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Research project Surnames and social mobility across three centuries

The project analyzes how information about names contributes to our understanding of social mobility over three centuries (1750–2020). Our main purpose is to study whether the surnames capture aspects of social background beyond traditional class indicators such as occupation.

Old family photo
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

Studies of social mobility have focused on how inequality is transmitted from parents to children and have only recently been extended to include the extended family. The project analyzes how information about names contributes to our understanding of social mobility over three centuries (1750–2020).

Project description

The project uses two valuable data sources that our research group has worked with:

(1) historical censuses linked to modern register data;

(2) church books from Skellefteå and Umeå linked to modern register data. Our sources allow us to follow families uninterruptedly from the 18th or 19th century to the present.

To this information, we intend to add information about names. We apply standard methods in studies of social mobility: intergenerational correlations and sibling and cousin correlations.

Purpose

Our main purpose is to study whether the surnames capture aspects of social background beyond traditional class indicators such as occupation. We do this by comparing outcomes for individuals from the same class origin but with surnames of different status. We tackle a puzzle in the social study of inequality: on the one hand, individual experiences of social mobility are common, on the other, elite status and marginalization remain in the same groups over generations. Surnames capture difficult-to-measure, but arguably important, aspects of family background that will us help bridge this gap, and possibly enable us to show that social mobility estimates have been exaggerated.

Project members

Project managers

Martin Kolk

Researcher, Docent

Department of Sociology
Martin Kolk

Members

Elien van Dongen

PhD Student

Lund University, Centre for Economic Demography

Per Engzell

Researcher

Swedish institute for social research
Per Engzell

Martin Hällsten

Professor

Department of Sociology
Martin Hällsten