Gregory Clark, Author of The Son Also Rises, on PBS: “Birth is Fate”

7-18 Gregory ClarkGregory Clark, professor of Economics at UC Davis and author of The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility can see into your future.

Well, maybe not in the conventional sense – but, based on the research featured in his latest book, Clark thinks it’s much easier to predict the trajectory of one’s life based on the social status of his or her parents. Social mobility is a far more stalwart characteristic than we thought, an issue that Clark discusses at great length in this recent op-ed for PBS Newshour. In a country that’s founded on the ideal of the “American Dream” and the possibility of rising in society, these revelations take on enormous importance and are subject to influence future public policy decisions.


“We can predict the majority of status variation among people at birth just from their lineage,” Clark writes. In other words, our society’s divergence of fortunes — which as Clark points out, isn’t just about income, but also social status – is relatively fixed. That’s something no one ever wants to talk about.”


Clark says that, “underlying social status is inherited from parents as strongly and mechanically as height,” and explains that rates of social mobility are reflected by the degree of similarity between children’s social outcomes and those of their parents – a melange of earnings, education, wealth, and health.  A family whose generations possess a weaker correlation between these factors thus places less emphasis on lineage, race, and ethnicity for the next generation, when children become free to produce a fresh set of social outcomes. Alternately, a family in which children and their parents possess greater similarities is more capable of predicting the social status of its progeny. 

Clark’s essential point lingers on the incredibly slow nature of social mobility. Fortunately, though, he’s able to leave off with some encouraging news: there is “considerable evidence that the biological inheritance of talent and drive is what underlies most of the correlation between the social status of parents and children,” and that “whatever the social system — Communist China or Republican Texas — families of greater social competence will navigate themselves to the better social positions.” Change is uniquely possible for those with the tools and motivation to enact it. 

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Gregory Clark is the author of:

7-18 SonAlsoRises The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility by Gregory Clark
Hardcover | 2014 | $29.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691162546
384 pp. | 6 x 9 | 15 halftones. 111 line illus. 50 tables. 7 maps. | eBook | ISBN: 9781400851096 | Reviews Table of Contents Introduction[PDF]