NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

In the Name of the Son (and the Daughter): Intergenerational Mobility in the United States, 1850-1930

Claudia Olivetti, M. Daniele Paserman

NBER Working Paper No. 18822
Issued in February 2013
NBER Program(s):   DAE   LS

This paper provides a new perspective on intergenerational mobility in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We devise an empirical strategy that allows to calculate intergenerational elasticities between fathers and children of both sexes. The key insight of our approach is that the information about socio-economic status conveyed by first names can be used to create a pseudo-link not only between fathers and sons, but also between fathers and daughters. The latter is typically not possible with historical data.

We find that the father-son elasticity in economic status grows throughout the sample period. Intergenerational elasticities for daughters follow a broadly similar trend, but with some differences in timing. We argue that most of the increase in the intergenerational elasticity estimate in the early part of the 20th Century can be accounted for by the vast regional disparities in economic development, with increasing returns to human capital contributing to explain the residual. Other mechanisms such as changes in fertility, migration, and investment in public schooling, appear to have had only a minor role in explaining the trends.

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