Horizontal Social Mobility, Vertical Social Mobility, Books on Social Mobility, Bibliography, Social Mobility Abstracts, Syllabus, Journals,
Mobility, Contest Mobility
The movement of an individual or group from one class or social status to another.
The upward or downward movement within a stratification
Social mobility is typically measured by comparing the status positions
of adult children to that of their parents (intergenerational mobility), but it can be
measured by comparing a person's status position over their own lifetime
(intragenerational mobility). Sociologists see social mobility as a useful way to measure equality of opportunity.
Capitalist societies are open-class and therefore one can expect a high degree
of social mobility. According to liberal theory this movement 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.
Usually, 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 would be high where
individuals have equal opportunity to achieve new statuses and low where there are inequalities of opportunity and processes of status ascription.
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 social sinking.
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
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
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 concentrates on changes in the socio
economical 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 (there can be a demographical cause) or efforts of individuals, to generate a
certain position (e.g. educational level importance of status gaining
processes). (Vincke, 1998, p. 265).
Social mobility can be horizontal or vertical.
Examples of horizontal social mobility or shifting:
Transition of individuals 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 individuals or social object in the vertical direction.
Transition from one citizenship to another,
Transition from one family to another by divorce and
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
The ascending currents can be explained as:
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 as:
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
WHAT ARE THE MAIN TYPES? WHAT ARE THE CAUSES AND EFFECTS OF SOCIAL MOBILITY? WHAT
ARE THE RATES AND PATTERNS OF MOBILITY? -
ISA Research Committee 28 on Social Stratification and Social Mobility - Summaries
of paper presented at RC28 conferences 1991-1998 - www.fss.uu.nl/soc/HG/rc28/
SSM (Social Stratification and Social Mobility) project has collected personal histories,
concerned with social status and inequality, with national representative samples in
Japan. At 1955 the first survey was conducted by the Japanese Association of Sociology.
Democracy and Vertical Social Mobility
The most conspicuous characteristic 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 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" . 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.
General Principles of Vertical Social Mobility
There have been few societies whose strata were absolutely closed, or in which vertical
social mobility in its three forms, economic, political and occupational, was not
present.. That the strata of primitive tribes have been penetrable follows from the fact
that within many of them there is no hereditary high position; their leaders often have
been elected, their structures have been far from being quite rigid, and the personal
qualities of an individual have played a decisive role in social ascent or descent.
The nearest approach to an absolutely rigid society, without any vertical social mobility,
is the so-called caste-society. Its most conspicuous type exists in India. Here, indeed,
vertical social mobility is very weak. But even here it has not been absolutely absent.
Historical records show that in the past,when the caste-system had already been developed,
it did happen that members of the highest Brahmin caste, or the king and his fanlily, were
overthrown or cast out for crimes.
The case of Chandragupta, a low-born son of Mura who became the founder of the great
dynasty of the Maurya and the creator of the great and powerful Maurya Empire (321 to 297
B.C.) is only one conspicuous example among many.
Quite recently a considerable role began to be played by education, and by political and
religious factors. It is evident, therefore, that, in spite of the fact that the
caste-society of India is apparently the most conspicuous example of the most impenetrable
and rigidly stratified body, nevertheless, even within it, the weak and slow currents of
vertical mobility have been constantly present. If such is the case with the India
caste-society, it is clear that in all other social bodies vertical social mobility to
this or that degree, must obviously be present. This statement is warranted by the facts.
The histories of Greece, Rome, Egypt, China, Medieval Europe, and so on show the existence
of a vertical social mobility much more intensive than that of the Indian caste-society.
The absolutely rigid society is a myth which has never been realized in history.
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. But even in such periods, there
are some hindrances to unlimited social mobility, partly in the form of the remnants of
the "sieve" of the old regime, partly in the form of a rapidly growing "new
The intensiveness, as well as the generality of the vertical social mobility, varies from
society to society. It is enough to 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. The study of occupational
shifting by Dr. Dublin has shown that among the policyholders of the Metropolitan Life
Insurance Company 58.5 per cent have changed their occupation between the moment of
issuance of the policy and death.
