Social Mobility In US Essay Research Paper

Social Mobility In U.S.? Essay, Research Paper Social Mobility in the United States? Abstract: The focus of this paper will be social mobility in America. My expected findings were that upward social mobility is declining in America, social mobility depends on race, income, mother and father occupation, and ethnicity.

Social Mobility In U.S.? Essay, Research Paper

Social Mobility in the United States?


The focus of this paper will be social mobility in America. My expected findings were that upward social mobility is declining in America, social mobility depends on race, income, mother and father occupation, and ethnicity. The method of research that I used was literature review. I found that 1) upward social mobility is more likely for a white individual than a black individual 2) upward social mobility among the lower classes is decreasing and downward social mobility is increasing 3) upward social mobility does increase the higher the person starts on the social ladder.

Statement of the Issue:

The United States of America is a country that takes pride in having a thing called ?equal opportunity? for all. America is a place where one can supposedly be successful if he or she works hard. Is this the reality of our society or just a myth? If the idea of equal opportunity were a reality in America, social mobility would be a very common thing. Poverty would only be temporary for the ones who willing to work hard. It wouldn?t have to mean that America would be a classless society, just one in which people moved up and down the social ladder. The question of social mobility and the truth to the idea of equal opportunity has been argued for many years in America. We have yet to come to a consensus. If it is true that equal opportunity doesn?t exist in American than the idea of the ?American Dream? would be false. Everything that America is about and stands for would have to be questioned and reexamined.

Social policies in America have often been shaped by different ideas concerning this issue. Politicians who favor the idea that equal opportunity does exist often enact policies that take away public assistance to impoverished people in America. They believe that since America provides equal opportunity there is no reason to give assistance to poor people. The idea here is that people are poor because they aren?t working to improve their life conditions. On the other hand politicians who question the existence of equal opportunity for all often favor legislation to increase public assistance to the needy. They believe that the poverty that exists in society is due to social inequalities rather than flaws in the individuals themselves. A person?s view on this issue depends mainly on her or his perception of social mobility.

In order to understand this issue we must examine what actually takes place in America. Is poverty a permanent condition that can rarely be changed or is it only temporary? Does everyone have equal access to improve his or her life condition? How common is social mobility and in what classes is it most common? These are questions that must be addressed when examining the truth or the myth of social mobility in America.

Focus of Paper:

The focus of this paper is to examine social mobility and the factors that contribute to the likelihood of it. The factors that will be examined are race, family, income, mother and father occupation, and a few others.


· Upward social mobility is more likely for a white individual than a black individual.

· The higher the income of a family the more of a chance of social mobility for the children of the family?

· The frequency of downward social mobility is increasing and the frequency of upward mobility (from the lower classes) is decreasing.


White individuals in our society have an obvious advantage over most minority individuals when it comes to being upwardly mobile in society. Specifically white individuals fair much than black individuals regarding this issue. Discrimination in the United States still exists and probably will for a very long time. This is a factor that holds back a lot of blacks and other minority groups. Also because blacks and other minorities are disproportionately represented in the lower class, many of them lack the education and job training that a socially mobile person needs. Because blacks in America have to overcome many different social barriers in order to be successful, they are less likely to be upwardly mobile when compared to whites.

It is my perception that the higher the individual starts on the social ladder the more likely the individual will end up higher than where she or he first started. The opportunities you are given in life depend mainly on your class. The more money your parents have the more opportunities you have. Sadly enough often times the quality of education a person receives in our society depends almost solely on how much money the parents have; and we all know education is the key to upward social mobility. If we actually had equal opportunity in America wouldn?t that have to mean that we all had equal assess to education? Well we don?t.

It is a fact that the middle class in America is in fact shrinking. While more and more people are making it to the top, the same is true for the bottom. It is my perception that in fact more people are falling out than climbing up. However I don?t have any statistics to prove that at this time, I hope to accomplish that in my research.


The method of research used in this paper is literature search and review. I will review five journal articles that are relative to the focus of this paper. Hopefully they will substantiate my arguments.

Literature Review:

In the article ?Getting ahead: social mobility among the urban poor? by Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, the author examines the social mobility within the urban poor population. The article concentrates on the factors that hold the urban poor back. Also the study concentrated on the black urban poor in order to exam prejudice and discrimination. The author explains each factor and how they limit social mobility among the urban poor.

Venkatesh believes race plays a big factor in social mobility. He hypotheses that blacks experience an enormous amount of racial discrimination that often times prevents them from getting a certain job or being promoted in a job they have. He also states that the location of the jobs is a big factor. He is convinced most businesses that offer jobs for less skilled people are not located in the areas in which the urban poor are and the lack of good public transportation makes it almost impossible for the poor to acquire jobs. He says the jobs that do develop in the urban areas either demand high levels of education or are extremely low paying and the person would be better off staying on public assistance. Venkatesh also claims that there is adequate job advertising in these neighborhoods. It seems that the businesses will do all they can not to hire these kinds of people.

