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Social mobility

The movement – usually of individuals but sometimes of whole groups –

between different positions within the system of social stratification in any
society. It is conventional to distinguish upward and downward mobility (that
is, movement up or down a hierarchy of privilege), and intergenerational
from intragenerational or career mobility (the former referring to mobility
between a family of origin and one’s own class or status position, the latter
to the mobility experienced during an individual career, such as respondent’s
first job compared to his or her present job). Other distinctions – most notably
that between structural and non-structural mobility – are more contentious.


1. Social Mobility Provides Opportunity for the Expression of Individual Talents:

As P.M. Blau and O.D. Duncan have pointed out social mobility makes it evident that a talented
individual is bound to achieve “social ascendance” by means of his talents and efforts
irrespective of the stratum to which he belongs.
According to them, social mobility becomes inevitable if the most important functions of the
society are to be performed by the most capable persons.

2. Acts as a Safety-Valve:
According to S.M. Upset and R. Bendix, providing opportunity for social mobility virtually means
creating a ‘safety-valve’ to escape from the dangers. Since the lower classes are provided with
an open chance to enhance their social statuses or to enter into the status- positions of other
upper class people by means of their performances; they do not normally organise themselves
to dislodge the upper-class people of their statuses. Social mobility becomes inevitable and
essential from this point of view.

3. Social Justice:
D. V. Glass and others have felt that providing equal chances or opportunities for social mobility
for all social classes is a democratic commitment. According to them, a democratic society has
to depend upon “an eagalitarian opportunity structure “.

4. Job Satisfaction:
Most of the instances of social mobility are occupational in character. In the traditional societies
[for example, traditional caste society] occupations are normally hereditary in character and
hence children are obliged to follow the occupations of their parents whether they have a liking
for it or not. Now in modern industrial society things are different.

People need not stick on to their parental occupations. They have a vast opportunity and
freedom to change their occupations. This opportunity for job selection or change has
contributed to their job satisfaction.

5. Improvements in the Life-Styles:

A person who gets into an occupation or profession as per his capacities and expectations is
likely to be more satisfied with it. For the very same reason, he may work sincerely, put in more
efforts and earn good income also. This higher income or economic rewards help him to
improve his “life-styles”.

6. Opportunity for Competition:

Social mobility is of great importance in helping individuals to improve their capacity and work-
efficiency. It provides motivations for progress and higher attain-ments. It makes individuals
active, alert and dynamic.

7. Reposes Confidence in the Established System:

Average individuals of all types of societies expect some chances or the other to improve their
positions. People in the higher strata also expect still better opportunities. Individuals, who feel
that their social system is providing them opportunities to grow well, are the ones who toil and
struggle for improvement.

(B) Negative Consequences or Costs of Mobility:

1. Rising Expectation Leading to Dissatisfaction and Frustration:

Upward mobility is not always advantageous for a society.. A mobile society arouses
expectations which are not always fulfilled, thereby creating dissatisfaction and unhappiness.
Even in societies where upward mobility is both valued and highly visible, expectations may be
over aroused. Although many want to be upwardly mobile, not everyone can succeed.

2. An Open Class Society Or A Mobile Society May Impose Penalties Also:

An open class society may be desirable from the viewpoint of both society and the individual,
but it still may impose some penalties. These penalties may include – “the fear of falling in
status as in downward mobility; the strain of new role learning’s in occupational promotions; the
disruption of primary group relationships as one moves upward and onward.”
One who moves higher and higher in social status as a result of promotion may feel less and
less secure. Since terrorism of different type is becoming widespread now days, people in top
positions [in politics, business or administration] seek the support of security guards for they feel
that they may be attacked at any time.

3. Social Mobility Often Demands Geographic Mobility:

People are often made to move from one geographic area to another if they are to accept new
prospects in life. This results in “a painful loss of treasured social ties.” Further, new physical
and social set up demands new adjustments. These adjustments may often bring in new fears
and anxieties. Such anxieties and tensions are bound to be very high especially at present
when the whole world is experiencing the complex process of globalisation.

4. High Rate of Mental Illness is Associated with Mobility:

An offer of promotion is normally associated with the burden of new responsibilities. One who is
ready to accept such offers must be mentally ready to shoulder new responsibilities, face new
challenges, and compromise with new situations. Any failure in these areas brings tensions,
anxieties, mental worries.

Upward mobility is linked with upwardly mobile person who exhibits more prejudice against low-
status people than do non-mobile individuals at the same level. Some studies have even found
that a high rate of mental illness may accompany either upward or downward mobility.

Downward Mobility Also Creates Mental Disturbances:

Mental anxiety and tension also goes with downward mobility. In fact, a number of studies have
reported that downward mobility is associated with many unpleasant accompaniments, such as
poor health, marital discord and feelings of alienation and social distance. But these studies
have not properly identified the cause and effect relationship.
Such unpleasant developments could be either a cause or an effect of downward mobility.