Social mobility, the ability for an individual, no matter his familial background, to move up or down the social ladder, is part of the American conscience. The idea that anyone can be the president, a doctor, a businessman, or an inventor is pervasive in our culture. In fact, those on the lower end of the social pyramid are often blamed for lacking effort (from conservatives) or deemed as victims of discrimination, whether blatant or hidden (from liberals). Different countries are even ranked based on the level of social mobility that exists in their population. Scandinavian countries are ranked amongst the highest in the world for achieving perfect social mobility, where anyone can literally become anything. Whereas places like the United States or United Kingdom are ranked less favorably, and income disparity is much more evident.
Gregory Clark intrudes by asking what makes one country more socially mobile than another. How fast does social mobility take place? Have we become more socially mobile since the dark days of antiquity and the medieval period? The evidence points in a surprising direction. Gregory Clark’s method is to use rare surnames to track families’ social fate through the generations. Beginning in Sweden, the fabled land of equality and progressivism, Clark finds that they are in fact no more socially mobile than the United Kingdom or the United States. He finds that surnames of Swedish noble families from the 1600s are still overrepresented amongst the upper-class professions and elite circles. What makes this so much harder to see in Sweden is their high redistributive tax rate. There is a much smaller income gap between the Swedes of the highest classes and those of the lowest, making it seem as though every child from any family can attain whatever social class or profession he desires. When in fact income is only a part of an individual family’s social class.
Clark next moves to the United States, where he studies Ashkenazi Jews, blacks, American Indians, Japanese, and descendants of New France. As the reader can imagine, Jews and Japanese were chosen for their overrepresentation in the higher social classes of the United States. Clark uses the metric of certain rare surnames again to trace specific families, and then the metric of their representation in the profession of doctor in comparison to the general population. The doctor metric shows a strong correlation to high social status, even though many people of high social status are not doctors and may even be in much lower-paying professions. Unsurprisingly he finds that Jews and Japanese are highly overrepresented as doctors through the selection of rare surnames, and he also finds that they have been this way since they’ve been in the United States. Clark argues specifically that the Japanese in the United States were already selected out of the elite population of Japan, since very few Japanese were allowed to immigrate to the U.S.
The reverse of these findings were shown for blacks, American Indians, and descendants of New France in the United States. Clark was very specific in choosing these particular French Americans. He chose particular French surnames of this group that were over 95% white, too, as many surnames of New French settlers have intermixed with blacks amongst the Cajuns of Louisiana. Blacks and American Indians, as common stereotyping would lead one to think, were incredibly underrepresented in the profession of doctor. Although Clark did take care to choose black surnames held only by blacks who descend from the African population present before the Civil War. Recent African immigrants are actually of more elite status than average, due to the rigorous selection it takes for many of those individuals to get to the United States.
Social mobility was found to be incredibly slow for all of these American groups. Based on Clark’s calculations, it would take another 300 years before the Japanese or Jewish selected surnames descended to the general population’s average in the profession of doctor. He found the same for the white French, black, and American Indian surnames: that it would take many generations for these particular surnames to attain the average level of representation in the higher classes. As I mentioned earlier, Clark’s use of the French was critical in this study, especially for America. Liberals and egalitarians often claim that the only reason blacks and other minorities do not achieve as much in this country is due to active discrimination, or even invisible white privilege, as we move further away from the Civil Rights era and the story becomes less believable.
Yet the same results were shown for selected families of New France descent. Note: these are not just families of any French ancestry, for Clark goes to show that settlers of New France were selected from the lowest echelons of French society. To further this negative selection, those that wound up in the United States were further selected from the most illiterate portion of New France society when they were removed to Louisiana, or later immigrated for the factory jobs in the northeast United States in the twentieth century. This is despite the lack of a color line and the ability of these families to marry into other groups of higher success, especially Catholic Irish and Italians in their vicinity who shared their religion. Clark’s study shows that many of these families are indeed of mixed heritage, and hardly any are of only French ancestry. The process of assortative mating, where people of similar class marry one another, retained these selected surnames’ lower social positions; they simply married Italians and Irish of the lower social classes.
Following these particular French surnames was significant in that no one would be actively or secretly discriminating against them based on the sound of their name to such a large effect. This was then key in showing that discrimination and oppression play very little part in social mobility. In fact, Clark if anything shows a slight bump in the black surnames’ representation in the field of doctor after affirmative action took hold, but leveled right off again despite social policies to artificially lift blacks up.
Clark moves through a variety of other examples, including a surnames study of England through the late Middle Ages. The Norman conquest of 1066 allowed Clark to start following the surnames that the various loyal lords of William the Conqueror adopted and are recorded earliest in the Domesday Book. These Norman families were set up as the elite of the country and placed in positions of power, as many of the existing Anglo-Saxon elite had been killed with Harold or exiled to other places in Europe. Shockingly, Clark found the same rate of social mobility in these select surnames that he followed through time as those of our own modern, enlightened, and democratically “free” age. Even as late as the 1700s, Norman names were slightly overrepresented amongst elite circles, showing an amazing 600-year legacy of social dominance in family lines.
The study moves on to Japan, replicating his findings with prominent Japanese samurai families. Even after the samurai were officially disbanded and lost all special legal privileges, these family lines retained their higher success and social status throughout the generations, mirroring the noble families of Sweden. Clark demonstrates that the ingredients of success and flourishing are incredibly stable and predictable no matter the location, culture, or political regime. Exceptions can of course occur, as we see in the Middle East where particular ethnic or religious groups actively persecute one another, or even Bolshevik Russia where for a small period Jews actively kept out many capable non-Jews from political power. A similar event happened during the “social revolution” of communist China, where families deemed too bourgeois or high-class were kept from entering higher education or joining the communist party. As soon as these bans were lifted, Clark shows that the families that were dominant before communism are now overrepresented in the modern communist party and business elite of China. These are exceptions, though, and are usually maintained only by low-level warfare (Middle East) or mass killings and imprisonments (Soviet Russia).
