In most economies, parents would like to see their children have a higher standard of living, and with it a better life, than they had themselves. When children are asked, they too tend to consider their parents a natural benchmark to compare their economic progress against (Goldthorpe, 1987; Hoschschild, 2016, Chetty at al., 2017). A simple measure that captures this notion of progress is the percentage of children who managed to surpass their parents, which we will refer to as absolute mobility. Chetty et al. (2017) find that the United States did exceptionally well by this measure for the generations born in the 1940s and 50s, when over 90 percent of children managed to do better than their parents in terms of income. Absolute mobility in the United States has since faded to around 50 percent for the current generation. How has absolute mobility fared elsewhere in the world? In which economies do children have the best chances to improve upon their parents? Are the highest rates of absolute mobility observed in economies that are starting from a low base?
That international borders limit migration is obvious. But why should provincial or state borders prevent people from moving within a country? After all, most countries do not impose restrictions on mobility like the “hukou” system in China. Yet, in an article forthcoming in the Journal of Economic Geography, we find evidence of “invisible walls” between Indian states (Kone, Zovanga Louis; Mattoo, Aaditya; Ozden, Caglar; Sharma, Siddharth. 2017). Indians, particularly men seeking education and jobs, display a puzzling reluctance to cross state borders.