Social Mobility in a Disaggregated Class Context: A Comparative Analysis of the Influence of Occupational Structuration on Mobility Regimes

Research question/goal: 

In the sociological literature on social mobility, the long-standing convention has been to assume that intergenerational reproduction takes one of two forms, either a categorical form that has parents passing on an aggregated big-class position to their children, or a gradational form that has parents passing on their socioeconomic standing to their children. These conventional approaches both ignore in their own ways the important role that occupations might play in transferring advantage and disadvantage from one generation to the next. Thus, the main research question of this project addresses different forms and mechanisms of intergenerational inheritance of social positions. Are conventional analyses unable to reveal these mechanisms because they ignore the structuring impact of occupations? Is there in fact less social mobility in industrialized countries which conventional approaches have so far disguised? The project brought together nationally representative cross-sectional data for the U.S., Japan, Germany, and Sweden. With these data, the research group developed a cross-national comparative micro-class scheme with 82 different categories, nested within 10 meso classes and 5 big classes. In log-linear analyses, we show that (a) occupations are an important conduit for reproduction, (b) the most extreme rigidities in the mobility regime are only revealed when analyses are carried out at the detailed occupational level, and (c) much of what shows up as big-class reproduction in conventional mobility analyses is in fact occupational reproduction in disguise. Although the four countries differ in the extent to which the occupational form has been institutionalized, we show that it is too prominent to ignore in any of these countries. The results suggest that an occupational mechanism for reproduction may be a fundamental feature of all contemporary mobility regimes. Further support for the importance of a disaggregated approach is demonstrated in additional analyses on intragenerational social mobility and on intergenerational occupational inheritance from fathers and mothers to daughters and sons. For more details, visit:

Fact sheet

University of Mannheim / US National Science Foundation
2002 to 2006
Data Sources: 
general population surveys, panel-data, in Sweden national s
Geographic Space: 
Germany, Sweden, Japan, United States