Thursday, October 25, 2012

More evidence that patriarcy is effective

I recently heard a piece on NPR about new research on social mobility (or lack therof) by economic historian Gregory Clark.

"If I just know that you share a rare surname with someone who was wealthy in 1800, I can predict now that you're nine times more likely to attend Oxford or Cambridge. You're going to live two years longer than an average person in England. You're going to have more wealth. You're more likely to be a doctor. You're more likely to be an attorney," Clark says.

This finding held across time and country:
"And astonishingly, there's no more mobility in Sweden on these measures than there is in South America," says Clark. "And that America looks just like England, looks just like Sweden."
And, even more astonishingly, the numbers were the same in the Middle Ages as they are today.

According to NPR, this finding was a big surprise because other research into social mobility shows greater changes in families over time and doesn't usually show such consistency from country to country, age to age. Those other studies tracked individual families over time.

But why the big surprise at this discrpancy? Let me break it down for you, NPR. Clark's study isn't looking at whole families over time, but rather at family names, i.e., patrilinear lines. Apparently unintentionally and without actually noticing, Clark is doing a beautiful job of illustrating and measuring the effectivenss of a patriarchal system at keeping wealth and influence concentrated in the hands of men.

What I find fascinating is the degree of consistency it demonstrates patriarchy to have.

"It is shocking that the number is as constant as it is," says Joseph Ferrie, an economic historian at Northwestern University. Ferrie has been following Clark's work on surnames almost from the beginning, and he says it's been fascinating.
"It's hard to find any holes in the argument that he makes suggesting that this really is something that does look the same in a variety of places and times," Ferrie says.


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