The Son Also Rises – There is such a thing as social class and it matters

From Gregory Clark’s book The Son also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility,

Only when confronted with evidence of the persistence of status over five hundred years that was too glaring to ignore was I forced to abandon my cheery assurance that one of the joys of the capitalist economy was its pervasive and rapid social mobility. Having for years poured scorn on my colleagues in sociology for their obsessions with such illusory categories as class, I now had evidence that individuals’ life chances were predictable not just from the status of their parents but from that of their great-great-great grandparents. There seemed to be an inescapable inherited substrate, looking suspiciously like social class, that underlies the outcomes for all individuals.Only when confronted with evidence of the persistence of status over five hundred years that was too glaring to ignore was I forced to abandon my cheery assurance that one of the joys of the capitalist economy was its pervasive and rapid social mobility. Having for years poured scorn on my colleagues in sociology for their obsessions with such illusory categories as class, I now had evidence that individuals’ life chances were predictable not just from the status of their parents but from that of their great-great-great grandparents. There seemed to be an inescapable inherited substrate, looking suspiciously like social class, that underlies the outcomes for all individuals.

Contrary to what he had believed, social mobility in modern times is relatively rare, and the explanation for this is that social skill is largely inherited. Choose your wife or husband carefully, and most of the fates of your children will have been decided.

As one who has watched members of the same families dominate the tennis tournaments at the summer club for three or four generations, and as one of three students who won the same scholastic prizes every year for ten years of schooling, I can assure you that Professor Clark’s findings come as no surprize.

In the immortal words of Professor George Homans, responding to some fellow questioning the existence of an American upper class: “There is so an American upper class and I am a paht of it”!