Module 7: Stratification and Inequality

Social mobility, learning outcomes.

  • Describe how inequality of opportunity is measured through life chances and standard of living
  • Describe types of social mobility

Life Chances

Max Weber’s conceptualization of social class examines class, status, and power. We know by now that all societies have a mechanism to rank, or stratify, its members and that this stratification is unequal in terms of rewards and benefits. Weber used the term  life chances  ( Lebenschancen in German) to describe the opportunities to increase one’s position in the social class structure. Categories that affect life chances include the social class one is born into, geographic location, family ancestry, race, ethnicity, age, and gender.

Consider the life chances of a child born in Syria today. Syria is one of the most violent countries in the world, and millions of Syrians have been displaced or are refugees seeking asylum in other countries. What kinds of life chances are afforded to Syrian children? 

Consider the life chances of a child born into the Kennedy family in Massachusetts, which has been called “America’s top dynasty”  [1] versus the life chances of a child born to a poor family in Mississippi. The Kennedy child is born into class, status, and power, having a U.S. President, three U.S. Senators, four U.S. Representatives, and one U.S. Cabinet member within his or her extended family. This boy or girl will attend elite private boarding schools, will travel the world, and will be exposed to possibilities largely unknown to his or her counterpart in Mississippi. Now imagine that the child born in Mississippi is African-American and has ancestors who were sharecroppers that lived under Jim Crow Laws, and whose more recent forebearers struggled through the Civil Rights Movement. This child will likely attend underfunded public schools and watch his or her parents struggle economically to find sustainable work and obtain health care. More than likely, he or she will experience racism from a very young age. 

People are often inspired and amazed at people’s ability to overcome extremely difficult upbringings. Mariano Rivera, acknowledged to be the best relief pitcher in history, made a baseball glove out of cardboard and tape because his family could not afford a real one. Alice Coachman grew up with few resources and was denied access to training facilities because of her race; she ran barefoot and built her own high jump equipment before becoming the first Black athlete (and one of the first American track and field athletes) to win an Olympic Gold. Pelé, perhaps the most transformative figure in soccer, learned the game while using a rag-stuffed sock for a ball. These are some of the stories told in documentaries or biographies meant to inspire and share the challenges of unequal upbringings. Relative to the overall population, the number of people who rise from poverty to become very successful is small, and the number that become wealthy is even smaller. Systemic barriers like unequal education, discrimination, and lack of opportunity can slow or diminish one’s ability to move up. Still, people who earn a college degree, get a job promotion, or marry someone with a good income may move up socially.

Social mobility  refers to the ability of individuals to change positions within a social stratification system. When people improve or diminish their economic status in a way that affects social class, they experience social mobility. Individuals can experience upward or downward social mobility for a variety of reasons.  Upward mobility  refers to an increase—or upward shift—when they move from a lower to a higher socioeconomical class. In contrast, individuals experience downward mobility  when they move from higher socioeconomic class to a lower one. Some people move downward because of business setbacks, unemployment, or illness. Dropping out of school, losing a job, or getting a divorce may result in a loss of income or status and, therefore, downward social mobility.

It is not uncommon for different generations of a family to belong to varying social classes. This is known as  intergenerational mobility . For example, an upper-class executive may have parents who belonged to the middle class. In turn, those parents may have been raised in the lower class. Patterns of intergenerational mobility can reflect long-term societal changes.

On the other hand,  intragenerational mobility  refers to changes in a person’s social mobility over the course of their lifetime. For example, the wealth and prestige experienced by one person may be quite different from that of their siblings.

Structural mobility  happens when societal changes enable a whole group of people to move up or down the social class ladder. Structural mobility is attributable to changes in society as a whole. In the first half of the twentieth century, industrialization expanded the U.S. economy, raising the standard of living and leading to upward structural mobility for almost everyone. In the decade and a half of the twenty-first century, recessions and the outsourcing of jobs overseas have contributed to the withdrawal of Americans from the workforce (BLS 2021) [2] . Many people experienced economic setbacks, creating a wave of downward structural mobility.

When analyzing the trends and movements in social mobility, sociologists consider all modes of mobility. Scholars recognize that mobility is not as common or easy to achieve as many people think.

The Stratification of Socioeconomic Classes

In the last century, the United States has seen a steady rise in its  standard of living , the level of wealth available to acquire the material necessities and comforts to maintain a specific lifestyle. The country’s standard of living is based on factors such as income, employment, class, literacy rates, mortality rates, poverty rates, and housing affordability. A country with a high standard of living will often reflect a high quality of life, which in the United States means residents can afford a home, own a car, and take vacations. Ultimately, standard of living is shaped by the wealth and distribution of wealth in a country and the expectations its citizens have for their lifestyle.

