A Tale of Two Labor Markets: Intergenerational Occupational Mobility in Britain and the U.S. Since 1850
NBER Working Paper No. 11253
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 then 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.