Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Family Dynasties: The Case of the Einsteins

Evelyn Einstein was the great man's granddaughter. Her obituary highlights how smart she was but goes on to sketch her challenges.  To quote the article: "Ms. Einstein spoke four or five languages and earned degrees from the University of California, Berkeley, including a master’s in medieval literature. But she worked as a dogcatcher, a cult deprogrammer and a police officer. After a bitter divorce, she lived in poverty for three months, sleeping in cars and eating discarded food as a self-described “Dumpster diver.”"

Social scientists have trouble creating long longitudinal data sets that follow a family across generations.  The PSID is a good start but I would like to see a sociologist pursue the following research project.

Start with a non-random sample; the Nobel Laureates who won the prize between the years 1910 and 1950 and trace their families.  Who were their children?  What occupations did they enter? What were their achievements? Who were their children's children?

Now, repeat this exercise for members of the U.S Senate over the years 1910 to 1950.  So trace what happened to their descendants.  I would be interested in seeing if a sociologist could test for "nepotistic ties" for the 2nd set relative to the descendants of the Nobel Laureates (so I'm thinking of the Kennedys or the Bush family).  As I have blogged about before, it appears that many with ties to Washington DC have children who work in "connected fields" related to what their father or mother did.   The Nobel Laureates wouldn't have this network. They would be leaders in the "nerd network" but it isn't obvious to me how this would translate into job opportunities for their following generations.

So what hypotheses related to "family dynasties" could be tested using this sampling design?   Both sets  had successful and smart grandparents but "social capital" may be more durable than "human capital".   I continue to come back to the millions of dollars that Mayor Rahm Emanuel earned as an investment banker after he left the Clinton Administration.  What skill did he have to generate such big  ( $16 million)?   My guess is that he knew some powerful people who would return his phone calls and this was valued by his employer.   Did Einstein have such connections?  Would he have wanted them? Perhaps there is comparative advantage.