Mormons, Danes, and East Asians

I went to a public school in Madison, Wisconsin during the 1960s.  That’s one of America’s most egalitarian cities in one of the most egalitarian decades.  Only in retrospect do I realize what a “weird” place it was. If you had told me in 1969 that a white person’s prospects in life depended on how rich their parents were I would have had no idea what you were talking about.  To me, life seemed very simple.  We almost all went to the Madison Public Schools, and the few who didn’t mostly went to Catholic schools of roughly equal quality.  It seemed like success depended on some combination of being innately smart (or charismatic) and having a strong work ethic.  I did not even know anything about the socio-economic class of my fellow students—what difference would it make if their parents were janitors or doctors?  If college bound, we all tended to go to the UW, where tuition was $300/semester.  And those that could not afford that pittance could get student loans.  And college didn’t affect one’s income very much–a union job was just as good. I had two friends; the one from a low-income area was a better student than the one from a high-income area.  Other than those two, I knew nothing about the family background of students, which seemed completely irrelevant to life’s success.  (My uncle grew up in what we then called a “hillbilly family” in Kentucky, and was a distinguished professor at the University of Wisconsin.)

I’m not saying all this to try to convince you of anything.  Madison in the 1960s was a very unusual place, and I undoubtedly missed a lot that was important even back then.  But I tend to think of this background when reading the recent discussion of Raj Chetty’s work on income mobility.  Tyler Cowen links to Megan McArdle, discussing Chetty’s work on upward mobility:

There’s no getting around it: For a girl raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Salt Lake City is a very weird place.

I went to Utah precisely because it’s weird. More specifically, because economic data suggest that modest Salt Lake City, population 192,672, does something that the rest of us seem to be struggling with: It helps people move upward from poverty. I went to Utah in search of the American Dream.

I’m pretty sure McArdle’s experience in high school was quite different from mine (it can’t have been any worse.)  Partly because New York was more diverse than Madison, and partly because (I assume) she’s more observant than I am, and far more than I was at age 14.  But Utah doesn’t seem weird to me.

Madison is not Mormon, and it does have a lot of heavy drinking, but otherwise both places are part of Nordic America, the North Central part of the US.  This map in Chetty’s paper shows higher levels of upward mobility (among whites) in lighter colors:

Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 4.52.03 PMActually, Madison’s on the fringe of Nordic America, the epicenter seems closer to South Dakota.  (I had one Scandinavian grandparent.)

At one point McArdle compares the upward mobility of Utah and Denmark:

The wide gulf between Utah and, say, North Carolina implies that we do, in fact, have a real problem on our hands. A child born in the bottom quintile of incomes in Charlotte has only a 4 percent chance of making it into the top quintile. A child in Salt Lake City, on the other hand, has more than a 10.8 percent chance — achingly close to the 11.7 percent found in Denmark and well on the way to the 20 percent chance you would expect in a perfectly just world.

Interestingly she doesn’t pursue that link any further.  Lars Christensen tipped me off to this fact:

Denmark supplied more immigrants to Utah in the nineteenth century than any other country except Great Britain. Most of these Danes–nearly 17,000–were converts to the LDS Church, heeding an urgent millennialistic call to gather to “Zion.”

Given that Denmark has less than 1% of Europe’s population, that’s a pretty interesting coincidence.  And other Scandinavian countries were also well represented:

Periodicals in their native language served combined audiences of Danes and Norwegians, and sometimes Swedes as well. The most successful of these was the Danish-Norwegian newspaper Bikuben (The Beehive), published in Salt Lake City from 1876 through 1935 (under LDS Church ownership in later years).

Whatever’s going on in North Central America, and Utah as well, I’m pretty sure it has something to do with Nordic culture.

The title of this post includes “East Asians”; what do they have to do with Utah?  The same Chetty paper has a table of mobility by metro area:

Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 6.47.32 PMNotice that 3 of the top 6 cities are places in California with lots of upwardly mobile Asian families.

