Social Mobility in Early Adulthood

There are two types of mobility that play important roles in the lives of young adults, geographic and social. Geographic mobility means going from one place to another. This is done more often for vocational than for social reasons. How it affects young adults will be explained in the following chapter in the discussion of vocational adjustments.

Social mobility means moving from one social group to another. This may be horizontal – moving to another social group on the same level – or vertical – moving to a social group above or below the group at the present level. Most young adults want to be upwardly mobile; few are satisfied to move from one social group to another on the same level; and even fewer are content to move down on the social scale. Geographic mobility almost always accompanies social mobility.

Part of the American dream of today is to have a better education, a better social and economic status, and more material possessions than one’s predecessors. Stated simply, people want to move up the social ladder. This they want not only for themselves but also for their children.

The desire to move up the social ladder is especially strong among young adults who discovered, during adolescence, that those who were most popular and who held most of the leadership roles came from the higher socioeconomic groups. They believe that if they, too, can climb up the social ladder the chances of greater popularity and more leadership roles for themselves and for all members of their families will be increased.

Because men and women usually achieve their highest social and economic status in middle adulthood, from thirty years of age on, young adults are motivated to do all they can to rise above their present status as rapidly as possible. The most important conditions leading to upward social mobility in early adulthood are given in below:

Conditions Facilitating Upward Social Mobility
  • A high level of education, which lays the foundation for success in business or a profession and brings the individual into contact with higher-status people.
  • Marriage to a higher-status person
  • Family “pull” in the vocational world
  • Acceptance and adoption of the customs, values, and symbols of a higher-status group
  • Money, either inherited or earned, with which to buy a better home in a better neighborhood and other material possessions that proclaim high status.
  • Transfer of membership to a higher-status church
  • Active participation in prestigious community affairs
  • Graduation from a prestigious school or college
  • Membership in one or more exclusive community clubs

In general, men rise on the social ladder mainly by their own efforts while women rise mainly through their marriages to upper-status men or those who are able to advance through their own efforts and achievements. Physical attractiveness is a new greater asset in social mobility for women than education while the reverse is true for men. First-borns, especially boys, are most likely to be given opportunities to rise above the status of their families. As Altus has pointed out, firstborns are given, “greater opportunities for education which makes rise on the social ladder possible”.