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US not so good on social mobility

  1. Jul 22, 2009 #1
    I found following quite interesting as well surprising. I always thought US have greater social mobility.


  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 22, 2009 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    Note that there is a world of difference between having a society that allows social mobility and being a person who takes advantage of it. The lack of actual social mobility does not in an of itself imply one or the other.

    It should be clear that the UK and US - and most western countries - don't have physical barriers to social mobility like some countries do. So it is likely that actual social mobility is largely a matter of culture and level of development. In particular, the more freedom in a country (and the US is near the top in that), the more social mobility is a personal responsibility. There are a lot of handouts in the US, but not as many as in many other countries. You have to earn your success more here than elsewhere.
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2009
  4. Jul 22, 2009 #3
    Actually I'm kinda surprised (as a Canadian) that Canada is #2. It has always been my understanding that scandinavia (i.e. norway,sweden,etc) are quite xenophobic and have very little immigration (which is why socialism works so well for them). Therefore, it makes perfect sense to me that they'd have the most mobility (since they don't have as many racial or wealth related tensions).

    P.S. I'm half danish so this isn't just idle conjecture on scandinavia.
  5. Jul 22, 2009 #4


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    On the other hand, immigrants often start out at the bottom tier of society and they come to western countries specifically for social mobility, which provides the perfect scenario for social mobility to happen in.

    The article also mentions one of my points: the level of development. In an undeveloped country, a huge fraction of the population will want to be socially mobile since except for the tiny ruling class, almost everyone is poor. But in a wealthy country, a large fraction of the country has a comfortable lifestyle and thus the incentive to increase your standing (and how far it can go) is lessened.
  6. Jul 22, 2009 #5
    I think that quite a few factors could be slanting the data. Particularly one might wonder how they are rating the disparity. Are there many people in Finland or Norway that make hundreds of millions of dollars a year? Perhaps the opportunity to make incredibly large sums of money is not nearly as prevelent in countries outside the UK and US so the upper end is lower and flattens out the graph somewhat.

    Then there is population density. In a major urban center in the US you will have people from all over the spectrum. As lowly as a grocery bagger and as high falutin as the CEO of a multibillion dollar corporation. In such a community the number of niches for jobs on the level of grocery bagger is going to be incredibly high and the number of niches for CEO of a major corporation are going to be incredibly low. And the community is likely to be able to get along with fewer CEOs better than it is to be able to get along with fewer grocery baggers. Also one might consider that for that CEO there are a rather large number of requisite niches to be filled beneath it for the top niche to even exist. Contraction of the disparity is not likely to make more of those CEOs but fewer.

    On the scale of upward mobility moving from bagger to CEO is a rather tall order and not necessary to be considered to have successfully "moved up". Just becoming the owner of ones own business is really enough. Then one's children may move upward from there and their children upward from there. I wonder if the studies they are talking about took into account mobility protracted across generations.
  7. Jul 22, 2009 #6
  8. Jul 22, 2009 #7

    Oh definetly, being a more socialist/welfare country will substantially improve your ranking in such a study/analysis.
  9. Jul 23, 2009 #8
    Barack Sr. seemed to make good use of his good fortune, and by the time the Kennedys got involved in the program... well you've got to think that might have influenced his getting into Harvard.

    Now that Sr. has been to Harvard, that gives Jr. special preference for admission.

    Of course, Obama made good use of the opportunities presented to him. But those opportunities might not have presented themselves had he not already been a member of the ruling social class.
  10. Jul 23, 2009 #9
    Differences in social mobility from one country to another seems like a difficult thing to measure and compare. For instance, you may have, as we do in the US, easily identifiable sizable minorities whose members find barriers to climbing, while social mobility remains high in the majority population. How does that compare to a country without sizable minorities but with less mobility in the general population?

    I like the idea of reforming the schools. I went to reform school and it did me a world of good.

    Edit: It just occured to me that another problem in comparison is that in a particular country, social mobility may be hindered by the fact that so many are crowded around the higher end. Social mobility in Beverly Hills is something to be avoided.
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2009
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