Sunday, 30 January 2022


The term social mobility refers to movement of individuals or groups from one position of a society’s stratification system to another. Individuals may move up or down or remain at the same level but in a different occupation. Sociologists study how various structural and social factors contribute to the social mobility of groups or individuals.


  1. Richard T. Schaefer: “Social mobility refers to movement of individuals or group from one position to another, of a society’s stratification system.”

  2. C.H. Persell: “Social mobility refers to the movement from one status to another status within a stratified society.”

  3. Harton and Hunt: “Social mobility refers to progress or slip from a social strata.”


Sociologists have identified several types of social mobility:

  1. Horizontal social mobility: 

Horizontal mobility one of the types of mobility is the straight change from left to right or right to left. In horizontal mobility, if the place is changed but the social position of an individual remains on the same level.

For example; when a lecture is transferred from one government college to another with the same grade or pay scale and as a teacher is horizontal mobility.

In other words, horizontal mobility is the transition of an individual or social object from one social group to another situated on the same level. While explaining horizontal mobility we are mainly referring to the movement of individuals from one position to another of more or less equal prestige. Sorokin explains the concept of horizontal mobility still more broadly.

According to Sorokin, “Horizontal mobility refers to territorial, religious, political party, family, occupational and other horizontal shifting without any noticeable change in vertical position.” The individuals are no more attached to their place of birth. The individuals move from one place to another in search of jobs which may be of the same prestige. The modern means of transportation have brought in more territorial movement of individuals.

  1. Vertical Mobility: 

It refers to any change in the occupational, economic or political status of an individual or a group which leads to a change of their position. In the words of Sorokin, vertical social mobility is meant the relations involved in the transition of an individual (or a social object) from one social stratum to another.

For example, the manager of the meat department who is promoted to general manager of the supermarket has achieved upward vertical mobility. The promotion is accompanied by an increase in income and overall responsibility. On the other hand, the major league, a baseball player who is sent back to the minor leagues has suffered downward vertical mobility.

Vertical mobility stands for a change of social position either upward or downward, which can be labelled as ascending or descending type of mobility. When a big businessman meets with losses in his business and is declared bankrupt, he occupies a low status. On the other hand, if a small businessman with occupational skills of money and manipulation becomes an industrialist he occupies a higher position on the social ladder. Hence his position improves in the hierarchical order.

According to the direction of transition, there are two types of vertical social mobility

  1. Upward Social Mobility: 

If a person of inferior status in society moves towards a superior social position, he is moving upward or has upward mobility.

For example, a teacher after doing M.Phil becomes a professor in a college or a lawyer becomes a judge.

  1. Downward Social Mobility: 

If a person of higher or superior social position moves towards an inferior social position, it is called downward mobility.

For example, a big businessman because of a great loss in business becomes a beggar or an officer is dismissed because of his serious offence and is deprived of all privileges.

  1. Inter-generational Mobility: 

When changes occur from one generation to another, it is known as inter-generational mobility. This type of mobility involves changes in the social position of children relative to their parents.

For example, a son of a carpenter becomes a doctor or an engineer or the son of a police officer adopts a profession of a shopkeeper. It is called intergenerational mobility.

Similarly, a family of Brahmins may be engaged in the traditional occupation of teaching and performing rituals but its younger generation is neither intelligent nor follows the family occupation. They become daily wagers then the younger generation has downward inter-generational mobility.

With the improvement in economic position, people start changing their style of living by discarding the old practices and adopting the practices of those who are high on the social ladder. After two or three generations their new position may be recognized. This process of social mobility, according to Srinivas is a process of Sanskritization.

  1. Intra-Generational Mobility: 

It refers to the vertical mobility experienced by a single individual within his or her own lifetime.

For example, a woman starts her career as a primary school teacher to reach the higher position of headmistress of a high school or principal or director till her retirement. Then such a change in status is called intra-generational mobility.

Sociologists gave this type of mobility great importance while analyzing such cases for a research study. Downward intra-generational mobility is not much common.

Therefore, we can conclude that forms of social mobility are not comprehensive and there is overlapping. Also, mobility occurs in the framework of time and space. The factors that affect mobility are found universally true.


  1. Economic Structural Changes: 

The changes taking place in the structure of a society are subject to social mobility in an observing manner. If the economy of a society is based on agriculture and that changes into an industrial society then many people get the chances of employment, income increases and standard of life rises. As a result, the social stratification of an individual improves or if traditional pattern of agriculture is changed into mechanical agriculture the production is increased and results in a better position social stratification: The progress of technology also opens new economic fields which raise the social status of skilled people.

