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Social Mobility

The wish for a higher status and income than one's parents had is the American dream. The process whereby people achieve-or fail to achieve-this is called social mobility.


Social mobility may. be defined' as' the act of moving from one social class to another. An open class society is one in which mobility is high; a closed class society is one in which there is little mobility. The caste system in which people are confined to the occupations and statuses 'of their ancestors is the most extreme example of a closed class society [Berreman, 1981]. India is often cited as 'the world: s most caste-ridden country. Its government now is opening higher-status occupations to low-caste groups which, for centuries, have been limited to
low-status work. It is trying to move India toward an open class society [Gandhi, 1980].

In the modern world, many countries are seeking to increase social mobility in the belief that this makes people happier and enables them to do the kind of work for which they are best suited. If social mobility is high, even though individuals have unequal social origins all may believe that  pay are equal in having a chance of reaching a higher social-class position. If social mobility is low, then it is clear that m.ost people are frozen, into the status of their ancestors. The Horatio Alger novels of an earlier generation helped .to .sustain the belief that America is a land of boundless opportunity 'where all positions are open to the ambitious. This belief is often derided by skeptics, but there is much in the American experience to support it. As Edmund Muskie, one-time candidate for the vice-presidency and the son of a Polish immigrant named Marciszewski, said of his father: He had landed here wait only five years of formal education, the ability to work as a tailor and not much else. One year before he died, his son became the first of Polish ancestry to be elected governor of  state Now this may not justify the American system to you, but I am sure it did for him. (Edmund Muskie, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, N.Y., 1972, pp. 46-47.) If desirable social statuses are actually available to all who make an effort to reach them, there will probably be little agitation for absolute social equality. If, however, the channels of social mobility are so clogged that a great many are doomed to failure, then a demand for complete equality for all is more likely. The balance of this chapter will be ' devoted to an analysis of how social mobility occurs, its frequency, and the factors which may accelerate or retard movement from one social stratum to another.

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