary investigation of surnames distributions as a measure long run social mobility. In England this suggests two surprising claims. First, England, all the way from the heart of the Middle Ages in 1250 to at least 1860, was a society without persistent social classes. It was a world of social mobility, with no permanent over-class and under-class, a world of complete equal opportunity. There was, however, a gain from being in the upper class in any generation in the form of leaving more copies of your DNA permanently in later populations. Second, signs of persistent social classes have only emerged in societies like England and the United States in recent years. Instead of moving from a world of immobility and class rigidity to a world of equal opportunity, we have moved in the opposite direction. KEY Classification-JEL: N33, N34, N62

Suggested Citation

  • Gregory Clark, 2010. "Was There Ever a Ruling Class? A Proposal for the study of 800 Years of Social Mobility," Investigaciones de Historia Económica (IHE) Journal of the Spanish Economic History Association, Asociacion Espa–ola de Historia Economica, vol. 6(02), pages 11-38.
  • Handle: RePEc:ahe:invest:v:06:y:2010:i:02:p:11-38
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. E.A. Wasson, 1998. "The Penetration of New Wealth into the English Governing Class from the Middle Ages to the First World War," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 51(1), pages 25-48, February.
    2. Becker, Gary S, 1988. "Family Economics and Macro Behavior," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(1), pages 1-13, March.
    3. Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis, 2002. "The Inheritance of Inequality," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 16(3), pages 3-30, Summer.
    4. Gary S. Becker & Nigel Tomes, 1994. "Human Capital and the Rise and Fall of Families," NBER Chapters,in: Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis with Special Reference to Education (3rd Edition), pages 257-298 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Clark, Gregory, 2008. "In defense of the Malthusian interpretation of history," European Review of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 12(02), pages 175-199, August.
    6. Solon, Gary, 1999. "Intergenerational mobility in the labor market," Handbook of Labor Economics,in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 29, pages 1761-1800 Elsevier.
    7. Clark, Gregory & Hamilton, Gillian, 2006. "Survival of the Richest: The Malthusian Mechanism in Pre-Industrial England," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 66(03), pages 707-736, September.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Intergenerational Mobility; Inequality;

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • J62 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Job, Occupational and Intergenerational Mobility; Promotion
    • N30 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - General, International, or Comparative

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