Occupational Mobility in Britain and the U.S. Since 1850 (updated November 2009)
Earlier version available as NBER
working paper 11253
Forthcoming, American Economic Review
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 than 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.
PowerPoint slides (shorter) PowerPoint slides
Social Mobility Within and Across
Generations in Britain Since 1851 (updated January 2008)
Revise and resubmit, Journal of Economic History
Abstract: This paper
exploits a rich data source to provide new measures of social mobility in England and Wales from 1851 to 1901. Existing
measures of intergenerational mobility derived from marriage registries fail to
control for life-cycle differences between father and son. Correcting for this
reveals significantly more mobility across generations than previous estimates:
half of all sons occupy a different occupational class than their father, and
upward mobility exceeds downward by 40 percent. In addition, the rate of
intragenerational mobility is measured for the first time. While slightly lower
than mobility across generations, it is substantial; 44 percent of young males
changed occupational class over a thirty-year period. International and
intertemporal comparisons show that mobility in Britain
was much lower than in the U.S.,
but that unlike in the U.S.,
it trended upward from the 1850s to the 1970s.
PowerPoint slides (shorter) PowerPoint
The Path to Convergence:
Intergenerational Occupational Mobility in Britain and the U.S. in Three Eras
Economic Journal, March 2007
occupational mobility was substantially higher in the U.S. than in Britain in
the second half of the nineteenth century, as social commentators noted at the
time and as new longitudinal data demonstrate. Since the Second World War,
however, there have been no discernable differences in this type of mobility
between these two economies. Using new longitudinal data on 10,000 nationally-representative
and British father and son pairs followed over two twenty year intervals in the
late nineteenth century (the 1860s and 1870s, and then the 1880s and 1890s), we
examine how this convergence occurred. The U.S. remained substantially more
mobile then Britain through 1900, but the margin by which U.S. mobility
exceeded British mobility fell over the last two decades of the nineteenth
century (as British mobility rose slightly) and was entirely erased by the
1950s (as mobility decreased in both countries but fell by more in the U.S.
than in Britain).
Socioeconomic Return to Primary Schooling in Victorian England
Economic History, December 2006
Abstract: In this
paper I provide a micro-level analysis of primary schooling in Victorian
England. Using a new dataset of school-age males linked between the 1851 and
1881 population censuses, I examine the determinants of childhood school
attendance and the impact of attendance on adult labor market outcomes. I find
that schooling had a positive effect on adult occupational class and that the
associated wage gains were likely to have outweighed the cost of schooling.
However, this effect was small relative to father’s class, and the effect of
education on earnings appears to have been small relative to modern results.
Rural-Urban Migration and Socioeconomic Mobility in
Journal of Economic History, March
This paper analyses rural-urban migration in Great Britain in the latter half of
the nineteenth century. Using a new dataset of 28,000 individuals matched
between the 1851 and 1881 population censuses, I examine the selection process
and treatment effect of migration, controlling for the endogeneity of the
migration decision. I find that urban migrants were positively selected—the
best of the rural labor pool—and that the economic benefits of migration were
substantial. Migrants responded to market signals, and labor markets were
largely efficient; however, not all gains from migration were exploited,
potentially indicating some degree of inefficiency.
Shorter version prepared for 2002 Cliometrics
Geographic and Occupational Mobility in
Britain and the U.S., 1850-1881
With Joseph Ferrie
longitudinal data on individual males linked between censuses separated by 30
years, we examine patterns of geographic and occupational mobility in the last
half of the nineteenth century for two industrializing economies: the U.K.
(1851-81) and the U.S. (1850-80). We find considerably higher rates of
geographic mobility in the U.S.
Though the frequency of moves was similar (roughly two thirds moved over 30
years in each country), moves were ten times as great in distance in the U.S.
Upward occupational mobility between fathers’ and sons’ occupations and between
an individual’s first and last jobs was considerably more frequent in the U.S.
For example, only one in five sons of unskilled fathers in the U.S. at the start of the 1850s failed to attain
a higher status job by the start of the 1880s; the corresponding figure for the
was nearly one in two. Upward mobility was associated more strongly with
education in the U.K. than
in the U.S. Background characteristics more generally were better predictors of
occupational attainment in the U.K.
than in the U.S.
With Joseph Ferrie. Entry
in Joel Mokyr (ed.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of
Economic History (New York: Oxford University
to Jason Long's home page
Colby College Economics Department