The unseen barriers to social mobility
Social mobility can be explained as “movement” of individuals, families or households within the same socioeconomic level or across strata, inter- or intra-generational. The movement depicts a change in socioeconomic status relative to where one is currently socially placed. Mobility is mostly described quantitatively implying that the measure is in terms of change in personal economics, be it income or wealth.
As inequality increased globally, social mobility emerged as an alternative measure of social fairness. Interestingly, in different regions, the extent to which individuals are allowed to move their positions depends on several factors, as no two societies allow or discourage the same amount or rate of movement, and that mobility is not as common or easy to achieve as many assume.
Across many countries, successive governments have put social mobility high on their public policy agenda with a theoretic aim of each generation being better off than the one before. This, however, is failing to be realised as the reality of equal life chances remains distant. The truth is that policies promising development are still inadequate in addressing challenges to social mobility.
Since social mobility is viewed in economic terms the determinants may include a lack of equal opportunities, trends in the labour market, and productivity and economic unrest. It is, however, mandatory to understand that social mobility is a complex and multifaceted concept with a range of overlapping factors that determine going up (or down) the social ladder. And the factors may not always be structurally categorised or reduced solely to economics.
In order to fully enable upward mobility among those at the lower end of the stratum and reducing inequality, governments ought to implement policies that facilitate the importance of “individual”, “human” and psycho-social factors. More than external factors such as education or area-based influencers, which appear to combine with and perpetuate socioeconomic disadvantages to prevent people from exercising effective choices, the human factor permits upward mobility as can be seen by stories of those who built their lives from nothing.
Special attention should be given to individual traits like psychology, competence and work ethic. Internal strengths such as people, their ideas and ability to organise them, motivation to compete and win, augment mobility prospects. More than economic conditions, failure threatening anxiety and low esteem come in the way of success. All members of today’s global society dream of improving their living conditions. However, those who do nothing to change their lives and are filled with dread of leaving their usual mode of life, are unable to benefit from economic prospects and well-being.
Certainly, there is a requirement to reflect on the current global social environment. Which although it has its merits in terms of interconnectedness and integration, it is also debated on whether it actually ensures creating opportunities and avenues for global citizens to excel. This pushes workers to compete in both their local context and also tests their personal limits at an unrestricted level. Although it is arguably dependent on being structurally facilitated, nevertheless fostering a mindset that encourages growth and resilience is a far more valuable skill that has to be inculcated to sustain motivation in achieving goals.
Researches by professors in American universities have also found that even during times of socioeconomic adversities, social and psychological factors underlie resilience. Hence, governments should be persuaded to rethink their plans towards executing a multidisciplinary approach which makes it possible to abolish class boundaries, to help the disadvantaged compete more equally in the labour market, impart unstoppable confidence and develop psychological abilities and skills to galvanise society in its fight against social injustices and human rights violations.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.