How much of our fate is tied to the status of our parents and grandparents? How much does it influence our children? More than we wish to believe. While it has been argued that rigid class structures have eroded in favor of greater social equality, The Son Also Rises proves that movement on the social ladder has changed little over eight centuries. Using a novel technique—tracking family names over generations to measure social mobility across countries and periods—renowned economic historian Gregory Clark reveals that mobility rates are lower than conventionally estimated, do not vary across societies, and are resistant to social policies.
Clark examines and compares surnames in such diverse cases as modern Sweden and Qing Dynasty China. He demonstrates how fate is determined by ancestry and that almost all societies have similarly low social mobility rates. Challenging popular assumptions about mobility and revealing the deeply entrenched force of inherited advantage, The Son Also Rises is sure to prompt intense debate for years to come.
Awards and Recognition
- Winner of 2015 Gyorgy Ranki Prize, Economic History Association
- Honorable Mention for the 2015 PROSE Award in Economics, Association of American Publishers
- One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2014
- One of Vox’s "Best Books We Read in 2014"
"Adopting an innovative approach to using surnames to measure social mobility, The Son Also Rises engages the reader by presenting data that comes to life as it is anchored by names we see in our daily life. . . . A book with valuable insights derived from a well-designed research, it is strongly recommended to all serious readers interested in building strong democracies, for high social mobility is at the heart of a vibrant democracy. Policy makers will gain the benefits of counter-intuitive conclusions that this book throws up with its multi-generational study. Academicians interested in social justice and social activists engaged in promoting social mobility too will have a lot to chew on."—BusinessWorld
"Clark continues the project begun in his A Farewell to Alms. Here, he offers a controversial challenge to standard ideas that social mobility wipes out class advantages over a few generations. . . . An important, challenging book."—Choice
"[T]his is a well written and thought-provoking book. . . . I look forward to his next book—and his next Hemingway pun!"—Edward Dutton, Quarterly Review
"Clark's book begins a fascinating and important conversation about social mobility. . . . Clark's findings are important to engage with, and they will factor into discussions about social mobility for years to come."—Laura Salisbury, EH.Net
"[I]t's one of those rare, invigorating arguments which, if correct, totally upends your understanding of the way the world works. Right or wrong, I've thought about it more than anything else I read in 2014."—Dylan Matthews, a Vox "Best Books We Read in 2014" selection
"[A] provocative book."—Richard Lampard, European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology
"The Son Also Rises makes for stimulating reading, and I recommend it."—Chris Minns, Investigaciones de Historia Economica
"In a fascinating and extraordinary use of historical data, Clark and his 11 collaborators, including Neil Cummins, Yu Hao, and Daniel Diaz, creatively correlate surnames with wealth, educational attainment, and class in Europe, Asia, and North and South America. . . . The author’s use of rare surnames among the elite and the non-elite to measure mobility in occupation, income, and education is both a novel and a creative use of names and naming practices to derive data-driven conclusions."—Beth DiNatale Johnson, Names: A Journal of Onomastics
"This is the most exciting research on the 'American Dream' of social mobility to come along in many years. The Son Also Rises provides deep insights into not only the ability or inability of children to surpass their parents' socioeconomic class, but also into the surprising importance of the family to generate prosperity in general."—William Easterly, author of The White Man's Burden
"The Son Also Rises is a remarkable challenge to conventional wisdom about social mobility. Using highly original methods and ranging widely across world history, Clark argues that the activities of governments impact mobility much less than most of us think—and that the only sure path to success is to be born to the right parents. Everyone interested in public policy should read this book."—Ian Morris, author of Why the West Rules—for Now
"An important and original contribution to the literature on social mobility, The Son Also Rises is provocative and adversarial, and a brilliant tour de force. Bravo!"—Cormac Ó Gráda, author of Famine: A Short History
"The Son Also Rises is clever, thoughtful, and well written, and provides a completely new perspective on an enduring issue—the extent of social mobility. This very provocative book will garner a great deal of attention."—Joseph P. Ferrie, Northwestern University