Social mobility refers to the movement of people up the social class hierarchy –embourgeoisement, relating to the process by which members of the working class seem to be adopting middle class lifestyles and living standards– or down the social class hierarchy –proletarianisation, which highlights the fact that some nonmanual workers are being deskill by automation,computerisation and the fragmentation of work tasks into simple routines, and as a consequence of this large sections of middle class are turning into working class or proletariat–.
Modern industrial societies are said to be open societies because social mobility is significantly higher than in pre-industrial models. Sociologists are interested in social mobility because it gives some indication of theextent to which people from different class backgrounds have the same opportunities to achieve higher status positions in society. In addition, social mobility contributes to class formation: classes which have a relatively stable membership are more likely than unstable classes to develop distinctive class cultures; where there are high rates of mobility the members of the class may have littlesense of share interests and will be unlikely to constitute a strong class identity.
There exist two main types of social mobility: intragenerational and intergenerational. Intragenerational mobility refers to social mobility within a single generation. It is measured by comparing the occupational status of an individual at two or more points in time. Intergenerational mobility pertains tosocial mobility between generations. It is measured by comparing the occupational status of sons or daughters with that of their fathers (much less frequently with that of their mothers).
Sociological studies are mainly focused on intergenerational mobility. The first major study of social mobility in Britain was conducted by David Glass in 1949. This study has been widely criticised for employingan unrepresentative sample which failed to reflect the growing number of white-collar occupations.
After 1949, the next chief study was carried out by John Goldthorpe in 1972 and published in 1980. It was known as the Oxford Mobility Study. The study used a sample of 10,000 men from England and Wales aged between 20 and 64 years old. Goldthorpe categorised occupations in terms of their marketrewards and based this classification in a seven-class scheme made by himself. Then, he divided this class structure in three main groups: the service class (highest), the working class (lowest) and an intermediate class. The Oxford study revealed higher rates of long-range mobility (between classes which are not adjacent) than the 1949 study: the 7.1% of sons of class 7 fathers were in class 1 andapproximately 30% of professionals were from working class backgrounds. The chances of the lowest classes people making into higher classes had improved over the century, due mainly to a considerable expansion of the service class. He also showed high rates of absolute mobility (the total amount of social mobility) and more upward mobility than downward (just 4% of blue collars workers proceededfrom professional backgrounds). Actually, downward mobility appeared to be declining, but more men from working class background were unemployed.
These findings suggested that British society had become more open. However, the data of relative mobility chances (the comparative chances of those from different class backgrounds of reaching particular positions) varied greatly between the classesand they had remained almost unchanged during the course of the century: 45.7% of sons with class 1 fathers ended up in class 1 whereas two thirds of sons with unskilled or semi-skilled fathers were in manual occupations. Children from service class were more likely to achieve positions in the service class than children from the working class. Kellner and Wilby (1980) summarise this as the...