Social stratification is a characteristic of all society. We have also seen that classes and individuals are rated high or low on the basis of characteristics possessed by them according to the social value scale. Any change in the value scale or any change in the characteristics results in a change in the status of different classes.
Thus different occupations are held in different degrees of esteem in different societies or within the society at different times, The members of the priestly class were at one time rated higher than the members of the other classes in India.
But today it is not so. A doctor or engineer enjoys greater-prestige than a priest. Likewise if a person becomes a minister from an ordinary shopkeeper, his status is also enhanced. On the other hand, if the minister loses his job and comes to his old shop, the status enjoyed by him as a minister is lost.
Thus it is seen that people in society continue to move up and down in the status scale. This movement is called social mobility. Mobility is to be distinguished from migration which is a movement in geographical space.
Mobility has been classified as ‘Horizontal Mobility’ and ‘Vertical Mobility’. Horizontal Mobility refers to change of residence of job without status change, such as a teacher’s leaving one school to work in another or even in a factory as a Welfare Officer.
“Vertical Mobility” refers to movement in any or all of the three areas of living class, occupation and power. An individual’s mobility, up or down is a measurement of how is achieved status compares with his ascribed status.
Social change is natural phenomenon and the moment there is also social mobility. Probably no society absolutely forbids social mobility and no society is immobile. If, for example, we wished to have each caste occupying the same status generation after generation on a uniform rate of population replacement would be necessary in every caste.
But as the law of nature is, some castes expand in population while other contract. For those that expand, some new occupations must be found while for those who contract, replacements from other castes must be had. Thus differences in population, increase or decrease of various castes make social immobility impossible.
Likewise geographical adaptations require social adaptation. There is constant change in the physical setting of society. As population grows, forests are depleted and fields eroded to provide more housing accommodation.
New calamities and disease appear. New economic and political development take place. Naturally the social system must adjust itself to the changing physical conditions and such adjustment inevitably entails a certain amount of social mobility.
Further every society allows, some scope for personal ambition. Had it not been so there would have been no progress. In every system there are different awards for different achievements and man makes an effort for that kind of achievement that is most rewarded.
The belief that individual can get a head legitimately by their own efforts is basis for social progress. The social scale is related to and based on a scale of values.
Any group that improves its standards will also improve its social status. And inevitably some groups will strive to improve themselves. Thus the very system of different values for different characteristics itself induces people to move up the side of social status.
Among the factors that make some amount of mobility inevitable in any society. Henry M. Johnson lists the following ones as important.
(i) Social prestige ultimately depends upon the accepted value system. If certain qualities of achievements are socially valued some people will strive for them.
(ii) There is no constant tendency for intelligence and other kinds of native capacity to be confined to upper classes. It has not been uncommon for the sons of farmers and labourers to rise by highest position in society.
(iii) At varying rates of speed changes are always occurring in the demand for different kind of skill.
(iv) The birth rate of each class never exactly fills all the positions in the class.
(v) Birth in upper classes sometimes fosters complacency in many person.
Thus we may infer that despite the hindering factor of inequality of opportunity occurs in every society. Socialists study social mobility in order to ascertain the relative “openness of a social structure”. The greater the amount of social mobility, the more open the class structure.
Amount of mobility
It may be noted that mobility may be downward or upward. Downward mobility is permitted in every society. If a member of an upper class fails to live up to the class he will fall below the class status.
In India, by marrying someone of another caste, especially a lower one. As regards upward mobility no society absolutely forbids it but the amount and case of upward mobility will depend upon certain factors. Among these the following ones may be noted.
1. Social change
In general the principal condition that favours or prevents mobility is the rate of social change conditions of rapid social change such as the Industrial Revolution or territorial expansion make for social mobility, while a period is very little for the individual to rise out of the status which is ascribed to him.
It may be noted that political, economic, religious or other revolutions may produce rapid social mobility so as to reduce the upper class to the bottom of social scale and to elevate to the top classes formerly at the bottom.
The system -that limits communication between classes and restricts knowledge of the conditions of life to one’s own class will also tend to discourage social mobility conversely a system through which members of all classes become familiar with the conditions of life in other classes, facilitates, mobility of course, the extend of mobility will be determined by the opportunities and needs that exist.
Indifferent classes and the traditions against the mitting members of another class.
3. The Division of labour
Finally, the amount of social mobility is influenced by the degree of division of labour that exists in a society. If the division of labour is very highly developed and if the degree of specialization and skilled training is very high it is correspondingly difficult for a person from one class to pass readily into other classes.
Similarly the sharply defined castes that have been assigned certain traditional functions may be related to social mobility despite the ‘fact that other conditions are favourable for social movement.
Here it may be emphasized that the economic progress is the most important factor in determining the rate of mobility in any country. Economic progress is associated with industrialization is associated with a higher rate of mobility.