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Intergenerational Mobility and the Informative Content of Surnames

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  • Güell, Maia
  • Mora, José V Rodríguez
  • Telmer, Chris

Abstract

We propose a new methodology for measuring intergenerational mobility in economic wellbeing. Our method is based on the joint distribution of surnames and economic outcomes. It circumvents the need for intergenerational panel data, a long-standing stumbling block for understanding mobility. A single cross-sectional dataset is sufficient. Our main idea is simple. If ‘inheritance' is important for economic outcomes, then rare surnames should predict economic outcomes in the cross-section. This is because rare surnames are indicative of familial linkages. Of course, if the number of rare surnames is small, this won't work. But rare surnames are abundant in the highly-skewed nature of surname distributions from most Western societies. We develop a model that articulates this idea and shows that the more important is inheritance, the more informative will be surnames. This result is robust to a variety of different assumptions about fertility and mating. We apply our method using the 2001 census from Catalonia, a large region of Spain. We use educational attainment as a proxy for overall economic well-being. Our main finding is that mobility has decreased among the different generations of the 20th century. A complementary analysis based on sibling correlations confirms our results and provides a robustness check on our method. Our model and our data allow us to examine one possible explanation for the observed decrease in mobility. We find that the degree of assortative mating has increased over time. Overall, we argue that our method has promise because it can tap the vast mines of census data that are available in a heretofore unexploited manner.

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  • Güell, Maia & Mora, José V Rodríguez & Telmer, Chris, 2007. "Intergenerational Mobility and the Informative Content of Surnames," CEPR Discussion Papers 6316, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:6316
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    Cited by:

    1. Maia Güell & José V. Rodríguez Mora & Christopher I. Telmer, 2015. "The Informational Content of Surnames, the Evolution of Intergenerational Mobility, and Assortative Mating," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 82(2), pages 693-735.
    2. Romeu, Andrés & Collado, M. Dolores & Ortuño Ortin, Ignacio, 2013. "Long-run intergenerational social mobility and the distribution of surnames," UMUFAE Economics Working Papers 36768, DIGITUM. Universidad de Murcia.
    3. Michele Raitano & Francesco Vona, 2015. "Measuring the link between intergenerational occupational mobility and earnings: evidence from eight European countries," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 13(1), pages 83-102, March.
    4. John Hassler & José Rodríguez Mora & Joseph Zeira, 2007. "Inequality and mobility," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 12(3), pages 235-259, September.
    5. Clark, Gregory & Cummins, Neil & Hao, Yu & Vidal, Dan Diaz, 2015. "Surnames: A new source for the history of social mobility," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 55(C), pages 3-24.
    6. Yona Rubinstein & Dror Brenner, 2014. "Pride and Prejudice: Using Ethnic-Sounding Names and Inter-Ethnic Marriages to Identify Labour Market Discrimination," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 81(1), pages 389-425.
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    10. María Cervini-Plá, 2015. "Intergenerational Earnings and Income Mobility in Spain," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 61(4), pages 812-828, December.
    11. Michele Raitano & Francesco Vona, 2015. "Direct and Indirect Influences of Parental Background on Children's Earnings: a Comparison across Countries and Genders," Manchester School, University of Manchester, vol. 83(4), pages 423-450, July.
    12. Jurajda, Stepán & Münich, Daniel, 2010. "Admission to selective schools, alphabetically," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 29(6), pages 1100-1109, December.
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    Keywords

    birth-death processes; cross-sectional data; inheritance; population genetics;

    JEL classification:

    • C31 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Multiple or Simultaneous Equation Models; Multiple Variables - - - Cross-Sectional Models; Spatial Models; Treatment Effect Models; Quantile Regressions; Social Interaction Models
    • E24 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Employment; Unemployment; Wages; Intergenerational Income Distribution; Aggregate Human Capital; Aggregate Labor Productivity
    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics

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