Sociology Index -

Vertical Social Mobility

Horizontal Social MobilitySocial Mobility, Books Social Mobility

Social mobility is the transition of an individual or social object or value - anything that has been created or modified by human activity - from one social position to another.

Based on the direction of the transition, we can classify vertical social mobility as: ascending and descending, or social climbing and social sinking.

When the transition of an individual or social object is from one social stratum to another, we call it vertical social mobility.

Vertical social mobility is the transition of an individual from one position to another, situated at a different level. It can be a move up (upwardly mobile) or a move down (downwardly mobile).

In social mobility we have movement of individuals or groups from one position to another. It might be horizontal social mobility or vertical social mobility.

Societies have generally enjoyed occupational, economic, and  political vertical social mobility. But there are caste-societies like India without any vertical social mobility for thousands of years. Though not entirely absent in India, vertical social mobility is rare.

Compare the Indian caste-society with the American society. In India occupational, political, and economic vertical social mobility is determined by birth. In the United States, 38.8 per cent of the captains of industry and finance,  in the early period and 19.6 per cent in the present generation started poor. Among the presidents of the United States, almost 50 percent came from poor families. In India generally inherit occupational status of their fathers, but in the United States, the majority of the people change their occupations at least once in a lifetime.

Horizontal social mobility is the transition of an individual from one position to another situated on the same level, that is, moving from one company to another in the same occupational status (movement of blue-collar worker in company A to blue-collar worker in company B)

We usually speak of moves up or down taking into account factors such as occupation or education. For instance, upward occupational mobility means moving from a lower status occupation to a higher status occupation. Downward occupational mobility means moving from a high status occupation to another, situated at a lower level.

Depending on the nature of the stratification, there are ascending and descending currents of economic, political, and occupational mobility.

The histories of Greece, Rome, Egypt, China, Medieval Europe, and so on show the existence of a vertical social mobility much more intensive than that of the Indian caste-society.

Democracy and Vertical Social Mobility
"Democratic societies" have more intensive vertical social mobility compared with that of the non-democratic groups. In democratic societies the social position of an individual is not determined by his birth.  Anybody can aspire to attain any position resulting in "greater vertical social mobility."

Vertical social mobility has never been absolutely free and there has been resistance during trasition from one social stratum to another. If veritcal mobility were absolutely free, there would be no stratification.

Mass vertical social mobility may accur during periods of mass upheaval when there is a breakdown of social structure.

Vertical Social Mobility in Communist Society - N. S. Timasheff
The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 50, No. 1 (Jul., 1944),
Abstract: The Russian Revolution is a four-phase process. The phases are distinguished by varying criteria of social prestige and by significant change in the composition and ranking of social groups. As the result of the social process belonging to the fourth phase, Russia, on the eve of the second World War, was once more a stratified society consisting of a ruling elite, the Nonparty Bolsheviks, the "toilers," and the paupers. Membership in these groups displays the tendency to become hereditary.