Gregory Clark on "Surnames and the Laws of Social Mobility"
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October 20, 2012, 05:49 PM
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Economist Gregory Clark, author of A Farewell to Alms, has a new draft paper (via Marginal Revolution) called Surnames and the Laws of Social Mobility, with lots of of fun facts about surnames in England, America, Sweden, India, and China.

For example, in the U.S., surnames that are at least 90% black include Washington, Smalls, Merriweather, and Stepney. Using Jewish and black surnames and their frequency on the American Medical Association roster relative to their frequency in the overall population, we can see that blacks are becoming less under-represented as doctors and Jews less over-represented.

Decade Jewish Black

1970-9    5.72    0.19

1980-9    4.96    0.22

1990-9    3.59    0.26

2000-9    3.30    0.28

Unfortunately, Clark doesn`t cite in his references either of the pathbreaking books of surname analysis by Nathaniel Weyl (1910-2005). His initial studies, which he published in 1963 in a book co-written by Jerry Pournelle`s mentor Stefan Possony called The Geography of Intellect, were published in Mankind Quarterly in the early 1960s. You can find them at here

Weyl then updated and extended his work in 1990`s The Geography of American Achievement.

Weyl was a swashbuckling figure, who was a Communist in the 1930s until the Hitler-Stalin pact, and provided corroboration for Whittaker Chambers` testimony against Alger Hiss. His name occasionally comes up in JFK conspiracy theories. 

Weyl worked through many of the issues that Clark is stumbling upon, such as the need for more than one measure of social mobility. For example, more black surnames becoming doctors is a good sign of upward social mobility, but it`s not clear that fewer Jewish names becoming doctors is a sign of downward mobility among Jews, because you can also exit upward or sideways.

For example, Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men, is the non-M.D. son of an M.D. (a highly distinguished one, too). Is he an example of downward or upward mobility? 

Weyl`s solution to this kind of puzzle was to present multiple data sources to allow the reader to make up his own mind, which is something that Clark should study.