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Social Mobility Essay

Inequality exists in all societies, sociologists concern themselves with social inequality including social prestige, economic privileges and power. Stratification, in particular social stratification is different. Stratification shows that inequality is rife in society and the inequality is also structured in the form of strata. In Britain there are many differing class stratification systems, two of these class stratifications are the Hindu Caste System and the Social Class System. Class stratifications vary from each other greatly. One difference is that you would receive greater legal freedom as well as political freedom. It also isn’t as reliant on religious justification, it is seen as an open system in the form of social mobility. Social mobility determines in terms of social class how flexible our society is for individuals to move between the class groups. There is a number of ways that class can be defined, the theoretical approach as opposed to the descriptive approach. Secondly, it can be approached either subjectively or objectively. Lastly the registrar general classification and the market research classification.

Class stratification is very difficult to define. Normally it is based purely on occupation, although massive changes in employment have made defining it much harder. Recently there has been the occurrence of Class De-Alignment due to change in industry. Thatcherite policies also impacted Britain greatly, across varies areas such as the sale of council houses, privatisation of businesses, legislation concerning unions and the public sectors decline. All of these areas have all shaped how socially mobile an individual can actually be. Class Stratification has a multitude of sociological perspectives, one such theory is Functionalism. Functionalism is a structural consensus theory. Feminist theorists such as Durkheim and Parsons, believe that social class is a system of meritocracy where those who apply themselves and work hard will rise to the top leaving all the people who are lazier to stay down at the bottom. This means that social mobility is pivotal as if people don’t move freely, then Britain is not democratic.

Other functionalist theorists such as Davis and Moore, argue that those jobs which are found at the high end of the social class structure are the most sought after and depended on. E.g. you need a lot of training and skill to be an efficient lawyer as people are depending on you fighting their case, whereas a job like a cleaner requires very little skill and the majority of people could do that job. Functionalists tend to argue that a system involving social classes was inevitable and we all buy into this system willingly. One strength of Functionalism is the idea of a meritocratic system; this is shown in the media with figures such as Alan Sugar and Richard Branson building their empires out of nothing. Also the idea that jobs at the high end of the scale being more depended on and difficult explains the reasons as to the class system that we have. Functionalism is strong when highlighting the relationships between the different sections in our society and also explains the potential for social mobility.

Although sociologists, such as Tumin rebel against the notion of a meritocratic “level playing field”. He looks to private schools for evidence that money can provide your child with a better chance in society. This proves that there is no such thing as an equal start and that institutions such as schools prevent social mobility. Tumin also refutes the functionalist claim of a “small pool of talent” as it is irrelevant due to only a small number of people being required to do these techinically difficult and dependent jobs. He refues that many more people would become doctors and lawyers if they were given the opportunity, resulting in a surplus of people in these highly desirable areas. However another theory who has an alternative viewpoint on social class is Marxism. Karl Marx believed that there was a conflict between the classes. Stratification system comes from the relationship between social group to the means of production. Marxist thinkers would define class as a social group where all the members have the same relationship to the means of production.

Marxism believes that the Ownership or the non- ownership is the most important division in Capitalist society. The Bourgeoisie control all the power in society and as long as this continued in society the Proletariat would be restricted from moving up the social ladder. It’s a classic example of the minority ruling the majority. Marxism believes in a dichotomous society that exists of two classes the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat (Wage Slave). The Bourgeoisie are the class who own the means of production and the Proletariat are the class who are exploited and work for the means of production. This means they are unable to move up the class system. Another key feature of Marxism is that the proletariat live under a false class consciousness and are unaware of their exploitation by the Bourgeoisie. They accept the way that life is and sell their labour to survive and continuously have the same routine, never striving to better themselves means that they will never be socially mobile.

Marxist theorists have many strengths, one such strength relating to production is the attention drawn by the Bourgeoisie’s exploitation of the Proletariat. From a Marxist viewpoint, the Bourgeoisie as the owners were able to oppress the Proletariat due to having no other option except to sell their labour. This is much like the 21st Century, the lower classes are still being oppressed by the upper classes, and this in certain cases prevents social mobility. Another strength of Marxism is that it is good at explaining the workings of Capitalism. Marx believed Capitalists are only able to make money as they exploit their workers. Profits are made due to the workers producing to their employers a larger sum of value than what they are paid in wages and until the Lower classes (wage slaves) are paid a fairer representation of the profits then they will remain socially immobile. All the money raised after wages Marx referred to is surplus value and all this surplus value goes to the owners leaving the workers without a fair share of the winnings earned through their hard work.

Marxists theorists are often criticised due to apparent weaknesses such as Marxist theory being too economically deterministic. Marx’s take of Economic Determinism is that economical laws determine the course of history, so that because the Lower class/Proletariat are currently poor and oppressed that will always be the case meaning that they will never have the opportunity of becoming socially mobile. This view is viewed as outdated and one dimensional as it lacks foresight. For example a woman’s ranking and position in the household has developed and progressed drastically since Marx’s era. Another flaw of Marxism is that “History has not been kind to Marx”.

