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The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History…
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The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility (The… (edition 2014)

by Gregory Clark

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754233,351 (4)1
Member:Cina
Title:The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World)
Authors:Gregory Clark
Info:Princeton University Press (2014), Hardcover, 384 pages
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The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility by Gregory Clark

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A book that made me say "Oops! I didn't know it was that bad! Really?".

Apparently, regardless of inequality levels in a society, and the time period you and your family live in - be it a much nicer place such as Sweden, or in a society in USA where there are huge levels of inequality between people, or medieval England for a totally different scenario - once you are at the top of society, or at the bottom of it, it takes many many generations to regress to the mean. So, the good news is, at least, there's some regress to the mean, it is not that fixed. The bad news is, it takes so long for so many families, that you can practically take it for granted that your immediate generations will not be much better off (of course, that's only bad news if you are stuck towards the bottom).

The book definitely will lead to more research for economists, sociologists, and even biologists (after all, if it's really a fact, then there must be some biological component that lead to similar results in so many different societies, economical systems, and time periods, right?).

For the rest of us, the lessons learned from this book will probably lead to a good political debate: if indeed the social mobility simply doesn't happen as much as we'd liked, independent of many parameters; then we'd better strive for less unequal societies, because as the book shows, once a family is closer to the bottom, then it'll take many many generations to get rid of this. And if "life is not fair", then we'd better make it much less painful because we can, and well, why would you even want the opposite?

I recommend this book to anyone who is curious about "why such and such groups of people can't 'make it' after so much time", as well as to the people who believe "if you really work hard, you'll make it, and so will everyone, there's this thing called social mobility". Finally, people who believe "social mobility used to be great, but it regressed in the last few decades because of policies employed by neoliberal governments and institutions" will be disappointed by this book that very strongly shows that social mobility was never at that nice level to begin with.

Note to researchers: I'd love to read a similar analysis based on data of Turkey as well as the Ottoman Empire, who knows, maybe we'll come across a surprise? ( )
  EmreSevinc | Jun 5, 2017 |
Genetics and surnames, upbringing and class. "How much of our fate is tied to the status of our parents and grandparents? How much does it influence our children? More than we wish to believe. While it has been argued that rigid class structures have eroded in favor of greater social equality, The Son Also Rises proves that movement on the social ladder has changed little over eight centuries. Using a novel technique—tracking family names over generations to measure social mobility across countries and periods—renowned economic historian Gregory Clark reveals that mobility rates are lower than conventionally estimated, do not vary across societies, and are resistant to social policies.

Clark examines and compares surnames in such diverse cases as modern Sweden and Qing Dynasty China. He demonstrates how fate is determined by ancestry and that almost all societies have similarly low social mobility rates. Challenging popular assumptions about mobility and revealing the deeply entrenched force of inherited advantage, The Son Also Rises is sure to prompt intense debate for years to come." From Amazon. ( )
  clifforddham | May 22, 2015 |
This book falls into two main parts -- one discussing ground-breaking research in social mobility, and the other drawing conclusions from that research. The research itself is fascinating. The author's interpretation of that research, however, seems to me more open to question that he suggests. Whether or not you agree entirely with his conclusions, however, this is a thought provoking and very valuable contribution to the discussion of social mobility. As both economic inequality and our knowledge of genetics increase, the "received version" of social mobility as a result of social factors rather than genetics is being questioned more and more. This is a discussion with political implications (some very alarming), but it is a discussion that can't be avoided. "The Son Also Rises" makes an important contribution, which -- I hope -- will spur more work.

As other reviewers report, Clark's research is based on the frequency with which unusual surnames appear (or don't appear) in various high-status cohorts over time. (He uses unusual surnames to make the statistical task possible). An early example, to illustrate, is the British surname "Pepys". Based on its (low) frequency in the British population, two or three Pepyses would have attended England's elite universities over the past 500 years. Instead, at least 58 have done so -- most recently just 20 years ago. Clark starts off with English and Swedish data particularly intently, because of the high quality of the data, and the long time spans over which it is available. He then looks closely at US data, and then at data from many other countries.

Two big surprises emerge from this data (along with a whole lot of minor surprises). First, social mobility as analysed by Clark is much lower than the standard two-generation analysis, which correlates the income of grown children with that of their parents. That measure shows that 30-40% of current status (as measured by income) in the industrialized countries reflects parents' income. Clark's data, however, shows 70% ratios. That's a massive difference over the long run, suggesting that it takes 10 to 15 generations for high status to revert to the norm, rather than 3-4 generations. Second, Clark's data show a remarkable consistency from country to country, and from time period to time period. His data show no more mobility in Sweden than in other countries, despite more than half a century of the welfare state. And his data for medieval Britain show the same degree of mobility as in current day Britain.

