Has intergenerational mobility finally been shown to have declined?

by on March 23, 2017 at 12:41 am in Data Source, Economics, History | Permalink

If you recall, Robert D. Putnam, in his last book, expressed surprise that Chetty and Hendren, et.al. (2014) did not find evidence of a decline in intergenerational mobility.  Putnam predicted that researchers would find such evidence soon enough.  After all, it seems the returns to education have been rising, geographic mobility has been falling, market concentration is up slightly, life expectancy is behaving in funny ways, and regional disparities seem to have grown.  Chetty and Grusky, et.al. (2016) seemed to paint a more pessimistic picture than did his work from a few years ago, and now we have a new paper by Jonathan Davis and Bhashkar Mazumder:

We demonstrate that intergenerational mobility declined sharply for cohorts born between 1942 and 1953 compared to those born between 1957 and 1964. The former entered the labor market prior to the large rise in inequality that occurred around 1980 while the latter cohorts entered the labor market largely afterwards. We show that the rank-rank slope rose from 0.27 to 0.4 and the IGE rose from 0.35 to 0.51. The share of children whose income exceeds that of their parents fell by about 3 percentage points. These findings suggest that relative mobility fell by substantially more than absolute mobility.

So far this seems to be the current version of the final word.  The authors also argue, by the way, that Chetty (2016) is somewhat too pessimistic, though correct in suggesting mobility has indeed fallen.

By the way, this seems to be the best link for a download.

1 steveslr March 23, 2017 at 1:09 am

This is basically the difference between Early Baby Boomers (various rock stars and Presidents) and late Baby Boomers.

Early Baby Boomers had a pretty wide open path through life because not many babies were born during the Depression and WWII. Late Baby Boomers had lots and lots of Early Baby Boomers clogging the ranks above them.

2 A Black Man March 23, 2017 at 10:08 am

Gen X has also been squeezed out. The Boomers clogged up the top and now the Millennials are challenging them from below. I look around my workplace and it is not hard to see what happens in a decade. The geezers will be gone and those guys just behind them will be forced out so my generation can take over.

Probably best for Boomers and X’ers to just kill themselves now and get it over with.

3 Ricardo March 23, 2017 at 3:21 pm

Elon Musk and all the other personalities active in the 1990s phase of the tech boom would surely qualify as Gen Xers.

4 A Black Man March 24, 2017 at 9:04 am

Toaster, Broccoli. Spaghetti.

What’s your point?

5 Ray Lopez March 23, 2017 at 2:19 am

What is this definition mean anyway? Oh, I see: Intergenerational mobility refers to any changes in a family’s social position between generations. This is in contrast to intragenerational mobility, which refers to a person’s social movement within his lifetime.

Like the country song “Good Whiskey Never Lets You Lose Your Place” – Johnny Lee – Cherokee Fiddle

Well, my family is doing nicely (in the top 1%) due to DC real estate, and on it’s way even further up, God willing, I estimate in another decade we’ll be at the $20M USD mark, and within another decade, luck be with us, within the top 10 of US Congress members in net worth ($40M is the 10th wealthiest member as I recall, though that’s obviously a moving target). As for the rest of you, well I tip my hat to you if you’re trying to make a honest living. I tried that, made about $0.5M in about 15 years of part time work (I’m lazy, could have made more, but toured the world between jobs), and quit in my 40s (I take work too seriously, more so than my clients, it’s stressful for me). Good luck and God bless you reader! Pay your taxes too please, the DC area needs it. Hey, thank you, and no, I’m really a nice guy in person.

6 msgkings March 23, 2017 at 12:56 pm

Soul-crushing, terrible loneliness.

7 Ray Lopez March 23, 2017 at 2:40 pm

Projection noted. Get out more msgkings. Not that I care mind you.

8 msgkings March 23, 2017 at 2:53 pm

You need to move back to the first world, son.

9 The Cuckmeister-General March 23, 2017 at 5:12 pm

No God bless YOU Ray Lopez. Your posts always breath fresh air into this blog, made fetid by the bitterness of old cucks like Art Deco, Cliff, and So Much For Subtlty. You are the crown jewel of the comment section here, and no this is not sarcasm.

10 Boris_Badenoff March 23, 2017 at 8:17 am

“… the current version of the final word.” Love it! – one does so hope to stay current on these things!

11 Dangerman March 23, 2017 at 9:30 am

“After all, it seems…” – but these are factors NOW, not from 1964, right?

Is this another “keep studying the same data until it tells you what you want”?