So let me finally get to the point.  I see a similarity between North Central America (including Utah) and East Asia.  In the not too distant past, both places were largely agricultural.  But in the 21st century global economy the big money is no longer in farmland, it’s in ideas.  Both areas have lots of upwardly mobile people who have successfully made the jump into the 21st century economy.  Like me!  (And my wife.)  Lots of other cultures, in America and elsewhere, seem to struggle with the demand of the 21st century.

In one sense, the success of East Asia is easier to explain, because they started from a far lower level.  When East Asia finally linked up with the global economy, they discovered that their cultures had a set of attributes that were well suited to achieving upward mobility—such as an emphasis on education, hard work, high saving rates, low crime rate, stable families, etc.  Many of these cultural attributes also show up in North Central America.  China is full of billionaires who started life as dirt-poor peasant farmers.  I’d guess that 90% of the world’s billionaires who grew up in abject poverty are Chinese, and roughly zero percent are American.

But why do white Americans from Iowa and Utah have more upward mobility than white Americans from other areas.  One possibility is that it’s easier to jump from the bottom 20% to the top 20% in places where those quintiles are not that far apart.

Lots of smart kids in the upward Midwest grew up in dead end small towns without much opportunity, but then used university education to make a jump to places where they could achieve much more success.

People on the two coasts tend to have a mental image of rural America as being “poor”.  But the upper Midwest contains lots of pretty big and successful family farms.  In the old days when America was more equal, talented people would have been much more content to stay in their region of the country.  If they moved, it more likely was in search of a better climate.  Why move from cold Wisconsin to cold Massachusetts when (during the 1960s) the incomes weren’t much different?  High tech barely existed back then.

PS.  What areas surprise you the most?  For me, it’s the low upward mobility of Michigan and western Oregon, and the fact that Louisiana has more mobility than the rest of the Deep South.



45 Responses to “Mormons, Danes, and East Asians”

  1. Gravatar of bill bill
    30. March 2017 at 10:42

    I wonder how Chetty’s study treats people that moved? If a person was born in Charlotte in the bottom quintile and moves to SLC and eventually makes it into the top quintile, how is that recorded in the stats?

  2. Gravatar of LK Beland LK Beland
    30. March 2017 at 10:50

    “I wonder how Chetty’s study treats people that moved?”

    The location of the parent and child is assigned as the location they lived in when the child was age 16.

  3. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    30. March 2017 at 10:55

    Those “equality” or “mobility” maps oftentimes look were similar to maps of the most “whitest” counties. They are more or less congruent. At least to some extent. Coincidence or not? Is there a known connection between more diversity and less mobility in social science?

  4. Gravatar of AL AL
    30. March 2017 at 11:15

    The only puzzling thing is why Utah is so tiny. I mean, why aren’t people flocking to Utah? It’s almost as if Theocracy has a down side or something…

  5. Gravatar of LK Beland LK Beland
    30. March 2017 at 12:22

    I took a look at the complete database and focused on P(Child in Q5 | parent in Q1):

    First, in Wisconsin (in %):
    Monroe 16.7
    Milwaukee 4.5
    Sheboygan 13.8
    LaCrosse 11.8
    EauClaire 11.3
    GreenBay 9.1
    Wausau 12.4
    Ashland 9.1
    Oshkosh 11.5
    Amery 12.9
    Kenosha 6.9
    Madison 9.2
    Shawano 8.4
    Rhinelander 10.6
    RiceLake 10.2

    It’s quite clear that Milwaukee and Kenosha are destroying the average. The rest of Wisconsin is doing quite well.

    Also, I computed the average by State, weighted by population for each commuter zone. Somehow Iowa is competing with the “New Oil” states.