  1. Modernization: 

The modernity and innovatory level divert the attention of the individuals of society towards new, discoveries and inventions which create a passion for better social life and efforts to increase income, become fast. There is rapid advancement in economic activities, new employments are created and the social position of individuals becomes a source of upward political mobility.

  1. Improvement in Communication Means: 

All means of communications are a course of social interaction, connections are increased, information is increased, new economic sources take place, new business is started, running a business is improved and production is increased. Rapid means of communications help in sending goods to the market and an increase in income affects social mobility.

  1. Education and Social Awareness: 

In such societies, where education is common and every individual has equal chances of getting an education, there is a facility of moving from inferior position to superior position. C. Heller based on his study has observed, that education is an important effective element in the inter over intra-generational mobility.

In addition, the level towards social progress and consciousness of making life better is the important functions of social mobility increase the chances of vertical mobility.


The following factors facilitate Social Mobility:

  1. Motivation: 

Each individual has a desire not only to have a better way of living but also wants to improve upon his social stand. In an open system, it is possible to achieve any status. This openness motivates people to work hard and improve upon their skills so that they can attain higher social status. Without such motivation and efforts on the part of the individual social mobility is impossible.

  1. Achievements and Failures: 

The achievement here refers to extraordinary, usually unexpected performance, which attracts the attention of a wider public to the abilities of a person. Not all achievements will result in social mobility. Achievements affect status only if they are remarkable. For example, a poor man who has acquired wealth or an unknown writer who has won a literary prize will improve his status.

Failures and misdeeds have a similar effect on downward mobility. Fraudulent bankruptcy will remove a member of the upper classes from blue books; he will receive no dinner invitations from his peers and he will become ineligible as a marriage partner. If he is already married, his wife may divorce him. He will have to resign from his clubs and all positions he holds. But he will not become a member of the lowest stratum, although it will be difficult for him to find a new association.

  1. Education: 

Education not only helps an individual to acquire knowledge but is also a passport for occupational positions for higher prestige. To become a doctor one has to have an education in science subjects. Similarly, to appear in a competitive examination of I.A.S., one has to be at least graduate.

It is only after acquiring minimum formal education that individuals can aspire to occupy higher positions. It is through education that in modern India the members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are not only able to change their traditional occupation but have also started occupying jobs of higher prestige. In the modern industrial society in which statuses can be achieved, education is a basic requirement.

  1. Skills and Training: 

Each society makes provision to impart skill and training to the younger generation. To acquire skill and training one has to spend a lot of time as well as money. Why do these people spend money and time? The reason is that society gives incentives to such persons. When they complete their training, they are entitled to high positions, which are far better than those positions which they might have taken without such training.

Society not only assigns higher social status but also gives higher economic rewards and other privileges to those persons who have this training. Keeping in view these incentives people undergo these training with a hope to move up in the social ladder. In other words, skills and training facilities in improvement of the position, this leading to social mobility.

  1. Migration: 

Migration also facilitates social mobility. People migrate from one place to another either due to pull or push factors. A particular place may not have opportunities and facilities to improve upon. Hence, people are forced to migrate to other places to earn their livelihood. New places, where they migrate, may have different openings and opportunities.

These persons avail of these opportunities and improve upon their social position. We can take the example of people belonging to the Scheduled Castes of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, who migrate to the States of Punjab and Haryana to earn their livelihood. Here they become farm labourers.

After acquiring accumulating money they go back to their villages and buy land. They till their own land and become owner cultivators. Hence, from the traditional work of Chamars or scavengers, they improve their status and become owner cultivators. Similar is the situation with regard to Asians who migrate to various European countries and the United State of America.

The pull factors attract the people because they do not have those facilities at their place of residence and the new place attracts them by providing these facilities so that after acquiring new skills and knowledge they could occupy better positions.

People migrate from villages to cities because urban centres have institutions of higher status as well as opportunities for jobs. People come to urban areas to acquire education and skills and occupy higher positions than their parents and brothers who continue to live in villages. In this way, we find that both push and pull factors lead to migration which subsequently facilitates social mobility.

  1. Industrialization: 

Industrial Revolution ushered in a new social system in which people are given status according to their ability and training. No importance was given to their caste, race, religion and ethnicity. Industrialization resulted in mass production at a cheaper rate. This forced the artisans out of their work. In search of jobs, they migrated to industrial towns.

They acquired new vocational training and got jobs in industries. With experience and training, they moved up the social ladder. In the industrial society, the statuses are achieved, whereas, in the traditional society like India, the statuses are ascribed according to birth. Hence industrialization facilitates greater social mobility.