Wealth is not evenly distributed in most countries. In the United States, a small portion of the population has the means to the highest standard of living. The wealthiest one percent of the population holds one-third of our nation’s wealth while the bottom 50 percent of Americans hold only 2 percent. Those in-between, the top 50 to 90 percent hold almost two-thirds of the nation’s wealth (The Federal Reserve, 2021) [3] .

Many people think of the United States as a “middle-class society.” They think a few people are rich, a few are poor, and most are fairly well off, existing in the middle of the social strata. Rising from lower classes into the middle-class is to achieve the American Dream. For this reason, scholars are particularly worried by the shrinking of the middle class. Although the middle class is still significantly larger than the lower and upper classes, it shrank from 69 percen in 1971 to 51 percent in 2020. argue the most significant threat to the U.S.’s relatively high standard of living is the decline of the middle class. The wealth of the middle class has also been declining in recent decades. Its share of the wealth fell from 32 percent in 1983 to 16 percent in 2016 (Horowitz, Igielnik, & Kochhar 2020) [4] .

People with wealth often receive the most and best schooling, access better health care, and consume the most goods and services. In addition, wealthy people also wield decision-making power over their daily life because money gives them access to better resources. By contrasts, many lower-income individuals receive less education and inadequate health care and have less influence over the circumstances of their everyday lives.

Additionally, tens of millions of women and men struggle to pay rent, buy food, find work, and afford basic medical care. Women who are single heads of household tend to have a lower income and lower standard of living than their married or single male counterparts. This is a worldwide phenomenon known as the feminization of poverty —which acknowledges that women disproportionately make up the majority of individuals in poverty across the globe and have a lower standard of living. In the United States, women make up approximately 56 percent of Americans living in poverty. One reason for this difference is the struggle of single mothers to provide for their children. One in four unmarried mother lives in poverty (Bleiweis, 2020) [5] . The wage gap, discussed extensively in the Work and the Economy chapter, also contributes to the gender-disparity in poverty.

In the United States, poverty is most often referred to as a relative rather than extreme measurement. Extrem e poverty  is an economic condition in which a family or individual cannot afford basic necessities, such as food and shelter, so that day-to-day survival is in jeopardy.  Relative poverty  is an economic condition in which a family or individuals have 50% income less than the average median income. This income is sometimes called the poverty level or the poverty line. In 2021, for example, the poverty for a single individual was set at $12,880 for one individual, $17,420 for a couple, and $26,500 for a family of four (ASPE 2021) [6] .

As a wealthy developed country, the United States invests in resources to provide the basic necessities to those in need through a series of federal and state social welfare programs. These programs provide food, medical, and cash assistance. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) provides cash assistance. The goal of TANF is to help families with children achieve economic self-sufficiency. Adults who receive assistance must fall under a specific income level, usually half the poverty level, set by the state. TANF funding goes to childcare, support for parents who are working or training a required number of hours a week, and other services. TANF is time-limited. Most states only provide assistance for a maximum of 5 years (CBPP) [7] .

One of the best-known programs is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), administered by the United States Department of Agriculture and formerly known as the Food Stamp Program. This program began in the Great Depression, when unmarketable or surplus food was distributed to the hungry. It was not formalized until 1961, when President John F. Kennedy initiated a food stamp pilot program. His successor Lyndon B. Johnson was instrumental in the passage of the Food Stamp Act in 1964. In 1965, more than 500,000 individuals received food assistance. During the height of the pandemic in 2020, participation reached 43 million people.

Watch this video to learn more about social mobility. The video highlights research that began in 1982 by Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, and Linda Olson. They followed 800 first grade students in Baltimore for twenty five years and examined the impact their socioeconomic status had throughout their lives.

