Race, Gender & Social Mobility
Social mobility is the study of individual movement between social strata. If one views societies from a homogenous perspective, social mobility trends would be static and quantifiable. However, the diversity of a given modern society lends to an equally complex profile of mobility within that social framework. This paper will discern two social subgroups, gender and race, and assess the social mobility of these two societal components. By casting a light on the social mobility of members of these two groups in comparison to a broader societal context, the reader will glean a more comprehensive illustration of the equities and inequities of modern society.
Keywords Circulation Mobility; Intergenerational Mobility; Intragenerational Mobility; Stratum; Structural Mobility
Stories of a young man or woman overcoming social seclusion or poverty have been told throughout human history, and the vast majority of these stories focus on a rags-to-riches plotline. Princess Nori of Japan, however, willingly chose to give up her life of royalty and privilege and live as a commoner.
Sayako Kuroda, who was born in 1969, is the youngest child and only daughter of Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. Her life as a princess was a matter of heritage and not the product of upward social mobility. In 2005, however, she willingly gave up the royal lifestyle by marrying Yoshiki Kuroda, who is a commoner. In doing so, she forfeited her birthright and moved from the highest echelon of Japanese society to the status of an everyday Japanese citizen. She moved out of the royal palace and into a condominium, took driving lessons, and began to shop at local supermarket (Watts, 2005).
Sociology is the study of human societies. Of course, any modern society is anything but homogenous. Societies are comprised of different ethnicities, races, creeds, subcultures, genders, and orientations. In this light, the term melting pot is misleading, as it suggests the melting together of a heterogeneous group in order to become homogeneous.
In one arena of sociology, this multiplicity of cultures presents an interesting illustration of the successes and shortcomings of modern society. Social mobility is the study of individual movement between social strata. If one views societies from a homogenous perspective, social mobility trends would be static and quantifiable. However, the diversity of any modern society lends to an equally complex profile of mobility within that social framework.
This paper will discern two subgroups, gender and race, and assess the social mobility of these two societal components. By casting a light on the social mobility of these two facets in comparison to a broader societal context, the reader will glean a more comprehensive illustration of the equities and inequities of modern society.
Two Types of Social Mobility
Social mobility takes into account a variety of factors and indicators. For the purposes of this paper, mobility will be explained in two general contexts. First, mobility is accomplished as a result of individual pursuits and actions. A person takes advantage of the resources, economic trends, educational institutions, and public services provided him or her with the ability to move into a higher social stratum or to a lateral arena within the same stratum. This movement is assessed in two manners. In the first, intergenerational mobility, an individual's social position is compared with that of his or her parents. If the son or daughter is in a higher stratum than his or her parents, then upward social mobility has occurred. In the second instance, intragenerational mobility, mobility is gauged by monitoring the changes that have occurred for an individual throughout his or her life. In each of these situations, the mobility that occurs is a result of an individual making choices in order to move into a different social position in life.
In the second form of mobility, the individual takes little action to better his or her situation. Rather, the environment in which he or she lives has changed in such a way that allows a segment of the population to move into a higher or lower stratum. Structural mobility, as this second area is known, occurs when society as a whole experiences a significant shift. The Great Depression, for example, caused a tremendous number of Americans to lose their jobs and social standing. When that tumultuous period came to an end and the workforce was called into demand again, millions of people returned to work with greater job security and better ability to provide for their families.
The modern, post-World War II world has also seen tremendous social upheaval that raised and lowered citizens' social standing. For example, the fall of the Soviet Union stratified the formerly classless Russian society. Additionally, the collapse of the South African regime of apartheid elevated disenfranchised and impoverished black countrymen, creating a system of relative social equity. Far more opportunities now exist for black South Africans than ever before in that country's history.
An important debate continues to grow within sociological fields. In this discussion, the question of whether to link or separate structural mobility with social mobility in one consistent model is ongoing. Some see this debate in more philosophical terms. Social mobility (also known as "circulation mobility") is defined in mathematical terms as total mobility minus structural mobility (Krauze & Slomczynski, 1986). Social mobility and structural mobility are viewed as divergent concepts. The logic is simple: circulation mobility is based on the individual and structural mobility centers on environmental shifts that change the society, with or without the individual's input.
Conversely, much attention has been paid to the notion of structural and social mobility as one overarching and conjoined concept, not separate ideals. This view can best be supported by the fact that many examples of individual mobility are based in structural changes as well ("Methods," 1989). There are a number of situations in which an individual's position may be improved in comparison to the status of his or her parents. However, these situations may also have a basis in a structural arena, such as an improved economy, social upheaval, or changes in political leadership.
Perhaps the most agreed-upon element of this debate is that there is a lack of data that could either eliminate or confirm the link between structural and circulation mobility. In light of this fact, a conclusive validation of either of these theories remains elusive. For the purposes of this paper, we will assume a model in which structural and circulation mobility are connected, that gender and race plays a role in social mobility, and that the mobility witnessed by women and non-Caucasians may have a basis in social mobility, and yet environmental conditions can have an impact as well.
In an ideal world, politics, economics, and social grouping would not play a role in social mobility. Mobility, after all, comes from individual initiative to take advantage of opportunities in order to move upward. Among the available resources is education, which is instrumental in helping to advance one’s career and social standing.
Educational resources are not always be available for all members of a society. In fact, there are a number of social groups whose access to certain services, resources, and programs is limited or unavailable. A growing number of activists and sociologists point out that although governments, entrepreneurs, and civic leaders stress advocate for such resources, inequities exist among various races, ethnicities, and genders.
A 2007 study by the University of Akron and Duke University points to the importance of a post-secondary education to upward social mobility. Life disruptions such as early...
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