The transmission of occupation from father to son among different groups of the American
population has shown that among the present generation the shifting from occupation to
occupation is high. The same may be said about the generality of the vertical economic
Furthermore, the differences in the intensity and generality of the vertical political
mobility in different societies may be seen what per cent among the monarchs and
executives of the different countries were "newcomers" who climbed to this
highest position from the lower social strata.
The intensiveness and the generality of the vertical mobility, the economic, the political
and the occupational, fluctuate in the same society at different times. In the course of
the history of a whole country, as well as of any social group, there are periods when the
vertical mobility increases from the quantitative as well as from the qualitative
viewpoint, and there are the periods when it decreases.
Though accurate statistical material to prove this proposition is very scarce and
fragmentary, nevertheless, it seems to me that these data, together with different forms
of historical testimony, are enough to make the proposition safe. . . .
As far as the corresponding historical and other materials permit seeing, in the field of
vertical mobility, in its three fundamental forms, there seems to be no definite perpetual
trend toward either an increase or a decreaseof the intensiveness and generality of
mobility. This is proposed as valid for the history of a country, for that of a large
social body, and, finally, for the history of mankind. . . . From Pitirim Sorokin, Social
and Cultural Mobility. NewYork: The Free Press, 1959.
Mobility and social interaction
In general, mobility is the ability and willingness to move or change.
Nowadays, the (geographical) limits on social interaction, which have existed for so long,
are declining very fast. In the light of the biological and sociocultural evolution
of human race, physical proximity and stable dwelling places were
the basic conditions for people to engage in the very first complex human organisations.
The horticulture of the Neolithic period or the irrigated valleys in Egypt and the
industrialised urban cities all confirm this thesis. Over time, as the locomotion gave
rise to the increase of spatial mobility, interpersonal communications were no longer
sufficient to overcome distance. The landline phone decreased this gap by the end of the
19th century. However this technology implied the need to stay fixed with the landline
phone to be able to communicate. But nowadays the mobile phone as Geser points out,
makes communication compatible with spatial mobility. (Geser, 2004, p.5).
Fortunati uses the term nomadic intimacy (Geser, 2004).
U.S. Intragenerational Economic Mobility from 1984 to 2004: Trends and
Americans are increasingly worried about their economic mobility, over half say they have
not moved ahead, and nearly a third said they have fallen behind. Yet the question
remains: has it gotten harder for Americans to get ahead and stay ahead?
To address that concern, this report examines how Americans have moved up and down the
income ladder over the last two decades. The report focuses on intragenerational mobility:
how individuals economic positions change within their own lifetimes in both
relative and absolute terms.
The report, authored by Gregory Acs and Seth Zimmerman of the Urban Institute, finds that
intragenerational mobility rates have changed little since the 1980s and there remains
considerable stickiness or immobility at the bottom of the income distribution. More than
50 percent of individuals who start in the bottom will stay there ten years later, and
less than seven in ten make it to the great American middle.
By 2004, the richest 20 percent of households earned over half the total household income
in the United States, and their share of income continues to grow.
Meanwhile, the share of income earned by the poorest 20 percent of U.S. households stands
at 3.4 percent of total household income, down 15 percent over two decades. Indeed,
despite strong economic growth during the mid- to late-1980s and again during the mid- to
late-1990s, income inequality by most every measure is higher today than in 1984.
High and rising income inequality engenders concerns about inequality in opportunity, for
example, lower-income households may not have access to the same quality education or
health care as higher-income households, and unequal opportunities may exacerbate and
perpetuate income inequality.
Income inequality, however, even rising inequality, is not inherently a problem.
Inequality in income to some extent reflects inequality in ability and effort; as such, it
is a central component of the reward and incentive structure that drives economic growth.
In addition, annual measurement has shown that the people at the bottom of the income
distribution in one year may be higher up the next year, and people at the top may fall to
the bottom. In no small part, economic mobility, the rate at which individuals change
positions in the income distribution over time, mitigates inequality.
