Social mobility refers to a person’’s ability to move between social groups and statuses in a society. There are several types of social mobility and many of the types of social mobility overlap. The shift does not necessarily determine if the change is good or bad, just that change occurred. The World Economic Forum bases a countries index on several factors including healthcare, education, access to technology, social protection and employment opportunities.
Types of Social Mobility
There are several forms of social mobility and they can be experienced at different stages of life. They are independent of each other but can often overlap.
Horizontal mobility occurs when an individual makes a change but their overall social status remains unchanged. For example, an attorney goes from practicing law to teaching at a law school or someone moves from one region to another but continues to do the same job as before. The individual’s social standing remains largely unchanged.
Vertical mobility is what is most often thought of when speaking about social mobility and comes in two parts; Upward mobility and downward mobility. Upward mobility refers to when a person moves from a lower position in society to a higher one. For example, someone takes a position that offers higher pay or a better title than their current position.
Downward mobility occurs when someone moves from a higher position in society to a lower one. For example, when an individual is terminated from their position at a company or if a business owner is forced to declare bankruptcy and close their business.
Inter-generational and Intra-generational mobility
Inter-generational mobility occurs when someones social position changes from one generation to another. This is often experienced by immigrant families. Parents will take less desirable jobs to be able to provide an education for their children, allowing them to move into a higher socal status.
Intra-generational mobility occurs when societal change occurs over the course of one generation. For example, a person will move up the corporate ladder over the course of their career. They may start in an entry level position and eventually moved into a senior position.
Social Mobility by Country
In 2020, the World Economic Forum ranked 82 countries in their Global Social Mobility Report. The report measured five key metrics; education, access to technology, healthcare, social protection and employment opportunities. The top 10 countries with the highest social mobility index scores are located in Europe with the majority of those being Nordic Countries. Nordic countries lead the index for a number of reasons including excellent job opportunities, social safety nets and high quality education programs.
The top ten countries 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
These countries have a high level of trust in their governments which can help reduce tension between social classes. In these countries, if someone is born into a poor family, it would take two to three generations to reach a median income.