Social Mobility, how is it failing you?

Adesh Kumar Mishra
5 min readDec 25, 2021

What do you think?

For identical qualifications and work done. Are you earning more than your previous generation or less? Are chances of moving up the social ladder (getting rich) increasing or decreasing with time? This article focuses on this very question itself. Let us find out –

You might have seen old age people having pensions after they retired from the government job. Or you might have met people despite their average educational qualifications who got an excellent job. Presently, it is getting harder to get into a decent job despite having excellent academic achievements. Why is this happening? Is the present generation not as hard-working as its previous one? Or is it something else?

The concept here I am talking about is called social mobility. Social mobility refers to “the ability to change positions within a social stratification system. When people improve or diminish their economic status in a way that affects social class, they experience social mobility.” Social mobility stands on the concept of meritocracy. Meritocracy is a political system in which economic goods, political power is vested in individual people based on talent, effort, and achievement, rather than wealth or social class. The concept of meritocracy emerged in opposition to the aristocracy. The Aristocracy is a government by a small, privileged section of a minority consisting of those presumed to be best qualified to rule. After hundreds of years of struggle, everyone agreed that a person’s birth conditions should not decide about his future conditions. Through media, political slogans, and movies, the concept was popularized and fueled in society. Neo-liberals and their free-market economy model made us believe that market has a cure for everything. Only those businesses or people who work hard and have skills will thrive; others will perish. Anyone can be successful in this world, also known as The American Dream.

Seventy years have passed since then. Now, society should have become meritocratic. Is it happening, or is it a hoax? To examine the effectiveness of meritocracy, we need to establish equality of opportunity in an absolute manner. Establishing equality of opportunity will require a level playing ground in healthcare, housing, education, and social capital. The problem starts here only, as everything is a commodity in a free-market economy, you must have money to purchase necessities of life. If you cannot afford healthcare services, education, your chances of getting up the ladder decrease sharply.

The world economy was majorly agrarian a hundred years before; the world was a major manufacturing hub some thirty years ago. Today, the role of the agriculture and manufacturing sectors has declined sharply, compensated for by the rise of service-based industries like lawyers, doctors, etc. The rise of the service industry resulted in fewer jobs for the same amount of gross domestic product generated.

Learning service-based skills is costly and strenuous. Learners require informed parents, excellent quality education to succeed in them. If you come from a poor segment of society. The chances are less for you to get a good university degree as compared to the wealthy segment of society. Studies clearly show that educational attainment at the primary level is higher in the affluent part of society in contrast to the poor ones. It means a person who has a wealthy background will have a much higher success rate than a marginalized one. The average percentage of admissions for Oxford and Cambridge universities in 2020 was 30.4 % from private schools, while the percentage of students attending them is 6.5 %. Related stories can be seen from elsewhere also.

Downward sloping social mobility can also be viewed by examining the income inequality report by Oxfam International. The highlights of the same are presented here.

1. The top 10% of the Indian population holds 77% of the total national wealth. Seventy-three percent of the wealth generated in 2017 went to the richest 1%, while sixty-seven million Indians who comprise the poorest half of the population saw only a 1% increase in their wealth.

2. Many ordinary Indians are not able to access the health care they need. Sixty-three million of them are pushed into poverty because of healthcare costs every year — almost two people every second.

3. It would take 941 years for a minimum wage worker in rural India to earn what the top paid executive at a leading Indian garment company gets paid in a year.

What do the statistics say? It says that with each passing generation. The gap between rich and poor is increasing. The claim of the wealthy section heavily overwhelms the poor. You might hear from paid media or inspirational entrepreneurs that only challenging work and skills matter in this world to succeed. But the numbers tell completely different stories.

Why am I writing this? This article is not about criticizing the existing system or blaming our brute luck. I am writing this hoping that as you finish reading this entire article. You would understand it is not your fault entirely that you are unable to improve your quality of life. You are not at fault entirely if you are failing to get a university degree or an excellent job. Next time when you will be looking at your failures. See with the lens of social mobility. Do not let popular narratives dominate your precious life. Always remember, Narratives always focus on exceptions rather than the rule.

I hope you have found this article helpful. Consider sharing it with your family and friends. It will signal me to write more about such content and motivate others to share their knowledge.