  1. Urbanization: 

In the cities there are more people, they have formal relations. People do not know each other intimately. Urban centres are marked by anonymity. People are close to their friends and relatives only. Urban settlements provide secrecy to an individual’s caste and background. An Individual’s position is largely dependent upon his education, occupation and income rather than his background.

If an individual has higher education, income and is engaged in occupation of higher prestige, he occupies high social status irrespective of his caste. Urbanization facilitates social mobility by removing those factors which hinder social mobility.

  1. Legislation: 

The enactment of new laws can also facilitate social mobility. When Zamindari Abolition Act was passed, most of the tenant cultivators became owner cultivators which indicate improvement in their status i.e., from tenants to owner cultivators. Similarly, the legal provision for reservation of jobs and promotion for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes has also helped in social mobility.

Reservation with regard to admission in professional colleges, job reservation and promotions have a large number of individuals from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes to improve upon their status. When V.R. Singh Government accepted the Mandal Commission report it provided job reservations for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) also.

Similarly, the judicial system by passing certain judgments may also facilitate social mobility. Hindu Marriage Act in different ways has enhanced the status of women. Similarly, Hindu Succession Act has given equal rights to the daughter in the family property. In this way, we find that legal provisions also facilitate social mobility.

  1. Politicization: 

Education and greater exposure to mass media of communication as well as greater contacts have made people aware of their rights. The political parties also educate the people about their rights. To achieve their rights people unite and force the authority in power to accept their demands. These persons may use agitations, strikes etc. as methods of attaining the desired goals.

The political party to get votes provides several concessions. With the help of these new concessions and provisions, they improve upon their social status. A few persons may become political leaders, Ministers, Cabinet Ministers or Chief Ministers of a State.

Many such examples can be found in the present day Indian polity. This has resulted into upward social mobility for them. Similarly, with greater political awareness with representatives in State assembly and Parliament they can (once the government to enact certain laws helping the lower segments of the society.

  1. Modernization: 

The process of modernization involves the use of scientific knowledge and modern technology. It also refers to rationality and secular way of life. With the improvement in technology, people engaged in occupations of low prestige like scavengers discard their traditional occupations and take up occupations which are not dirty and have no polluting effects.

In this way, they change their position upward. Similarly, the level of development of a country also facilitates or hinders social mobility. The less developed and traditional societies continue with the old system of stratification and with accretive statuses. Whereas the developed and modern societies paved the way for greater opportunities and competition, it is only in the developed countries that there is a greater possibility of achieved statuses. In other words, modernization facilitates social mobility.

Aspirations for moving upward also results in frustration and different mental and psychological problems. An individual is given to understand that he can achieve any status. But in reality, this does not happen, his social background, birth in a race, ethnicity, facilitate or hinder his chances of social mobility. Similarly, the nations which do not have avenues for social mobility also suffer from stagnation and lack of development. In short, social mobility has both positive and negative consequences.


  1. Increase in Social prestige: 

When upward vertical social mobility takes place, a person moves from low social status to a high social status. Thus, social mobility leads to an increase in social prestige.

  1. Development of latent talent: 

Social mobility helps us develop our latent ability that will otherwise remain passive. If we remain confined to our current status, position, class or occupation, it is impossible to develop our latent ability. For example, if we remain confined to the occupation- farming – without moving to another occupation, say teaching, we cannot develop our latent ability to understand the subject matter that we teach and to teach it effectively. We may have a latent ability to become a great leaders. We can develop it through social mobility by moving from the farming field to political field. Thus, social mobility results in the development of our latent ability.

  1. Modernization of agriculture and industrialization: 

Modernizing agriculture and industrialization is impossible without people with relevant expertise. Without social mobility, society cannot develop the manpower with relevant expertise required for the modernization of agriculture and industrialization. The labour force required for industries cannot be available in urban areas without social mobility. Thus, the importance of social mobility also lies in the fact that it at least facilitates the modernization of agriculture and industrialization.

  1. Social change: 

In a society where no social mobility takes place, no social change takes place. If the members residing in a society do not change their current social position, the society will not develop.

  1. Economic Development: 

When upward vertical social mobility becomes widespread, economic development takes place. In other words, when a large number of people move from low status as poor people to a new and high status as rich people, it is an indication of the fact that economic development has taken place. If these poor people had not moved from their original class of poor people to a new class of rich people, it would have indicated that economic development is yet to take place at least at the micro level.

  1. End of caste-based discrimination: 

Social mobility leads to the end of caste-based discrimination against so-called low caste people by so-called high caste people. Open social mobility ends the discriminatory and unfairly hierarchical caste system because it encourages social mobility completely independent of social norms delimiting the area within which social mobility is to be taken place.

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