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Study shows family history may determine financial destiny

Published: Thursday, Oct. 18 2012 10:03 a.m. MDT

A person’s last name may be a determining factor in their lifelong success.

Matt Dunham, AP

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A person’s last name may be a determining factor in their lifelong success, according to NPR.

Social scientists have wondered for years whether social mobility or one’s ability to move up (or down) in society is controlled by family history or individual effort.

Gregory Clark, an economic historian from the University of California, discovered that the status of a surname has an impact on an individual’s wealth.

"We can't predict the individual aspects of where you'll end up, but if we want to rank you overall in society, maybe as much as 60 percent of the outcome is determined at the time of conception," Clark told NPR.

Clark found that even distant relatives across several nations were often in the same status positions, regardless of a variety of other factors.

"It is shocking that the number is as constant as it is," Joseph Ferrie, an economic historian at Northwestern University who’s been following Clark’s work, told NPR.

Previous studies only looked at a couple of generations, but Clark’s research across several generations shows that individuals don’t change their economic status as much as was previously believed.

Families do, however, move up the social ladders, it just takes a few centuries.

EMAIL: sparker@desnews.com

TWITTER: @SeanRParker

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