Order or chaos? Understanding career mobility using categorical clustering and information theory


  • Marc Scott New York University
  • Matthew Zeidenberg Abt Associates




intragenerational mobility, information theory, optimal matching, clustering categorical data, national longitudinal survey


We examine the careers of a nationally representative US cohort of young adults using sequence analysis and information-theoretic techniques to describe these careers’ structure and how this structure might inform differences in wage mobility.  We operationalise the career as a sequence of industry-occupation pairs observed quarterly.  We investigate how the content of these pairs and their organisation over time relate to future mobility.  We perform the analysis across three different mobility groups, one of which is characterised by persistent low-wage work.  Contrary to what one might expect, low-wage work is not typified by a lack of structure, even in many of the careers in which the worker is weakly attached to the labour market.  Using clustering techniques customised to this problem, we build a typology of careers within three groups of workers defined by their wage mobility.  We find significant variation within, as well as similarity across the three groups, enhancing our understanding of careers with different levels of mobility.

Author Biographies

Marc Scott, New York University

Applied Statistics Program, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Full Professor (Sept. 2015)

Matthew Zeidenberg, Abt Associates

Senior Associate


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