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Mobility as Progressivity: Ranking Income Processes According to Equality of Opportunity

  • Roland Benabou
  • Efe A. Ok

Interest in economic mobility stems largely from its perceived role as an equalizer of opportunities, though not necessarily of outcomes. In this paper we show that this view leads very naturally to a methodology for the measurement of social mobility which has strong parallels with the theory of progressive taxation. We characterize opportunity--equalizing mobility processes, and provide simple criteria to determine when one process is more equalizing than another. We then explain how this mobility ordering relates to social welfare analysis, and how it differs from existing ones. We also extend standard indices of tax progressivity to mobility processes, and illustrate our general methodology on intra- and intergenerational mobility data from the United States and Italy.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w8431.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 8431.

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Date of creation: Aug 2001
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8431
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  1. Atkinson, Anthony B., 1970. "On the measurement of inequality," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 2(3), pages 244-263, September.
  2. Shorrocks, A F, 1978. "The Measurement of Mobility," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 46(5), pages 1013-24, September.
  3. Peter T. Gottschalk & Enrico Spolaore, 2000. "On the Evaluation of Economic Mobility," JCPR Working Papers 185, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
  4. Peter Gottschalk & Sheldon Danziger, 1997. "Family Income Mobility -- How Much Is There and Has It Changed?," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 398, Boston College Department of Economics.
  5. Fields, Gary S & Ok, Efe A, 1999. "Measuring Movement of Incomes," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 66(264), pages 455-71, November.
  6. Loury, Glenn C, 1981. "Intergenerational Transfers and the Distribution of Earnings," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 49(4), pages 843-67, June.
  7. Checchi, Daniele & Ichino, Andrea & Rustichini, Aldo, 1999. "More equal but less mobile?: Education financing and intergenerational mobility in Italy and in the US," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 74(3), pages 351-393, December.
  8. Shorrocks, Anthony, 1978. "Income inequality and income mobility," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 19(2), pages 376-393, December.
  9. Le Breton, Michel & Moyes, Patrick & Trannoy, Alain, 1996. "Inequality Reducing Properties of Composite Taxation," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 69(1), pages 71-103, April.
  10. Dardanoni Valentino, 1993. "Measuring Social Mobility," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 61(2), pages 372-394, December.
  11. Sen, Amartya, 1997. "On Economic Inequality," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198292975, March.
  12. Dasgupta, Partha & Sen, Amartya & Starrett, David, 1973. "Notes on the measurement of inequality," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 6(2), pages 180-187, April.
  13. Peter Gottschalk, 1997. "Inequality, Income Growth, and Mobility: The Basic Facts," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(2), pages 21-40, Spring.
  14. Conlisk, John, 1989. "Ranking mobility matrices," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 29(3), pages 231-235.
  15. Hungerford, Thomas L, 1993. "U.S. Income Mobility in the Seventies and Eighties," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 39(4), pages 403-17, December.
  16. Ravi Kanbur, S. M. & Stromberg, Jan-Olov, 1988. "Income transitions and income distribution dominance," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 45(2), pages 408-416, August.
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