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.
Gregory Clark is professor of economics at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World (Princeton).
"The Son Also Rises . . . suggests that dramatic social mobility has always been the exception rather than the rule. Clark examines a host of societies over the past seven hundred years and finds that the makeup of a given country's economic élite has remained surprisingly stable."--James Surowiecki, New Yorker
"An epic feat of data crunching and collaborative grind. . . . Mr. Clark has just disrupted our complacent idea of a socially mobile, democratically fluid society."--Trevor Butterworth, Wall Street Journal
"Audacious . . ."--Barbara Kiser, Nature
"[A]n important book, and anybody at all interested in inequality and the kind of society we have should read it."--Diane Coyle, Enlightened Economist
"The Son Also Rises. . . . That is the new Greg Clark book and yes it is an event and yes you should buy it."--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution
"Startling. . . . Clark proposes a new way to measure mobility across nations and over time. He tracks the persistence of rare surnames at different points on the socio-economic scale. The information he gathers is absorbing in its own right, quite aside from its implications."--Clive Crook, Bloomberg View
"Clark casts his net wider. He looks at mobility not across one or two generations, but across many. And he shows by focusing on surnames--last names--how families overrepresented in elite institutions remain that way, though to diminishing degrees, not just for a few generations but over centuries."--Michael Barone, Washington Examiner
"Deeply challenging . . ."--Margaret Wente, Globe & Mail
"Who should you marry if you want to win at the game of life? Gregory Clark . . . offers some answers in his fascinating new book, The Son Also Rises."--Eric Kaufmann, Literary Review
Table of Contents
Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by Gregory Clark: