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2012 October 04 Thursday
Class Mobility Between Generations Highest At Top

Contrary to left wing stereotypes, keeping one's kid in the same class is hardest for the upper class.

Analyzed a different way, some 43% of those raised in lower-class families remain in the lower class, while 60% of those from middle-class backgrounds stay middle class and 33% of those from upper-class families remain in the upper class.

Makes sense. Regression to the mean for offspring IQ is a huge problem. To put it another way: The majority of kids born to really smart people are not as smart as their parents. So smart people who manage to use their brains to make a lot of money are mostly going to have kids who do worse in school and worse in the marketplace.

Once upper class people gain the ability to choose embryos based on genes for intelligence and personality type it seems likely that downward social mobility out of the upper will become less common. Upper class people will choose their mates partially based on genetic endowment. Women of lower classes might opt to use sperm donors from the upper classes once we reach that point.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2012 October 04 09:47 PM  Economics Class

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Zog said at October 4, 2012 11:29 PM:

We see at the link once again that black people have a great deal of self-confidence. Just like they rate themselves good at math, despite the lowest incomes of american races they think of themselves as lower class at the same rate as whites and a lower rate than hispanics.

Zog said at October 4, 2012 11:34 PM:

"Contrary to left wing stereotypes, keeping one's kid in the same class is hardest for the upper class."

Only if someone's own labeling of their own class and their parents' corresponds with reality.

Studies using actual income data, however, show that class mobility in the United States lower now than in the past, and also lower than Europe. That data, however, is affected by changing demographics.

Sgt. Joe Friday said at October 5, 2012 6:21 AM:

Or stated another way: the first generation makes the money, the second generation enjoys it, and the third generation squanders it.

Half Sigma said at October 5, 2012 6:27 AM:

Based on people SELF-REPORTING what class they are in and what class their families are in, which makes it an untrustworthy survey.

James Bowery said at October 5, 2012 7:41 AM:

Thank goodness we've gotten rid of this idea that the mean of the reproductive population should be raised as that is a slippery slope to killing 6 million Jews. Well, yeah, Jews have a reproductive population with a higher mean but that's good because it doesn't lead to killing 6 million Jews.

bbartlog said at October 5, 2012 3:25 PM:

I'm not sure you're interpreting this data correctly. If the middle class is 50% of the population and 60% of their descendants remain middle class, it suggests that they have very little influence indeed: their descendants are assigned nearly randomly across the social classes (with some downward bias). Whereas in the case of the upper classes, their descendants are at least represented among the upper class at twice what random would give them. That's less influence than I expected, but better than near-total lack of influence the middle class has...

Mike M said at October 6, 2012 8:31 AM:

Randall, I thinks it's a big (and incorrect) assumption to make that either IQ or intelligence is the chief determinant of one's financial success. Indeed, there are other qualities that may be more important than IQ in predicting not only financial success, but success in school - which themselves are two different outcomes that are not necessarily related. You have equated a number of things - financial success, intelligence, IQ, academic success - that are not equivalent and are not as strongly correlated as your statements would suggest.

Randall Parker said at October 6, 2012 7:58 PM:


The more important class (at least from the standpoint of class warriors) is the upper class. Well, entry and exit in to the upper class happens at a pretty fast rate from generation to generation.

Granted, if someone inherits a billion dollars they'll be upper class their whole life and so will their kids. But the billions gradually get shifted into the hands of rising new and more able members of the high upper class.

Mike M,

There's a distinction to be made between necessary and sufficient. A 100 IQ person has no chance of getting rich outside of sports or entertainment. High intelligence is necessary but not sufficient for success in many endeavors. The IQs of founders of successful Silicon Valley start-ups are very high. They have to be. You can't pull of a Google, Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, LinkedIn, or similar company without lots of brain power. You can achieve some success in, say, a car dealership or by doing construction without a 130+ IQ. There are ways to make money for moderately high IQ folks (say 115-125). But for the 105 or 95 or 90 IQ people, really their prospects are poor.

Randall Parker said at October 6, 2012 8:14 PM:

Sgt. Joe Friday,

I see several forces at work pulling down the second and later generations:
- They aren't as smart as their parents.
- They aren't as motivated either. Never felt hungry or lower class and striving.
- They've got more distractions, fun things to do, that a poorer person doesn't have.

What later generations of upper class have going for them:
- More capital to start with.
- More education.
- Better connections.
- Time.

The smarter and more motivated kids of successful (e.g. Bill Gates) can certainly go far. But most head downward.

Mike M said at October 7, 2012 1:40 PM:

Randall - I agree with you regarding necessary vs sufficient conditions, but I think the point you mentioned to Joe Friday is key, i.e. motivation. Motivation, determination, perseverance and shat has been termed "grit", that ability to suffer defeat and return to the fray undaunted, yet wiser have proven to trump pure talent (IQ in this example). I have seen many determined folks of "average" (although not too many of below average) intelligence become very successful and I have seen many very intelligent, yet unmotivated, folks who are unsuccessful or who rapidly fall once they achieve success.

There has been a debate for some time regarding what intelligence is and whether it is more related to nature (inherited) or nurture (upbringing). I fall in the camp - and from your comments, it appears that you do as well - that genetics play the larger role. So, when you opine that "the smarter and more motivated kids of successful.....", I agree with the "smarter" part.

However, I don't know of any studies that show motivation is inherited. Your comment to Joe Friday that the second generation is pulled down because "they aren't as motivated either" seems to contradict your implication that the successful will necessarily have "more motivated" kids. The majority of the research that I have seen would indicate that nurture plays a larger role. While I will acknowledge that it *may* be possible that (as a group) successful parents nurture their kids in such a way that they end up more motivated (or whatever characteristic it is other than intelligence that determines success) than kids of unsuccessful parents, I don't see widespread evidence of this. Anecdotally, this (he failure of successful parents to raise smart and motivated kids) is borne out in the adage "shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations."

So, in terms of intergenerational "transfer" of success, the question boils down to this: How much does motivation (either abundance of or lack thereof) overcome IQ, education and connections?

Randall Parker said at October 7, 2012 4:35 PM:

I've begun deleting insult posts and even responses to insult posts.

If you feel a need to make an insult and have it sit there until I get around to deleting it then make your substantive comments in a second post so that your substantive comments don't get deleted along with the insults.

Randall Parker said at October 7, 2012 4:40 PM:

Mike M,

I think motivation is partly environmental and partly genetic.

Genetic: I've known people who get a lot done because they can't stand to be idle. They are not content by nature. I've known people (can think of one highly productive friend in particular) who sleep less than the average person and who use those extra hours for work. They can't maintain that level of activity unless they've got the constitution for it. Some fatigue easily. Others, not so much.

I think you are misreading my comments. I listed the relatively less motivated under those born to the more successful. I'm saying they are relatively less motivated than their successful parents. Not sure how motivated they are as compared to the average person. I see two reasons to expect this:
- regression to the mean on motivation just like with IQ.
- an easier life and therefore less feeling the need to achieve.

Which reason is bigger? I do not know.

Mike M said at October 7, 2012 5:40 PM:


While there are a number of good studies showing that motivation - for convenience, I'll simply use that term to cover such things as determination, perseverance, grit, etc. unless you have some objection - is determined by environmental factors, I don't know of any good studies demonstrating that motivation has a genetic component. Of course, that doesn't mean it doesn't and my own opinion - based on studies that show a genetic component to so many traits that we used to assume were environmental as well as my own observation of parents and children - is that there is a genetic component. However, I'm more convinced that environment plays a larger role.

When you say you know people who are not content by nature, these are ADULTS whose personalities have already been formed as children by environmental influences. Thus, you are seeing the results of both genetic and environmental influences. You don't really know which adults had environmental influences favorable to or against a "motivated" personality.

While written for the public, two recent books summarize a great deal of the recent research in these areas: Paul Tough, HOW CHILDREN SUCCEED and Po Bronson, Nurture Shock. You might find them interesting. To svae time and cash, I have provided links to excerpts from both books: (this is actually a link to several Newsweek articles that preceded the book)

My point with regards to the offspring of successful people being less motivated than their parents relates to the thesis that there will be less intergenerational movement between classes because the upper class will beget children with traits favoring success, i.e. high IQ and high motivation. My point is that they may have a high IQ (assuming it's chiefly due to genetics), but they will be lacking in motivation (because it's chiefly environmental, a point I felt you agreed with when you stated that the offspring "aren't as motivated" as their parents because they lacked certain environmental influences, e.g. they "never felt hungry or lower class and striving" that had influenced their parents.

