Long-term decline in intergenerational mobility in the United States since the 1850s

Xi Song, Catherine G. Massey, Karen A. Rolf, Joseph P. Ferrie, Jonathan L. Rothbaum, Yu Xie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


We make use of newly available data that include roughly 5 million linked household and population records from 1850 to 2015 to document long-term trends in intergenerational social mobility in the United States. Intergenerational mobility declined substantially over the past 150 y, but more slowly than previously thought. Intergenerational occupational rank–rank correlations increased from less than 0.17 to as high as 0.32, but most of this change occurred to Americans born before 1900. After controlling for the relatively high mobility of persons from farm origins, we find that intergenerational social mobility has been remarkably stable. In contrast with relative stability in rank-based measures of mobility, absolute mobility for the nonfarm population—the fraction of offspring whose occupational ranks are higher than those of their parents—increased for birth cohorts born prior to 1900 and has fallen for those born after 1940.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)251-258
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 7 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Inequality
  • Intergenerational mobility
  • Occupation
  • US Census
  • US history


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