At this point I hit a problem in evaluating "The Son Also Rises", which is my own lack of statistical sophistication. I don't fully understand how Clark's data can be reconciled with two-generation data, and can't follow his statistical explanations of this. Also, I wonder if the analysis for England and Sweden can be extended to the US, where time series are in many cases much shorter, and very different. I hope that these points will be elucidated for a general reader in later work. Whatever uncertainties one may have about the ordering of the data, however, the data itself is unquestionably very important.

When Clark moves on to his primary conclusion -- that low social mobility over time reflects differences in genetic endowments -- seems to me far less compelling than his data. He posits a quality of "underlying social competence" which determines social status, and fades only slowly over time. He also discusses this in terms of various U.S. ethnic groups, where I cannot follow his argument that differences in social status depend primarily on genetics. I can't follow it because (once again) his statistical analysis gets beyond my competence. But I also can't follow it because the time span of groups in the US is way shorter than in Europe, and discrimination still an important factor. Also, I do not follow his argument as to why cultural self-perpetuation does not account for a lot of the persistent high status of some families -- if Daddy and Granddaddy went to Yale, Sonny is far more likely to go to Yale than Joe Blow, no matter how high or low Sonny's underlying social competence.

In any event, even though I remain unconvinced on many points and in active disagreement on a few, I still found this book very valuable. I look forward to more research based on the use of surnames -- a very major contribution. Why then only four stars? Because I wish that more effort had been made to make the statistical analysis more meaningful to a general reader.
Comment ( )
  annbury | Jun 30, 2014 |
Comment Amazon.de

How much of our fate is tied to the status of our parents and grandparents? How much does this influence our children? More than we wish to believe. While it has been argued that rigid class structures have eroded in favor of greater social equality, The Son Also Rises proves that movement on the social ladder has changed little over eight centuries. Using a novel technique--tracking family names over generations to measure social mobility across countries and periods--renowned economic historian Gregory Clark reveals that mobility rates are lower than conventionally estimated, do not vary across societies, and are resistant to social policies. The good news is that these patterns are driven by strong inheritance of abilities and lineage does not beget unwarranted advantage. The bad news is that much of our fate is predictable from lineage. Clark argues that since a greater part of our place in the world is predetermined, we must avoid creating winner-take-all societies. Clark examines and compares surnames in such diverse cases as modern Sweden, fourteenth-century England, and Qing Dynasty China. He demonstrates how fate is determined by ancestry and that almost all societies--as different as the modern United States, Communist China, and modern Japan--have similarly low social mobility rates. These figures are impervious to institutions, and it takes hundreds of years for descendants to shake off the advantages and disadvantages of their ancestors. For these reasons, Clark contends that societies should act to limit the disparities in rewards between those of high and low social rank. Challenging popular assumptions about mobility and revealing the deeply entrenched force of inherited advantage, The Son Also Rises is sure to prompt intense debate for years to come.
  cohoek | Apr 19, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0691162549, Hardcover)

How much of our fate is tied to the status of our parents and grandparents? How much does this influence our children? More than we wish to believe. While it has been argued that rigid class structures have eroded in favor of greater social equality, The Son Also Rises proves that movement on the social ladder has changed little over eight centuries. Using a novel technique--tracking family names over generations to measure social mobility across countries and periods--renowned economic historian Gregory Clark reveals that mobility rates are lower than conventionally estimated, do not vary across societies, and are resistant to social policies. The good news is that these patterns are driven by strong inheritance of abilities and lineage does not beget unwarranted advantage. The bad news is that much of our fate is predictable from lineage. Clark argues that since a greater part of our place in the world is predetermined, we must avoid creating winner-take-all societies.

Clark examines and compares surnames in such diverse cases as modern Sweden, fourteenth-century England, and Qing Dynasty China. He demonstrates how fate is determined by ancestry and that almost all societies--as different as the modern United States, Communist China, and modern Japan--have similarly low social mobility rates. These figures are impervious to institutions, and it takes hundreds of years for descendants to shake off the advantages and disadvantages of their ancestors. For these reasons, Clark contends that societies should act to limit the disparities in rewards between those of high and low social rank.

Challenging popular assumptions about mobility and revealing the deeply entrenched force of inherited advantage, The Son Also Rises is sure to prompt intense debate for years to come.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:36 -0400)

How much of our fate is tied to the status of our parents and grandparents? How much does this influence our children? More than we wish to believe! While it has been argued that rigid class structures have eroded in favor of greater social equality, The Son Also Rises proves that movement on the social ladder has changed little over eight centuries. Using a novel technique -- tracking family names over generations to measure social mobility across countries and periods -- renowned economic historian Gregory Clark reveals that mobility rates are lower than conventionally estimated, do not vary across societies, and are resistant to social policies. The good news is that these patterns are driven by strong inheritance of abilities and lineage does not beget unwarranted advantage. The bad news is that much of our fate is predictable from lineage. Clark argues that since a greater part of our place in the world is predetermined, we must avoid creating winner-take-all societies. -- Taken from the book jacket.… (more)

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