Also, while I do agree with the tendency for regression to the mean, I do so with respect to any two sequential events, but not as a permanent trend. That is, if the mean IQ is 100 and your parents both have an IQ of 140, it's more likely that you will have an IQ less than 140. However, some offspring of such unions will have an IQ greater than 140, just as some offspring of parents with IQs of 100 will be outliers with an IQ significantly higher than 100. If we didn't have these outliers, we would have never deviated from the mean in the first place. Of course, reversion to the mean makes more sense when we talk about traits with a larger genetic component that it does for traits that are chiefly environmentally influenced. Because of that and my belief that "motivation" is (a) influenced more by nurture than nature, and (b) more important that inborn "talent" in determining success, I believe that intergenerational class movement will continue.

However, I do agree that if (a) the trait of "motivation" is genetic and can be pinpointed, or (b) the wealth of successful people can be used so that they have the ability to put into place those environmental factors that determine "motivation", there will be a reduction in downward class mobility. But isn't that a good thing (from the standpoint of having a population of smart and motivated people) as it does not necessarily imply a halt to upward class mobility? Everyone my be more motivated and smarter even if some are still more motivated and smarter than others, i.e. all classes will move up in absolute terms even though not in relative (to other classes) terms. While those favoring class warfare and equality at the price of true progress will abhor this concept, it leaves everyone better off.

Randall Parker said at October 7, 2012 6:57 PM:


Yes, I am not worried if the upper classes make their kids smarter and more motivated.

Class mobility: I am not myself worried about it. The point of my post is that the left-wing caricature of class immobility with the upper class giving their kids huge environmental advantages is hard to reconcile with the facts.

As for whether genetic factors that influence mobility: DAT1, DRD2, and DRD4 genetic variants may influence motivation.

The three genes identified in the study – DAT1, DRD2 and DRD4 – have been linked to behaviors such as attention regulation, motivation, violence, cognitive skills and intelligence, according to the study. Previous research has explored the genetic underpinnings of intelligence but virtually none has examined genes that potentially contribute to educational attainment in community samples, said Beaver.

This makes sense to me. Conscientiousness has a genetic component and conscientious people do better on average. Similarly, there's an ideal level of happiness for high performance and about 50% of happiness is due to genetics. All the big 5 personality traits have substantial genetic components, including conscientiousness. Conscientious people are going to be more motivated. Also, people with lots of energy will be more motivated and, again there's an ideal happiness level that maximizes motivation which is below max happiness. You can find posts Eric Barker has done on this at his very excellent Barking Up The Wrong Tree blog on psychology research.

Mike M said at October 8, 2012 2:21 PM:

Randall - thanks for the links. Barker's blog looks interesting and I'll have to spend some more time there. I agree with you regarding the left's misleading statements and inaccurate assumptions regarding class mobility (or lack thereof). From what I have read, most millionaires only make millions for a few short years before their income reverts back to the mean. It's difficult to remain in that income bracket and those that remain there generally deserve it. I personally have no problem with income inequality in a society with strong property rights and where contracts are enforced. I think that politicians - especially on the left - play on some people's tendency toward envy and vilify the rich as the cause of poor people's poverty rather than addressing the real, but difficult to cure, causes of their poverty.

McNeil said at October 8, 2012 3:11 PM:

"I've begun deleting insult posts and even responses to insult posts."

I'm not so sure about that Randall. I still see insulting posts both from Moonlight and Mike M. I think you really should delete both, but start with those who started insulting first. I think Mike M. should be the first one to go. Some of the replies he gets are only natural reaction.

Randall Parker said at October 8, 2012 7:50 PM:


I've deleted posts by a few people. I'm not going to go all the way back and delete every offending post, mostly because it takes time. But I did it for insults on the last couple of days. I'm going to be more aggressive about it for now on until some decorum is restored. Feel free to write a post saying INSULT ABOVE and name it. I'll delete the offending post and your own with the INSULT ABOVE so that evidence of the insults disappears.

