The declining significance of occupation in research on intergenerational mobility

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Research in Social Stratification and Mobility

Publication Date



The study of intergenerational mobility was once viewed as a quintessentially sociological topic that was widely investigated using occupational mobility tables. However, the popularity of that approach has been dwindling. This decline is associated with the increasing use of the economics model which is not encumbered by the shortcomings of occupational mobility tables. The first limitation of the latter is the contextual nature of occupation which provides an imprecise indicator of an individual’s earnings. The second limitation is the focus on cross-sectional data in an era of increased labor market volatility. The third limitation is the dubious practice of distinguishing between structural mobility and circulation mobility. The fourth limitation is the failure of occupational studies to discern important empirical trends about rising inequality. The fifth limitation is that occupation is an inaccurate indicator of non-pecuniary rewards for individual jobs. The recognition of these limitations helps to explain why sociologists are abandoning occupational mobility tables—despite their once great popularity—in favor of the economics approach.


Economic Advancement