Places of Persistence: Slavery and the Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Intergenerational mobility has remained stable over recent decades in the United States but varies sharply across the country. In this article, I document that areas with more prevalent slavery by the outbreak of the Civil War exhibit substantially less upward mobility today. I find a negative link between prior slavery and contemporary mobility within states, when controlling for a wide range of historical and contemporary factors including income and inequality, focusing on the historical slave states, using a variety of mobility measures, and when exploiting geographical differences in the suitability for cultivating cotton as an instrument for the prevalence of slavery. As a first step to disentangle the underlying channels of persistence, I examine whether any of the five broad factors highlighted by Chetty et al. (2014a) as the most important correlates of upward mobility—family structure, income inequality, school quality, segregation, and social capital—can account for the link between earlier slavery and current mobility. More fragile family structures in areas where slavery was more prevalent, as reflected in lower marriage rates and a larger share of children living in single-parent households, is seemingly the most relevant to understand why it still shapes the geography of opportunity in the United States.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Economic History
  • Human Geography


  • Intergenerational mobility, Persistence, Slavery
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1547-1565
Number of pages19
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Aug 1
Publication categoryResearch