The research for the article was a combination of interviews and background research by secondary analysis. The study consisted of the responses of 27 black males who were either unemployed or receiving public assistance. The results supported most of the authors? hypotheses. The respondents mentioned many things the stifled social mobility. The most mentioned were racial discrimination, industrial flight, lost jobs to technology, and social isolation. Most respondents felt the whites had an unfair advantage when it came to acquiring jobs. Most of them seen racial discrimination first hand. One respondent even described a situation in which a secretary at a corporation told him that when a black man would fill out an application for a job there they were told to dispose of it. Many of the respondents have seen this kind of blatant discrimination. The respondents also noticed that jobs in fact aren?t advertised in their community as well as they are in the more suburban areas. Most of the respondents agreed with Venkateshs? ideas about the factors that contribute to the lack of social mobility among the urban poor.

The article was very comprehensive and covered many key factors in the issue of social mobility. It did a particularly great job in showing how racial issues play a big part of the problem. The method of research was good however it was quite limited. The interviewer only asked certain questions that favored the hypotheses. It was almost as if the interviewer was leading the respondents at times. Besides this the research was excellent in examining this issue. It was a pleasant change from the monotonous statistics that usually fill these types of articles.

The article ?The next Italians: Latinos in California? from the journal The Economist examines the social mobility of the Latino community in California. The article is an examination and interpretation of data collected by the report ?The Emerging Latino Middle Class? by Gregory Rodriguez. In this report Rodriguez examines that amount of Latinos in Greater Los Angeles that make it in to the middle class. In this article the author goes over these statistics as well as explaining and interpreting them.

Rodriguez found that more than half the households of American-born Latinos and a third of households head by foreign-born Latinos were middle class in 1990. These numbers are extremely high for a minority group. New immigrants are often poor to start off with, however the longer they stay in America, the better they do. Also there is no indication that this kind of social mobility is slowing. The author compares Latinos of today to early-20th century Italians because they reach the middle class by setting up small businesses, working in blue-collar jobs and by ?pooling their resources, with extended families living under the same roof?. Even though assimilation has obviously taken place here, the author points out that Latinos still maintain their sense of culture. Almost every middle class immigrant speaks Spanish at home. They are also maintaining ties with their homeland.

This was a great article on social mobility. It was excellent in explaining and examining social mobility of Latinos in California. This article has great relevance for the future of America. The number of Latino immigrants is increasing rapidly in the United States. Many Americans fear this because they see Latino immigrants as leeches that just come to the United States to get on welfare and live off the system. This is obvious not true. They are obviously very determined and patient people. This article throws a different factor into the equation regarding social mobility. It raises the question of why are some minority groups more socially mobile than others? Is it because of discrimination and racial preference or is it cultural? For the Latino community in California perhaps it?s the latter that allows them to succeed.

?The truth about social mobility? is interview article from the journal Challenge. The interview is with Labor Department senior economist Stephen J. Rose and is about his longitudinal study on social mobility in America. He studied increases and decreases in income of Americans over two decades (1970s and 1980s). After finding out that the middle class was shrinking in 1983, Rose conducted a study to find out if social mobility was changing and in what ways. The sample consisted of middle age people who were already established wage earners and weren?t going to retire soon.

Rose found that social mobility was in fact changing and it wasn?t for the better. In the 70?s 21 percent of prime age adults had lower incomes at the end of the decade versus the beginning and in the 80?s this percentage was up to 33 percent. Also another very disturbing finding was that in the seventies people at all income levels had about and equal chance to move ahead, however in the eighties the higher the person started off the more chance they had of moving up. 53% of the bottom quintile in the 80?s were losers compared to only 33% in the seventies. The conclusion that Rose made was that downward social mobility is increasing and social inequality is growing and more and more people are ?losing ground?. Rose came to the conclusion that the 1980s were worse for everyone, however more so for those at the lower end than those at the top. Rose also stated that there is no indication that the situation is getting better in the 1990s and says there are some indications that the pattern is continuing.

This article was extremely detailed and comprehensive. The numbers were explained very well and all of the information was relevant. The interview format was excellent for this kind of information. The interviewer got right to the important information and asked very specific open-ended questions. The report that Rose did seems to be almost flawless in the way he conducted it. I wouldn?t question the numbers at all. He fixed many of the biases that can present themselves in these types of studies. The numbers do a great job in summing up the changes in social mobility in America.

