Social Mobility:

Individuals are recognized in society through the statuses they occupy and the roles they enact. The society as well as individuals is dynamic. Men are normally engaged in endless endeavor to enhance their statuses in society, move from lower position to higher position, secure superior job from an inferior one. For various reasons people of the higher status and position may be forced to come down to a lower status and position. Thus people in society continue to move up and down the status scale. This movement is called social mobility. The study of social mobility is an important aspect of social stratification. In fact it is an inseparable aspect of social stratification system because the nature, form, range and degree of social mobility depends on the very nature of stratification system. Stratification system refers to the process of placing individuals in different layers or strata.

  1. According to Wallace and Wallace social mobility is the movement of a person or persons from one social status to another.W.P Scott has defined sociology as the movement of an individual or group from one
  2. In Other words, Social mobility is movement across the social structure. Concept of social mobility is classically defined by Pitrim A. Sorokin. According to Sorokin, the shift of position may be undertaken by an individual or social object or value. That is to say, anything that has been created or modified by human activity can experience social mobility. Social mobility is the reorganization of gradation in a society. The gradation is normally done in terms of power, prestige and privileges. That is to say, a hierarchical structure operates in such societies.

The closed system:

The closed system emphasizes the associative character of the hierarchy. It justifies the inequality
in the distribution of means of production status symbols and power positions and discourages any
attempt to change them. Any attempt to bring about changes in such a system or to promote mobility is permanently suppressed. In closed system individuals are assigned their place in the social structure on the basis of ascriptive criteria like age, birth, sex. Considerations of functional suitability or ideological
notions of equality of opportunity are irrelevant in deciding the positions of individuals to different

Open system:

In the OPEN SYSTEM the norms prescribed and encourage mobility. There are independent principles of ranking like status, class and power. In an open system individuals are assigned to different positions in the social structure on the basis of their merit or achievement. Open systems mobility is generally characterized with occupational diversity, a flexible hierarchy, differentiated social structure and rapidity of change. In such systems the hold of ascription based corporate groups like caste, kinship or extended family etc declines. The dominant values in such a system emphasize on equality and freedom of the individual and on change and innovation For example caste system in India provides little scope for social mobility. By comparison, social class, system of stratification, in industrial societies provides immense scope for social mobility.

In Broader perspective there are four forms of social stratification having specific patterns of social mobility.

  1. Slavery system: Mobility was possible only in two ways – through manumission and through rebellion. In manumission was a practice where by a slave was unconditionally released from the stating of slavery. Becoming rebellion a slave could and his sufferings by placing to country side or becoming pending. So there was unique pattern of social mobility in slavery system.
  2. Estate system: Mobility was possible through the act of grace the monarch. He could bestow a person in rank of mobility. Other avenue of mobility was occupational guild. Sometimes emperor adds new loyal supporters by bestowing position of high rank, this results in social mobility. Marriage also was an important avenue of social mobility in estate system especially for women.
  3. Caste system: is an example of closed stratification system where an individual’s position is largelyascribed. Often it is fixed at birth and there is little he can do to change his status. There is little scope of social mobility. Though avenues are available for social mobility:
    • Flexibility in the political system.
    • Availability of land cultivation.
    • Sanskritisation.
    • Hypergamy.
      • Normatively caste system has following characteristics :
        • Proscribes mobility;
        • Membership of caste: Ascriptive, based on birth;
        • Legitimized by Karma theory (because of bad Karma in previous birth-low birth);
        • Strict endogamy.
  4. Class system: is an example of open system of stratification. It offers numerous opportunities for mobility. Persons are placed class hierarchy primarily on the basis of their achievement. So achievement is the most imp avenue of social mobility in class system.
    • In Class based societies :
      • Membership depends on achievement.
      • Norms envisage mobility.
      • Equality of opportunity.
      • Open model of mobility.

Some barriers and restrictions to mobility is still there in Class system alsoe.g. in America, no Negro has become the President of America, though egalitarianism is emphasized. Most of the high ranking positions in corporate sector are held by men. The rate of social mobility may have an important effect on class formation. For example, Anthony Giddens suggests that if the rate of social mobility is low, class solidarity and cohesion will be high. Most individuals will remain in their class of origin and this will ‘provide for the reproduction of common life experiences over generations’.

Lipset emphasize that rate of social mobility displays basic similarity across industrial societies. According of them, among industrial societies, no association is apparent between mobility rates and rate of economic growth. Social mobility becomes relatively high once their industrialization reaches a certain level.

