Regression to Mediocrity? Surnames and Social Mobility in England, 1200-2009
By Gregory Clark
Published Online (2010)
Abstract: This paper reports on a preliminary investigation of surname distributions as a measure long run social mobility. In England this suggests two surprising claims. First, England, all the way from the heart of the Middle Ages in 1200 to 2009, is a society without persistent social classes, at least among the descendants of the medieval population. It was a world of complete social mobility, with no permanent over-class and under-class, a world of complete equal opportunity. However, for some recent immigrant groups it may no longer be true. Instead of moving from a world of immobility and class rigidity in medieval England to a world of equal opportunity, we may have moved in the opposite direction. Other modern societies such as the US and Brazil also show sign of persistent social classes. There was, however, a gain from being in the upper class before 1800 in any generation in the form of leaving more copies of your DNA permanently in later populations.