“There are two main reasons why higher relative mobility in a society should be a goal for public policy: fairness and economic efficiency.” – World Economic Forum, July 2018
“It’s nearly impossible for a child from the bottom tenth [of income earners in Israel] to rise to the top tenth in adulthood – in fact, harder than in the relatively immobile United States.” – Ha’aretz, August 2017
We hear a lot about social mobility, but what exactly does it mean and why is it important?
Starting with the formal definition, intergenerational mobility refers to the connection between an individual’s social-economic status and that of his or her parents. Thus, mobility indicates the likelihood of going up (or down) the social ladder between one generation and the next.
As the term indicates, social mobility is the ability to move between different social, vocational or economic categories – especially moving up. Increasing social mobility means making it possible for children to reach self-fulfillment regardless of their family background and the environment in which they grew up.
This notion links mobility with social fairness or equity. A fair society is characterized by the level of social mobility its members enjoy. In such a society, every child can realize his potential and aspirations – using his talents, intelligence and skills as well as determination and hard work – whether he was born in the center of the country to well-off parents, or comes from a low-income family in the periphery. To advance social mobility, therefore, is to provide equality of opportunity in a world with unequal starting points.
A lack of social mobility may cause people, particularly from underprivileged groups, to feel (quite justifiably) that there is a “glass ceiling” they can’t break through despite their competence and efforts. Losing their trust in the fairness of the public systems could lead to a decline in the level of involvement and participation in the democratic process, both locally and nationally.
Moreover, social mobility not only makes a society more equitable, it also helps to realize society’s full potential for growth and prosperity. Excluding individuals and even whole population groups from opportunities that could allow them to advance and contribute in many ways to society and the economy, low mobility results in a waste of precious human capital, ability and talent.