Ever heard of the Great Gatsby curve? Nor had I (or should that be, I hadn’t) until I went to a seminar yesterday, and was told that it has been getting the attention of some important people, including the White House – though whether that includes the actual Person in the White House is not sure.
Anyway, the GGC shows a relationship between growing inequality on the one hand and diminishing social mobility (SM) on the other. This makes pretty good intuitive sense, and also appeals to me politically, ie it’s another black mark against increasing inequality. But the presenter at the seminar, John Jerrim of the Institute of Education, made out a detailed technical case against the GGC. I won’t reproduce it here – I couldn’t anyway as many of the technical details are well over my head – but it revolved mainly around the shakiness of the measures used in international comparisons of father-son incomes/earnings. Jerrim finished very neatly by unveiling a different chart, using PISA scores as a proxy for mobility, which produced an opposite result, i.e. increasing inequality seemed if anything to have a positive relationship with mobility.
Social mobility is something I want to discuss in relation to the PP, at some point. In particular I want to develop the argument that education as a route to social mobility may be oversold, especially in the case of women. But there’s a fairly obvious clue to the point of this post in the previous para: the measures all related to fathers and sons. No mention of mothers and daughters, as Heather Joshi pointed out. The answer was that that’s what the data covered.
Measuring SM is a horrendously complicated and highly contested field. Do you use income/earnings occupation/class? At which ages do you measure it – when both generations are 25, 35, 45 or 55? or over several points? Doing it across countries multiplies the difficulties. I accept, of course, that there are limits on what any analysis can do, and I’m not getting at this particular presentation, which was a stimulating one. But it seems obvious to me that any analysis of social mobility which excludes women is going to look very limited indeed. This is particularly the case in a time when highly educated women are increasingly marrying highly educated men – cf Alison Wolf’s The XX Factor - and so the prospects of boys and girls from poorer households are probably diminished.
That said, I am left in a bit of a dilemma: do I make use of the GGC….?