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Immobile Australia: Surnames show Strong Status Persistence, 1870-2017


  • Gregory Clark
  • Andrew Leigh
  • Mike Pottenger


The paper estimates long run social mobility in Australia 1870-2017 tracking the status of rare surnames. The status information includes occupations from electoral rolls 1903-1980, and records of degrees awarded by Melbourne and Sydney universities 1852-2017. Status persistence was strong throughout, with an intergenerational correlation of 0.7-0.8, and no change over time. Notwithstanding egalitarian norms, high immigration and a well-targeted social safety net, Australian long-run social mobility rates are low. Despite evidence on conventional measures that Australia has higher rates of social mobility than the UK or USA (Mendolia and Siminski, 2016), status persistence for surnames is as high as that in England or the USA. Mobility rates are also just as low if we look just at mobility within descendants of UK immigrants, so ethnic effects explain none of the immobility.

Suggested Citation

  • Gregory Clark & Andrew Leigh & Mike Pottenger, 2017. "Immobile Australia: Surnames show Strong Status Persistence, 1870-2017," CEH Discussion Papers 07, Centre for Economic History, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.
  • Handle: RePEc:auu:hpaper:058

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Leigh Andrew, 2007. "Intergenerational Mobility in Australia," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 7(2), pages 1-28, December.
    2. Gregory Clark, 2015. "The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 10181-2.
    3. Bhashkar Mazumder, 2005. "Fortunate Sons: New Estimates of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States Using Social Security Earnings Data," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 87(2), pages 235-255, May.
    4. Miles Corak, 2013. "Income Inequality, Equality of Opportunity, and Intergenerational Mobility," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 27(3), pages 79-102, Summer.
    5. Gregory Clark & Neil Cummins, 2015. "Intergenerational Wealth Mobility in England, 1858–2012: Surnames and Social Mobility," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 125(582), pages 61-85, February.
    6. Solon, Gary, 1992. "Intergenerational Income Mobility in the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 393-408, June.
    7. Raj Chetty & Nathaniel Hendren & Patrick Kline & Emmanuel Saez & Nicholas Turner, 2014. "Is the United States Still a Land of Opportunity? Recent Trends in Intergenerational Mobility," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(5), pages 141-147, May.
    8. Florencia Torche & Alejandro Corvalan, 2018. "Estimating Intergenerational Mobility With Grouped Data," Sociological Methods & Research, , vol. 47(4), pages 787-811, November.
    9. Peter Whiteford, 2010. "The Australian Tax‐Transfer System: Architecture and Outcomes," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 86(275), pages 528-544, December.
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    More about this item


    intergenerational mobility; social mobility; inequality;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J62 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Job, Occupational and Intergenerational Mobility; Promotion

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