Horizontal Social Mobility
Vertical Social Mobility, Social Mobility, Books Social Mobility, Stratification
Social mobility is the transition of an individual
or social object or value - anything that has been created or modified by human activity -
from one social position to another. Based on the direction of the transition, we can
classify vertical social mobility as: ascending and descending, or social climbing and
When the transition of an individual or social
object is from one social stratum to another, we call it vertical social mobility.
In social mobility we have movement of individuals
or groups from one position to another. It might be horizontal or vertical.
Horizontal social mobility is the transition of an individual from one position to another
situated on the same level, that is, moving from one company to another in the same
occupational status (movement of blue-collar worker in company A to blue-collar worker in
Horizontal social mobility concerns, according to
Sorokin (Sorokin 1959), transition of an individual or social object from one social
group to another situated on the same level, while vertical social mobility,
refers to transitions of people from one social stratum to one higher or lower in
the social scale (Sorokin, 1959).
Vertical social mobility is the transition of an
individual from one position to another, situated at a different level. It can be a move
up (upwardly mobile) or a move down (downwardly mobile).
We usually speak of moves up or down taking into account factors such as occupation or
education. For instance, upward occupational mobility means moving from a lower status
occupation to a higher status occupation. Downward occupational mobility means moving from
a high status occupation to another, situated at a lower level.
Depending on the nature of the stratification, there are ascending and descending currents
of economic, political, and occupational mobility.
Social mobility can be horizontal or vertical.
Examples of horizontal social mobility are:
Transition of an individual or social object from
one social group to another situated on the same level.
Transitions of individuals without any noticeable
change of the social position of an individual or social object in the vertical direction.
Transition from one citizenship to another,
Transition from one family to another by divorce
Transition from one factory to another in the same
Transitions of social objects, the radio,
automobile, fashion, Communism, Darwin's theory, within the same social stratum, from one
place to another.
The ascending currents can be explained:
as an infiltration of the individuals of a lower
stratum into an existing higher one; and
as a creation of a new group by such individuals,
and the insertion of such a group into a higher stratum instead of, or side by side with,
the existing groups of this stratum.
The descending current can be explained:
Moving down or falling of individuals from a
higher social position into an existing lower one, without a degradation or disintegration
of the higher group to which they belonged;
The degradation of a social group as a whole and
demotion of its rank among other groups, or the complete disintegration of a social group
as a social unit.
Democracy and Vertical Social Mobility
One of the most conspicuous characteristics of the so-called "democratic
societies" is a more intensive vertical social mobility compared with that of the
non-democratic groups. In democratic societies the social position of an individual, at
least theoretically, is not determined by his birth; all positions are open to everybody
who can get them; there are no judicial or religious obstacles to climbing or going down.
All this facilitates a "greater vertical social mobility" (capillarity,
according to the expression of Dumont) in such societies. This greater mobility is
probably one of the causes of the belief that the social building of democratic societies
is not stratified, or is less stratified, than that of autocratic societies.We have seen
that this opinion is not warranted by the facts. Such a belief is a kind of mental
aberration, due to many causes, and among them to the fact that the strata in democratic
groups are more open, have more holes and "elevators" to go up and down. This
produces the illusion that there are no strata, even though they exist.
There has never existed a society in which vertical social mobility has been absolutely
free and the trasition from one social stratum to another has had no resistance. Every
organized society is a stratified body. If veritcal mobility were absolutely free, in the
resultant society there would be no strata. It would remind us of a building having no
floors separating one story from another. But all societies have been stratified. This
means that within them there has been a kind of "sieve" which has sifted the
individuals, allowing some to go up, keeping others in the lower strata, and contrariwise.
Only in periods of anarchy and great disorder, when the entire social structure is broken
and where the social strata are considerably demolished, do we have anything reminding us
of a chaotic and disorganized vertical mobility en masse.
Vertical social mobility, varies from society to society. Compare the Indian caste-society
with the American society to see that. If the highest ranks in the political, or economic,
or occupational cone of both societies are taken, it is seen that in India almost all
these ranks are determined by birth, and there are very few "upstarts" who
climbed to these positions from the lowest strata. Meanwhile, in the United States, among
its captains of industry and finance, 38.8 per cent in the past and 19.6 per cent in the
present generation started poor; 31.5 percent among the deceased and 27.7 per cent among
the living multimillionaires started their careers neither rich nor poor; among the
twenty-nine presidents of the United States 14, or 48.3 percent, came from poor and humble
The differences in the generality of the vertical mobility of both countries are similar.
In India a great majority of the occupational population inherit and keep throughout their
lives the occupational status of their fathers; in the United States the majority of the
population change their occupations at least once in a lifetime.