DP13589 Social Mobility in the Long Run: A Temporal Analysis of China from 1300 to 1900

Author(s): Carol Hua Shiue
Publication Date: March 2019
JEL(s): D31, J62, N35
Programme Areas: Development Economics, Economic History
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=13589

Abstract Does inequality within the family play a significant role in explaining mobility patterns from one generation to the next? This paper exploits temporal changes in mobility over approximately 20 generations and six centuries to shed light on the sources of social mobility. Socioeconomic data on status and links at the individual level come from historical biographies of seven extended families (dynasties as based on the male surname) who lived in one region in China. The analysis documents a trend towards greater social mobility over time. Times of greater inequality between fathers, especially educational inequality, are times of lower social mobility. Moreover, geographic location strengthens the role of inequality for social mobility. Decomposing inequality into between versus within-dynasty components, however, shows that not all inequality is associated with persistence. While inequality between dynasties is conducive to persistence, inequality witin the dynasty is associated with higher mobility, and this is true both upward and downward. Furthermore, among members of even closer kin in the dynasty, the positive relationship of inequality and mobility is stronger still. The results are robust to alternative measures of mobility, inequality, and definitions of status.