    1 NorthDakota 18.1921
    2 Alaska 12.8703
    3 Iowa 12.0743
    4 SouthDakota 12.0521
    5 Utah 11.8633
    6 Montana 11.3269
    7 DistrictofColumbia 11
    8 Nebraska 10.6813
    9 WestVirginia 10.542
    10 NewJersey 10.5242
    11 Washington 10.5008
    12 California 10.2401
    13 Minnesota 10.2209
    14 Massachusetts 9.99056
    15 NewHampshire 9.90999
    16 Hawaii 9.80529
    17 Colorado 9.65369
    18 NewYork 9.56448
    19 Kansas 9.34566
    20 Oklahoma 9.08396
    21 Texas 8.71603
    22 Oregon 8.67343
    23 Vermont 8.62902
    24 Idaho 8.62236
    25 Pennsylvania 8.56762
    26 Wisconsin 8.54982
    27 Nevada 8.54884
    28 RhodeIsland 8.2
    29 NewMexico 8.14525
    30 Maine 8.09343
    31 Connecticut 7.9
    32 Arizona 7.31618
    33 Arkansas 7.20525
    34 Illinois 6.97455
    35 Kentucky 6.95189
    36 Indiana 6.83459
    37 Louisiana 6.77987
    38 Maryland 6.57674
    39 Missouri 6.55812
    40 Delaware 6.47149
    41 Virginia 6.37135
    42 Florida 6.19316
    43 Michigan 6.05653
    44 Ohio 5.56079
    45 Tennessee 5.32738
    46 Alabama 5.28392
    47 Mississippi 4.76505
    48 NorthCarolina 4.68149
    49 Georgia 4.33487
    50 SouthCarolina 4.0919

  6. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    30. March 2017 at 13:28

    Michigan 1. had a decent amount of migration from Аppalachia (though I suspect this is a minor factor), 2. is a major victim of deindustrialization, for various reasons, just like much of the belt running from Michigan to Northern Alabama (I suspect this is the big reason). Sailer pointed out local temporary economic booms and busts have a huge impact on economic mobility.

    The West Coast, Upper Peninsula, and Maine surprised me most. Delaware v. New Jersey’s pretty interesting.

  7. Gravatar of LK Beland LK Beland
    30. March 2017 at 13:32

    Interestingly, there is zero correlation between inter-generational mobility by state and 2016 election results.

  8. Gravatar of LK Beland LK Beland
    30. March 2017 at 13:43

    Michigan: Quite simple. Per capita income growth has been nonexistent since 2000. Per capita income is now much lower than in the US. This lowers the chances of ending up in a high income rank nationally.

  9. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    30. March 2017 at 14:29

    AL, You asked:

    “I mean, why aren’t people flocking to Utah?”

    It is the fastest growing state in the country.

    LK, Thanks for that info. I suppose areas with a large black population have less mobility.

    The lack of election correlation is interesting.

    Harding and LK, Yes, I forgot about the troubles in the Michigan auto industry.

  10. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    30. March 2017 at 15:29

    If you’re white and making over $100k a year and your parents were making less than $20k (in today’s terms), it most likely means that you’re an executive, doctor, lawyer, etc. and your parents were farmers.

    Forget all the ethnic, religious, racist, political gobbledygook……what you’re showing in your post is a farming map.

  11. Gravatar of AR AR
    30. March 2017 at 15:46

    I’m surprised as well by western Oregon. I grew up in Eugene in the 80s and 90s, and my experience felt similar to how you described Madison. Almost everyone was white so you didn’t experience the income differences between races, and within the white population it didn’t seem that there was that large a gap between the top and bottom quintile, certainly much less than what I see in my current hometown of NYC. Most people went to the public schools. For K-8 I went to a small private school but it was one of those alternative places where half the parents were lower or middle class ex-hippies, not surgeons paying for their children to learn Latin and computer science starting at age 6. That being said, you can see interesting differences even within the city and between the city and nearby rural communities. For example, each year the local newspaper would publish a little blurb on the post-graduation plans of each person earning a 4.0 GPA at all the local high schools. Most people coming from the outlying rural towns would go to a local public university or community college, while many students within the city would go to the nationally ranked selective universities (curiously, I just checked the Census ACS estimates and Eugene and some of it’s rural neighbors have very similar median household incomes).

