Book Chapter
Measuring social mobility in historic and less developed societies

In societies where surnames are inherited from parents, we can use these names to estimate rates of intergenerational mobility. This chapter explains how to make such estimates, and illustrates their use in pre-industrial England and modern Chile and India.

These surname estimates have the advantage that they require much less data than traditional parent–child estimates. They are also more robust to errors in status data. Thus, they can be used to estimate social mobility rates in early societies such as England 1300–1800, or in less developed societies now.

Surnames measure a different aspect of social mobility than conventional measures, but this surname measure is the one that matters when we consider group-level convergence of social status, or the time needed for any disadvantaged groups to attain at least average status measured in generations. Surnames thus allow us to measure a key element in the multigenerational mobility process.