Types of mobility:

Horizontal And Vertical Social Mobility:

  1. A distinction is made between horizontal and vertical social mobility. The former refers to change of occupational position or role of an individual or a group without involving any change in its position in the social hierarchy, the latter refers essentially to changes in the position of an individual or a group along the social hierarchy. When a rural laborer comes to the city and becomes an industrial worker or a manager takes a position in another company there are no significant changes in their position in the hierarchy. Those are the examples of horizontal mobility. Horizontal mobility is a change in position without the change in statue. It indicates a change in position within the range of the same status.
  2. It is a movement from one status to its equalivalent. But if an industrial worker becomes a businessman or lawyer he has radically changed his position in the stratification system. This is an example of vertical mobility. Vertical mobility refers to a movement of an individual or people or groups from one status to another. It involves change within the lifetime of an individual to a higher or lower status than the person had to begin with.
Forms Of Vertical Social Mobility:
  • The vertical mobility can take place in two ways – individuals and groups may improve their position in the hierarchy by moving upwards or their position might worsen and they may fall down the hierarchy. When individuals get into seats of political position; acquire money and exert influence over others because of their new status they are said to have achieved individual mobility. Like individuals even groups also attain high social mobility. When a dalit from a village becomes an important official it is a case of upward mobility. On the other hand an aristocrat or a member of an upper class may be dispossessed of his wealth and he is forced to enter a manual occupation. This is an example of downward mobility.
Inter-Generational Social Mobility

Time factor is an important element in social mobility. On the basis of the time factor involved in social
mobility there is another type of inter-generational mobility. It is a change in status from that which a child began within the parents, household to that of the child upon reaching adulthood. It refers to a change in the status of family members from one generation to the next. For example a farmer’s son becoming an officer. It is important because the amount of this mobility in a society tells us to what extent inequalities are passed on from one generation to the next. If there is very little inter-generational mobility .inequality is clearly deeply built into the society for people’ life chances are being determined at the moment of birth. When there is a mobility people are clearly able to achieve new statuses through their own efforts, regardless of the circumstances of their birth.

Intra-Generational Mobility
  • Mobility taking place in personal terms within the lifespan of the same person is called intra-generational mobility. It refers to the advancement in one’s social level during the course of one’s lifetime. It may also be understood as a change in social status which occurs within a person’s adult career. For example a person working as a supervisor in a factory becoming its assistant manager after getting promotion.
Structural mobility:
  • Structural mobility is a kind of vertical mobility. Structural mobility refers to mobility which is brought about by changes in stratification hierarchy itself. It is a vertical movement of a specific group, class or occupation relative to others in the stratification system. It is a type of forced mobility for it takes place because of the structural changes and not because of individual attempts. For example historical circumstances or labor market changes may lead to the rise of decline of an occupational group within the social hierarchy. An influx of immigrants may also alter class alignments -especially if the new arrivals are disproportionately highly skilled or unskilled.

Apart from this there have been other ways through which sociologists have frequently difference the social mobility.

  1. Firstly, its’ absolute- vs- relative social mobility. Absolute Social Mobility is the actual change in position that occurs whereas relative social mobility is judged in comparison to others.
  2. Secondly, objective and subjective social mobility. Objective social mobility is actual change in terms of objective criteria whereas subjective social mobility is individual’s own or other’s perception about social mobility.
  3. Structural vs. Circulation Mobility: Structural social mobility is the mobility of people who are already part of occupational structure. By virtue of change in technology, skills, education, policy such people become socially mobile. On the other hand, there are people who are outside the social structural when such people enter into occupation it is referred to as circulation mobility.
  4. Sponsored Vs. Contested – R.H. Turner, Sponsored social mobility is one which a person acquires due to some policy decision, e.g. policy of reservation is known as sponsored social mobility. On the other hand, contested mobility is one based on open competition.

Mobility in India-through time:

During Rig Vedic period: There was no restriction on mobility. Ranking was on the basis of merit e.g. those
good at learning (Brahma) were called as Brahmins. On the basis of Military called as Rajanya.

During Mughal’s rule, it was not fully closed; e.g. rise of Rajputs-actually Sakas and Huns tribes from Central Asia came to acquire political power and acquired title of Rajputs. Kayasthas took to service of Mughal emperors, became court scribes. Marathas political mobilization of Kunbis; later on acquired Kshatriya lifestyle. Artisans moved to urban areas and acquired wealth and became Vaishyas.

