The NRC convened an ad-hoc panel charged with organizing an open workshop on the key decision points associated with launching a new national level survey of social mobility. The workshop was held on June 13, 2013, and brought together scientific experts from a variety of social and behavioral disciplines to consider various aspects of a major new national survey, including identifying relevant new theoretical perspectives and technical issues that have implications for modeling, measurement, and data collection. A variety of invited presentations explored various aspects of survey design, statistical power, instrument choice, variable choice, and analytical approach. The information contained in these presentations together with the general discussion at the workshop were captured and formed the basis of an individually-authored summary of the event, Developing New National Data on Social Mobility: A Workshop Summary. Currently, following the preparation of the workshop summary, a smaller group of experts is convening to digest the key themes that emerged from the workshop and identify the way forward.
The study of social mobility speaks directly to the American commitment to equal opportunity and bears on a number of fundamental beliefs that Americans hold dear: (a) that children will enjoy material comforts exceeding the ones enjoyed by their parents; (b) that opportunities in America are conferred without regard to color, creed, or social origin; and (c) that material success depends on abilities and hard work alone. Given these values, one might imagine that the U.S. is constantly monitoring trends in intergenerational mobility, ensuring that opportunities continue to be widely available. Unfortunately, the last national mobility survey was completed in 1973. In the four decades that have passed since, American society has changed in profound ways, many of which may have affected the amount of opportunity and mobility. These changes include a dramatic increase in aggregate income inequality, rising immigration and a consequent realignment of the nation's racial and ethnic composition, the emergence of new and more complicated family structures, and the rise of new profiles of educational investment and new types of training institutions. Absent a large-scale study, it is difficult to know what the net or gross effects may be of these changes on social mobility.