We posed three questions to the author. Here’s what he said:
1. What led you to do this research?
Whether the U.S. has become a society more or less open to class mobility is not only of great scientific interest but also subject to much public debate. While many agree that class mobility depends greatly on education, it has been difficult to establish exactly how education influences class mobility and how large-scale social trends in education and mobility relate to each other.
2. What should everybody know about what you found?
We found a gradual but modest increase in men’s social class mobility across the 20th and early 21st centuries. Educational expansion has contributed to this positive trend, although educational inequality was not reduced. Instead, a larger share of people attained a college degree, and these degrees continue to help “disconnect” family class background from individuals’ social class attainment. Once you make it to college graduation, where you come from does not greatly predict where you’ll end up on the social class ladder. And that effect explains the positive influence of educational expansion on class mobility.
Our analyses also reveal less positive developments. Unlike social class background, the importance of educational background has not decreased. In fact, parental education has become more important for one’s own educational attainment. The production of more college graduates has counteracted this trend, but the stalling of educational expansion in recent decades raises concerns about future trends in social mobility.
3. What are you going to do next on this topic?
Data limitations forced us to study these questions for men only. We are currently working on using additional data to extend this study to women. This is important because women’s education in the U.S. has expanded more broadly and rapidly. Also, I am working on projects that assess the relationship between social mobility and education by comparing a large set of countries to each other and by comparing states within the US.
You can read the full article here:
Pfeffer, F. T., & Hertel, F. R. How Has Educational Expansion Shaped Social Mobility Trends in the United States? Social Forces Advance Access published March 5, 2015, doi:10.1093/sf/sov045