Sociology Index


Social mobility is the upward or downward movement of individuals within a stratification system. Social mobility is the movement of an individual or group from one social class or social status to another. Social mobility facilitates democratization by reducing the conflict over redistribution between the rich and the poor. Sociologists see social mobility as a useful way to measure equality of opportunity. Depending on the nature of social stratification, there are ascending and descending currents of social mobility, which are economic mobility, political mobility, and occupational mobility. Horizontal Social Mobility is the transition of an individual from one position to another situated on the same level. Vertical Social Mobility is the transition of an individual from one position to another, situated at a different level.

Vertical social mobility can be upward or downward social mobility. Upward social mobility refers to an increase in social class. Upward mobility is not only about becoming rich and famous. People who earn a university degree, get a job promotion, or marry someone with a good income upward social mobility. Social mobility is typically measured by comparing the social status positions of adult children to that of their parents, but social mobility can be measured by comparing a person's status position over their own lifetime.

Social mobility would be high where individuals have equal opportunity to achieve new statuses and low where there is inequality of opportunity and processes of ascribed status. In social mobility we have movement of individuals or groups from one position to another. Social mobility can be horizontal social mobility or vertical social mobility.

Capitalist societies have open-class ideology and therefore one can expect a high degree of social mobility. According to liberal theory social mobility within a stratification system should result from a person's achievements and should not be based on ascribed characteristics such as sex, race, region of birth, and parent's class position. The point of reference is an individual's class or status of social origin and social mobility occurs when later class or status positions differ from those of origin.

Social mobility concentrates on changes in the socioeconomical status. Social mobility can be the result of structural changes in the working population, new positions become available or some positions experience a lack of people or efforts of individuals, to generate a certain position. (Vincke, 1998, p. 265).

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 social mobility were absolutely free, in the resultant society there would be no strata.

Social mobility refers to the ability to change positions within a social stratification system. When people improve or diminish their economic status in a way that affects social class, they experience social mobility. This is a key concept in determining whether inequality of condition limits people’s life chances or whether we can meaningfully speak of the existence of equality of opportunity in a society.

A high degree of social mobility, upwards or downwards, would suggest that the stratification system of a society is in fact open. Downward social mobility indicates a lowering of one’s social class. Some people face downward social mobility because of business setbacks, unemployment, or illness.

Intergenerational mobility explains a difference in social class between different generations of a family. An upper-class executive may have parents who belonged to the middle class. Those parents may have been raised in the lower class. Patterns of intergenerational mobility can reflect long-term societal changes. Intragenerational mobility describes a difference in social class between different members of the same generation. The wealth and prestige experienced by one person may be quite different from that of his or her siblings.

Generally social mobility is measured by comparing either the occupational status or the earnings between parents and children. If children’s earnings or status remain the same as their parents then there is no social mobility. The data (from 2006) show that there is a much lower degree of social mobility in the United States than in Canada. While earnings elasticity in the United States was 0.47, in Canada the figure was 0.19. This suggests that Canada has a relatively high rate of social mobility and equality of opportunity compared to the United States, where almost 50 percent of sons remain at the same income level as their fathers. In an international comparison, the United Kingdom had even lower social mobility than the United States with an earnings elasticity of 0.50, while Finland, Norway, and Denmark had greater social mobility than Canada with earnings elasticities of 0.18, 0.17, and 0.15 respectively.

One of the key factors that distinguishes Canada’s degree of social mobility from that of the United States is that the United States has a much greater degree of social inequality to begin with. The higher degree of social inequality is linked to lower degrees of social mobility.

Social Mobility Abstracts

Alcohol Consumption Behaviors and Social Mobility in Men and Women of the Midspan Family Study - Carole L. Hart, George Davey Smith, Mark N. Upton and Graham C. M. Watt - Alcohol and Alcoholism 2009 44(3):332-336.
Abstract: Wine consumption was more closely related to the social mobility groups than beer and spirits consumption. Drinking patterns could both influence and be influenced by social mobility.

