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Intergenerational Mobility in American History: Accounting for Race and Measurement Error

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  • Zachary Ward

Abstract

A large body of evidence suggests that intergenerational mobility in the United States has declined over the past 150 years. However, research that finds high relative mobility in America’s past is based on data with few or no black families, and therefore does not account for the limited opportunities available for African Americans. Moreover, historical studies often measure the father’s economic status with error, which biases estimates towards greater mobility. Using new early 20th century data, I show that the persistence of economic status from father to son is over twice as strong after accounting for racial disparities and for measurement error. After addressing these two issues, I estimate that relative mobility has increased over the 20th century. The results imply that there is greater equality of opportunity today than in the early 20th century, mostly because opportunity was never that equal.

Suggested Citation

  • Zachary Ward, 2019. "Intergenerational Mobility in American History: Accounting for Race and Measurement Error," CEH Discussion Papers 10, Centre for Economic History, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.
  • Handle: RePEc:auu:hpaper:082
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    File URL: https://www.cbe.anu.edu.au/researchpapers/ceh/WP201910.pdf
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    Cited by:

    1. David Escamilla-Guerrero & Edward Kosack & Zachary Ward, 2020. "Life after Crossing the Border: Assimilation during the First Mexican Mass Migration," Oxford Economic and Social History Working Papers _183, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    intergenerational mobility; measurement error; persistence;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J62 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Job, Occupational and Intergenerational Mobility; Promotion
    • N31 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-

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