  12. Gravatar of AL AL
    30. March 2017 at 15:52

    Well I stand corrected. They’ve streaked all the way up to #33 (2013 data), a little more than half the population of Wisconsin.

  13. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    30. March 2017 at 16:32

    Terrific post.

    I was born in the same year as Scott Sumner, and have many similar childhood experiences despite being raised in Altadena, California, which did have a black, Asian and Hispanic population but was mostly white.

    No doubt culture is important, yet somehow the economy of the 1950-60s provided a lot of upward mobility or at least stability for lots of “average” people too.

  14. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    30. March 2017 at 18:32

    ‘…yet somehow the economy of the 1950-60s provided a lot of upward mobility….’

    Prior to the War on Poverty.

  15. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    30. March 2017 at 19:53

    Patrick Sullivan:

    I happen to agree that social welfare outlays play a role in state dependence, so let’s include Medicare, Social Security and the VA.

    Also, the 1950-60s economy existed before globalization, and before Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the trillions wastefully spent in those regions.

    And before domestic job markets welcomed 30 million illegal immigrants.

    And before the Fed began a 40-years run of constantly tighter money.

    So, how important is the War on Poverty in all of this?

  16. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    30. March 2017 at 20:15

    Yawn. Another racist column by Sumner, who ironically is married to an Asian. Shorter Sumner: white people do better in life than blacks (Asians are an outlier). And the South is full of blacks, hence they do worse (cancer rates also are higher in the South). Paging E. Harding, paging S. Sailer!

    Not to go all racist on you, but which ethnic immigrant group is #1 in making money? Not the Jews, and leaving out the Russians (mobsters), it’s the Greeks. That’s why we’re in the 1%. Come to think of it, I don’t know of a single poor Greek-American. Not one. Oh that guy who bags groceries? He’s got rich parents (not it’s not me).

    Bonus trivia: check out this chart, which shows inequality got a lot worse under Reagan’s watch (that Roth-Kemp tax cut did not help much):

    And this one shows the USA has lots of rich…and lots of poor (Greece has better median net worth than the USA):

  17. Gravatar of Hmmmm Hmmmm
    30. March 2017 at 21:16

    You forgot to mention AK. The majority of the non indigenous population before the pipeline was built were born in northern europe. We have certainly been shifting to a more southern America model since with the importation of many Texans and Oklahomans coming up for oil jobs and unfortunately adopting their culture. The coastal towns less attached to oil still retain a more Scandinavian model

  18. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    30. March 2017 at 21:19

    Ray “El Greco” Lopez:

    Aside from olive oil, to what do you attribute the success of the Greeks in the U.S?

    And what is it about Greece itself? Are there Greeks in Greece?

    And where do french fries originate? (In grease).

  19. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    30. March 2017 at 22:34

    We had a huge thread on this topic, on this site, 4 or 5 five years ago.

    I recall one conclusion was that the Western High Plains (and probably Louisiana) had benefited from the resource boom over the measured period. Likewise, CA and I-95 had benefited from Asians and high-tech.

    Do you know if Chetty has updated this with more recent data? I suspect it will shift around with the economic cycles, and generally decline over time as wealth progressives sequester themselves in heavily zoned zip codes, while robots and health care ossify the economy.

    Also, the range between 40 (deep red) and 50 (completely pale) isn’t that great.

  20. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    30. March 2017 at 23:55

    I like the explanation by dtoh.

    And maybe it’s just variance as well. It could be a difference if you are a looking at a 80% white county in the South compared to a 96% white county in Wisconsin. I assume most of the poorest people in the South are blacks, so there’s a difference in possible “climbing opportunities” for whites in the South. There’s not as much upward mobility by whites in the South (compared to Wisconsin) because they aren’t usually at the bottom 20% (of their county) in the first place.

    And maybe there’s a ceiling in the South as well, some kind of (white) aristocracy dating back all the way to the slave owners maybe.