The crucial question is what has happened to economic mobility. Increasingly, Americans
feel that they cannot get ahead, and that it is even hard to keep up.
A recent public opinion poll revealed that over half of all Americans believe they have
not moved forward, and nearly one-third say they have fallen back.
MEASURING TRENDS IN MOBILITY: ISSUES AND METHODOLOGY
Myriad measurement issues arise when assessing trends in social mobility. These include
the income measure used, such as individual earnings, pre-tax income, post-tax income; the
population assessed (e.g., all individuals over age 16, 25- to 44-year-olds); and the
accounting period considered, such as social mobility from one year to the next, social
mobility over a decade, social mobility based on multiple years of income, as well as the
specific years considered).
By and large, the implications of different measurement choices for the level of and trend
in social mobility are consistent with expectations. Research that incorporates
individuals at the very beginning or very end of their careers tends to show higher social
mobility rates than does research that focuses on prime-age workers. Research that
considers social mobility from a single year to another single year finds more social
mobility than does research that uses income averaged over several years.
Economic mobility can be measured either relative to ones peer group or against an
absolute standard. Relative mobility measures how an individuals economic position
changes over time relative to his or her peers. This involves ranking individuals in a
specific cohort (e.g., 25- to 44-year-olds) by income level (e.g., the poorest 20 percent,
or bottom quintile, the next 20 percent, and so on) and then assessing how these same
individuals rank relative to one another at some point in the future (say 10 years later
when they are 35 to 54 years old). The more people who have changed ranks (or income
quintiles) relative to their peers, the greater the level of relative income mobility.
One limitation of relative mobility is that it fails to capture the benefits of economic
growth. Even if an individual failed to improve relative to his or her peers over time,
that individuals absolute level of well-being may have improved. For example, when a
cohort is relatively young, the poorest 20 percent of cohort members may all have incomes
below $20,000 a year, but as the cohort ages and the incomes of all cohort members rise,
the poorest 20 percent may have incomes up to $30,000.
A woman whose income rises from $16,000 to $24,000 would be in the bottom quintile
relative to her peers at both points in time (no relative mobility) even though her income
grew by 50 percent in absolute terms.
Absolute mobility can capture this growth by measuring mobility using the quintile cutoffs
established in a base year and assessing whether individuals income at some later
time moves them across the base-year income threshold. In the example above, the
individual would have moved out of the base-year bottom income quintile because her income
exceeded $20,000. Thus, absolute mobility captures the effects of economic growth, but it
does not indicate whether ones position in society has changed.
We measure the pre-tax, post-transfer family income of individuals age 25 to 44 and
consider how their economic positions change relative to one another as well as in
absolute terms over two 10-year periods (19841994 and 19942004).
Relying on data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), we break the study
population into five equally sized income groups (quintiles) and compute the share of the
population that moves between quintiles over each 10-year period.
TRENDS IN INTRAGENERATIONAL MOBILITY
The results of our analysis of mobility trends are easily summarized: Intragenerational
economic mobility rates have changed very little since the 1980s.
Both relative and absolute mobility rates have remained stable over the past two decades.
We find that 60.4 percent of all 25- to 44-year-olds moved up or down income quintiles
relative to their peers between 1984 and 1994, and 60.5 percent did so between 1994 and
2004. Absolute mobility rates have also been fairly stable over time. Between 1984 and
1994, 61.1 percent of individuals experienced income changes that moved them across their
1984 income quintile boundaries; between 1994 and 2004, absolute income mobility was 62.6
About half of individuals in the bottom income quintile move up to a higher income
quintile over a ten-year period, and there has been little change in upward mobility over
the past two decades.
Using data from the PSID, we find that intragenerational mobility between 1994 and 2004
among a cohort of adults ages 25 to 44 in 1994 is quite comparable to the economic
mobility experienced by an earlier cohort from 1984 to 1994.
In other words, we find very little difference in overall mobility over time. This finding
is striking in light of the many notable changes in the economy over the past few decades
such as the ongoing shift from manufacturing to service sector jobs, rising immigrant
populations, and increases in female labor force participation.
