HEDG is a world leading centre for research on the historical determinants of educational and social mobility, and since 2023 has hosted a Danish National Research Foundation-supported chair, Professor Greg Clark, a leading scholar in the field. We ask: what determines the educational and social status of individuals? And in particular: how much is due to the influence of parents, grandparents, and even more distant ancestors?
There is great interest in measuring intergenerational social mobility across time and space, and in this context the Nordic countries are often highlighted as some of those where it has reached its greatest extent. However, all such work is bedevilled by measurement errors. Measures of social outcomes are loose, imprecise, and vary over time, leading to overestimation of social mobility rates. In his published work, and forthcoming book, Professor Clark has devised innovative means to correct those measurement errors, methods which involve observations on multiple relatives and multiple generations. This leads to the conclusion that social mobility is extremely slow in England, has not changed its rate over more than 300 years, and has been unaffected by modern social interventions.
At HEDG, Professor Clark is leveraging the significant advantage Denmark has in all social science research, of having unique identifiers for individuals, and the linking of multiple social outcomes to these identifiers. Danish registry data only starts in 1968, however, and yet Clark’s research demonstrates that we need many generations before we can correctly measure social mobility. He is thus collaborating with the Human Capital of the Nordic Countries (HCNC) project, with the idea of applying his innovative techniques to their database over multiple generations in Denmark and Norway 1790-1940. What we find in these data, whether limited or no effect, will have important policy implications for present day interventions.
The Danish part of HCNC is led by Professor Paul Sharp, a leading economic historian of Denmark, and is an interdisciplinary collaboration, combining experts in computer science, history, economics, and demography. It is based on sources unique to Denmark and Norway, such as grade lists and student biographies, from which it is possible to follow complete educational and career trajectories of individuals. Constructing the database requires the development of new machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) techniques and is led by Professor Christian Møller Dahl from HEDG-Big Data.
The Human Capital of the Nordic Countries project is generously funded by:
The Carlsberg Foundation (DK)
The Danish National Research Foundation (DK)
The Research Council of Norway (NO)
Jan Wallanders och Tom Hedelius stiftelse (SE)
And is also based at Lund University, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, and the University of Oslo.
Martin Hørlyk Kristensen