    Plus less growth in certain “red” counties in Cetty’s paper. I assume it’s harder to move up when there’s not much growth (or change) in the economy of your county.

  21. Gravatar of LK Beland LK Beland
    31. March 2017 at 06:21

    I also performed the averaging using relative mobility (i.e. the slope of the centile rank of child / rank of parent). The results are a bit different.

    1 Hawaii 0.236109
    2 California 0.241736
    3 Utah 0.242591
    4 Idaho 0.24951
    5 Montana 0.249959
    6 Wyoming 0.258042
    7 NorthDakota 0.261964
    8 Nevada 0.262704
    9 Alaska 0.268502
    10 Washington 0.279507
    11 Oregon 0.280977
    12 Colorado 0.282423
    13 SouthDakota 0.285347
    14 Vermont 0.2893
    15 Arizona 0.291556
    16 NewHampshire 0.2933
    17 NewMexico 0.300215
    18 Maine 0.300832
    19 Iowa 0.306658
    20 Florida 0.313132
    21 Minnesota 0.315509
    22 Nebraska 0.319575
    23 Texas 0.321541
    24 Kansas 0.322714
    25 Massachusetts 0.326005
    26 DistrictofColumbia 0.33
    27 RhodeIsland 0.333
    28 NewYork 0.338163
    29 Oklahoma 0.338825
    30 WestVirginia 0.34285
    31 Wisconsin 0.345482
    32 NewJersey 0.345624
    33 Michigan 0.355754
    34 Connecticut 0.359
    35 Kentucky 0.363181
    36 Arkansas 0.365254
    37 Pennsylvania 0.366127
    38 Georgia 0.371497
    39 Missouri 0.371983
    40 Tennessee 0.37277
    41 Indiana 0.373216
    42 Virginia 0.38156
    43 Illinois 0.384497
    44 SouthCarolina 0.384517
    45 NorthCarolina 0.386821
    46 Delaware 0.391143
    47 Alabama 0.391421
    48 Ohio 0.396994
    49 Louisiana 0.399467
    50 Maryland 0.408142
    51 Mississippi 0.418678

  22. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    31. March 2017 at 08:09

    @Ben Cole- “Aside from olive oil, to what do you attribute the success of the Greeks in the U.S?” – I think it’s ethnic food (restaurants), small businesses like delis, car dealerships and the like, at least from what I’ve seen. In Greece, there’s too much regulation to make money in business, unless you count the black market. I myself will set up (for fun) a small nursing care business soon, importing Filipinos, but it’s not a serious endeavor, just an experiment. Just to get licenses will take well over 6 months. We made our money here in DC real estate (since the 1950s, and my relatives came off the boat in the 19th century).

  23. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    31. March 2017 at 09:41

    “This map shows higher levels of upward mobility (among whites)…”

    They say it’s a “heat map of absolute upward mobility for individuals living in ZIP codes with 80% or more white
    residents.” They don’t say “white individuals,” so I don’t think it is “among whites,” but among everyone in those areas.

    I don’t know how different it would look if non-whites were excluded, since it’s only areas that are largely white anyway.

    “What areas surprise you the most? For me, it’s the low upward mobility of Michigan and western Oregon, and the fact that Louisiana has more mobility than the rest of the Deep South.”

    My first thought on looking at this map was that the darker areas essentially reflect structural unemployment and/or poverty, and that upward mobility is tied to that. (This of course may be a completely erroneous notion). If that is true, then the dark areas along the Pacific Northwest coast (from Washington to California) may be associated with the decline of the timber industry.

    The famous son of this region is of course Kurt Cobain, with his stereotypically white trashy parents.

    This doesn’t explain the city of Portland’s relatively low “absolute upward mobility” number but notice they rank higher on the alternative “child in Q5 given parent in Q1” measure.

    “I did not even know anything about the socio-economic class of my fellow students—what difference would it make if their parents were janitors or doctors? If college bound, we all tended to go to the UW, where tuition was $300/semester.”

