Social mobility—children getting “at least as far as their old man got,” as singer Billy Joel once described it—is an important concept for social scientists who study economic inequality and opportunity. But collecting enough of the right data to draw meaningful conclusions is difficult. And applying those findings to public policy is even harder.
Science’s Jeffrey Mervis explores the concept in the special issue on inequality out this week. But in reporting the story, Mervis realized there was a lot more to say. So he decided to take a look at four related subjects—how two prominent economists broke new ground, an explanation of a key metric called intergenerational elasticity (IGE), what previous surveys have taught us, and a push to make better use of administrative records. We hope these pieces will shine more light on the topic for readers.