Think It Over

  • Track the social stratification of your family tree. Did the social standing of your parents differ from the social standing of your grandparents and great-grandparents? Does your class differ from your social standing, and, if so, how? What aspects of your societal situation establish you in a social class?
  • How does the longitudinal research conducted by Alexander and Entwisle help us understand the “long shadow of poverty,” particularly among racial minorities?
  • Hess, S. 2019. "America's Top Dynasty?" ↵
  • Civilian labor force participation rate, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accessed March 15, 2021. ↵
  • Distribution of Household Wealth in the U.S. since 1989. (n.d.) The Federal Reserve. Retrieved March 21, 2021 from;series:Net%20worth;demographic:networth;population:7;units:shares;range:2005.4,2020.4 . ↵
  • Horowitz, J. M.; Igielnik, R.; and Kochhar, R. (2020, January 9). Trends in income and wealth inequality. Pew Research Center. ↵
  • Bleiweis, R; Boesch, D.; & Gaines, A. C. (August 3, 2020). The Basic Facts About Women in Poverty. Center for American Progress. Center for American Progress. ↵
  • HHS Poverty Guidelines for 2021. (January 13, 2021). Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE). . ↵
  • Modification, adaptation, and original content. Authored by : Sarah Hoiland and Lumen Learning. Provided by : Lumen Learning. License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Social Stratification and Mobility in the United States. Authored by : OpenStax CNX. Located at : . License : CC BY: Attribution . License Terms : Download for free at[email protected]
  • Social Stratification and Mobility in the United States. Provided by : OpenStax. Located at : . Project : Sociology 3e. License : CC BY: Attribution . License Terms : Access for free at
  • Social Mobility: Crash Course Sociology #26. Provided by : CrashCourse. Located at : . License : Other . License Terms : Standard YouTube License
  • The Impacts of Social Class: Crash Course Sociology #25. Provided by : CrashCourse. Located at : . License : Other . License Terms : Standard YouTube License

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Essay on Social Mobility

Students are often asked to write an essay on Social Mobility in their schools and colleges. And if you’re also looking for the same, we have created 100-word, 250-word, and 500-word essays on the topic.

Let’s take a look…

100 Words Essay on Social Mobility

What is social mobility.

Social mobility is like the game of life but in real society. It means moving up or down the social ladder. This could be about getting a better job than your parents, earning more money, or living in a nicer place.

Types of Social Mobility

There are two main types: going up, which is called upward mobility, and going down, known as downward mobility. It’s like climbing up or sliding down a playground slide.

Why It Matters

Social mobility is important because it shows if everyone has a fair chance to improve their life. It’s like checking if the game of society is played fairly, where hard work pays off.

250 Words Essay on Social Mobility

Social mobility: the movement of individuals through different social strata.

People move up and down the social ladder all the time depending on their life circumstances. Social mobility is the movement of individuals, families, households, or other categories of people within or between social strata in a society. It is a concept that describes how people’s social status can change over time.

There are two main types of social mobility:

  • Vertical mobility: This is when someone moves up or down the social ladder. For example, a person born into a poor family who becomes a wealthy business owner is said to have experienced upward vertical mobility.

Factors Affecting Social Mobility

There are many factors that can affect a person’s social mobility. These include:

  • Education: People with more education are more likely to have higher-paying jobs and better social status.
  • Family background: People born into wealthy and well-connected families are more likely to have opportunities for success than those born into poor and disadvantaged families.
  • Race and ethnicity: In many societies, people from certain racial and ethnic groups face discrimination, which can limit their opportunities for social mobility.

Social mobility is a complex issue that is influenced by a variety of factors. It is important to understand social mobility in order to develop policies and programs that can help to promote equality and opportunity for all.

500 Words Essay on Social Mobility

Social mobility is like a ladder that people can climb up or down in society. It’s about whether you can move to a better or worse place in society compared to where your family started. Imagine if your family didn’t have a lot of money or a big house, but you studied hard, got a good job, and ended up with a nicer house and more money. That’s you moving up the ladder – that’s social mobility.

There are two main types of social mobility: upward and downward. Upward mobility is when someone moves up in society, like getting a better job than their parents. Downward mobility is the opposite, where someone might end up in a worse situation than their parents. There’s also something called horizontal mobility, which is when someone moves to a different situation that’s pretty much the same as their old one, like a teacher switching to another teaching job at a different school.

Why is Social Mobility Important?

Social mobility is important because it shows that in a society, people have the chance to change their situation. It gives everyone hope that no matter where they start, they can work hard and achieve their dreams. It also helps make society fairer because it means your future doesn’t have to be decided by your family’s past.

Many things can affect whether someone can move up or down in society. Education is a big one. Getting a good education can open up a lot of doors to better jobs and opportunities. The economy is another factor – when there are more jobs and businesses are doing well, it’s easier to move up. Family background also plays a role. If your family has connections or can support you going to college, you might have a better shot at moving up.

Challenges to Social Mobility

Even though social mobility is possible, it’s not always easy. Some people face big challenges, like poverty, discrimination, or living in areas with fewer opportunities. These obstacles can make it harder for people to climb up the ladder, no matter how hard they try.

Improving Social Mobility

To help more people move up in society, there are things that can be done. Improving education for everyone, making sure there are good jobs available, and helping families in need can all make a big difference. By working on these areas, society can help make sure that everyone has a fair chance to move up the ladder.

