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What is Class Mobility?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Class mobility is the movement of people between social classes. Mobility can be upward or downward in nature. Class itself is a difficult term to define, and different people may have different perceptions of social class which make it challenging to determine whether or not people are truly experiencing class mobility. In many societies, especially the United States, the idea of class mobility is a very important social concept, with citizens believing that everyone has the opportunity to climb the class ladder.

A number of things can influence someone's social class. Wealth and access to money is an important factor, as are education and occupation. Other factors can include race, which can be a hindrance or a help for class mobility, depending on one's race and the society in question, as well as family history and things like manners and culture. For example, someone with a lot of money might be assumed to be upper class, but in some societies, he or she might not be considered upper class due to influences such as that person's family history or occupation. A pawnbroker who did very well, for example, might not be a member of the upper class despite having just as much money as a famous banker, although the pawnbroker's children might be able to join the upper class by developing more prestigious occupations.

Many societies are loosely divided into a lower, middle, and upper class. The lower classes are typically laborers of low income with limited education and few opportunities for educational or economic advancement. The middle classes are more economically stable, with more education and many more social opportunities as a result of their elevated class status. The upper class, usually the smallest group, includes people with established social positions which include great prestige, along with economic security. In an illustration of the differences between the classes, the janitor who cleans a bank is lower class, while the bank manager with a finance degree may be in the middle class, and the family which owns the bank is in the upper class.

Upward class mobility is the goal of many people in the lower and middle classes, who view higher social classes are more economically and socially secure. Some people attempt to achieve class mobility for themselves by aggressively pursuing educational and social opportunities, while others focus on laying the groundwork for future generations of the family. For example, someone might work very hard to earn money for college funds, ensuring that his or her children have opportunities which would not otherwise be available.

Downward mobility is a fear among some people who feel that their social positions are precarious. A family which experiences a radical change in fortunes may find itself falling within the class structure, especially if these changes persist over several generations. People who experience downward mobility can experience a great deal of prejudice from people in their former social class as well as the people in the social class they end up in.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By mutsy — On Jan 18, 2011

Moldova- That is really sad because you feel trapped as a result of your circumstances. There are countless stories of self made people in the United States that have changed classes by achieve an enormous amount of success by taking calculated risks in their lives that have paid off.

For example, Oprah Winfrey grew up poor but was so determined and goal oriented that she now has a media empire and has a net worth of over $3 billion dollars.

Dave Ramsey the financial expert was inspired by his filing for bankruptcy and his need to turn his life around.

Sometimes are greatest inspirations come from problems that we solve for ourselves that end up helping countless others. The ability to work hard regardless of your circumstances is necessary if you are determined to move up to a higher social class.

By Moldova — On Jan 16, 2011

Sunshine31-I saw that movie and it was so inspirational. I have to say that I agree that class mobility is best here in the United States than in other societies.

Communist countries like Cuba, offer no opportunity for upward mobility. Basically there is no future because the government owns everything and there is no private enterprise.

This is why many Cubans risk their lives on a raft to escape this island. There are no rewards for hard work because everyone basically receives the same amount of compensation and rationed foods.

This takes away the initiative of the Cuban people which is the very thing they need to achieve success and upward mobility in a just society.

Here even education does not help as much because everyone is still destitute. A doctor on the island only earns $25 a month, which although the profession is prestigious, there is no upward mobility at the end of the tunnel.

By sunshine31 — On Jan 13, 2011

Class mobility really depends on your education and your drive. Often people from modest backgrounds have been able to achieve much because of their inner drive and determination.

This has caused them to enhance their lifestyle and allowed them to move up the social ladder. The United States is one of the few countries in the world that allows equal opportunities for all that seek it.

For example, in the 2006 film, “The Pursuit of Happyness” was based on the true story of Chris Gardner who was a homeless man that turned his life around and became a millionaire.

The film illustrates the daily struggles that Gardener experienced and how his strong character and faith allowed him to continue to try despite all of his obstacles.

This is really the way that he moved up the social ladder from lower class to upper class and now he has a thriving financial consulting practice.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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