A particularly distressing finding to our current culture was the profound heritability of social class that Clark uncovered. He argues that social class is as heritable as a more widely recognized heritable trait, such as height. The biggest implication Clark takes away from this is that the most important decision an individual can make to help his children and future generation achieve future success is their choice of spouse. Clark says one sweet irony that people of lower social classes in America can take from this study is that all the money that upper-class families spend on elite pre-schools, elementary, and beyond is largely wasted. The children will turn out successful or not independent of whatever posh schooling they are given.
Clark notes something else of particular interest to those of a traditionalist mindset. Strong religious or ethnic taboos on intermarriage can slow social mobility even further, perhaps even achieving stasis. The caste system in India is the largest example. Endogamous marriage keeps the various castes choosing marital partners within their own group, maintaining the social order for much longer than a few hundred years. To this day the upper castes of India are the elite of the country and are genetically distinct from the castes below. They have in fact been this way for thousands of years now since the Aryan invasions. Social mobility still occurs at the same rate on particular family lines, but only within the caste. So a family within the Brahmin class, for example, can go from being one of the top Brahmin families to being an average Brahmin family within a period of 300 years, but does not regress to any lower mean. Like any other heritable trait, a family line is always regressing towards the mean of the population with whom they intermarry. That trait can be height, hair color, intelligence, or a whole suite of traits that make up social status. The next highest caste, the Kshatriya or warrior caste, is the same: particular families have traded positions over the centuries based on their social dominance within their caste, but they do not rise above Brahmins nor sink below the Vaishya or Shudra castes.
This all sounds horrid to a modern’s ears, but is a social system with clear boundaries and expectations worse than the social envy and plain lies that our culture encourages everyone to believe? Covetousness is perhaps one of the most underrated sins of our age, leading to the hundreds of millions of lives lost to Marxism, all in pursuit of an unachievable society. There is dignity to a hierarchical culture that has a place and function for everyone, without assigning moral status, or victim status, to that person based on their role. A tripartite “caste” system was even recognized and stated by King Alfred for a successful social order:
Look, you know that no man can exercise any skill or steer and manage any power without tools and material. The material of any craft is that without which a man cannot perform that craft. To govern a kingdom a king requires as his material and his tools that the stations of his land be fully manned. He must have men of prayer, fighting men, and workmen. Look, you know that without these tools no king can exercise his skill.
If there were verbalized expectations about whom one would marry based on class distinctions in our history, expectations that still exist today even if largely unspoken, how much more important is the good of marrying within one’s own people? Until very recently there were laws banning interracial marriage in America and South Africa. A “color line” preserved order in the societies of both whites and blacks in America. It has been documented elsewhere how desegregation perhaps hurt the black population even more than the white population, as the leading black caste or “talented tenth” fled black areas to live with whites. Whites and blacks were also put into direct economic competition with one another, which also was a net negative for blacks. Once intermarriage laws were lifted, the new population mean is much lower for the American population.
Beyond even a social class level, intermarriage results in a loss of strong ethnic or religious identity. This is a concept understood very well by the Jewish population, which has existed in a multi-cultural state for millennia now, unlike many other groups. Their continued existence is predicated on their endogamous marriage practices. Recently when one of Netanyahu’s sons was dating a Norwegian, all corners of Jewish society chimed in with outrage and condemnation. Even his brother-in-law had this to say:
“From my point of view, if he does such a thing, I personally won’t allow him to get near their graves,” he told an Ultra-Orthodox website. “This is the most awful thing that is threatening and was a threat throughout the history of the Jewish people. More awful than leaving Israel is marriage with a gentile. If this happens, God forbid, I’ll bury myself I don’t know where. I’ll walk in the streets and tear off my hair – and here this is happening.”
When being lambasted as bigoted or hateful for upholding very simple tenets of natural law such as like marrying like, it is always important to examine the source of those remarks. The confused, atomized, and mocha future that many of our current elites extol clearly is not good for our people or our individual family lines, either materially or spiritually. The only people for whom it is good are the very elites pushing it. As they cry for racial intermarriage and flooding Western lands with vast lower-class population, they move the population mean downwards and keep themselves isolated from it. Brazil is often held up as a perfect model for the future, when in fact Brazil is no multicultural paradise, but a much more confused and unofficial caste culture, like India, with simmering racial tensions.
To apply this study to yourself, a fun test that you can do is to gather information on your four great-grandfathers, such as lifespan, occupation, educational attainment, income/wealth, and whatever other information you many have. Clark recommends this rather than parents, because of artificial booms and busts such as a parent getting in a highly lucrative field, despite being of middle or lower social class. Averaging four great-grandparents gives a much more stable picture. All of the aforementioned traits correlate strongly with measured social class. Clark claims that he can predict with startling accuracy your position in society based on these four ancestors. Exceptions do occur, as always, for better or worse. In our generationally disconnected age, this is one way you can re-forge some links to your ancestors who came before you, passing down the torch of life. Be the best that God created you to be using whatever talents you were given. Perhaps even harder for many of us who see so much wrong in or society and the direction it is heading, is the equally important struggle to be content with those talents we were given without lapsing into despair or resentment.