Obedience in the Labor Market and Social Mobility: A Socio-Economic Approach

Produced by: 
National Bureau of Economic Research
Available from: 
August 2021
Paper author(s): 
Daron Acemoglu

This paper presents an analysis of what types of values, especially in regards to obedience vs. independence, families impart to their children and how these values interact with social mobility. In the model, obedience is a useful characteristic for employers, especially when wages are low, because independent workers require more incentives (when wages are high, these incentives are automatic). Hence, in low-wage environments, low-income families will impart values of obedience to their children to prevent disadvantaging them in the labor market. To the extent that independence is useful for entrepreneurial activities, this then depresses their social mobility. High-income and privileged parents, on the other hand, always impart values of independence, since they expect that their children can enter into higher-income entrepreneurial (or managerial) activities thanks to their family resources and privileges. I also discuss how political activity can be hampered when labor market incentives encourage greater obedience and how this can generate multiple steady states with different patterns of social hierarchy and mobility.


Research section: 
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