When we examine the characteristics associated with both upward and downward mobility, we
find that whites, men, those with more education, and those who own homes are more likely
to exit the bottom income quintile than are other individuals; however, the effects of
race and educational differences on upward mobility appear to have diminished over time.
The factors associated with increased downward mobility are being non-white and having a
disability. Over time, the importance of these characteristics in contributing to downward
mobility has increased.
Some may point to the levels of mobility in the economy and suggest that they should
assuage concerns about growing income inequality and the longer-term social stratification
and unequal opportunity that it may imply. However, short-and long-term inequality and
mobility interact in complex ways (for a discussion of how they relate to one another, see
Box 1). It is important to note that in the context of rising income inequality, stable
mobility rates suggest that the distribution of lifetime income must be growing more
unequal. That is, lifetime or long-term economic inequality is rising.
THE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN SHORT-TERM INEQUALITY, LONG-TERM INEQUALITY, AND ECONOMIC
A. Definitions. Short-term inequality describes inequality in the distribution of income
received over a short period of time, usually a year. Long-term inequality describes
inequality in the distribution of income received over several years or even a lifetime.
Mobility is the rate at which individuals change positions in the income distribution over
B. Long-term inequality in the context of stable short-term inequality and stable
To understand the relationship between short- and long-term inequality and mobility,
consider this simple example.
There are only two types of people, the have-nots, whose jobs pay $20,000 a
year, and the haves, whose jobs pay $40,000 a year. The population is equally
divided in any given year, but from year to year, 20 percent of workers change types. In
any one year, the haves have twice as much income as the
But over a longer period (say, two years), 20 percent of the haves will have
been have-nots for part of the time. Thus the average annual income for the
haves is $38,000 over two years; for the have-nots it is $22,000.
As a result, the haves have about 75 percent more income than the
have-nots when inequality is measured over the longer term, illustrating that
mobility reduces long-term inequality relative to inequality in a single year.
C. Long-term inequality in the context of increasing short-term inequality and stable
mobility. Using the same example, consider what happens if short-term inequality
increases. In year two, the haves now earn $50,000 a year and the
have-nots earn $10,000. Keeping mobility constant at 20 percent for both
groups, we find that average annual income for the haves is $43,000; for the
have-nots it is $17,000. As a result, the haves have about 2.5
times the average annual income of the have-nots.
Thus, the increase in short-term inequality results in an increase in long-term inequality
even with constant mobility. While mobility does reduce long-term inequality relative to
inequality measured in a single year, increases in single year inequality imply increases
in long-term inequality even if mobility rates remain constant. In fact, mobility rates
have to rise to offset the long-term effects of rising short-term inequality.
D. Implications of rising short-term inequality for mobility. Rising short-term inequality
does not necessarily have any effect on mobility.
Some might assert that if the rungs of the ladder are moving farther apart,
mobility must be falling, but it really depends on why inequality is increasing (and in a
narrower, technical sense, how inequality and mobility are measured). For example, imagine
that the haves in our example have high technology jobs and the
have-nots have manual labor jobs, but the sorting across jobs is random. If
technological change causes tech jobs to be even higher paying and manual jobs to be even
lower paying, income inequality will increase; but the chance that a laborer will land a
tech job and that a tech worker will fall into a manual labor job remains constant.
Of course, if the have-nots lack the skills necessary to shift into the now
more demanding tech jobs held by the haves, then mobility rates could drop
along with rising inequality. The important point is that rising inequality does not
necessarily imply a change in mobility.
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Passing Social Mobility In Film And Popular Culture
Mobility In Europe
and Social Mobility in America
Mobility and American Social Policy
Social Mobility and Public Policy
as an Engine for Social Mobility
Structure and Social Mobility
Social Mobility of Women
and Social Captial
Mobility and Modernization
Mobility in a Changing World
Mobility and Class Structure in Britain
Approach to Social Mobility
Life Chances And Social Mobility
Intergenerational mobility, class mobility
and social mobility