12 dearieme March 23, 2017 at 10:53 am

“intergenerational mobility declined sharply for cohorts born between 1942 and 1953 compared to those born between 1957 and 1964”: do they really mean that? Do they mean its opposite?

13 JWatts March 23, 2017 at 11:33 am

Agreed. The paragraph is contradictory and poorly written.

14 Calvin Hobbes March 23, 2017 at 11:53 am

Here’s a 2008 paper by Bhashkar Mazumder about intergenerational mobility:

Upward Intergenerational Economic Mobility in the United States


Oddly enough, this paper is not mentioned in the current paper

It turns out that the 2008 paper rediscovers some findings of The Bell Curve. Here’s a quote from the 2008 paper:

MAZUMDAR: “Perhaps the most stunning finding is that once one accounts for the AFQT score, the entire racial gap in mobility is eliminated for a broad portion of the distribution. At the very bottom and in the top half of the distribution a small gap remains, but it is not statistically significant. The differences in the top half of the AFQT distribution are particularly misleading because there are very few blacks in the NLSY with AFQT scores this high.”

Although back in 2008 Bhashkar Mazumder found that AFQT score explained a lot about intergenerational mobility, the recent paper does not mention AFQT scores.

The recent paper of course does not mention The Bell Curve. The 2008 paper does mention The Bell Curve, dishonestly, as follows:

MAZUMDAR: “Despite the fact that the AFQT is viewed by the military and most social scientists as a straightforward measure of academic skills, it is important to note that Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray in their controversial 1994 book, The Bell Curve, chose to interpret AFQT scores as a measure of “general intelligence” that is genetically transmitted. A growing number of studies, however, have rejected the interpretation that AFQT scores are unaffected by environmental factors such as years of schooling and experience.”

Appendix 3 of The Bell Curve has a table “The Independent Effect of Education on AFQT Scores as Inferred from Earlier IQ Tests”. The table is described as showing that “…the independent effect of education is to increase the AFQT score by .07 standard deviation, or the equivalent of about one IQ point per year-also in line with other analyses”. Mazumder’s insinuation that The Bell Curve makes the ridiculous claim that “AFQT scores are unaffected by environmental factors such as years of schooling and experience” is thoroughly dishonest.

As for whether the AFQT is “a measure of ‘general intelligence’ that is genetically transmitted”, the AFQT is about as highly “g-loaded” as the standard intelligence tests. It correlates with other IQ tests as highly as these other IQ tests correlate with each other.(See Appendix 3 of The Bell Curve.) Furthermore, twin studies have shown beyond any doubt that this “general intelligence” g factor is, to a very significant degree, genetically transmitted.

15 Calvin Hobbes March 23, 2017 at 12:02 pm

The 2008 Mazumdar paper was done for the Pew Charitable Trusts. There’s a 2011 paper from the Pew Charitable Trusts by Gregory Acs with very similar findings.

Downward Mobility from the Middle Class: Waking up from the American Dream


ACS: “Black men raised in middle-class families are 17 percentage points more likely to be downwardly mobile than are white men raised in the middle. Taking into account a range of personal and background characteristics–such as father’s occupational status, individual educational attainment and marital status–reduces this gap, but still leaves a sizable portion unexplained. However, taking into account differences in AFQT scores between middle-class white and black men reduces the gap until it is statistically indistinguishable from zero.”

This paper by Acs does not mention The Bell Curve at all.

16 Calvin Hobbes March 23, 2017 at 12:11 pm

I should also mention that the 2008 paper by Mazumdar and the 2011 paper by Acs are based on the same NLSY79 data used by The Bell Curve and by this current Davis and Mazumdar paper as well.

17 Alan Krueger March 23, 2017 at 6:16 pm

Hmmm. Maybe critics of the Great Gatsby Curve will now have a change of heart.

18 Troll me March 25, 2017 at 3:05 pm

Usually when you say something declines, it suggests that it occurred AFTER the thing that it declined relative to.

It was “lower” first, but you cannot have a “relative decline” occurring decades prior to the point of comparison.

19 TallDave March 26, 2017 at 3:53 am

“The former entered the labor market prior to the large rise in inequality that occurred around 1980”

Heh. How did Dave Barry put it?

The Decline of Spain

On October 8, 1565, Spain declined.

20 TallDave March 26, 2017 at 4:06 am

“cohorts born between 1942 and 1953 compared to those born between 1957 and 1964”

But are the results are the same for say, 1946 and 1953 compared to those born between 1957 and 1968? What is the spread of results across different slices?

I always wonder how they handle immigration. Someone coming from a 3rd World country to be a professional here can easily see 100X the earnings of their parents.

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