While there has been a lot of discussion about social mobility as defined by how children’s standing in society differs from that of their parents, the author of The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility tackles the longer view: do grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on, attain positions that are different from their ancestors’.
Of course, it’s not easy to conduct such surveys, and although the author vehemently asserts that his methods are correct (basically, identifying families with unusual last names and tracking the existence or absence of such last names in registries of physicians, attorneys, and elite schools), I have my doubts and others will too. For one thing, given patriarchal names, this bypasses entirely the destiny of women. For another, it could be that people with unusual names may have a different sense of identity. And immigrants would not fare well in this type of comparison. In any case the studies show a frightening status quo of the rich staying rich and the poor, poor. It seems that we are destined, or at least our children are destined, to pretty much follow the trajectory of our parents.
While I was not entirely convinced by the methodology, I thought it was very interesting to observe the effect of the larger family, in particular the grandparents, on the upbringing of children.