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Razib Khan's Unsupervised Learning

Oct 29, 2023

On this episode of Unsupervised Learning Razib welcomes back Gregory Clark, a past guest on this podcast. When he last talked to him, Clark had just been disinvited from giving a talk whose results he has now turned into a paper, The inheritance of social status: England, 1600 to 2022. Until recently an economics professor at the University of California, Davis, Clark is now teaching at the University of Southern Denmark. His previous books include The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility and A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World.

Today Razib and Clark discuss his shocking finding that a simple model predicated on genetic relatedness explains the status distribution across many centuries in England. Clark finds that even where wealth is passed from father to offspring (expected in a patriarchal society), occupational status is inherited equally from mother and father, as expected in a genetic framework rather than cultural framework. Another surprising result from Clark’s dataset is that the rate of social mobility has been unchanged across 400 years in England, despite massive cultural and political shifts. He also finds high rates of inheritance of social status in many other societies, with the highest in the Indian subcontinent.

Razib asks Clark how it could be that the data shows such consistently similar rates of social status mobility across periods as different as Victorian England or post-World-War-II Britain. Clark also addresses why he did not work on a model that integrated cultural inheritance; in short, those models were more complex and seemed far less satisfying than his two-parameter equation. He also addresses the social media furor in response to his paper, and his defense against the charge that he’s a eugenicist.