    I could have written this about my own background, except that tuition at my UW was $200/quarter.

  24. Gravatar of Cooper Cooper
    31. March 2017 at 12:47

    It is a bit surprising that the heart of Coal Country Appalachia seems to have more social mobility than the western parts of Kentucky, south western Ohio, etc.

    I would have assumed that suburban Louisville was a better place to live from a social mobility standpoint than West Virginia, no?

  25. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    31. March 2017 at 17:01

    The social conditions for economic mobility are stable families and halfway decent schools. To have high economic mobility as it’s being discussed here (i.e. Q1>Q5,) then a high percentage of Q1 must meet those conditions, which in practical terms means you need a relatively high percentage of agricultural employment in the bottom quintile.

    This should be obvious to anyone who grew up in circumstances similar to Scott’s. With a few exceptions, poor white kids were either from rural/farming areas or they had dysfunctional families where it was highly unlikely they were going to make it through college/grad school and end up as highly paid professionals.

  26. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    31. March 2017 at 18:33

    dtoh, Farmers in the upper midwest tend to do pretty well—far more than $20,000/year.

    AR, Interesting.

    Ray, OK, I admit it, blacks make just as much money as whites.

    Hmmmm, Interesting.

    Anon/Portly, I’m assuming Chetty controlled for that, otherwise it’s not a very interesting study.

  27. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    31. March 2017 at 19:42

    Full time farmers with big operations do well, but that’s a small percentage of the farming population. I don’t know about Wisconsin but in the U.S. overall, it’s something like 5% of farms are responsible for 75% of the output.

  28. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    1. April 2017 at 02:25

    “far more than $20,000/year.”

    That’s “doing well” in the US? Oh my gosh.

  29. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. April 2017 at 07:18

    dtoh, I grew up in the upper midwest. The typical farmer has a square mile of corn, wheat or soybeans, or a big dairy operation. They earn good incomes—far more than $20,000. The farming numbers are skewed by lots of part timers with a garden in the back yard, or a few chickens. That’s not upper midwest farming. We are not the South, and we are not New England, and we are not California–the upper midwest is dominated fairly big family farms.

    Christian, You said:

    “That’s “doing well” in the US? Oh my gosh.”

    You are such a complete moron that I should just ban you. You have even less reading comprehension that Ray and Massimo. Is English a second language for you?

  30. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    1. April 2017 at 09:15

    Well no you are wrong. Average farm size in Wisconsin in 1970 was 183 acres.

  31. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    1. April 2017 at 09:17

    Less than 3% of farms were over a square mile.

  32. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    1. April 2017 at 09:34

    And average income for farmers in Wisconsin in 1967 was $4300, which was around the 30th percentile and less than 60% of median income.

  33. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    1. April 2017 at 09:42

    And BTW – If you’re a dairy farmer, which the plurality of Wisconsin farmers are, the hours are double those of most other farmers and the works sucks.

    As someone who has worked on a dairy farm and whose grandparents were dairy farmers, I can tell you there’s a lot of incentive to get off the farm and get a job as a tenured university professor or investment banker.

  34. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    1. April 2017 at 14:14

    I basically just quoted you. Nevermind. I still agree with dtoh.

  35. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    2. April 2017 at 19:42

    dtoh, I disagree with your comments. Statistics on “farms” are completely misleading, much like average income data is completely misleading. Most “farms” are not real farms. There are a huge numbers of part-time farmers who do other jobs. I’m not talking about them. Serious farmers do quite well.

    As far as farm size, a square mile is not at all unusual for a “real farm” in the upper midwest. (Admittedly, Wisconsin may be a bit below the average for that region.)


    “The agricultural sector provides between 5% and 10% of the state economy. The average farm size, as defined by USDA, in North Dakota is 1,238 acres including pasture. About 43% of total farms in North Dakota have a farm size less than 1,000 crop acres.”