In conclusion, social mobility is about the ability to move up or down in society. It’s important because it gives everyone the chance to improve their situation and make society fairer. While there are challenges, there are also ways to improve social mobility and make sure everyone has a fair shot at their dreams.

That’s it! I hope the essay helped you.

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Guest Essay

School Is for Social Mobility

essay on social mobility

By John N. Friedman

Mr. Friedman is an economist at Brown whose work focuses on how to use big data to improve life outcomes.

America is often hailed as a land of opportunity, a place where all children, no matter their family background, have the chance to succeed. Data measuring how low-income children tend to fare in adulthood, however, suggest this may be more myth than reality.

Less than one in 13 children born into poverty in the United States will go on to hold a high-income job in adulthood; the odds are far longer for Black men born into poverty, at one in 40 .

Education is the solution to this lack of mobility. There are still many ways in which the current education system generates its own inequities, and many of these have been exacerbated by Covid-19 closures. But the pandemic also revealed a potential path forward by galvanizing support for education funding at levels rarely seen before. With the right level of investment, education can not only provide more pathways out of poverty for individuals, but also restore the equality of opportunity that is supposed to lie at America’s core.

It is certainly not a new idea that education can change a child’s life trajectory. Almost everyone has some formative school memory — a teacher with whom everything made sense, an art project that opened new doors or a sports championship that bonded teammates for life.

But what is new is the torrent of research studies using “big data” to show the power of education for shaping children’s trajectories, especially over the long term. In one study, for example, my co-authors and I found that students who were randomly assigned to higher-quality classrooms earned substantially more 20 years later, about $320,000 over their lifetimes. And it’s not only the early grades that matter; research suggests the quality of education in later grades may be even more important for long-term outcomes, as children’s brains don’t lock in key neural pathways for advanced reasoning skills until well into their teenage years.

Education changes lives in ways that go far beyond economic gains. The data show clearly that children who get better schooling are healthier and happier adults, more civically engaged and less likely to commit crimes . Schools not only teach students academic skills but also noncognitive skills, like grit and teamwork, which are increasingly important for generating social mobility. Even the friendships that students form at school can be life-altering forces for social mobility, because children who grow up in more socially connected communities are much more likely to rise up out of poverty.

Conversely, limited social mobility hurts not just these children but all of society. We are leaving a vast amount of untapped talent on the table by investing unequally in our children, and it’s at all of our expense.

Researchers have also used big data to uncover many specific education reforms that could lead to huge improvements. For instance, the evidence is clear that teachers are critical; my co-authors and I found that, when better teachers arrive at a school, the students in their classrooms earn around $50,000 more over each of their lifetimes. This adds up to $1.25 million for a class of 25 in just a single year of teaching.

Smaller classes and increased tutoring also lead to long-term gains for students. Charter schools have revealed a range of effective approaches as well, often to the benefit of some of society’s most disadvantaged children . Children also benefit from longer school days , greater access to special education and less aggressive cutoffs for holding students back a grade.

Given this rich body of evidence, why doesn’t our K-12 system already propel more low-income students to success? A big reason continues to be inadequate funding. Because schools raise a large share of revenue through local property taxes, high-income students often attend well-resourced schools while low-income students attend schools with more limited resources. Decades of reforms have made some progress reducing these funding gaps within certain states, but huge gaps remain both between states and between schools within districts. Even with additional resources, schools often do not invest in proven reforms like the ones I mentioned above, choosing other, less data-driven proposals or even using additional resources to reduce local property taxes rather than increase spending on education.

If our education system does not currently support equality of opportunity, would investing more simply throw good money after bad? No. Many studies show the gains in social mobility when states like Michigan and New Mexico have reduced funding disparities to invest more in disadvantaged students. These reforms have gone in the right direction, but we need much more: With many students facing larger barriers to success as a result of factors outside the educational system, even equality of average funding levels may not be sufficient to generate equality of opportunity.

The Covid pandemic highlighted and magnified the deep inequities in our education system. Many high-income students were able to limit their learning losses , but on average, low-income students stayed remote longer and lost more ground for each week of remote school. By one estimate, high-poverty schools in districts that were mostly remote experienced 50 percent more achievement loss than low-poverty ones during the 2020-21 school year alone.

But Covid also triggered a momentous policy response. K-12 schools received nearly $200 billion in funding across three federal stimulus bills, much of which was aimed at combating learning loss. This money also began to address structural barriers by supporting increased internet and device access in low-income communities, both urban and rural, and in other ways.

