Human Nature

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 517–537 | Cite as

Surnames and Social Mobility in England, 1170–2012

  • Gregory ClarkEmail author
  • Neil Cummins


Using educational status in England from 1170 to 2012, we show that the rate of social mobility in any society can be estimated from knowledge of just two facts: the distribution over time of surnames in the society and the distribution of surnames among an elite or underclass. Such surname measures reveal that the typical estimate of parent–child correlations in socioeconomic measures in the range of 0.2–0.6 are misleading about rates of overall social mobility. Measuring education status through Oxbridge attendance suggests a generalized intergenerational correlation in status in the range of 0.70–0.90. Social status is more strongly inherited even than height. This correlation is unchanged over centuries. Social mobility in England in 2012 was little greater than in preindustrial times. Thus there are indications of an underlying social physics surprisingly immune to government intervention.


Social mobility Intergenerational correlation Status inheritance 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  2. 2.Department of Economic HistoryLondon School of EconomicsLondonUK

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