Social Mobility Defined:
“Social mobility refers to movement of individuals or groups from one position of a society’s stratification system to another”.
(Sociology by Schafer)
The amount of mobility varies from one society to another. Generally there is more mobility in the industrialized societies than backward societies. The more social mobility there is in a society, the more open its stratification system is.
Social Mobility can take Several Forms:
Vertical Mobility involves moving up or down the status ladders. The upward movement is called upwards mobility and downward movement, downward mobility. The promotion of a teacher to principal is upward mobility, while demotion from principal to teacher is downward mobility.
Horizontal Mobility is movement from one status to another of the same rank or from one job to another within the same status category. If a teacher leaves one school for the same position at another, the teacher is experiencing horizontal mobility.
Intra-generational Mobility involves a change in status (horizontal or vertical) during a person career, while Inter-generational Mobility involves changes (Horizontal or vertical) in the social status of children relative to their parents.
A manager who becomes the vice president of a company illustrates intra-generational mobility (or career mobility). If an orderly’s son becomes Inspector General of police this is inter-generational mobility. In both cases it is upward. If a man who becomes a taxicab driver after his company goes bankrupt undergoes downward intra-generational mobility. A plumber whose father was a judge is an example of downward inter-generational mobility. The extent of social mobility in a society is determined by two factors. The numbers of statuses that are available and the case with which people can move from one status to another.
The more statuses there are, the greater the chances for people to achieve mobility. Pre-industrial societies have far fewer statues than industrial societies consequently they have little social mobility. In feudal Europe e.g., most people were peasants, and the number of high status positions was very limited (like lord or bishop). Since there were few high statuses for people of low status to more into; there could be virtually no upward mobility.
Industrial societies, on the other hand, contain array of different statuses. They therefore, offer a good deal of social mobility. In times of recession e.g., the proportion of high statues positions decreases while that of lower-status positions increases. This results in downward trend of mobility, as people lose their jobs and are unable to find employment of the kind that their family background education have prepared them to expect. In a rapidly expanding economy, on the other hand, the demand for workers to fill new high statues positions causes a general upward trend in social mobility. The long-term tendency in industrial societies has been award an increase in the proportion of upper status positions leading to the growth of a large middle class whose members had origins in the lower strata.
The second factor affecting social mobility is the ease with which people can become mobile. The more a society’s statuses are ascribed, the less mobility there in likely to be. In industrial societies although the rate of mobility in much high than in preindustrial societies even then people in industrial societies suffer from the effects of ascribed status. In the US the rate of social mobility for most racial minorities is lower than for whites.
Why are some people upwardly mobile while others stay or fall behind? There are two major factors determining the chances for upward or downward mobility.
The mobility that results from changes in the social or economic system rather than from individual personal achievement enabling many people to more up or down the social ladders of the same time is called structural mobility.
Structural mobility is due to
1) advanced industrial development
2) large educational enrollment
3) lower birth rates in the higher classes
4) considerable immigration.
As societies become more industrialized, the low salaried low status jobs that require few skills are slowly eliminated. These are the jobs most easily performed by machines. At the same time more jobs are added at the middle upper levels. In the US, agricultural workers made up nearly 40% of the labour force, but massive industrialization reduced the proportion to any about 4% today.
Upward structural mobility is also due to lower birth rates in the higher classes than in the lower classes. As economy expands, there are more new Professional positions because there is a shortage of higher statues people to fill all those higher status. Jobs it provides the lower classes with an opportunity to take them.
Immigrants usually take lowly jobs as labourers on the farm in factories and in mines pushing up many natural born into higher statues occupations the world’s most prosperous societies Canada, Australia the US have had unusually large number of immigrants.
Furthermore there is a relationship between upward mobility and a society’s form of government. Automatic governments tend to have a negative effect on upward mobility but democracy tends to have position impact.
Even when structural mobility opens up higher status positions some people move up and some do not. This is due to individual mobility, social mobility related to an individual’s personal achievement characteristics.
Among the characteristics that influence individual mobility are racial/ethnic background, gender, education, occupation, place of residence, and sheer luck. E.g., being a female decreases the chances for upward mobility. High educated people are more likely than the uneducated to be upwardly mobile. White collar workers are more likely than blue collar workers to experience upward social mobility. People who live in urban areas have a greater chance of upwards mobilty than those who live in rural areas. Finally, sheer luck often acts as the force pushing a person up the status ladder.
Furthermore both Achieved status (education talent motivation hard work) and Ascribed status (family background, race gender) have a hand in determining social mobility.