Educators also displayed extraordinary creativity in finding new methods to teach students and help them catch back up. For instance, teachers and school leaders are using technology to support kids by prioritizing learning acceleration over remediation. New research shows students cover twice as much ground if they keep moving forward, completing targeted review as needed to master new material, rather than simply repeating lessons they missed because of Covid.

The sad fact is that the learning gaps opened up by Covid are a small fraction of those that already existed before the pandemic, when, in some school districts, low-income students were two, three and even four grade levels behind . If the pandemic motivated $200 billion in spending, then we should be investing trillions over the next decade to address the broader inequality in our system. While many of these gaps are caused by disparities that exist outside the school system, education remains our best shot at narrowing them.

If politics is the art of the possible, perhaps the biggest silver lining of these past two years has been to redefine what is possible. It will take this kind of extensive effort — investing year after year with the same level of urgency that we used to confront the pandemic — to transform our schools into the engines of social mobility that they can be.

John N. Friedman ( @john_n_friedman ) is the chairman of the economics department at Brown University. He is also a founding co-director of Opportunity Insights .

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram .

Essays on Social Mobility

Is the American Dream over? Here's what the data says

A demonstrator holds a sign reading "the American dream is over" during a rally outside Wall Street in New York April 4,2009.     REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES BUSINESS SOCIETY IMAGE OF THE DAY TOP PICTURE) - GM1E54507NA01

Is it? Image:  REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

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essay on social mobility

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Stay up to date:, united states.

  • Historic data shows how likely Americans are to outearn their parents - a key part of the so-called American Dream.
  • The suggests that it's becoming harder to achieve this dream.
  • Stagnating wages and income inequality are just two of the factors behind this.

essay on social mobility

The decline of upward mobility in one chart

For decades, a majority of Americans have been able to climb the economic ladder by earning higher incomes than their parents. These improving conditions are known as upward mobility, and form an important part of the American Dream.

However, each consecutive generation is finding it harder to make this ascent. In this graphic, we illustrate the decline in upward mobility over five decades using data from Opportunity Insights .

Have you read?

These are the 10 countries with the best social mobility, the us vs denmark: is the scandinavian model best for social mobility, how the american dream turned into greed and inequality.

Understanding the chart

This graphic plots the probability that a 30-year-old American has to outearn their parents (vertical axis) depending on their parent’s income percentile (horizontal axis). The 1st percentile represents America’s lowest earners, while the 99th percentile the richest.

As we move from left to right on the chart, the portion of people who outearn their parents takes a steep decline. This suggests that people born into upper class families are less likely to outearn their parents, regardless of generation.

The key takeaway, though, is that the starting point of this downward trend has shifted to the left. In other words, fewer people in the lower- and middle-classes are climbing the economic ladder.

american dream social mobility earnings economics us usa united states earnings change decline

Declines can be seen across the board, but those growing up in the middle-class (50th percentile) have taken the largest hit. Within this bracket, individuals born in 1980 have only a 45% chance of outearning their parents at age 30, compared to 93% for those born in 1940.

Stagnating wage growth a culprit

One factor behind America’s deteriorating upward mobility is the sluggish pace at which wages have grown. For example, the average hourly wage in 1964, when converted to 2018 dollars, is $20.27 . Compare this to $22.65 , the average hourly wage in 2018. That represents a mere 11.7% increase over a span of 54 years .

However, this may not be as bad as it sounds. While the prices of some goods and services have risen over time, others have actually become more affordable. Since January 1998, for example, the prices of electronic goods such as TVs and cellphones have actually decreased. In this way, individuals today are more prosperous than previous generations.

This benefit is likely outweighed by relative increases in other services, though. Whereas inflation since January 1998 totaled 58.8% , the costs of health and education services increased by more than 160% over the same time frame.

Income distribution

While wages have been stagnant as a whole, it doesn’t paint the full picture. Another factor to consider is America’s changing income distribution.

american dream social mobility earnings economics us usa united states earnings change decline

Like the data on upward mobility, the middle class takes the largest hit here, with its share of U.S. aggregate income falling by 19 percentage points . Over the same time frame, the upper class was able to increase its share of total income by 20 percentage points .

Is it all bad news?

Americans are less likely to earn more than their parents, but this doesn’t mean that upward mobility has completely disappeared—it’s just becoming less accessible. Below, we illustrate the changes in size for different income classes from 1967 to 2016.

american dream social mobility earnings economics us usa united states earnings change decline

The upper middle class has grown significantly, from 6% of the population in 1967 to 33% in 2016. At the same time, the middle class shrank from 47% to 36% and the lower middle class shrank from 31% to 16%.