In the article ?The occupational mobility of black males revisited: does race matter?? author Theodore J. Davis Jr. examines the extent to which opportunities for social mobility have or have not continued to expand for black males since the early 1970?s. Much of the study is an examination of an article by David Featherman entitled ?Opportunities?. A lot of the information that Davis uses is from Featherman?s study. In a way Davis? study was a continuation of Feathermans?. Featherman found that in the 1970s Americans enjoyed as much opportunity for social mobility as in early periods especially for blacks in the labor force. Davis studies what has happened since then. He doesn?t state a hypothesis.

The data that was used in this study is from the 1972-1989 Cumulative General Social Survey. The 1970s sample consisted of 4,284 white and 556 black males. The 1980s sample consisted of 4,526 white and 767 black males. The findings of the study were: (1) intergenerational occupational mobility for both black and white males were associated with their fathers? occupational attainment, however black males experienced greater downward mobility than white males; (2) intergenerational occupational persistence levels were greater for white males than for black males; and (3) race continues to influence the occupational mobility of black males. Davis also found that the biggest decline in occupational attainment among black males between the 1970s and the 1980s was in the percent employed in lower manual positions. The unemployment rate for black males had also increased in the 1980s.

Davis does a good job in this article studying race as a factor in social mobility. Davis found that race is a factor and perhaps more today than in the past. Although the article was wordy and repetitive it did a good show in showing the importance of race when it comes to moving up the social ladder.

The article ?Wage mobility of undocumented workers in the United States? by Maria Tienda and Audrey Singer focuses on two questions about the ?economic assimilation? of undocumented immigrants in the United States. These two questions are: (1) how different recently legalized immigrants are from all foreign-born persons and native-born whites; (2) whether wages of undocumented immigrants improve the longer they are in America and, if so, how these improvements are comparable to those of immigrants in general. The authors? study was an analysis of the Legalized Population Survey and the Current Population Survey to ?assess the returns to U.S. experience?.

They found that for both undocumented migrants and all foreign-born men there were positive returns the longer the person was in America. They also found that these returns depend on the region of origin. Undocumented immigrants from Mexico saw lowest wages and men from non-Spanish speaking countries received the highest. This supports the idea that race plays a factor in social mobility. When a person is a Latino immigrant they don?t benefit as much as a white immigrant.

This article was good in showing the social mobility of immigrants, legal and illegal. The main point that should be recognized is that race played a factor in how far the immigrant made it up the social ladder. The non-Latinos seemed to fair a lot better than the Latinos. The article supports the notion that race is one of the factors in determining a person?s chance of social mobility.

Findings and Interpretations:

The findings of the research seem to overwhelmingly support the first hypothesis that upward social mobility is more likely for a white individual than a black individual. Race is obviously a factor when it comes to the likelihood of upward social mobility. Reasons for this are numerous however these findings seem to point towards discrimination. Another finding was that upward social mobility among the lower classes is decreasing and downward social mobility is increasing, particularly for the lower class. The situation for lower class people in America seems to be getting worse. The finding that social mobility among the Latinos in California is increasing was also made. This surprising finding is significant because it raises many questions about social mobility with regards to culture and assimilation. A final finding was that upward social mobility does increases the higher the person starts on the social ladder.

Conclusions and Prescriptions:

Many researchers have found similar findings, however what do they actually mean for society? While there are many explanations of social mobility in the United States there aren?t many solutions. The problem of inequality of social mobility exists because of the inequalities in society. Not everyone in our society has equal opportunities to education or job training. If we did the ?American Dream? would exist and we could say we have equal opportunity for all. We have claimed these things for years however it has never actually existed. In order to correct these inequalities the first thing we must do is equalize education throughout America. The urban schools in America are extremely inadequate compared to schools in the suburbs. Everyone should be given the exact same opportunities to be educated. Higher education should not be exclusive to the rich. Universal education is the best way to ensure the American dream. Each school should be as good as the next one. This is the only way to make our society more equal. Everyone who is determined to move up in society would be able to if everyone had the same opportunity to be educated. Correcting inequalities in our society does not end here though. We need to improve living conditions of the poor by having more programs devoted to housing development, making sure everyone has the adequate health care they need, and supporting child care programs for working people. When these living conditions are improved, poor people won?t have to deal with as many hardships and can spend their time climbing the social ladder. Improving living conditions and equal education is the only way to make the ?American Dream? come true.


Davis Jr., Theodore, ?The occupational mobility of black males revisited: does race

Matter??, The Social Science Journal, v32, n2, April, 1995.

?The next Italians: Latinos in California?, The Economist, v341, n7996, December,


?The truth about social mobility?, Challenge, v39, n3, May-June, 1996

Tienda, Maria and Audrey Singer, ?Wage mobility of undocumented workers in the

United States?, International Migration Review, v29, n1, Spring 1995.

Venkatesh, Sudhir Alladi, ?Getting ahead: social mobility among the urban poor?

Sociological Perspectives, v37, n2, summer 1994.