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When the topic social mobility arises, we naturally question ourselves: Is it possible to move through the hierarchy of a society? Social mobility is possible to a certain degree in most of the cultures and societies that exist nowadays. My purpose with this paper is to prove that more chances are available in the society we live in and that the term is not just a bedtime story, but an existing and working system. Social mobility is the movement of individuals, groups, families or households between the layers in the open system of social stratification.
This term is used in sociology the most, but it does apply to social history as well. We differentiate two major types of social mobility: vertical and horizontal. Horizontal mobility does not include the movement between social classes, the term is only used if there is a change in the occupation of the individual, it only involves moving within the given social status. On the other hand, vertical mobility is the classical type of social mobility that can be either upward or downward. In the age of capitalism, wealth provides upward movement; a working class person can easily achieve this if he or she owns some kind of social capital, possibly keeping this status and class for further generations, that is called intergenerational mobility. Social mobility can be witnessed by everyone, in most of the modern societies as it is now more likely to be decided by achievements, such as economic position, prestige or sometimes origin(noble ascendants).
However, as mentioned before, in certain cultures or societies, social mobility is still limited or it does not exist. For example, in India the caste system still affects the life of people as you can not move from one layer or another, moreover intermarriage is not allowed either (endogamy) The ability of movement between different layers existed in medieval ages until early modern ages(until around the start of Industrial Revolution) as well. The so-called ’estates’ were used in feudalism where the society consisted of three estates: the clergy (first estate), the nobles (second estate) and later on the peasants (as the third estate).Movement between the layers was already possible, however it was limited to a certain degree and it did not occur very often. Now that I briefly introduced the topic and clarified the main concepts I will move on the main arguments. „Change originates not only from above, but equally from below, through the initiatives of masses of people” (Daniel Bertaux) As Daniel Betaux and Paul Thompson claimed, mobility is influenced by the masses mostly. The two authors also introduced a unique and new approach to social mobility research where they used qualititive methods instead of only statistics. This consisted of interviews, very similar used in oral history, and family case studies to be able to get a close look on the dynamics of social mobility.The studies show the degree of social mobility through decades in the given society. It has been proven that migration and marriage plays an enormous role in the procedure. As globalization is getting more and more relevant in the 21st century, migration is already a well known phenomenon. Many individual have the chance in different countries to gain various kind of social capital due tot he bigger variety of jobs abroad, this for example can be more effectively achieved in a Western and developed country, than in an Eastern one. Moreover, migration allows people to build several different relations (even marriages) that helps the change between the different layers in the hierarchy. Marriages give the chance to individuals to create a family which will most likely end up in children. By putting together the social capital of the parents, the children will most likely start off with better chances for a possible change in the open system of social stratification. However, not only financial factors increase the possiblity of movement, but the way parents influence the children while they raise them. The proper motivation they provide plays a huge role and can be essential in order to succeed at and older age. A study from 2006 called „Understanding Mobility in America” claimed that while only one percent of the poorer families have the chance to reach the top 5 percent of income distribution (against naturally wealthier familes who have 22 percent probability to reach this) they still do stand some kind of chance, additionally the USA has lower level of intergenerational mobility than other Western countries such as the UK.
Education also have a great impact on this. Facilities with educational purposes (for example school) also have a hidden curriculum alongside the formal one. While the formal curriculum is a series of planned objectives, learning experience and resource offering to the students, the hidden curriculum offers more than this. The unofficial curriculum consists of everything that are not in the official curriculum. For example our peers, the people we are surrounded by, greatly effects our future life, including our chances for a possible change in the hierarchy. The hidden curriculum includes every factor of the so called socialization, we learn different values and about meritocracy. Meritocracy,the idea of economic goods should be given out based on the given individual’s talent or merits.
