Multiple Measures of Historical Intergenerational Mobility: Iowa 1915 to 1940

Economic Journal, 128(612): F446-F481.


Was intergenerational economic mobility high in the early twentieth century in the United States? Comparisons of mobility across time are complicated by the constraints of the data available. I match fathers from the Iowa State Census of 1915 to their sons in the 1940 Federal Census, the first state and federal censuses with data on income and years of education. With this linked sample, I can estimate intergenerational mobility between 1915 and 1940 based on earnings, education, occupation, and names. Across all these measures, I document broad consensus that rates of persistence were low in Iowa in the early twentieth century. Within my sample, rural sons from Iowa had more intergenerational mobility than their urban peers and the grandchildren of the foreign-born were more mobile than the grandchildren of the native-born.

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This paper was previously circulated under the title “A New Old Measure of Intergenerational Mobility: Iowa 1915 to 1940”