Social mobility and discount mates

Gregory Clark is perhaps best known for his A Farewell To Alms, but he also has a newer pun-based title - The Son Also Rises. The book deals with social mobility of families across multi-century timeframes. He uses an unconventional method for analyzing intergenerational mobility - in contrast to the typical correlation between the outcomes of parents and children - surname analysis.

Conventional estimates indicate that the rates of social mobility vary wildly across societies (high mobility in Sweden, low in the United States), while according to Clark's surname analysis, it is not only very low (to the effect of 0.75 correlation between a family's current outcomes and the outcomes of their ancestors a generation back in time), it is roughly constant across all cultures, revolutions, groups and measures for or against it tested. The good professor tries really hard to disclaim any wrongthink about the findings, but in accordance with his formula, the current generation's social status is defined as:

xt = bxt-1 + e

where x is the social status, t is the generation, b is equal ~0.75 and e is the random dumb luck factor.

Said dumb luck factor is large, but it is also apparently unrelated to any attempts to increase or decrease mobility. Over time, the random factor averages out and social status of a lineage regresses (slowly) towards the mean. Symmetrical processes drive those underrepresented among the elites upwards, whereas a long string of good genetic fortune seems to be to blame for the incremental rise of would-be elites.


Note: This graph shows over- and under-representation of surname groups in terms of wealth, relative to what a completely average group would achieve (represented by 1 on the vertical axis).

Curiously, this looks a lot like the heritability of IQ! I'm sure it's just a coincidence. Prof. Clark agrees:

"This is not to say that social status is determined genetically. But whatever drives it is, on the tests performed here, indistinguishable from genetic inheritance".

But jokes aside, what are the practical implications?

For one, social programs aimed at reducing inequality and promote mobility don't work. Clark's research shows that we already live, and have always lived, in a meritocratic world, where - on average - people get the money and status they deserve. Measures to help make the lot of the poor more comfortable are probably fine, but trying to uplift them is wasting resources for no gain - in addition to being patently unjust.

Closer to home to one of the passivist inclination - being far away from the levers of power - is the author's advice concerning mating strategy. If genotype is a strong predictor of status, and phenotype varies considerably across related individuals, one should pay a lot of attention not to the merit of the potential mate themselves - but to their extended family, grandparents, uncles, cousins. A low status person in a family of high achievers is quite likely a great catch, while a high status person in a family of dole recipients probably isn't.

Neither of the above points should be news to a reactionary, but it's nice to have scientific confirmation of being right.

One thing that isn't commonly known, which Clark notices, are the effects of Jizya taxation on the overall quality of the infidels living under Muslim rule. Namely, these taxes produce conversion primarily among the poor, the wealthy being capable enough to bear the brunt of high taxes. After all, rich people are allowed to be eccentric - ritually formalized approaches to eccentricity only help them stay that way. Over time, almost all the poor and incapable convert to Islam, die, or move to places where they're not being crushed by incentives to convert. Similarly to the oppression of Jews in Europe, this has made the remaining Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian minorities in the Middle East exceptionally high quality people.

The book isn't quite as interesting as Alms, but it's worth a read nonetheless.