Sources and causes of mobility:

There are certain primary factors that affect mobility in all societies, and secondary factors that are specific to particular societies at particular times. These factors include:

  1. The mobility of parents and children.
  2. The faulty distribution of individual in social position.
  3. The change of the environment.
  4. Birth rate of higher group is lower than that of lower groups.
  5. Loss of lives in the war, necessitating a high, degree of mobility.
  6. Rapid industrialization.
  7. Migration

Social mobility is a product of social change and also it initiates social change Social Mobility in different

  1. Till Horticulture, there existed ranked societies, and not stratified. In agriculture, due to surplus productioninequality started crystallizing. People felt relative deprivation which led to social movement.
  2. Irrigated agriculture: Disparity increase; centralization of power increases and allocation of position is on ascriptive basis.
  3. Industrial society: Skills start becoming specialized. Formal education develops; economy becomes de-linked to domestic unit. The amount of movement from one stratum to another-is significantly higher in industrial as compared to pre-industrial societies. Industrial societies are therefore described as ‘open’, as having a relatively low degree of ‘closure’.
  4. In particular, it is argued that status in pre-industrial societies is largely ascribed whereas in industrial societies, it is increasingly achieved. Advanced industrial society. So, mobility is a product of social change.

Other Factors Responsible For Mobility :

  1. Personal talent : Gifted individuals acquire mobility in their respective society. Simple societies-military skills are valued. So, those high in this, gain mobility. Trend continues in Industrial society. By sheer individual talent, mobility at individual level can be achieved. But such cases are exceptions rather than the rule. For mobility to take place on a sizable scale, structural change should be there in society.
  2. Industrialization and Urbanization : one of determinants of social mobility. There is expansion and diversification of occupation in Pre-industrial society. Diversity of occupational opportunities leads to economic growth. Economic growth is significant factor in increasing mobility. Sustained eco growth results in expansion of tertiary sector. It is not eco growth per se which makes significant impact; it should be accompanied with rapid expansion of education. India: Jobless growth in 1990s. Growth was in areas with specialized skills. So capital intensive growth did not make significant improvement in quality of life of population.
  3. Politicization/Democratization : Gives access to political power opportunity to gain power. It can be used for further eco power and prestige. Social changes in these directions contribute to mobility. Mobility can be seen as an index of modernization=-eco develop and politicization.
City and village: Continuity And Change In Social Mobility
  1. More striking than new opportunities for group mobility within the traditional status hierarchy has been the appearance in recent decades of new status hierarchies-new arenas for status competition. They have emerged from the impact of urbanization and westernization but are not independent of the traditional social organization in which they are based.
  2. Urbanism is nothing new in India but rapid urbanization is new. The emergency of industrial employment, of easy communication over long distances, of increasingly efficient distribution of goods and services and of more effective centralized administration has made urban living a more accessible alternative to more people in India than ever before.
  3. Urban life affords a measure of independence from the ties and constraints of membership in rural based social groups by granting a degree of individual anonymity and mobility quite unattainable in rural communities.Caste, religion, ritual, tradition and the social controls implicit therein are not as rigid or pervasive in the city. People are increasingly able to seek status and other rewards on an individual or small family basis largely independent of caste or the other larger social entities of which they are also a part. They do this primarily by going to the city although the values of the city also extend into the country-side and have loosened the hold of tradition even there.
  4. To a great extent urban Indians can achieve status as a result of behaviors and attributes rather than simply as a result of birth. According to Harold Gould industrialization brought about the transfer of specialized occupations of all kinds from the context of the kin groups to factories organized on bureaucratic principles. This meant that occupational role and role occupant would be in principle separated and that the preponderant criteria for determining occupations would be performance qualities and that economic rewards and social mobility would constitute the principle standards for evaluating the worth or the status of any given role.
  5. Traditional status -caste status does not disappear in the city. It remains important in the most private contexts; the family and neighborhood. Some neighborhoods essentially reproduce the village setting in personnel as well as social structure; others do not.
  6. A very large proportion of city dwellers are in close touch with their native villages. Tradition and ascription are important in the city in those relationships upon which the day to day functioning and future composition of the family depends of which the epitome is marriage. In the city primary relationships occupy a diminishing proportion of most people’s time, attention and energies. Much of the individual’s interaction takes place on the basis of particular or even fragmented roles. He can often behave in a way consistent with the requirements of the situation without reference to his group membership. He is even able to pass if that is his desire by learning the superficial symbols of the status such as that of white collar worker, student, middle class householder or professional. In these statuses skill in handling the language, in pursuing the occupation or success in acquiring money or an appropriate life style may be socially recognized and rewarded irrespective of caste and family.
  7. Contemporary urban life has available more means to mobility and suggests to those who seek it a greater likelihood of success that the highly structured closely controlled traditional village setting. Mobility occurs in all settings. Some low status groups have been victims of technological displacement with the result that their economic, political and social statuses have declined. They drift either into the status of rural landless laborers or into unskilled urban employment, both of which are overpopulated and underpaid. The result is underemployment, unemployment, poverty and lack of opportunity for improvement. For examples: water carriers comprise a caste whose members have been displaced in many parts of Northern India with the advent of handpumps.In some instances new occupations have been created and with them opportunities for enhancement of economic and social status thus allowing certain mobility.
Consequences of Mobility :
  1. High mobility adds to social cohesion because there were no class wars in America as social structure was open. Europe had a rigid social structure and the class inequality was far more pronounced.
  2. Frank Parkin has seen the relatively high rate of upward mobility as a ‘political safety-valve’. It provides opportunities for many able and ambitious members of the working class to improve their situation. As a result, the frustration which might result, if opportunities for upward mobility were absent, is prevented from developing.
  3. Greater innovation, creativity and productivity. Thus, people who are upwardly mobile are more efficient. It hastens eco growth.
  4. Anomie of infinite aspiration, illegitimate means are used to climb up the ladder by people with achievement motivation.
  5. Weakens kinship ties. Suicide rate increases.

