American Economic Mobility Over Two Centuries (Econ 449)

This course explores the evolution of economic mobility and inequality in the United States over the past two centuries. I place particular emphasis on the measurement of inequality and mobility as well as the use of historical data sources. Among other topics, we cover the selection and assimilation of migrants during the age of mass migration, the effects of Jim Crow, the Great Migration and the Civil Rights Movement on African-American mobility, and the relationships between technological change, the expansion of secondary and post-secondary education and mobility.

Class Website

Throughout the semester, the students worked on multiple projects requiring them to use historical data to examine patterns of mobility and inequality. Instructions for the projects can be found further down on this page. The results from the projects are displayed on a class website. Click on the link below to see recreations of the figures from the W.E.B. Du Bois Paris Exhibition using Virginia data, neighborhood histories for Williamsburg constructed from historical census and deed records, and a dataset of Williamsburg individuals linked by students between the 1920, 1930 and 1940 federal censuses.

Econ 449 Class Website

Syllabus and Reading List

Reading List

Assignment Instructions

Du Bois Data Project
Referee Reports
Williamsburg Historical Data Project
Final Research Project

Lecture Slides

Below are links to lecture slides for the class. Note that many of the slides may make zero sense without the context of what we were discussing in class. Hopefully they made some sense to students at the time. Also note that each link below is to a pdf file that covers several lectures' worth of slides. Some of the files are quite large.

Measuring Modern Inequality
Measuring Modern Mobility
Historical Inequality and Mobility
Selection and Assimilation During the Age of Mass Migration
Education, Technology and the Great Compression
African-American Economics Outcomes Since the Civil War
Course Review Through the Lens of Gender Gaps in Economic Outcomes

Stata Tutorials

Throughout the course, we work through examples in Stata during class. Sometimes this takes the form of exploring certain datasets to have the class produce stylized facts of interest to them. Other times, we use Stata to simulate data and demonstrate certain measurement and estimation issues. These Stata exercises go where the students take them in class (with a little bit of stearing on my part). The tutorials below hit the main points we try to address in class.

Decomposing Income Gaps
     ipums-1950-25-55-year-olds.dta (78 mb Stata dataset)
Simulating Income Elasticity Estimates
Exploring Historical Wealth and Income Inequality
     us-wid-data.dta (36 kb Stata dataset)
     1870-census-wealth-data.dta (42 mb Stata dataset)
     1940-census-income-data.dta (72 mb Stata dataset)
The Socioeconomic Content of First and Last Names
     ipums-1870-census-data-with-names-and-wealth.dta (81 mb Stata dataset)
Simulating Wealth Elasticities Across Several Generations
Age Heaping as a Proxy for Human Capital
     ipums-sample-for-age-heaping.dta (261 mb Stata dataset)
Stata Basics (note that this is always being added to)