Vertical and Horizontal Mobility (Ascribed Vs. Achieved Statuses)

In a society such as ours, a society in which people have the opportunity to move up in social standing, there are opportunities for everyone to make their lives as they wish it to be. However, there is the problem of ascribed statuses, the status that you are born with. This status determines where you start out in life, what resources are available to you, both the economic and social resources.

This picture depicts the different “roads” down which you can choose to follow throughout your life due to social mobility—you can climb upwards in society (vertical mobility) and even change fields (horizontal mobility).

Now one can argue that due to our ability to climb the social ladder, our ascribed social status means nothing. You could argue that where you land in society is entirely dependent on our skills alone; however, what about the ideas of the starting line? When you consider all the advantages that the upper class, you can quickly see that their ascribed status will give them a head start on their journey up to their achieved status. They will begin their lives with more prestige, more economic capital, more cultural capital, more capital in general than those who were not born into a family as affluent as their own.

Now this socially “superior” individual, let’s call him Frederick, has the ability to either stay within his own social status, a place which is nothing to sneeze at of its own right, or he can climb even higher and become one of the elite members of society. While at the same time, someone in the middle class, let’s call her Susan, has to work that much harder simply to make it up to the upper class, the class whereFrederickwas born into. In order to reach the elite class, Susann will have to work even harder, and the chance of success is that much smaller, so her possible chances of vertical mobility are thusly constrained. And those in the lower classes, of which I would discuss in more length, but their plight alone could consume a whole paper, will also have to work that much harder to work their way up; they will first have to make it up to the middle class, then to the upper class and finally to the small elite group.

Those who are in the middle class have far more flexibility in their achieved statuses because they are placed in situations in which they have more access to the means to move upwards and are many times close enough that they can see the upper classes and therefore have a basis for their ambition. Their ambition combined with ingenuity and hard work can be combined to create those forces which push them up the social ladder.

The upper class seem to have some incentive to move up, as it would be so “easy” for them to do, yet if they can keep their ascribed status, that’s alright as well because, frankly, it’s still higher than what many others could ever hope to attain.

The lower class will either eek out an existence in their current social level, or move up to the middle class, possibly to an office job or something of the sort.

“Climbing the Social Ladder”

All in all, the different levels in which you are born into, in which you start out with help to determine where you will end up in life. It’s like a race. No matter how face you may be, or how much better you are at running, the guy in the front still has a lot shorter distance to run to get to the finish line than you do. And that difference may just be enough to ensure that you can’t finish the race, at least, not in the position you would have liked to have reached. As discriminatory and unfair it may seem, that’s the way it is, it might change some day in the future, although I highly doubt it, but as it is, you can struggle your way to the top, constantly under the foot of the guy who started his climb above you in the first place. Not a lovely view is it?

I thought the following two videos exampled this quite nicely. My Sociology Professor had asked us to watch them and I thought that they were quite excellent.

Part 1:

Part 2:


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