The data suggests that some middle class Americans are still managing to pull themselves up into the next income bracket—it’s just not an effect that was as broad-based as it’s been in the past.

Does the American Dream still exist?

The American Dream is the belief that upward mobility is attainable for everyone through their own actions. This implies that growth will be continuous and widespread, two factors that have seemingly deteriorated in recent decades.

Researchers believe there are numerous complex reasons behind America’s stagnating wages. A decline in union membership , for example, could be eroding employees’ collective bargaining power. Other factors such as technological change may also apply downwards pressure on the wages of less educated workers.

Income inequality, on the other hand, is clearly shown by the data. We can also refer to the Gini-coefficient, a statistical measure of economic inequality. It ranges between 0 and 1, with 0 representing perfect equality and 1 representing perfect inequality (one person holds all the income). The U.S. currently has a Gini-coefficient of 0.434 , the highest of any G7 country.

Long story short, the American Dream is still alive—it’s just becoming harder to come by.

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The Benefits of Education and Social Mobility

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Updated: 29 March, 2024

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Education and Social Mobility: A Pathway to Advancement

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Cornerstone of the essay, presenting the central argument that will be elaborated upon and supported with evidence and analysis throughout the rest of the paper.

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Should follow a right side up triangle format, meaning, specifics should be mentioned first such as restating the thesis, and then get more broad about the topic at hand. Lastly, leave the reader with something to think about and ponder once they are done reading.

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essay on social mobility

Social Mobility: the Ladder of Opportunity

This essay about social mobility explores the concept’s significance and its various forms, including upward mobility, downward mobility, and intergenerational mobility. It discusses how upward mobility symbolizes the potential for individuals to rise above their birth status through education, hard work, and opportunities, reflecting the egalitarian nature of a society. Conversely, downward mobility highlights the risks of socio-economic decline due to economic downturns and job market changes. Intergenerational mobility is examined as a measure of societal health, indicating whether future generations can surpass their parents’ social status. The essay delves into factors influencing social mobility, such as education, economic policies, and cultural norms, and emphasizes the importance of understanding these dynamics for creating equitable opportunities for all individuals. It presents social mobility as a critical indicator of a society’s openness and fairness, outlining the barriers that may impede individuals’ ability to achieve upward social movement. Additionally, PapersOwl presents more free essays samples linked to Social Mobility.

How it works

Social fluidity, an intrinsic facet of sociological inquiry, denotes the flux of individuals, kinships, or cohorts amidst a matrix of social stratification or hierarchy. Fundamentally, it epitomizes the capacity for ascent or descent within a societal echelon. This flux may entail an ascension towards a loftier socio-economic stratum or a descent towards a lower societal tier. Moreover, social fluidity encompasses transgenerational shifts, wherein the focus pivots towards disparities in societal station between progenitors and progeny.

Ascendant mobility is oft heralded as the emblem of open, egalitarian societies, wherein diligence, erudition, and opportunities proffer avenues for transcendence beyond one’s socio-economic pedigree.

This form of mobility is lauded for its embodiment of the egalitarian notion that any individual, irrespective of their point of origin, can attain a loftier status through perspicacity and toil. Catalysts for ascendant mobility encompass scholastic attainment, economic avenues, and ameliorative societal edicts furnishing a ladder for the underprivileged to ascend.

Conversely, descendant mobility is emblematic of a decrement in societal stature. This may ensue owing to economic downturns, vocational dislocation, or other vicissitudes negatively impinging upon one’s socio-economic station. Descendant mobility is a frequent topic of discourse in the milieu of economic contractions and the evolving occupational landscape, wherein traditional pathways to stability grow increasingly precarious. It accentuates apprehensions regarding societal disparity and the tenuousness of middle-class cachet amidst mercurial economic climates.

Concomitantly, transgenerational mobility scrutinizes social flux across successive generations. This flux may encompass ascendant or descendant trajectories, yet is appraised through juxtaposing the societal station of forebears with that of their offspring. Factors such as educational accessibility, familial steadiness, and societal vicissitudes wield profound sway in delineating transgenerational mobility. This form of mobility stands as a cardinal barometer of societal well-being, mirroring the extent to which a society affords equitable avenues for advancement to its constituents.

The dynamics of social fluidity are labyrinthine, impelled by a myriad of factors encompassing erudition, economic frameworks, societal edicts, and even cultural mores. Scholastic attainment, in particular, stands forth as a salient engine of social mobility. Heightened educational attainment engenders superior vocational prospects, augmented remuneration, and concomitantly, a loftier societal echelon. However, the dispensation of quality education is oft skewed, oft mirroring overarching patterns of societal inequality that serve as impediments to ascendant mobility.