SOCIAL MOBILITY WITHIN AND ACROSS GENERATIONS IN BRITAIN SINCE 1851 JASON LONG - Department of Economics, Colby College and Department of Economics and Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
I use a rich new data source to provide new measures of social mobility in England and Wales from 1851 to 1901. Existing measures of intergenerational mobility derived from marriage registries fail to control for life-cycle differences between father and son.

Family Patterns Of Social Mobility Through Higher Education In England In The 1930s
Journal of Social History, by Carol Dyhouse. I focus on patterns of social mobility as experienced differently by men and women graduates, both in their family situations and in their working lives. Education has often been seen as having represented "a central element in the creation and reproduction of cultural capital" amongst the upwardly mobile, and an understanding of the role played by mothers in encouraging their children into higher education may be seen as going some way towards restoring visibility to women in patterns of social mobility in history.

The impact of social mobility and within-family learning on voter preferences: Evidence from a sample of twins - Harry Krashinsky. Centre for Industrial Relations, University of Toronto. Abstract: Income-maximizing consumers should vote in predictable ways: support for liberal, redistributive governments should fall as income rises. But weak empirical evidence for these voting patterns might suggest that voters are influenced by alternative factors, such as perceptions of social mobility from within-family learning.

Social Mobility and Intergroup Antagonism - A Simulation - Burton B. Silver
Department of Sociology and Social Psychology Florida Atlantic University.
This paper reevaluates certain aspects of Dahrendorf's conflict theory in relation to social mobility. Specifically, the relationship between the degree of openness or closedness of the mobility opportunity structure of society and the degree of intergroup antagonism is examined.

The Consequences of Immigration for Social Mobility: The Experience of Israel
Meir Yaish, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Haifa, Haifa 31905, Israel. European Sociological Review 18:449-471. 2002 Oxford University Press. A commonly held view argues that immigration is a major force propelling social mobility.

Measuring Social Mobility as Unpredictability
Simon C. Parker & Jonathan Rougier, University of Durham - The London School of Economics and Political Science
ABSTRACT: By associating mobility with the unpredictability of social states, new measures of social mobility may be constructed. We propose a family of three state-by-state and aggregate (scalar) predictability measures.

IQ, Social Mobility and Growth
John Hassler and Jose V. Rodriguez Mora. Abstract: The allocation of talent depends on the relative award the market assigns to intelligence versus other individual merits, which will also influence intergenerational social mobility. This gives children of entrepreneurs a large ex-ante advantage over children of workers when working as entrepreneurs, which will cause low intergenerational social mobility and an ineffcient allocation of human resources and low growth. There is also a stable equilibrium with high growth which mitigates the ineffciencies generated by the labor market and implies high intergenerational social mobility.

Social Mobility and Modernization: A Journal of Interdisciplinary History Reader. Edited by Robert I. Rotberg. Cambridge, Mass., London: The MIT Press. 

Poverty and social mobility in Lebanon: a few wild guesses - Inequality and poverty: a feature of the Shiite and the Sunni in Lebanon - Khoury El, M.; Panizza, U. / Workshop on the Analysis of Poverty and its Determinants in the MENA Region - The purpose of this paper is twofold. First of all, the paper aims at describing poverty in Lebanon and second the paper aims at measuring social mobility in Lebanon.

Conventions and Social Mobility in Bargaining Situations - Giovanni Ponti and Robert M. Seymour - We find that, although any custom generates the same limiting class distribution as any other, these limiting distrbutions can be ranked with respect of their social mobility. If players are allowed to change their custom when they find it unsatisfactory, then social mobility appears to be the key variable to predict the type of custom which will predominate in the long run even though, in general, no one custom is dominant. In particular, customs which promote social mobility appear to exhibit, in all the cases we have analysed, stronger stability properties.

Politics Determine Occupational Opportunity and Social Mobility in East Asia
A study has found that the pattern of social fluidity in East Asian countries differ substantially from their Western counterparts, thus rendering the Western research models inadequate for the Asian context.

Making It in America: Social Mobility in the Immigrant Population
Journal article by George J. Borjas; The Future of Children, Vol. 16, 2006.

Social Mobility in Latin America - How is social mobility related to education policy in Latin America? A schooling gap regression analysis - Andersen, L.E. Boliviana, La Paz, Bolivia.