Marxism as a whole has been mistaken as Stalinism in recent years. People see the failure of “Communism” in Russia and point out the apparent flaws. Since Marxism the idea of everyone gets paid the same wage has been scrapped resulting in upper and lower classes but this creates the opportunity for members of the lower classes to apply themselves and climb the social ladder. Over the past few centuries politicians and sociologists have debated over the possibility of social mobility. Social mobility can come in two forms horizontal or vertical.

Horizontal mobility is a term used to describe movement of people to new forms of similar employment. This can be viewed as short-ranged mobility as there is very little change to the individual’s class status. Secondly there is Vertical mobility which is mobility that can describe movement between strata going both down and up the stratification system. It’s normally conveyed as an example of long-range mobility, displaying a change in a class status and this can be seen through inter-generational or intra-generational. Inter-generational mobility is when there is movement between generations. Such as people who were raised as working class with working class parents who have themselves managed to become middle class by obtaining middle class lifestyles. Then there is intra-generational, this occurs when an individual over his/her lifetime by their own methods such as a promotion or change in career moves up the social ladder. Multiple studies into social mobility have been undertaken and two of these such studies are the Social Mobility in Britain study (Glass) and the Oxford Mobility study (Goldthorpe).

Glass’s final conclusion was that mobility did exist, although it was generally short-ranged and only manageable within certain types of work, so only a few individuals were able to breakthrough from manual work to professional work. Glass noted that sons tended to follow in the footsteps of their fathers and go into similar jobs with a similar status. He also concluded that there was little long range mobility from top to bottom and vice versa, this means there is definite evidence of social mobility and social closure. Glass’s study is strong due to the fact that it was the original study that looked into intergenerational mobility. It also highlights that Britain is a meritocracy with social mobility, although it was predominantly short ranged. Another strength in Glass’s study is that he acknowledges the importance of family background as an influential aspect on levels of social mobility. This recognises and highlights the continual inequality in Britain and this caused social closure.

Glass’s theory also had weaknesses such as it being misleading to an extent, particularly when explaining levels of self-recruitment, as he understates levels which occur at the top end of the class structure, this means the underestimation of social closure as a whole. Glass has also been criticised due to his chosen research methods used in his study, as his findings aren’t supported by occupational changes which took place in the time leading to his study in 1949. Consequently, he is blamed for generally underestimating social mobility and particularly long range mobility. Glass’s study refutes Marx as he believed that for class and society to function the Bourgeoisie must exploit the proletariat and this means that the proletariat would never move up the class structure and Glass believes this is possible between manual to professional work. Goldthorpe’s Oxford Mobility study believed that Long range mobility was possible and that rates had increased in Britain since World War Two suggesting that since that era class categories have slightly merged and society has become more open.

This directly clashes with Marx’s belief in a dichotomous society where the proletariat and Bourgeoisie would never intermingle or exchange places in society. Goldthorpe also discovered that two thirds of unskilled workers were in manual occupations and that as little as 4% of blue collared workers came from professional backgrounds, showing severe inequality and a lack of social mobility. Another feature of the study is that it’s been suggested that the increase in long range mobility could be caused by changes in the occupational structure of Britain. De-industrialisation resulted in fewer traditional working class jobs. A strength of Goldthorpe’s study is that he was the first major theorist since Glass to look into intergenerational mobility and he had hindsight and a few more decades to make hypotheses with. Another strength is the inclusion of women in this study, his findings showed that women were concentrated in Class 3.

This shows that women are sterotyped out of the manual workforce and they won’t be promoted due to the “glass ceiling”. Although Goldthorpe’s study did have some drawbacks such as him ignoring the existence of elites at the top end of the spectrum, his class 1 is widely viewed as being too big and vague. This shows that he underestimated the impact that elite self-recruitment can have on the continual process of social mobility. Another element that Goldthorpe is widely criticised about was the exclusion of women from his study. This means his study has sample bias and lacks ecological validity as it completely misses out the social mobility of women as individuals and women in relation to men as it cannot be measured. In conclusion, social mobility does occur in 21st century UK but only to a certain extent. A newspaper article in the Guardian, revealed that young people with the poorest income groups have increased their percentage of graduation by 3% between 1981 and the late 1990’s, whereas those who have the richest 20% of parents, their percentage of graduation has risen by 26%.

This is a clear example of social barriers that it is almost impossible to overcome. A.H. Halsey although produced a study which claimed that there were more cases of upward social mobility than downward social mobility over the past century in the Britain. The changes which are evident in the class system were likened by Halsey to a triangle turning into a diamond (pyramid into lemon shape). The pyramid consisted of a small amount of upper class individuals and a larger number of working class at the bottom. Whereas the lemon shape contained a small number of people at the top and bottom of the shape and there was an expanded middle section full of middle-class individuals.


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