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The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World) Hardcover – February 23, 2014

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Product Details

  • Series: The Princeton Economic History of the Western World
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (February 23, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691162549
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691162546
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #79,238 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"The Son Also Rises . . . suggests that dramatic social mobility has always been the exception rather than the rule. Clark examines a host of societies over the past seven hundred years and finds that the makeup of a given country's economic élite has remained surprisingly stable."--James Surowiecki, New Yorker

"An epic feat of data crunching and collaborative grind. . . . Mr. Clark has just disrupted our complacent idea of a socially mobile, democratically fluid society."--Trevor Butterworth, Wall Street Journal

"Audacious . . ."--Barbara Kiser, Nature

"[A]n important book, and anybody at all interested in inequality and the kind of society we have should read it."--Diane Coyle, Enlightened Economist

"The Son Also Rises. . . . That is the new Greg Clark book and yes it is an event and yes you should buy it."--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

"Startling. . . . Clark proposes a new way to measure mobility across nations and over time. He tracks the persistence of rare surnames at different points on the socio-economic scale. The information he gathers is absorbing in its own right, quite aside from its implications."--Clive Crook, Bloomberg View

"Clark casts his net wider. He looks at mobility not across one or two generations, but across many. And he shows by focusing on surnames--last names--how families overrepresented in elite institutions remain that way, though to diminishing degrees, not just for a few generations but over centuries."--Michael Barone, Washington Examiner

"Deeply challenging . . ."--Margaret Wente, Globe & Mail

"Who should you marry if you want to win at the game of life? Gregory Clark . . . offers some answers in his fascinating new book, The Son Also Rises."--Eric Kaufmann, Literary Review

"This intriguing book measures social mobility in a novel way, by tracing unusual surnames over several generations in nine different countries, focusing on intergenerational changes in education, wealth, and social status as indicated by occupation."--Foreign Affairs

"No doubt this book will be as controversial as its thesis is thought-provoking."--Library Journal

"Gregory Clark's analysis of intergenerational mobility signals a marked shift in the way economists think about social mobility."--Andrew Leigh, Sydney Morning Herald

"The thesis of The Son Also Rises is, fundamentally, that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Ingeniously, Clark and his team of researchers look at the persistence of socioeconomic status through the lens of surnames in more than 20 societies."--Tim Sullivan, Harvard Business Review

"Clark has a predilection for investigating interesting questions, as well as for literary puns. . . . [J]ust as Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century, calls into question the role of capitalism in wealth creation, Clark calls into question the role of capitalism in social mobility."--Theodore Kinni,

"Clark's book is not merely intellectually clever, it's profoundly challenging. Especially for Americans, it calls into question of ourselves as individuals, as well as our long-standing image of our society. Let's hope he's wrong."--Benjamin M. Friedman, The Atlantic

"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

From the Inside Flap

"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 O Grada, 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

More About the Author

Gregory Clark is Professor of Economics at the University of California Davis. His home page with background research on the topics of his books is

Customer Reviews

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Discriminating readers should find the book well worth the time it takes to read.
Ronald E. Parsons
This analogy contradicts Clark's second argument of why his social mobility is much lower than other economists.
Gaetan Lion
Clark stops a bit shy of putting it this way, but I believe that is his exact conclusion.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Brad Foley on March 6, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
[major edit: I spent a couple days working through the math, and checking it with my own simulations, and have convinced myself that my earlier mathematical reservations were completely wrong. I've changed the review to reflect that]

The "Son Also Rises" was a fascinating read that seems likely to provoke controversy, but also to advance evidence-based discussions of equality and social mobility. Clark makes two major (somewhat separable) arguments in "Rises". First, that social mobility is much lower, and consistent across societies than anyone would have predicted. Second, that this low-mobility is biologically (in fact genetically) based. The first argument is better supported than the second. Clark's strong genetic conclusions seem rely on unassailable modelling (I tried) but some shakier genetic conclusions. They can't be dismissed entirely, however. Clark's evidence and reasoning is strong enough that the burden of proof is squarely on those who disagree with him. The implications the modern reader is left to draw are unsettling.

Clark's conclusions about the facts of mobility are astonishing. Typically, studies of mobility showed that intergenerational correlations (parent-offspring, typically father-son) in wealth are on the order of 0.4. This suggests ancestor-descendant correlations in wealth should be unobservable after about 4 generations. Across many cultures and times, and many different measures of status, Clark notes that identifiable elite or low-status groups regress to the mean at a rate between 0.75-0.85. This means that in fact differences in status persist for more than 10 generations.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Stanley on April 4, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Seven other reviews have preceded mine so I won't attempt to till plowed ground. Interestingly enough Clark begins his book by absolving the graduate students and paid research assistant who helped him in his research. Why do that? Here is the summary from book's end, "Most likely. . .the majority of status is actually genetically determined. You hit the jackpot in the great genetic casino or you go bust." In other words, the book is politically incorrect.

Some folks are familiar with Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks, the novels that follow a family from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations. Clark pretty much destroys this idea by following families with unique names in several distinct cultures, including communist China, Chile, England, Japan, and the United States. His null hypothesis is that over time families will regress to the mean in terms of status as measured by occupation and wealth. While his research shows a slight movement to the mean as generations come and go, for the most part those families who are on top stay there and those families not achieving stay at the bottom.

Clark comes up with some interesting tidbits. In Chile, for example, the leftist Allende government increased spending on education. The Pinochet government cut spending after taking power. Did the increase in education spending by the leftists have any effect on social mobility? Nope. None. What about the Cultural Revolution under Mao? Same story, the family names of those on top with the Nationalists stayed on top with the communists.

Now I don't believe Clark's hypothesis is all that new but his in depth research certainly has great merit.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Grue on March 7, 2014
Format: Hardcover
In this book, Clark makes conclusions about the nature and mobility of social mobility and status by examining surname research, and, to a lesser extent, twin studies.

Surname research seems to be Clark's specialty and most of the book is devoted to it. Basically Clark picks rare family names (like Pepys) and combs through historical databases (such as lists of Oxford graduates, members of Parliament, or wills proved in court) looking for that surname. Because these records can stretch back hundreds of years, he is able to get a sense of the rise and fall of different families. He assumes, for instance, that a group family that has more Oxford graduates (or more licensed physicians per person, etc.) than average has above-average social status.

The surname research, pulled together from a number of different countries (US, Britain, China, Korea, Japan, India) all seems to suggest that families rise and fall at a slower rate than what other sociologists were assuming. He thinks the correlation between generations is generally around 0.75, meaning that it'll take about 10 generations for the effect of a family's current status to almost totally dissipate, instead of the 4 generations other researchers assume. According to Clark, the basic limitation of other research is that it failed to account for the fact that, conditionalizing on the income of the parents, the income of the grandparents and other relatives is still predictive of children's income.

The surname part of the book is pretty exhaustive, and in my opinion got a bit boring in parts. However I was glad he presented so much evidence for the people who want to delve deeper. The other part of the book cited twin studies and argued that the best explanation of this high correlation is genetic.
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