As we all speak of this, there are still several factors that can not go unseen. As social mobility is more common and possible since the middle of the 20th century. By this time, the idea of origin became less relevant, and Western societies supported the idea of the equal rights of every fellow citizen. But what else happened during this century? The idea of equality is truly an outstanding concept, but in that time period. However, the increase that we can see during the 20th century regarding social mobility is mostly thanks tot he increasing amount of countries giving rights to woman. Woman started to acquire different kind of rights in this time period thanks to the feminists movements in that era. As woman had (sadly have sometimes) very limited amount of choice due to the patriarchal system, and were considered mostly as mothers who only act at home such as cleaning, taking care of the children, cooking and so on. With the increasing demonstrations, woman slowly started to gain various rights such as the freedom of movement, by the end of the 20th century they were able to work. Different kinds of inequalites have a huge impact if we are or we are not able to change our place in the hierarchy. As woman were able to work, decreasing inequality between the two genders, social mobility also became more and more flexible. They were able to gain different kinds of social capital or economic goods that helped them in a possible change. Not only work, but also with woman getting involved in education more commonly, the previously mentioned curriculum could affect a bigger amount of people as it now included females as well. But does this all mean that every type of inequality influences the chances of social mobility? Not neccessarily, but it definitely plays a huge role in the whole procedure. If we try to find other factors that influence our chances, we will most likely find more and more type of inequalites. For instance, if we look at an Afro-American, do they stand the same chance as for example other white people? The answer would be no. Not only inequalites between the two races decided this however. If we think about it throughly, racism sadly is still present and it also affects the possibilites of the individual. They might not get the same job as others resulting in a job that offers less social capital and economic goods, a lower capital means less chance for the changes in the hierarchy. Racism in a country can encourage migration too, and as it was mentioned before, migration offers a wider variety of chances for social mobility. Not only race, ethnicity and gender influences this. The religion of one is still relevant. Do we differ a muslim and a catholic? Sadly in our century, yes we do. These days we have strong prejudice against some religion and those who belong to that specific group of people, already stand a lower chance of possibilites.
As we saw, different kinds of inequalities limited the flow of social mobility through centuries. We can witness a very unique change if we look at the pattern starting from medieval ages up until nowadays. In medieval ages, when the so called „estates” shaped the social hierarchy, the three different estates were easy to recognise and separate. A king and a peasent barely shared the same social sphere at the same time. By the 20th century this changed. People from different classes and with different social status more often got near each other as through history public spheres became more important for everyone with the appearence of „free time”. These people could meet more and more often, occasionally creating weak ties. The weak ties theory appeared in the book called ’Getting a Job’ written by Mark Granovetter. According to the theory, with weak ties we are more likely to succeed with finding a job. Not only the idea of employmenet helps social mobility, but the fact people can create many weak ties. Through weak ties, we are more likely to be able to change in a positive (upward) way in the hierarchy as it provides new opportunities such as jobs that is proven to help social mobility of individuals. All this proves the fact that social mobility became widely spread and relaxed not only due to the growing equality, but also because of other, sociological factors. Weak ties are key important not only in social mobility but just generally in our life.
In medieval ages people did not have such opportunities, there were only a very small amount of people who could afford such a thing. Intermarriage was one the only possible solutions that was a rare occurance. Another great example however in Hungary is the election of Matthias Corvinus, who was elected thanks to the support of the mass, and to different kind of ties. While the title king is usually given in the form of nepotism, Matthias gained it by the support of the people, proving that social mobility was possible in a way even in the late 15th century. Medieval ages were not the only time when social mobility was present. At the age of the Industrial Revolution an enormous change could be seen in the society, greatly affecting the phenomena. With the revolution, urbanization rapidly increased first in Western, then later on in Eastern societies, resulting in a migration between the country’s boundaries from rural areas to the urban ones. The hope for a better quality of life encouraged masses to move to major cities. As cities became extremely important, they became a core element. It provided publich sphere, different kinds of schools for education purposes and also new jobs. Additionally, those who could afford life in the city possibly had a better life standard. A better life standard can be explained by higher income which explains why they had better chances in the urban areas. Spending more time with the children in early ages rapildy increases the chances of the mobiltiy in a later phase of the children’s life. As a study also shows: „Among older children, evidence suggests that the gap between high- and low-income primary- and secondary-school students has increased by almost 40 percent over the past thirty years. These differences persist and widen into young adulthood and beyond. Just as the gap in K–12 test scores between high- and low-income students is growing, the difference in college graduation rates between the rich and the poor is also growing. Although the college graduation rate among the poorest households increased by about 4 percentage points between those born in the early 1960s and those born in the early 1980s, over this same period, the graduation rate increased by almost 20 percentage points for the wealthiest households.” (Greenstone)
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