Mobility, Aspirations and Social Conflict
This project continues a broad research agenda on economic development, mobility and social conflict. It conceptualizes upward mobility, and studies its connections with several aspects of economic development. Specifically, it asks: How do inequality and polarization affect upward mobility? How do inequality and mobility (or the lack thereof) affect social conflict? The project has two main parts. The first part introduces a notion of upward mobility, and develops a class of measures for it. These measures are shown to have wide scope, and are easily applicable to data in the public domain for a majority of the world?s countries. The second part studies the link between mobility and social unrest by exploiting a theory of economic behavior developed in earlier work by the principal investigator. In this theory, an individual?s ambient environment affects her expressed preferences through its influence on her aspirational thresholds, which serve as dividing lines between achievement and failure. A variety of phenomena can be understood from this perspective, including the connections between economic inequality and upward mobility (or its absence) on the one hand, and the rise of intolerance and heightened social conflict on the other. Both parts of the research project work towards such an understanding.
Social mobility is a priority area of research among researchers and policy makers. But the literature is hamstrung by the demands that mobility measures place on the data. This new approach to measuring upward mobility opens up a far-reaching program, which permits the measurement of mobility in a majority of countries using readily available data. At the heart of the exercise is the Growth Progressivity Axiom, which states that transfers of instantaneous growth rates from relatively rich to poor individuals increases upward mobility. This axiom, along with mild auxiliary restrictions, identifies a class of upward mobility measures that are linear in individual growth rates, with geometrically declining weights on baseline incomes. Because the underlying measure does not rely on panel data, it can be applied to data-poor settings. That application permits a detailed exploration of recent trends in upward mobility in some emerging countries, and it also opens the door to a deeper understanding of the Great Gatsby curve, which links baseline inequalities to subsequent mobility within societies. These measures of mobility are also connected to phenomena such as social unrest. A major objective is to understand orthogonal reactions to high and rising economic inequality, those that are not always directed at the original causes of that inequality.
Supported by the National Science Foundation grant #2315720
More from NBER
In addition to working papers, the NBER disseminates affiliates’ latest findings through a range of free periodicals — the NBER Reporter, the NBER Digest, the Bulletin on Retirement and Disability, the Bulletin on Health, and the Bulletin on Entrepreneurship — as well as online conference reports, video lectures, and interviews.