Economic policies and labor market vicissitudes also wield pivotal influence in configuring avenues for social fluidity. Economic proliferation, culminating in employment proliferation, equitable remuneration, and avenues for professional advancement, can buttress social mobility. Conversely, economic stasis or regression may encumber it, fostering intensified competition amidst diminishing resources and vacancies.

Cultural elements, encompassing societal ethos and norms, may either facilitate or obfuscate social fluidity. In societies extolling innovation, entrepreneurial endeavor, and diligence, pathways to ascendant mobility may proliferate. Conversely, in societies wherein societal station is rigidly tethered to antecedent lineage, ethnicity, or gender, fluidity may be starkly circumscribed.

In summation, social fluidity epitomizes a multifaceted concept that unveils the underlying ethos and structural inequities within a society. It stands as a pivotal litmus test of societal openness and impartiality, mirroring the tangible opportunities accessible to individuals for ameliorating their societal station. While the potential for fluidity manifests in sundry forms, the pragmatic landscape is rife with manifold barriers—be they economic, educational, or cultural—that serve as fetters to individuals’ capacity for ascension up the societal hierarchy. A nuanced comprehension of these dynamics is indispensable for policymakers and societies endeavoring to cultivate more equanimous conditions wherein every individual may pursue their apotheosis, irrespective of their inaugural point in life.


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"Social Mobility: The Ladder of Opportunity." , 1 Mar 2024, (2024). Social Mobility: The Ladder of Opportunity . [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 1 Jun. 2024]

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"Social Mobility: The Ladder of Opportunity," , 01-Mar-2024. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 1-Jun-2024] (2024). Social Mobility: The Ladder of Opportunity . [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 1-Jun-2024]

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Social Mobility and the Sociological Perspectives, Essay Example

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Social mobility is defined as the “the ability of individuals or groups to move within a social hierarchy with changes in income, education, occupation, etc” ( meaning how people or generations of people can change their social positions over time. Depending on the perspective through which different sociologists view social mobility, each will explain it in a different way. There are three major sociological perspectives; social conflict theory, structural functionalism and interactionism and each sees social mobility in a different light.

The social conflict perspective believes social mobility to be very rare. This theory started with Karl Marx and asserts that society is divided into “haves” and “have nots” which create social conflict and competition within society. Today it is recognized that the source of conflict is not only from economic difference but also gender, race and sexuality. The result is a highly stratified society in which some dominate and the others are oppressed (Mooney, Knox and Schacht 11-12). According to conflict theorists, social mobility is difficult because class society is always reproduced and even large societal reforms only benefit the wealthy.

Structural functionalism looks at the social structures of society to see how it functions as a whole. The common metaphor used is society as a body and social structures as the organs that keep it going and focuses on society’s effect on the individual (Mooney, Knox and Schacht 8-9) According to structural functionalists, all social structures including social hierarchy have their beneficial place in society; therefore the act of an individual to change their place in society is not necessarily encouraged. Instead they believe that societies are meritocracies which will allow for social mobility if the person takes advantage of opportunities. Any failure to do so is the result of personal inferiority.

Interactionism looks at society on a personal, individual level based on face-to-face interactions and poses that people act according to their interpretation of these interactions and social symbols (Mooney, Knox and Schacht 14-15). Interactionists believe that individuals are the ones able to change their social position once it has been recognized by society as a problem.

In conclusion, social mobility varies in its definition based on the sociological perspective considering it. Some perspectives place the responsibility on the individual and others on the society for changing the social positions of its members.

Mooney, Linda A., David Knox, and Caroline Schacht.  Understanding Social Problems . Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning, 2009. Print

“Social Mobility.” . Web. 02 Apr. 2012. mobility

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Income Inequality, Social Mobility, and the Decision to Drop Out Of High School

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Melissa s. kearney and melissa s. kearney nonresident senior fellow - economic studies , center for economic security and opportunity , the hamilton project @kearney_melissa phillip levine phillip levine nonresident senior fellow - economic studies , center for economic security and opportunity @phil_wellesley discussants: miles corak and miles corak professor of economics, the graduate center - city university of new york @milescorak robert a. moffitt robert a. moffitt johns hopkins university.

Spring 2016

New research from Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine finds that greater income gaps between those at the bottom and middle of the income distribution lead low-income boys to drop out of high school more often than their counterparts in higher inequality areas, suggesting that there is an important link between income inequality and reduced rates of upward mobility.


