Walter Müller, Reinhard Pollak
Mobility, Social

Pp. 640-646 in: James D. Wright (Ed.): International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences. 2nd ed. 2015. Amsterdam: Elsevier

Social mobility is the movement in time of individuals, families or other social units between positions of varying advantage in the system of social stratification of a society. Classical authors have studied social mobility primarily in its contribution to class or status group formation. Recent research concentrates on identifying the degree to which individuals' social opportunities in life are conditioned by their social origins (conditions of life in the parental family) and on specifying the individual, institutional and societal factors responsible for it. Studies of the process of status attainment show that the social status or prestige level of a job attained by a person at a given point in his or her career strongly depends on earlier job achievements, educational qualifications and on parents' status. Studies of intergenerational class mobility analyze the patterns of transition from parental (origin)class to individuals’ own (destination) class and show that class destinations heavily depend on class origins. While, in general, a high degree of constancy over time and cross-national similarity among economically advanced societies is found in relative rates of mobility, social fluidity has slightly increased in some societies in recent decades. Absolute rates of mobility vary more than relative rates across societies and time, yet have partly converged between societies in recent decades.