Social mobility is the movement of persons, families, or households within or between social strata in society. Social mobility allows persons to change their social status relative to their current social location within their society.
Social mobility is any change in social position, whether downward or upward. Most often, social mobility is measured in terms of economic mobility, such as changes in income or wealth.
Education provides one of the best chances of upward social mobility regardless of current social status or class. Social class and differences in wealth, however, affect people’s access to education and how successful they are in educational opportunities.
Differences in social status have several markers. These markers include health, housing, income, education, race, and gender. Living standards around the world have improved significantly; however, not everyone has a fair shot at success. Ultimately, social mobility boils down to what opportunities people have in the country that they live in.
Social mobility is important for nations to improve on. Many countries fail to provide fair conditions to their citizens, whether it is a lack of fair and livable wages or poor educational opportunities. Improving these conditions, therefore improving social mobility, allows citizens to feel secure and trust their governments, as well as can reduce tensions and conflict between social classes. Additionally, social mobility can boost a country’s economy.
Social Mobility by Country
The World Economic Forum produced the Global Social Mobility report, ranking 82 countries according to five key metrics. The inaugural report measured healthcare, education, tech access, work opportunities, and social protection.
Of the countries analyzed, the ten with the highest social mobility are:
- Denmark – 85.2
- Norway – 83.6
- Finland – 83.6
- Sweden – 83.5
- Iceland – 82.7
- Netherlands – 82.4
- Switzerland – 82.1
- Austria – 80.1
- Belgium – 80.1
- Luxembourg – 79.8
Seventeen of the top 20 most socially mobile countries in the world, and all of the ten most socially mobile countries, are located in Europe. Nordic countries lead the rankings due to their inclusive institutions, great job opportunities, social safety nets (welfare states), and high-quality education systems. These nations have what is called “stakeholder capitalism,” which takes into account the interests of all stakeholders, not corporate stakeholders.
If you were born into a poor family and were to reach median income, it is estimated that it would take about two generations to accomplish doing so in Denmark and three in Sweden, Finland, and Norway.
The ten countries with the lowest social mobility in the world are:
- Côte d’Ivoire – 34.5
- Senegal – 36.0
- Cameroon – 36.0
- Pakistan – 36.7
- Bangladesh – 40.2
- South Africa – 41.4
- India – 42.7
- Guatemala – 43.5
- Honduras – 43.5
- Morocco – 43.7
Côte d’Ivoire, which has the lowest social mobility of the 82 countries analyzed, falls behind on access to education, fair wages, and gender equality. The country has the highest gender inequality rate in the world. The poverty rate is also very high at 46.3%.
A person born into a poor family in any of the least socially mobile countries would take a significantly longer time to reach the median income. In South Africa, it would take about nine generations.
The United States ranks at 27 with a score of 70.4. The U.S. lags behind its comparable peers in Europe. Absolute upward mobility in the US has been declining since the 1940s. More than 90% of those born in the 1940s earned more than their parents, but that number has dropped to 50% today. The probability that children with parents from the bottom half of education ranks will “out-learn” their parents and reach the top of the education ranks has declined as well.