The Effects of Social Mobility on Individual Well-being, Attitudes, and Behavior: A Bounding Approach

Ethan Fosse, Harvard University
Fabian T. Pfeffer , University of Michigan

Researchers have long sought to estimate the effects of intergenerational socioeconomic mobility in a range of individual outcomes. There is also widespread public speculation about the role of downward mobility in explaining political upheaval. However, the empirical study of mobility effects faces a fundamental methodological challenge: The linear dependency among among social origin (O), destinations (D), and social mobility (M=D-O), prohibits the use of conventional statistical methods to estimate the unique contributions of the three variables to any given outcome. This paper applies a novel non-parametric bounding approach to partially identify the effects of social mobility. We study the effects of absolute mobility on a range of individual outcomes, such as socio-psychological well-being, political attitudes, fertility, and health. Results indicate that – in contrast to findings from a number of recent studies – the effects of social mobility on individual outcomes are large.

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 Presented in Session 57. Consequences of Intergenerational Social and Educational Mobility