Low-Income Boys in Higher Inequality Areas Drop Out of School More Often than Low-Income Boys in Lower Inequality Areas, Limiting Social Mobility, New Brookings Paper Finds

“Economic despair” may contribute if those at the bottom do not believe they have the ability to achieve middle class status

Greater income gaps between those at the bottom and middle of the income distribution lead low-income boys to drop out of high school more often than their counterparts in lower inequality areas, suggesting that there is an important link between income inequality and reduced rates of upward mobility, according to a new paper presented today at the Brookings Panel on Activity. The finding has implications for social policy, implying a need for interventions that focus on bolstering low-income adolescents’ perceptions of what they could achieve in life.

In “ Income Inequality, Social Mobility, and the Decision to Drop Out Of High School ,” Brookings Nonresident Senior Fellow and University of Maryland economics professor Melissa S. Kearney and Wellesley economics professor Phillip B. Levine propose a channel through which income inequality might lead to less upward mobility—often assumed to be the case but not yet fully proven. The conventional thinking among economists is that income inequality provides incentives for individuals to invest more in order to achieve the higher income position in society, but Kearney and Levine observe that if low-income youth view middle-class life as out of reach, they might decide to invest less in their own economic future.

See an interactive map of inequality by state, plus more findings »

The authors focus on income inequality in the lower half of the income distribution, as measured by income gaps between the 10th and 50th percentiles of the income distribution rather than income gaps between the the top and bottom of the income distribution, which has been more of a focus in popular culture. They show this “lower-tail” inequality is more relevant to the lives of poor youth because the middle is a more realistic ambition. Furthermore, their research could reconcile a puzzle: social mobility does not appear to be falling, despite the rise in income inequality. But, as Kearney and Levine point out, U.S. income inequality has been rising because the top of the distribution has been pulling away from the middle, not because the bottom is falling farther behind the middle.

The authors look specifically at high school drop-out rates through a geographic lens, noting the link between highly variable rates of high school completion and income inequality across the country. One-quarter or more of those who start high school in the higher inequality states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, and the District Columbia fail to graduate in a four-year period, as compared to only around 10 percent in Vermont, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Nebraska—lower inequality states. Their econometric analysis goes on to show that low-income youth—boys in particular—are 4.1 percentage points more likely to drop out of high school by age 20 if they live in a high-inequality location relative to those who live in a low-inequality location.

Kearney and Levine examine a number of potential explanations for this link, including differences in educational inputs, poverty rates, demographic composition, and other factors. Ultimately, the evidence suggests that there is something specific about areas with greater income gaps that lead low-income boys there to drop out of school at higher rates than low-income boys elsewhere. The authors’ research suggests that adolescents make educational decisions based on their perceived returns to investing in their educational development: a greater distance to climb to get to the middle of the income distribution could lead to a sense that economic success is unlikely—what they term “economic despair.”

“Income inequality can negatively affect the perceived returns to investment in education from the perspective of an economically disadvantaged adolescent,” they write. “Perceptions beget perceptions.”

Digging into reasons students themselves give for dropping out, they find that low-income students from more unequal places are more likely to give up on their educational pursuits. Surprisingly, survey evidence shows that academic performance does not have as large an impact on low-income students in high inequality states: 51 percent of dropouts in the least unequal states reported that they dropped out because they were performing poorly, as compared to only 21 percent of students who dropped out in the most unequal states.

The finding suggests that economic despair could play an important role: if a student perceives a lower benefit to remaining in school, then he or she will choose to drop out at a lower threshold of academic difficulty. They also note that while the wage premium of completing high school should reduce the dropout rate, household income inequality has an offsetting negative effect.

The choice between staying in school and dropping out may reflect actual or perceived differences from the benefits of graduating. For instance, the authors note their past research showing that youth from low-income households who grow up in high lower-tail inequality states face lifetime incomes that are over 30 percent lower than similar children in lower inequality states. They also highlight other research showing that the overwhelming majority of 9th graders aspire to go to college, but by 11th grade, low-SES students are substantially less likely to expect they will enroll in college, even among those students with high test scores.

“There are important policy implications for what types of programs are needed to improve the economic trajectory of children from low-SES backgrounds,” they write. “Successful interventions would focus on giving low income youth reasons to believe they have the opportunity to succeed. Such interventions could focus on expanded opportunities that would improve the actual return to staying in school, but they could also focus on improving perceptions by giving low-income students a reason to believe they can be the “college-going type.” For example, interventions might take the form of mentoring programs that connect youth with successful adult mentors and school and community programs that focus on establishing high expectations and providing pathways to graduation. They could also take the form of early-childhood parenting programs that work with parents to create more nurturing home environments to build self-esteem and engender positive behaviors.”

Read the full paper from Kearney and Levine here »

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