DP14491 Frontiers of Mobility: Was Australia 1870-2017 a more Socially Mobile Society than England?

Author(s): Gregory Clark, Andrew Leigh, Mike Pottenger
Publication Date: March 2020
Keyword(s): Intergenerational social mobility
Programme Areas: Labour Economics, Economic History
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=14491

There is longstanding pride among Australians that by throwing off the social class demarcations that defined the ossified parent society, England, they created an open, socially mobile society. The paper tests this belief by estimating long run social mobility rates in Australia 1870-2017, using the status of rare surnames. The status information includes occupations from electoral rolls 1903-1980, and records of degrees awarded by Melbourne and Sydney universities 1852-2017. Status persistence was strong throughout, with an intergenerational correlation of occupational or educational status of 0.7-0.8, and no change over time. Mobility rates were also just as low for mobility rates within UK immigrants and their descendants, so ethnic effects explain none of the immobility. The much less pronounced class divisions of Australia compared to England did not enhance social mobility. One sign of apparent enhanced Australian social mobility â?? the fact that surnames associated with convicts already had a modest elite status by 1870 â?? seems to derive from convicts transported to Australia from England being positively selected in terms of human capital.