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18 Examples of Social Mobility

Social mobility is the degree to which it is possible to change your social and economic status within a society based on your efforts or lack of efforts. This results in changes in the membership of the upper, middle and lower class over time. Low social mobility implies that nothing changes such that rich families stay rich and poor families stay poor. High social mobility indicates that people are able to improve their lives and the rich may be challenged for their dominant control of resources by anyone who creates more value. The following are common elements of social mobility.


An expensive education system that gives preferential treatment to wealthy families through legacy and escalator school admissions creates lower social mobility. A low fee education system with admissions based solely on academic merit creates higher social mobility. Education is considered a foundational element of social mobility. Inequality in education can begin at a young age.

Social Safety Net

Low cost or no cost public services in areas such as healthcare, housing, basic income, education, workers compensation and pensions. For example, a society where nobody goes into debt because they become sick. A social safety net allows the middle class and lower class to take economic risks such as starting a business or investing in an education.


The degree to which people in a socioeconomic class are healthy. For example, it is more difficult to invest in education if your family faces problems such as disease or addiction.


A low unemployment rate and high salaries increase social mobility. The structure of employment also influences social mobility. For example, an economy with healthy demand for a wide variety of skills such that talented and knowledgeable individuals easily find gainful employment.


Access to transportation. For example, the social mobility of a remote island is improved if a government introduces an efficient and affordable means of transport to the mainland.


Access to technology. For example, an internet enabled device could theoretically completely educate an individual using techniques such as a digital university.


Taxation that burdens the middle or lower class reduces social mobility. At a low income level, taxation can be a greater burden because a higher percentage of income is devoted to the essentials of life such as food. A progressive tax system without loopholes for the wealthy could greatly increase social mobility. For example, taxing billionaires at 90% and the middle class at 2%.

Free Markets

Entrepreneurship is a potent type of social mobility where people are free to start businesses and compete in markets.


Hard and soft infrastructure tend to create economic opportunity that make it easier to find gainful employment or start a small business.

Economic Growth

A strong economy that is growing can create an explosion of social mobility as it allows new businesses to thrive and drives demand for employees.

Barriers to Entry

Barriers to entry reduce social mobility. For example, burdensome regulations and red tape that make it difficult to start a small business and compete with larger entities that can easily handle these requirements.

Anti-Competitive Practices

Anti-competitive practices reduce social mobility. For example, a monopoly that abuses its power in relation to freelancers and smaller partners to shift burdens to them.

Cultural Capital

Cultural capital is a set of knowledge, experiences, norms, habits, memberships and social connections that identify you as a member of a culture. In many cases, the upper class of a society have a great deal of cultural capital that identifies them as a member of this class. This can make it difficult for outsiders who lack this cultural capital to find economic, political and social opportunities that are controlled by an elite.


Cronyism is when an elite devote the resources and policies of a society or an organization to their friends and family. This kindness is often returned such that it is a type of corruption. For example, a government that grants large construction contracts to firms that have a close relationship with politicians. Cronyism tends to create an impenetrable elite whereby a relatively small social circle cash in on the resources of society at the cost of everyone else.


A meritocracy is a system that assigns people to roles and rewards them based solely on the merits of their potential and performance. For example, a firm that will hire salespeople without a university education and pay them well if they can close sales.


A prevalence of elitism in a society reduces social mobility. For example, large firms that mostly hire from a handful of ivy league universities regardless of the merits of other candidates.

Racism & Sexism

Racism and sexism decrease social mobility. For example, a country where it is legal for landlords to discriminate based on race and sex such that individuals may find it difficult to find housing at a competitive cost.


In theory, communism has no social classes and thus no social mobility. Historical communist systems mostly produced low quality of life such that everyone was equal but poor. Communism replaces economic competition with a large bureaucracy that implements centralized planning of the economy. In this context, the government bureaucracy is the defacto elite and the only path to higher social and economic status.


Social mobility is both a process of creation and creative destruction that is a basic foundation of economic growth. The middle class and lower class can create huge amounts of value with their push to a better life. On the creative destruction side, an elite that has become static, entitled and unproductive is pushed aside to free up resources for the value creators.
Overview: Social Mobility
The degree to which it is possible to change your social and economic status within a society.
Related Concepts


This is the complete list of articles we have written about society.
Broken Windows
Civic Duty
Consumer Society
Culture Lag
Economic Systems
Group Harmony
Herd Behavior
Herd Mentality
Media Freedom
Middle Class
Power Distance
Public Sector
Social Capital
Social Class
Social Constructs
Social Mobility
Social Status
Upper Class
Upward Mobility
Working Class
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