There are some structural aids to mobility. Antidiscrimination legislation is an important factor in this regard. In the same way, publicly financed job training programmes leading to marked increase in employment opportunities and modest gains in income for many lower-class and caste people, are factors helping mobility.
In addition to the structural factors, which determine the proportion of high-status, well-paid positions in society, there “are certain individual factors that greatly influence as to which persons get those high-status positions. Other things being equal, the talented usually earn more than the untalented.
The problem here is that we do not know about the ability of all the individuals. How to measure ability? And how much of mobility can be attributed to ability differences? These questions cannot be answered easily. Yet, it is a fact that not all people are equally talented. While it is impossible to measure individual ability differences satisfactorily, we assume that they are important factors in life success and mobility. Some such factors may be briefly examined here.
Education is an important mobility ladder. It is only through education that the ‘social graces’ are acquired. It makes possible the upward movement in the social structure. Today, white-collar jobs are increasing in a larger number than the manual jobs. This means that more .people are profiting from the kind of education that will fit them for these jobs. Education is not equally important for all careers.
College and professional degrees are essential for careers as doctors, engineers, chartered accountants, advocates, professors, etc. These degrees are helpful but not essential in business ownership and operation.
There is a general belief that education has a magical power of radically improving the positions of individuals in society. Hence there is a mad rush towards college admission and to obtain university degrees.
As Peter Worsley has pointed out of the students studying in the British Universities more than 25% belong to the lower-class. In the case of India, bigger number of students belongs to the category of lower-class, lower-caste, lower-middle class, etc.
2. Occupation and Economic Activities
Mobility can take place through a change in occupation from father to son. This is a function of economic opportunities. Where the opportunities are boundless, the trend is for a son to try his career in another and more highly paid occupation carrying a higher status. This is the most significant trend today. Mobility takes place through a change from one occupation to another involving a change in status.
Mobility may also take place through a change from one occupation to another involving a change in status. For example, a skilled manual worker might just with some retraining fit himself for another occupation.
Further, mobility may also take place through promotion within the same occupational group. Though always possible, this is open only to a few. Among manual workers, it is virtually ruled out. In the professions where promotions are very less, chances for this type of mobility are comparatively less.
Through achieving seniority within a given occupation, this type of mobility could be achieved. But this is not applicable to manual workers. In the professional field, for example, a junior partner in a law firm can look forward to the prospect of becoming a senior partner with the consequent higher status and bigger income that seniority carries.
(b) Economic Activities:
Economic activities also provide opportunities of social mobility. Agriculture, business, mining, fishing, hotel industry, film industry, etc., for example, represent income fetching economic activities.
The quantum of income, amount of property and the available avenues of making money normally influence the rate of social mobility, its magnitude and its effects. Even amongst a few tribals money and wealth often function as the criteria for deciding the leadership.
Throughout human history, the propertied class of the aristocrats had enjoyed a relatively higher status in the society. Incidentally, they had greater chances for mobility than the ordinary classes.
However, we cannot generalise like Marx and his followers, that the amount of wealth and the nature of economic activity always and invariably decide the nature of social mobility, its range and its rate.
3. Religious Institutions:
Religious institutions also provide opportunities for vertical mobility. Religions such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism have paid attention to this aspect. After obtaining the state recognition during the rule of the Roman emperor Constantine, the Christian church played an important role in helping many individuals of the lower class to achieve social ascendance. It had selected a few capable slaves, semi-serfs and commoners to become church officials. Pope Gregory VII, himself, for example, was the son of an ordinary carpenter.
Even in India, social reformers and reformation movements launched by them, helped many people belonging to lower classes and castes to achieve social ascendance. The religious conversion process has often helped a few to achieve social ascendance.
4. Political Institutions:
Political institutions also provide opportunities for social mobility, if not for all, at least for a few. Example: Those who enter government service at an young age, would often assume a very high office over the years either through seniority or through selection. The reservation policy of the Indian Government too has provided lot of opportunities for the scheduled caste and scheduled tribe people to achieve social ascendance.
Even during the period of feudalism good number of efficient serfs and semi-serfs could obtain relatively prestigious positions due to the political opportunities provided for them by the feudal lords.
In the same manner, soldiers occupying almost the lowest position in the army were commissioned as higher ranking officials in recognition of their heroism and good performance in the battles. In the case of Indian history, two slave leaders namely Qutub-ud-din Aibak and Iltumish themselves emerged as famous slave-kings [of the Slave Dynasty].
Political opportunities often make ordinary people big leaders and national level administrators. Examples: (i) Pandit Nehru’s personal secretary namely, Lai Bahadur Shastri could become the Prime Minister of India, (ii) H.D. Deve Gowda, son of an ordinary farmer, could become the Prime Minister, (iii) K. Gundu Rao, who was working in an ordinary transport company could become the Chief Minister of Karnataka, and so on.
5. Family and Marriage
Family also assumes importance in the study of social mobility. As Peter Worsley has pointed out, studies of social mobility have considered family as one of the influential agents contributing to vertical mobility.
It is quite common to observe in India, that some times, the entire family lends its helping hand to the daughter or the son to achieve success in his educational or business endeavours. According to J.H. Abraham, a person’s decision to achieve social mobility is “bound to be affected by what his wife feels and thinks, by the size and age- range of his family
Sometimes marriage becomes a determining factor in social mobility. Example: Hypergamous marriages are helpful for unmarried women to attain personal ascendance in the status scale.
On the contrary, a girl practising hypogamy would lose her status and suffer the risk of social descendance. In early Rome, Egypt, Greece and other countries a free woman marrying a slave was not only losing her status and reputation but also her freedom. In societies, where marriage enjoys more social importance [for example, India], individuals often improve their social status by means of their marriage.
6. Windfall or the Luck Factor:
Many people who really work hard and follow all the rules fail to succeed, while success sometimes seems to fall into others. Anyone who tries to prove that life is always fair has assumed a difficult task. But for some, success hinges just on the factor of “luck “. A large part of “luck” probably consists of working in a favourable sector of the economy.
Some sectors of the economy are fast expanding [for example, computer software industry], while some others are declining [example, the decline of real estate business in India especially after 1996].
The young worker who finds a position in an expanding industry has excellent chances for lifetime job security with pleasant retirement on a good pension. Those who pick a declining industry may find themselves in their later middle age with no job and no pension.
Engineering graduates had very poor mobility prospects in India during 1970-1985. After 1990s they have again wonderful prospects. The luck factor, however, is impossible to measure and is a handy excuse for failure, yet it is undeniably a factor in mobility.