Using rare surnames we track the socio-economic status of descendants of a sample of English rich and poor in 1800, until 2011. We measure social status through wealth, education, occupation, and age at death. Our method allows unbiased estimates of mobility rates. Paradoxically, we find two things. Mobility rates are lower than conventionally estimated. There is considerable persistence of status, even after 200 years. But there is convergence with each generation. The 1800 underclass has already attained mediocrity. And the 1800 upper class will eventually dissolve into the mass of society, though perhaps not for another 300 years, or longer.
I haven’t looked into the details of the methodology, but rare events have their own distributional characteristics, and could benefit from Bayesian modeling in sparse data conditions. Moreover, there seems to be an underlying assumption that rare names are somehow uniformly represented in the population. They might not be. A hypothetical situation: in feudal days, rare names were good at predicting who’s rich and who’s not – wealth was passed through family by name. But then industrialization perturbed the old feudal order stratified by name into one that’s stratified by skill and no longer identifiable by name.
Let’s scrutinize this new methodology! With power comes responsibility.
This post is by Aleks Jakulin.