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Applied Microeconomics Group Seminar Like Grandfather, Like Grandson: Multigenerational Mobility in American History

Speaker: Dr Zach Ward, Baylor University

Abstract: Do the growing number of historical intergenerational mobility estimates fail to capture long-run influences from grandparents? Nearly all estimates of multigenerational mobility find that the grandfather's status predicts the grandson's status, over and above the father's status. However, a “grandparent effect” could be spurious due to measurement error in the father's outcome. Using 1850-1940 US census data, we find that accounting for measurement error via instrumental variables significantly reduces evidence for multigenerational drag for white families. The error-corrected estimates suggest that grandfather-grandson persistence for white families is 13 percent stronger than predicted from father-son data, as opposed to 68 percent stronger when ignoring error. However, accounting for error also increases the grandfather-grandson association by 37 percent, suggesting that long-run mobility is lower than previously estimated. We also find evidence that persistent racial disparities across the Black and white population substantially increases estimates of persistence between grandfather and grandson.

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