The ‘Real’ Land of Opportunity? Kinship and Multigenerational Persistence of Class in Finland from the 18th to the Early 20th Century

Antti Haekkinen, University of Helsinki
Petri Roikonen, University of Helsinki

The equality of economic opportunities is often considered as the fundamental goal of equality. Most studies focus on first and second generations’ persistence of socio-economic statuses (especially father and son correlations), and there are only few studies that have investigated fourth or fifth generation socio-economic effects. However, the data constraints are evident; the rapid increase of inequality in recent decades has strengthened the interest to the intergenerational transmission of social and economic statuses. This study analyses from a family perspective the intergenerational persistence of occupation and earnings in Finland from the 18th century to the early 20th century. First, we introduce the transition matrices of occupations between multiple generations of different families. Second, we estimate summary-mobility-indexes between generations from these mobility tables, to answer the question of the amount of social mobility and its possible change during the research period. Third, we test whether our results are robust when utilising multigenerational elasticities of earnings. Finally, we compare our estimations with other countries, and discuss whether Finland was or still is the ‘real’ land of opportunity. We argue that the Finnish case provides an exceptional ground for testing hypotheses considering social mobility and inequality. First, the long run and intricate data provides unique framework for the study: this data consists of over 70 000 individuals of 200 family lines, which based on genealogical records from the year 1700 to the early 20th century. Second, the literature suggests that income inequality is correlated with social immobility between generations, which is known as the Great Gatsby curve. In this context, Finland offers an interesting case study: On the one hand, Finland was very unequal in terms of income and wealth in the 19th and the early 20th centuries, but economic inequality in Finland today is one of the lowest in the world.

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 Presented in Session 201. Living Arrangements and Family Connections