This new report from the Committee on National Statistics and the Committee on Population summarizes a workshop convened in June 2013 to consider options for designing a new national survey on social mobility that would provide the first definitive evidence on recent and long-term trends in social mobility. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the report discusses the key decision points associated with launching a new national level survey of social mobility. This report considers 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.
The workshop addressed substantial advances in the methods and statistics for modeling mobility, in survey methodology and population-based survey experiments, in opportunities to merge administrative and survey data, and in the techniques of measuring race, class, education, and income. The workshop also focused on documenting the state of understanding of the mechanisms through which inequality is generated in the past four decades.
The study of mobility matters because it speaks to issues of class formation, equal opportunity, and lifetime inequality. However, the study of trends in social mobility has languished largely because the data necessary to assess whether it is being realized are lacking. In recent years, the interest in social mobility has been sparked by a growing interest in equality of opportunity – examining the extent to which children born into different families have different life chances and outcomes. It is important to understand such barriers to mobility because of the long-standing and, to some extent, distinctively American commitment to free and open competition in the labor market.