One cannot neglect the fact that unequal relationships help to reproduce inequalities in health, accessibility to a variety of resources and different social involvements overtime. To better understand this notion, the study of social mobility envisages the extent of movement between unequal positions and how it affects the social structure. Also, many theorists believe that when it comes to testing the persistence of inequality the study of the extent of social mobility holds great importance as more mobility between generations or over the span of life is always associated with the less durable inequalities seen.
Social mobility and how it affects inequalities.
The study of social mobility is important when it comes to class analysis because of the evidence it entails on the formation of classes and openness of society –the concept that groups who experience continuity o inequality are more susceptible to perceive that inequality and correspondingly act on them. It is quite difficult to understand the reproduction of inequality due to extensive and accelerated social changes which majority of the western industries societies have undergone in all these years.
Theorists believe that partly because of extensive social changes, total levels of mobility is high in such societies. According to liberal theorists, they always associate higher mobility with less enduring inequality, therefore, terming industrial societies as ‘more open’. The aforementioned view is however rejected by the class theorists who believe that relative inequality persists between generations, even when there is a large amount of mobility and movements and stress the continuity of inequality. The main question which arises amidst all this is for how long the social changes can be entertained on the accounts of inequality given that such changes modify the social meaning of unequal social locations.
Pitirum, one of the pioneers of mobility analysis, defined it is as shifting o people in social space, focusing on its consequences in ‘social metabolism’ and how movement affects relations of social groups differently located in the social structure. Our understanding of social movement entirely depends on how we view the ‘social space’ within which movement occurs, along with understanding that movement is widespread and any view of stratification as the straightforward social inheritance should not be accepted but if the persistence of inequality resides in unequal pattern of movement we have to find out how inequality is being experienced and perceived by different people of varied social structure.
One of the conventional ways of measuring the mobility is first defining a structure of inequality and then exploring the patterns of movement within it. For example, the class tradition mainly analyses the movements between fixed class categories in order to know how it affects the formation of the distinct social group. According to it, low levels of mobility between categories results from the formation of fixed social groups with low social mixing and high intergenerational stability, whereas high mobility among this groups leads to fading away of such divisions.
On the other hand, the status attainment tradition looks at various factors which impacts how high an individual rises in finely graded social scale. Here, the major emphasis is on the relative importance of social background versus individual accomplishments which are taken as factors for success. This also gets associated with the concern of social equity which is seen by class theorists from the viewpoint of class formation and asserting that equity reduces social resentment and also minimizes the possibility of distinct class groups, thus indicating that genuine open society has the serious reduction of class formation in sense of individuals and families. Both the approaches are concerned with passing on and reproduction of patterns of advantages over time and they mainly comprises of two components- intergenerational mobility where family’s social position is handed on to subsequent generations and intra-generational mobility where individuals experience a change in their social situation over the course of their inequality. One can therefore understand that status attainment approach is mainly to find mobility whereas in class approaches is focused on immobility, also there exists great importance of movement in defining the significance of structural inequality.
If we go on understanding the social formations we will find that from class perspectives, limited social movement leads to continuity of inequality and formation of social groups. Majorly, mobility flows between groups consists of two aspects- outflow mobility from an origin class and inflow mobility into a destination class. The combination of different class patterns of outflow and inflow mobility key factor in ‘the degree to which they have formed collectivities of individuals and households as through continuity of their association with particular sets of class positions over time.(Erikson and Goldthorpe,1992).
One of the classic study of British (male) social mobility, the oxford mobility study, found different classes had very different patterns of inflow and outflow mobility (Goldthorpe et al). It was found that the service class (professional and managerial works) had low homogeneity, but high holding power (high inflow, but low outflow) whereas the working class (unskilled and semi-skilled manual workers) had lower retentiveness but high homogeneity (high outflow, but low inflow). Glodthorpe concluded that it is the only working class which is self recruiting and had a clear “demographic identity” over the span of time that would result in socio-political action. However, this statement of Glodthorpe was rejected by Savage who supported the view that is no demographically coherent working class and argued that high outflow mobility is giving less consideration to class coherence. In the Oxford mobility study, it was found that only 43 per cent of a son of working class fathers were mobile out of working class and the figures have increased over time.
Social mobility in the majority of the western industrial societies was quite high both for men and women according to Savage. The cross national class research which was undertaken by Erikson and Goldthorpe in1992 and it was observed that there was vertical social mobility in countries such as England and Wales where 50 per cent sons were indulged in different class whereas 32 per cent were upwardly mobile, in Ireland which hold the least mobility in study, brought out the figure of 39 per cent sons who were vertically mobile. However, Payne in his studies put forward that the male mobility has increased with the similar amount of female mobility but due to under research and tendencies of women to be employed in a female form of work in those days is has not been much analyzed. Also, mobility analysis becomes quite hefty when it comes to the daughter-father relationship in view of comparing mobility in occupation as compared to son-father, as they more likely to be downwardly mobile than their fathers.
Overall, the series of cross national studies show that over the 20th century both men and women had experienced large amounts of social mobility and therefore the total levels of mobility had increased manifolds and have resulted in various implications for the fairness of society. It can also be said that because of the structural changes (expansion of mobile level jobs and reduction in manual jobs), reduction in agricultural occupations and rapid industrial growth has led to increased rate of mobility as children are facing a very different opportunities as compared to their parents and therefore large number of them are opting different and better social positions than their parents.
The same pattern is observed when it comes to class differentials and growth of education and expansion of educational opportunities. According to Blossfeld and Shovet, the greater access to education is not necessarily reflected in a reduction in class-based inequalities thus rescinding the notion that average level of education attainment has risen successfully and have resulted in maintaining more equality in societies. Also, the relative proportion of working class to middle class university students has remained largely unchanged. In spite of it, one cannot totally outlaw the existence of class differences in educational achievement as working class children perform much worse in school and face the greater number of hurdles while attaining academic success which range from material deprivation to poorer cultural capital.
The emphasis on the relative access to opportunities suggests ‘constant social fluidity’ with class differentials still persistent in the face of improvement prospective for everyone. It shows that society has not become more open and that the structural inequalities still contribute major portion to people’s lives, which is countered by Saunders who believe that emphasis on relative chances ignores the impact of absolute mobility on people lives as it is not expedient to assume that ‘if everybody has gained, nothing really has changed’. It is exigent to know that social movements affects the meaning of structural locations as shifts in the pattern of movement between occupation position changes the individual experiences of having those eminent positions regardless whether or not the occupants are mobile.
However, one should understand that even if the group has increased their standard of living, yet there is a possibility that they are in same relative positions as earlier within the social hierarchy, so that the order of the perks they are receiving remains unchanged. Such cases makes it mandatory to use a longer frame to explore such progress, as there exists long-term shifts in the meaning of occupational categories, along with comparing social location over the long term, therefore focusing on the social reproduction where inheritance is not due to relative position within social hierarchy, but is result of social mobility.
Bottero, Wendy. Stratification. london: Routledge,2005. Chapter 12. Pp 205-223
By Sifa Singh