Structural vs. Dynamic Inequality: Understanding the Effects of Social Mobility

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Thu. 11.04.'24 12:10



Abstract :

In addition to the location that individuals occupy in the inequality structure, their movement over time and generations through that structure may impact their political preferences and broader attitudes and behavior. There has, for instance, been widespread public speculation about the role of increased downward mobility in explaining a range of outcomes, ranging from recent political upheaval to decreasing life-expectancy. Researchers have long sought to estimate the effects of intergenerational socioeconomic mobility on a range of individual outcomes. However, the empirical study of mobility effects faces a fundamental methodological challenge: The linear dependency among social origins (O), destinations (D), and social mobility (M = D – O) prohibits the use of conventional statistical methods to estimate the unique contributions of the three variables to any given outcome. This paper contributes two new perspectives: one that redirects questions about the effects of social mobility to estimands that distinguish between structural and dynamic aspects of inequality, and another perspective that responds to the unsolvable linear dependency problem by proposing a non-parametric bounding approach to partially identify the effects of social mobility. Using representative U.S. data from the General Social Survey (GSS), these novel perspectives are applied to a wide range of individual outcomes, from political preferences, attitudes, socio-psychological well-being, to demographic behaviors. Results indicate that — in contrast to findings from a number of recent studies — dynamic inequality and the effects of social mobility are large and apply to a wide range of outcomes, including important political outcomes.