What is it about?

The article uses a genealogy of more than 400,000 English people born 1600-1996 to measure how strongly social status is inherited over these years, and to explore what the mechanisms of inheritance were. Three remarkable features appear. The first is the strength of this inheritance. Even 4th cousins in 2000 with a single common ancestor only 150 years earlier are significantly correlated in status. The second is the constancy of this inheritance across 400 years of major social changes. The third is that the patterns of inheritance are completely as predicted by a simple model of genetic transmission.

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Why is it important?

There is widespread belief across the social sciences in the ability of social interventions and social institutions to significantly influence rates of social mobility. In England 1600-2022 we see considerable change in social institutions across time. Half the population was illiterate in 1800, and not until 1880 was compulsory primary education introduced. Progressively after this educational provision and other social supports for poorer families expanded greatly. The paper, shows, however, that these interventions did not change in any measurable way the strong familial persistence of social status across generations. This suggests measures to reduce social inequalities should be prioritized over those designed to increase social mobility.


This paper is about the interaction of a purely social feature of societies - highly assortative marriage in terms of social abilities - with indications of strong genetic influences even on social outcomes. Together these produce a world with high degrees of inequality in social abilities as well as strong familial persistence in social status. It also suggests ironically that peoples' public commitments to greater social mobility are being undermined by their private highly assortative marital choices.

Gregory Clark
University of Southern Denmark

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The inheritance of social status: England, 1600 to 2022, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, June 2023, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2300926120.
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