    That’s two square miles.


    “Half of U.S. farms have sales of less than $10,000 a year. The average South Dakota farm spans 1,366 acres, 13 acres larger than the average a year ago.”

    That’s two square miles. And sales of less than $10,000 means income of perhaps $1000. Those are not real farmers, those are hobbyists. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about real farms.

    What you are doing is like talking about “average income” and including 12 year old boys with newspaper routes. Farm machinery often costs $100,000. The land is often worth a million. These guys are not poor!

  36. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    2. April 2017 at 19:43

    Christian, I never said making over $20,000 means doing well. Are you really that dumb? Is English your second language?

  37. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    3. April 2017 at 07:38


    1. I was responding specifically to your assertions about economic mobility and your impressions from Madison in the 1960s. You’re now citing current conditions to try to rebut my data from the period in question.

    2. You’re cherry picking data. Dakota farm sizes are large (6x Wisconsin) because they have bad soil and bad weather.

    3. Farm statistics are not misleading if you read the definitions.

    4. Part time farmers are not hobbyists. They’re the children of full time farmers who had to escape the bottom quintile by taking on part time work outside of agriculture.

    5. Your definition of serious farmers doing well is tautological.

    6. The fact remains that in the 1960s areas with large concentrations of agriculture were more likely to have families in the bottom economic quintile and social conditions conducive to upward mobility, which is why your map correlates closely with agriculture concentration and also explains why Michigan has lower economic mobility than Wisconsin and why the northern southern peninsula has less mobility than SW Michigan or the upper peninsula.

    7. The only thing that is a bit of mystery is Louisiana, but maybe that’s partly due to the oil and gas windfall and maybe spending on education.

  38. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    3. April 2017 at 12:52

    You said:

    Farmers in the upper midwest tend to do pretty well — far more than $20,000/year.

    So I assumed making “far more than $20,000/year” equals “doing pretty well” according to you. I know it’s a really big assumption…

    It’s weird that you picked a low number like $20,000 and then additionally “far more”. Why would pick $20,000 in the first place? It just seems weird to me, that’s all I’m saying.

    It’s like saying: What’s the distance to the moon? – Far more than 1 mile!
    And in which year did 9-11 happen? – Way later than 1066!
    It’s not wrong of course, it’s just weird.

    Is English your second language?

    I’m the German guy, remember? Even Ray remembers that all the time. I thought you were the guy with the very big (and a bit autistic) brain that remembers everything. Nevertheless you ask me that question every four months since three years straight. Okay, I am not important at all but still. I think my English skills are somewhat acceptable, let’s attack them when your skills in a foreign language are as good as mine.

    I still don’t know what Ray actually is. Now and then he talked about himself being in Brazil, then Greece, then Portugal, then the Philippines, then Washington DC. It’s a bit hard to figure out. I don’t think he’s rich either.

  39. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    4. April 2017 at 17:46

    Maybe the more interesting question is how cultures that are now producing such economically successful immigrants in America produced such economically dysfunctional countries for so long.

  40. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    5. April 2017 at 09:37

    Western Oregon and Washington (South and/or West of Seattle area): I’ve never been to that part of Washington State, but I’ve been up along the Oregon coast. I love it. It’s beautiful, but there’s just not much there. All the towns are small towns. Washington State is even less populated than Oregon along that portion of its coast from what I can tell.

  41. Gravatar of Plucky Plucky
    5. April 2017 at 11:07

    a few unrelated, possibly contradictory comments:

    – The biggest surprise to me is the huge variety among different rural localities. In my mental map, much of the rural Midwest is roughly all the same, but the difference between MN/WI/IA and MI/OH/IN is stark. State U quality probably not much of an explainer, since Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue, etc are and historically have been fine schools. I also have no idea what explains the relatively better mobility of rural central PA.

