The Role of Men and Women in Intergenerational Mobility: A Cross-National Comparative Analysis, 1838-2015

The primary objective of this research project is to investigate how intergenerational mobility differs among men and women, and how mobility evolves over time. We will examine the evolution of intergenerational mobility in the long run and across many different countries, and place particular emphasis on the complex interrelationship between intergenerational mobility and marriage institutions. By sorting individuals into families, marriage plays a critical role in the transmission of human capital and wealth across generations. Secondary objectives include: Developing new methodology on the use of first names to study intergenerational mobility; verify pseudo-links using register data; include new historical sources in studies of economic welfare; investigate the relationship between economic development, increased female labor force participation and intergenerational mobility; expand international cooperation in historical economic research.

Project details

Project manager
Jørgen Heibø Modalsli
Project participants

The Research Council of Norway, Independent projects (FRIPRO)


Project term
1 July 2017 - 31 December 2020
Project status
Research field

About the Project

The degree to which economic status is passed along generations is key to understanding differences in the extent of inequality across societies and over time. The significant increase in inequality in much of the Western world over the past 40 years has raised the concern that the playing field is not level for everyone, and children born to disadvantaged families may be precluded from climbing the social ladder.

But is the extent of mobility in a society an immutable constant, or does it depend on the degree of development and on institutions? To answer these questions, one must necessarily take a long-run and comparative approach. The proposed project, therefore, aims to shed light on these questions by examining the evolution of intergenerational mobility in the long run and across many different countries.

Calculating intergenerational mobility typically requires the use of longitudinal data sets that link sons and daughters to their parents. Such data are not consistently available over extended periods of time (in Norway they go back to the 1960s). Moreover, while historical longitudinal data sets based on census data that link fathers and sons are now publicly available for a number of countries, it is not possible to apply exactly the same procedure to daughters because women change last names upon marriage.

The project applies and extends a methodology originally developed in Olivetti and Paserman (2015). This empirical strategy amounts to imputing father's income, which is unobserved, using the average income of fathers of children with a given first name. The methodology will be extended in several ways.

We will obtain comparable estimates of intergenerational mobility over many years and across countries. In addition, we will study the role of marriage and other institutions, as well as economic development, in the transmission of economic status across multiple generations.