||Social mobility, in sociology, is the movement of people between social positions. Lateral mobility is the geographical movement of individuals or groups from one region to another. Vertical mobility is movement up and down a hierarchy of stratification. Those who gain in property, income or status are said to be upwardly mobile, while those who move in the opposite direction are said to be downwardly mobile. Intergenerational mobility compares the present social position of individuals with their parents. Intragenerational mobility compares the position of the same individual at different moments in the course of his or her working life.
A further important distinction made in studies of social mobility is between structural and nonstructural mobility. Structural mobility is movements made possible by changes in the occupational structure in society. Nonstructural mobility is any movement which does not involve such changes.
In sociology, the major focus of study has been on the character of intergenerational mobility within different societies. Different societies have different systems of stratification which will affect social mobility. The amount of vertical mobility in a society is a measure of its â€˜opennessâ€™, this indicates the extent to which individuals will be able to move up and down the socioeconomic ladder. In principle at least, social mobility within a caste system of stratification is impossible as individuals are born into a caste. In modern societies movement is measured in terms of social class which is linked to occupation. It is generally accepted that modern society permits more social mobility than traditional societies though this in part reflects changes in the occupational structure which has witnessed the growth of professional, technical, managerial and clerical occupations and the contraction of manual jobs.
On the whole, sociologists have conceived of social mobility as performing vital social functions. Lipset and Bendix (see below) believed that mobility was essential for the stability of modern industrial society, since open access to Ã©lite positions would allow talented and ambitious people to rise up from lower social levels, acting as a safety valve by reducing the likelihood of revolutionary action by the lower classes. Blau and Duncan have argued that the efficiency of modern society requires mobility if the most able people are to perform the most important jobs.
Many people in modern society believe that it is possible to reach the top if they work hard and persistently enough. Statistics indicate that in reality few succeed. The socioeconomic order is shaped like a pyramid with very few positions of power and wealth at the top. Those in positions of power have many opportunities to perpetuate their advantages and to pass them on to their children. Their children will have the best education enabling them to secure good jobs, and ways are found of passing on their wealth. DA
See also career; division of labour; embourgeoisement thesis; feminism; occupation; power; profession; social closure; social stratification; society; status; structure; urbanism/urbanization; work.Further reading A. Heath, Social Mobility; , S. Lipset and , R. Bendix, Social Mobility in Industrial Society.