Frontiers of Mobility: Was Australia 1870-2017 a More Socially Mobile Society than England?

39 Pages Posted: 25 Mar 2020

See all articles by Gregory Clark

Gregory Clark

University of California, Davis - Department of Economics

Andrew Leigh

Australian House of Representatives Parliament House; Centre for Applied Macroeconomic Analysis, ANU; IZA

Mike Pottenger

University of Melbourne

Date Written: March 2020

Abstract

There is longstanding pride among Australians that by throwing off the social class demarcations that defined the ossified parent society, England, they created an open, socially mobile society. The paper tests this belief by estimating long run social mobility rates in Australia 1870-2017, using the status of rare surnames. The status information includes occupations from electoral rolls 1903-1980, and records of degrees awarded by Melbourne and Sydney universities 1852-2017. Status persistence was strong throughout, with an intergenerational correlation of occupational or educational status of 0.7-0.8, and no change over time. Mobility rates were also just as low for mobility rates within UK immigrants and their descendants, so ethnic effects explain none of the immobility. The much less pronounced class divisions of Australia compared to England did not enhance social mobility. One sign of apparent enhanced Australian social mobility – the fact that surnames associated with convicts already had a modest elite status by 1870 – seems to derive from convicts transported to Australia from England being positively selected in terms of human capital.

Keywords: Intergenerational social mobility

Suggested Citation

Clark, Gregory and Leigh, Andrew and Pottenger, Mike, Frontiers of Mobility: Was Australia 1870-2017 a More Socially Mobile Society than England? (March 2020). CEPR Discussion Paper No. DP14491, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3560298

Gregory Clark (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - Department of Economics ( email )

One Shields Drive
Davis, CA 95616-8578
United States

Andrew Leigh

Australian House of Representatives Parliament House ( email )

Canberra, 2600
Australia

Centre for Applied Macroeconomic Analysis, ANU ( email )

ANU College of Business and Economics
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200
Australia

IZA ( email )

Mike Pottenger

University of Melbourne

185 Pelham Street
Carlton, 3053

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