Book Chapter
Social mobility in developing countries

Measurement and downward mobility pitfalls

Limited attention has been paid to how well social mobility measures developed and used to study industrial countries perform in analysis of low-income settings. Following brief, selective reviews of the axiomatic, econometric and other relevant literature, three mobility concepts illustrate how properties that appear innocuous in industrial country analysis become problematic when downward mobility includes descents into destitution.

For origin-independence measures—the most widely used in research on developing countries so far—axiomatic propriety and cognizance of co-residency-induced and other estimation bias are not enough. Adopting a variant of the ‘perverse fluidity’ concept from sociology to define the estimate bias attributable to intergenerational descents into poverty, we use experiments and data from India to find perverse fluidity biases in intergenerational mobility estimates of up to 50 per cent.

Seemingly ‘good’ mobility news may thus be ‘bad’ with intergroup, regional and international mobility comparisons more precarious than acknowledged so far.