Occupational distance is the distance between one occupation and another where occupations are ranked on a hierarchy of social status. Prestige differences account for vertical occupational distances. The occupational distance concept is central to studies of social mobility because it permits some measurement of the extent of mobility. Occupational distance is therefore an important measurement in determining the relevance of social mobility.
For example, to change one's occupation from unskilled labor to semi-skilled labor involves less occupational distance than to move from unskilled labor to professional accountant. Occupational mobility is also a factor in occupational distance. What we mean by occupational mobility is vertical occupational distance and horizontal occupational distance, that is, the tendency of some occupations to move up or down the vertical scale of social prestige.
Vertical occupational distance and horizontal occupational distance is more due to culture differences. A professional occupation and an unskilled occupation are different in training requirements, educational standards and aspiration.
Occupational distance also varies with the complexity of the culture traits of the respective occupations. The more complex the culture traits of an occupation the greater the vertical occupational distance from the occupations with less complex cultures. Mobility might be Horizontal Social Mobility or Vertical Social Mobility. In Contest Mobility, equal footing among individuals is assumed as a given.
Demand mobility is not caused by individuals ascending or descending in class or status, but by changes in the occupational structure of the economy. Contest mobility is a British term referring to what North Americans would refer to as social mobility through equality of opportunity.
There are two kinds of occupational distance: vertical occupational distance and horizontal occupational distance. Vertical occupational distance indicates the differences in prestige accorded by cultural norms to members of various occupations; horizontal occupational distance indicates the lack of sympathetic understanding between occupations of similar or near-similar status because of the differences in background and training of the members of the two occupations.
Vertical occupational distance and horizontal occupational distance are related to the prestige and social status which occupations possess among persons outside the particular groups. As Bogardus points out, there is a kind of occupational mobility which affects the status of occupations. For example, aviation seems to be rising, whereas it may be true that acting is declining slightly in the scale of prestige. - BOGARDUS, E. S., Occupational Distance. Sociol. and Soc. Res., 1928, 13, 73-81.
Brulhart et al. (2006) use data on individual workers to estimate the impact of Intra-Industry Trade (IIT) on both the sectoral distance and occupational distance which a worker moves when trade expands, conditioning for a range of other industrial and worker characteristics. In their industry level regressions, their results are less strong when their occupational mobility variables is used to measure adjustment. However, when individual level data is used, increases in marginal intra-industry trade significantly reduce both the sectoral distance and occupational distance of worker moves.