Mike M said at October 9, 2012 6:09 PM:

A hallmark of socialism is the suppression of freedom or what we know as the Bill of Rights. Socialists, and their close brethren, the far left, particularly despise the first amendment that guarantees us freedom of religion, freedom of speech (or the press) and the right to peaceably assemble. They despise these freedoms because these rights are all about ideas and our right to express those ideas and differing opinions to others and socialists and liberals will tear away at the other freedoms protected by other amendments in the Bill of Rights in order to squelch the ideas they don't agree with. They wish that those with opposing ideas would simply "move on so that they can express their own opinions without opposition." They realize that their own ideas are often valueless and that their arguments are easily torn apart and hence, they wish to avoid those dissenting voices that lay bare their foolish or evil plans. But to disguise their hatred of fair debate, they lift up Tolerance as one of their gods - but they only tolerate those who agree with them.

And who is it that embrace socialism? First, there are a few opportunistic elitists who use socialism as a means to enrich themselves by using the power of a mob - a mob they arouse by using the primal emotions of envy and greed. The mob consists largely of misfits and malcontents, the parasitic slackers of society who always blame others for their problems and are readily willing to cast morals and ethics aside as long as they can benefit by doing so. In exchange for temporary pleasure and short term gain, they sell their votes, their freedoms and their souls to the elitists who promise them much in return for something they evidently value far too little.

Indeed, as one poster noted, there are a lot of freakin' socialists on this forum. Many of whom may be tired of me and wish I would just move on so that they can continue to express their sick ideas unopposed. But as Edmond Burke said, “All that’s necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” So, I'll persist and boldly speak the truth and expose socialism for what it really is and does.

Randall Parker said at October 9, 2012 7:42 PM:


I just deleted an exchange that wasn't so much insults as it was about who insulted who first and who really hurled insults.

Mike M,

As for "freakin' socialists": I'm curious to hear whether any of our posters do believe governments should own factories and all the industrial research labs. Do they want, say, Apple to be owned by the US government or the UN?

Seriously guys, how far do you want to go with government ownership of the means of production. Think Pemex is a good idea?

Mike M said at October 10, 2012 10:20 AM:

Randall -

There are at least a few who have endorsed Chomsky who has defined himself with the term "socialist" and has clearly stated that he believes the workers - and not the businesses that built them - should own the means of production. Now, one can argue that demanding that the workers own the means of production is different than the government owning the means of production, but that argument breaks down when we address the question of who makes and enforces the rule that the workers own the means of production and how is it enforced. I term these advocates of socialism, the useful idiots. They hate "big business" - which are comprised and led by individuals with whom we have the freedom to deal with or not - but they readily endorse "big government" - which is comprised of individuals, who as a class are amongst the most corrupt in society, that hold us captive a captive audience by their legal powers to do so. Now, in fairness to Chomsky, he doesn't admit that he's a fan of government control, but he's naive in dreaming that workers can own a means of production that someone else creates unless they take it from them at (Mao's) gunpoint or that the workers will actually build the means of production themselves. He too lives in a fairy tale world. Nice in theory, but impractical due to the human condition.

Those who rail against Capitalism on the grounds that it ends up with a relative few at the top (who for the most part got their by their own merits by providing willing and able buyers with goods and services they demanded) would seek to replace Capitalism with some version of Socialism which also ends up with a relative few at the top who attained their power ultimately from the barrel of a gun, taking from some and giving to others, but creating nothing of value.

Check it Out said at October 10, 2012 3:01 PM:

Socialism is as bad as Capitalism. If they are not tamed, they never mix well with Democracy. Two of the few most important duties of governments are to safeguard freedom and to keep extreme inequality in check, both of which are a necessary balance in a healthy society.

I do believe that it is a government's duty to provide free medical care for those considered second-class citizens, without banning private medical care for the rich minority.
I do believe that it is a government's duty to provide free higher education for all the poor who want to break their cycle of poverty, without banning private universities for the rich minority either. Why does it have to be only K through 12 grade? Why don't we feel that it is too "Socialist"? Seriously guys, who wouldn't really feel outraged if suddenly all K-12 education became lucrative?

Wishing for extra options is not Socialism. A government is obligued to see for the well being of its citizens, even the poor and middle classes.

I think Pemex is a good idea if it's not the booty of politicians and if there continues to be private companies like Shell, Chevron, etc that continue to make the very rich even richer. I other words I would like to see private not-yet-allowed oil companies Mexico and a not-yet-allowed government oil company. And that is not Socialism. It's just a needed balance.

I look forward to not getting insulted. This is part of what I believe in, while I know that many could rightfully dissagree. But I want no insults; instead, ideas that can make me see why I am so wrong.

