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A Tale of Two Labor Markets: Intergenerational Occupational Mobility in Britain and the U.S. Since 1850

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  • Jason Long
  • Joseph Ferrie

Abstract

The U.S. both tolerates more inequality than Europe and believes its economic mobility is greater than Europe's. These attitudes and beliefs help account for differences in the magnitude of redistribution through taxation and social welfare spending. In fact, the U.S. and Europe had roughly equal rates of inter-generational occupational mobility in the late twentieth century. We extend this comparison into the late nineteenth century using longitudinal data on 23,000 nationally-representative British and U.S. fathers and sons. The U.S. was substantially more mobile then Britain through 1900, so in the experience of those who created the U.S. welfare state in the 1930s, the U.S. had indeed been "exceptional." The margin by which U.S. mobility exceeded British mobility was erased by the 1950s, as U.S. mobility fell compared to its nineteenth century levels.

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11253
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    References listed on IDEAS

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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. 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.
    3. 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.
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    5. 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.
    6. Han, Song & Mulligan, Casey B, 2001. "Human Capital, Heterogeneity and Estimated Degrees of Intergenerational Mobility," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 111(470), pages 207-243, April.
    7. Gary Solon, 2002. "Cross-Country Differences in Intergenerational Earnings Mobility," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 16(3), pages 59-66, Summer.
    8. Bhashkar Mazumder, 2001. "Earnings mobility in the US: a new look at intergenerational inequality," Working Paper Series WP-01-18, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
    9. Rosenbloom, Joshua L., 1996. "Was There a National Labor Market at the End of the Nineteenth Century? New Evidence on Earnings in Manufacturing," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 56(03), pages 626-656, September.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Thomas Dohmen & Armin Falk & David Huffman & Uwe Sunde, 2010. "Are Risk Aversion and Impatience Related to Cognitive Ability?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(3), pages 1238-1260, June.
    2. Ronen Bar-El & Teresa García-Muñoz & Shoshana Neuman & Yossef Tobol, 2013. "The evolution of secularization: cultural transmission, religion and fertility—theory, simulations and evidence," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 26(3), pages 1129-1174, July.
    3. Thomas Dohmen & Armin Falk & David Huffman & Uwe Sunde, 2012. "The Intergenerational Transmission of Risk and Trust Attitudes," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 79(2), pages 645-677.
    4. Joseph P. Ferrie, 2005. "The End of American Exceptionalism? Mobility in the U.S. Since 1850," NBER Working Papers 11324, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Sunder, Marco, 2013. "The height gap in 19th-century America: Net-nutritional advantage of the elite increased at the onset of modern economic growth," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 11(3), pages 245-258.
    6. Elena Gouskova & Ngina Chiteji & Frank Stafford, 2010. "Pension Participation: Do Parents Transmit Time Preference?," Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Springer, vol. 31(2), pages 138-150, June.
    7. 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.
    8. Lee, Chulhee, 2007. "Military positions and post-service occupational mobility of Union Army veterans, 1861-1880," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 44(4), pages 680-698, October.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J6 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers
    • N3 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy

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