Case Studies for quality improvement of answers

  1. Fox and Miller studied 12 industrial nations. He found that moving from Blue collars jobs to – white collar jobs, is the basis of assessing mobility. Those countries which registered a sustained high growth in economy, accompanied with increase in school enrolment, increase in urbanization and also political stability, experienced highest rate of mobility. But it was only confined to those sections which had high achievement motivation.
  2. A study by Willmott and Yong conducted in 1970, in the London areas, included a sample of 174 managing directors. It revealed that 83% were the sons of professionals and managers. A survey by Stanworth and Giddens designed to investigate the social origins of company chairman revealed a high degree of elite selfrecruitment.
  3. A study by Halse and Crewe shows that in 1967, only 17% of the higher administrative grades in the civil service were filled with individuals from manual working-class backgrounds.
  4. The Oxford study, while showing a relatively high rate of mobility into class 1, does not indicate the degree of elite self-recruitment. Firstly, there is considerable change in the occupational structure. For each succeeding generation, there are more white-collar and fewer blue-collar jobs available. This helps to account for, the finding of the oxford study, that upward mobility considerably exceeds downward mobility. Secondly, manual and non-manual fertility rates differ. In particular, working-class fathers have generally had more children than middle-class fathers. Recruitment from lower strata was essential to fill those positions. Thirdly, many sociologists have argued that occupational status in industrial society is increasingly achieved on the basis of merit. Jobs are allocated in terms of talent and ability rather than through family and friendship connections. Education is seen to play a key part in this process.
  5. Educational opportunities are increasingly available to all young people, no matter what their social background; the result is a more open society and a higher rate of social mobility. The nature and extent of social mobility, in Western industrial societies, pose a number of questions concerning class formation and class conflict. Marx believed that a high rate of social mobility would tend to weaken class solidarity.
  6. Peter Saunders-Longitudinal study: same sample studied over a long period of time. National child survey data was used. He collected 17,414 children sample; born in 1958 and monitored their progress through records till 1991. Among these, 6795 were in full time employment and he located them. He used Goldthorpe model. He found that 52% was Inter-generational mobility; so majority is moving up, society is meritocratic. He concedes that men with service class fathers were 2.6 times more likely to be in service class than those in working class; so beginning did matter. But moving towards a more meritocratic society, merit and class position are getting linked more. It was challenged by Savage and Egerton. National Child development survey sample was used. 40% of intermediate class children were themselves in service class. 25% of children with parents in working class were themselves in working class. It shows that class matters and questions the ability criterion. Among high ability children, school performance is the result of family background and upbringing matters.
  7. Among meritorious those who scored high, 75.5% of high ability students from service class joined service class (Both parents+high ability). High ability students from working class-only 45% joined service class (class inequality). The6refore, class background matters. Society is not wholly meritocratic.
  8. Ralf Dahrendorf believes that the situation has arrived in modern western societies, where, there are considerable opportunities for individual advancement. There is therefore less need for people to join together as members of a social class, in order to improve their situation. In Dahrendorf’s words, ‘Instead of advancing their claims as members of homogeneous groups, people are more likely to compete with each other as individuals for a place in the sun’. ‘Although mobility diminishes the coherence of groups as well as the intensity of class conflict, it does not eliminate either’.

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Riya Singh

Thank you..