What is Upward Mobility: Meaning, Types and Examples

Our society is often divided into various social strata. Upward mobility refers to the movement of individuals, families, or any other categories of people from one social level or stratum to a higher one. Due to this movement, the social status of people involved in the movement, improve along with the change in their social location. They rise to a position of increased power and status.

Upward mobility only takes place in societies with open system of stratification. An open system of social stratification can be understood as the system where ascribed status is not the only measure through which membership in social strata can be gained. Some value is also given to the achieved status and using their achievements the people can move from one stratum to another. When the people fall from their own stratum to a lower one, it is called downward mobility. Whereas, when this movement is in the upward direction, it is known as the upward mobility.

With upward mobility people experience the privileges they could have before. Their economic conditions develop as well. It occurs mostly in societies that preach the ideology of equality of opportunity and the societies that value merit and aptitude. In such societies, no matter how the family background is or from where an individual belongs, if he possesses merits or has achieved something, he can easily move upwards in the social hierarchical structure. For example, if a man belongs from the slum area, born to parents who work for others, but still manages to graduate and get a good job, he can easily gain himself a higher social position than what his parents had.

Upward mobility is of two types: intragenerational and intergenerational mobility. When mobility occurs within a generation, it is called intragenerational mobility. Their status or social position might improve within the course of their own careers. For example, a person may at first own only a small shop, but later by investing his savings into various ventures he might start earning more and later become a more successful businessman. On the other hand, when it occurs across generations, it is known as intergenerational upward mobility. Intergenerational mobility indicates the extent to which a society can be seen as being open or fluid. Class inequality limits the upward mobility in a society.

Social mobility can be measured in surveys by the application of a variety of methods. Social scientists measure upward mobility by deciding on a measure of economic wellbeing or status. Such measures might include wealth, income, educational qualification, occupational practice, social class, or prestige. According to economists, the stronger the association between the income of fathers and sons, the higher the rate of upward mobility, whereas, a weak association means a lower degree of upward mobility. Another measure is by studying one’s original class or occupation and the final class or occupation. Its rate varies across space and time. It also varies substantially across different social groups within countries.