Again, all I'm saying is I think we need more balance, I think we need more options than the usual monpolies or oligopolies in America.

Mike M said at October 10, 2012 8:43 PM:

Sorry, but it's not a duty - or even a possibility - for government to keep inequality in check. Equality of OPPORTUNITY is one thing. Equality of OUTCOME is quite another.

The government can only provide a good or service for "free" to one person if it first takes something from another person. The abysmal results of our public (free) education system that wastes more tax dollars per pupil than 99% of other nations with the only consistent result being a steady decline in test scores both on an absolute basis and in comparison to other countries - oops, I forgot, our students do *think* they are smarter than others - demonstrates what happens when the federal bureaucracy gets involved in providing "free" services. In the US hospitals and doctors ALWAYS provided free or discounted care to the needy UNTIL the government started meddling.

The government is NOT obliged to ensure the well being of its citizens by providing "free" goods and services. It's obligation is to create an environment where its citizens can provide for their own well being - that's the ONLY reason that the people created the government in the first place. Government does this best by limiting itself to its essential functions: (1) provide of national defense, i.e. protect its people and their property from foreign threats, (2) administration of justice (law and order), i.e. enforce contracts and protect people and their property from domestic threats, and (3) provide for certain public works and public institutions that facilitate trade in order to prevent the free rider problem. It is in this last function that we must take great care in preventing the government from overstepping its bounds for the sake of gratifying some immediate seen desire only to create some larger unforeseen problem.

One of the first laws of economics is "Incentives matter." When the government provides for a person's needs, his incentive to become more productive and provide for himself is lessened and he becomes less productive. This is bad for the individual (he tends to become "trapped" in his condition of poverty) and it's bad for society (instead of a nation's overall wealth increasing with the addition of the man's output, it is less by the amount of output the man fails to produce). In essence, the government is telling the poor person that it's necessary for him to receive a government handout because he's lacking in some quality (intelligence, work ethic, etc.) that would allow him to earn a living on his own merits. The government is saying, "Because you're stupid and lazy, we need to treat you like our pets. We'll provide for your needs and you just keep begging for more." I have many friends from Mexico who have come to the US with only the clothes on their backs. They all insist that it is impossible for anyone not to be able to earn a good living in the US given the freedoms we have here - and most of them don't even speak English.

map said at October 11, 2012 1:45 AM:

Socialism is nothing more than a system of socialized benefits and privatized costs.

Mike M said at October 11, 2012 7:11 PM:

In tonights debate, Biden kept repeating that the Obama administration issued a firm deadline for exiting Afghanistan. He stated that the is necessary because the only way to get the local forces to get off their butts and do the job themselves is for us tell them that we're leaving and it's now their responsibility. So, why does he seem to have such a hard problem applying this principle to welfare recipients at home - that is tell them, "No more free Obama phones and other goodies. We're cutting you off and your food, clothing and shelter and cell phone are now your responsibility"? Is it because he's illogical or because it doesn't serve his purpose to buy Afghani votes?

Check it out said at October 22, 2012 11:03 AM:

Socialism is nothing but a group of people pulling together in one same direction, all enjoying the products of their labor equally.

Check it out said at October 22, 2012 11:15 AM:

"The government is NOT obliged to ensure the well being of its citizens by providing "free" goods and services."

Again Mike:

A country's government IS obliged to ensure the well being of its citizens, by ensuring equalitarian opportunities, responsibilities, privileges and restrictions for everybody. A government should ensure that there are no privileges for only a rich few. A government's duty is to see that the LAW is the LAW for everybody, even idiotic judges and politicians. Otherwise the law cease to exist as such and the government cannot be called a government. And what you call "free goods and services" are not free; the people pay it with their taxes.

Check it out said at October 22, 2012 11:15 AM:

"The government is NOT obliged to ensure the well being of its citizens by providing "free" goods and services."

Again Mike:

A country's government IS obliged to ensure the well being of its citizens, by ensuring equalitarian opportunities, responsibilities, privileges and restrictions for everybody. A government should ensure that there are no privileges for only a rich few. A government's duty is to see that the LAW is the LAW for everybody, even idiotic judges and politicians. Otherwise the law cease to exist as such and the government cannot be called a government. And what you call "free goods and services" are not free; the people pay it with their taxes.

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