What is Social Mobility

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Social Mobility is a concept widely used in the discipline of Sociology.

Definitions of Social Mobility

‘Social mobility is generally defined as the movement of people from one social class to another.’

John Macionis has defined social mobility as ‘a change in one’s position in the social hierarchy’.

Similarly, according to R.T. Schaefer, “Social Mobility is a movement of individuals or groups from one position of a society’s stratification system to another”.

An Overview

In any society, people are divided into different classes or strata, i.e. belonging to the elite class, the middle class, or the lower class of society. Social mobility is the movement of people from one class of society to the other class. For example, a person belonging to the middle class moves to the elite class of the society on the basis of different factors, like education, job, new relations, etc.


Different Types of Social Mobility

Territorial Mobility – Change in place

Territorial social mobility is the change in locality or territory – when an individual moves from one place to another place, this is called territorial mobility. Territorial social mobility is common in urban areas as compared to rural areas in any society.

Horizontal Mobility – No change in status

Horizontal social mobility is defined as a movement from one position to another within the same social level, as changing jobs without altering occupational status, or moving between social groups having the same social status, i.e. getting the same clerical job in another department of the same organization.

Vertical Mobility – Change in status

Vertical social mobility is defined as a movement of individuals or groups to positions in society that involve a change in class, status, and power. For example, getting allocation in civil services directly from a college teacher changes one status from the middle class to the elite class.

Intergenerational Mobility – Change after a generation

Intergenerational mobility is a measure of the change of the social status or class of individuals as compared to their parents. For example, the father is a farmer while the son gets the job of Assistant Director in some government organization.

Intra-generational Mobility – Change during one’s life span

Intra-generational social mobility is the movement of a specific individual from one social status or class to another within his or her lifetime. For example, born in a lower-class poor family and becomes an Army officer.

Occupational Mobility – Change in occupation/profession

In simple terms, occupational social mobility refers to changes in individual occupational status.


Factors that Determine Social Mobility

There are numerous factors that influence social mobility. 

For example, education plays a key role in the upward social mobility of an individual. An individual from a lower class or lower middle class of society can move upward through education and getting a good job. 

Similarly, in today’s era, the wide-spread availability and infusion of the internet and information and communication technology have given way to upward/vertical social mobility of individuals in a society. 

Moreover, a person’s social status can also change through marriage and new relations.

On contrary, overt discrimination against different genders, racial and ethnic minorities in society seriously limit upward mobility.

Apart, many social and economic conditions also influence social mobility. 

For example, in a liberal or democratic society, the social mobility factor is more feasible than in a religiously conservative society. 

Also, the economic conditions of a society heavily influence social mobility. 

Societies with a weak economy cannot uplift the living standards of individuals. 

On the other hand, strong economies help their people in upward social mobility. For example, more than 850 million Chinese people have been lifted out of extreme poverty with their vertical social mobility.

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