    – the second biggest surprise is WV, which looks much different than the surrounding rest of Appalachia despite being pretty thoroughly impoverished overall

    – third biggest surprise to me is southern IL, which has better mobility than any of the surrounding areas in MO, KY, or IN

    – A massively disproportionate number of the 60s/70s founding generation of silicon valley were Iowa/Midwest farmboys

    – When comparing LA to the rest of the South, keep in mind that a lot of MS, LA, & GA is insufficient data. That said, What might be unique to LA is the number of well-paying blue-collar jobs associated with the oil & petrochem sectors. You can grow up dirt poor and be borderline illiterate but still make the top quintile of income working offshore, and there’s a nontrivial chance that if you have agricultural land you collect mineral royalties.

    – “Nordic culture” seems like a reasonable explanation for WI/MN/IA/ND/SD, but one would think that would be less prevalent as you go further south & west (KS, NE, WY, MT, parts of OK), yet there’s not much obvious difference there

    – The LDS has had quite a lot of success amongst Pacific islanders

    – In much of the South, the public schooling is sufficiently abysmal that private schooling is common-to-standard among middle-class whites (i.e. it’s not just affluent + Catholic), and basically everyone who can afford or almost-afford it will go that route for their kids and devote an abnormally large share of income to it. If you grow up in the bottom quintile though (which is what graph shows), you’re probably too poor to afford it and consequently pretty hosed. I would not be surprised if middle-quintile mobility looks proportionately better

  42. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    5. April 2017 at 17:29

    Christian, No, I did not pick the $20,000 figure, dtoh did. Do you really not know how to read?

    Please tell me where I said people making more than $20,000year are doing well—I’d love to see the quote.

    dtoh, Again, What you are doing is like trying to argue that middle class Americans are doing poorly by including the incomes of paperboys and babysitters in the average. Most “farmers” are not the sort of real family farmers that dominate the industry in the upper Midwest. Try driving across central Illinois and looking out the window—you’ll see big family farms one after another, with land worth $10,000 and acre. That means a farm of 500 acres is worth $5 million. Sorry, but those farmers are not poor.

    I stand by all of my comments about real farmers in the upper Midwest being middle class and doing fine.

    Plucky, Interesting comments.

  43. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    5. April 2017 at 19:49

    The problems with your argument are:

    1. You’re citing current data to explain or refute phenomena that occurred based on conditions in the 1960s. (Average farm size in Iowa has doubled since 1960 and the number of farms have dropped dramatically as well.)

    2. The economic mobility data is based on income not wealth. Farm value measures wealth not income.

    3. You’re conflating farmland value with farm values. A farm with $5 million of land and $5 million of debt is worth zero.

    4. Roughly 2/3rds of Iowa farms are run by full time farmers so even if you exclude the 30k farms in Iowa run by part timers, median farm size for full time farmers is well under an acre.

    4. My argument is not that there are no rich farmers or that average farm income is low (although I think like many Newtonians you have a very romanticized of farming.) My argument is that the conditions for high economic mobility (Q1 > Q5 in a generation) are that you need families who are both a) poor AND b) exhibit the values and behavior conducive to the children earning $100k+ incomes. These conditions are most prevalent in areas with high concentrations of agriculture. I.e. in the 1960’s there were lots of poor farmers who sent their kids to college and grad schools. It’s irrelevant whether they were full or part time farmers and it’s irrelevant that some of their neighbors may have been rich farmers (and it’s especially irrelevant if some of their neighbors had children a generation later who were rich farmers.)

    BTW – The $20k number is a SWAG for income at the top of the bottom quintile.

  44. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    5. April 2017 at 20:21

    And by the way, I’m getting tired chasing you across the mid-west as you cherry pick data merrily from state to state. Hopefully after enough rebuttals, you’ll run of out of states. 🙂

  45. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    11. April 2017 at 14:41

    I did not pick the $20,000 figure, dtoh did.

    I even thought about this so before I wrote what I wrote I actually searched for “20,000” to see who started this. Only you showed up, so I figured you started this weird number. If dtoh started it then you are right and I’m wrong about this point.

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