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Main content

Upward and downward mobility, meritocracy

Video transcript

- [Voiceover] So, in our society we have quite a number of ways in which we tend to break down society into different layers, different social layers, and one of the ways that we do that is to break up society into different classes. So, we can break society up into the Lower Class, which basically consists of a lot of people who do a lot of manual work, laborious work, often low-pay jobs. And then we have what's called the Middle Class, so these are better paying jobs often involving a lot of professionals. And right at the top we have the Upper Class, so these tend to be very wealthy businessmen, heads of industry, people with a lot of family wealth and that occupy very prominent positions, and these are called the Upper Class. And one of the things that we know is that your different class position often correlates to the amount of income that you get from your job. So, I guess one of the things that we think about when we think about these different social positions is that can we actually have movement. So, can an individual actually move around? And the answer is "yes". An individual can in fact move around these different social positions, and there's various ways an individual can move. The first way I want to mention is an individual can move horizontally. That's to say, an individual can move within the same class. So, take our gentleman with the blue hair in the middle. So, if he works as an accountant in one accounting company, if he switches job to a different accounting company, but he stays at the same level, he's essentially experiencing horizontal movement. That's to say that he's not either going up in terms of social positioning, and he's not going down in terms of social positioning. However, you could experience something called vertical movement, which is either a move up or a move down the social hierarchy. And example of this would be if he was, for example, a manager at a restaurant, and should he get a promotion and then become the CEO of a fast food restaurant, then he would then fast move into a higher sphere. However, should he get a demotion, should he experience troubles at work, and then get bumped down to just serving food and going on minimum wage, he may actually fall down from his middle class, reasonably well paid job, into the lower working class, and in that case he would experience downward social movement, downward social mobility. So, as we could see as we discussed social mobility, we can have horizontal movement and vertical movement as we have described here. There are various different types of social constructs that allow for different levels of social mobility. Historically, some societies have had what's been called the caste system. And in the caste system there has been very, very, very little Social Mobility. And you may ask why. Because in a caste system your role in life is really determined almost entirely by your background, essentially to what position you're born, and to who you are married to. So if we look at the hierarchy, first the caste hierarchy, you're really limited to the social group to which you're born. regardless of your actual aptitude and achievements. What that does often provide is a large amount of social stability, because the social structures often do not change. People's social position doesn't change throughout their life, so they remain in the same social situation with the same social network. The most common historic example of the caste system was the Hindu caste system, which was historically outlawed, but some say it's still practiced to some degree informally today. Secondly, we go on to what's called the class system. And this tends to operate in many countries today, where we have the Upper Class, the Middle Class, and the Lower Class. And the class system is a step away from the caste system because it allows for a degree of social mobility. It is in fact a combination of a person's background alongside their ability. It recognizes somebody's ability in terms of allowing them to go up or even down the social ladder. But what that actually results in that results in less social stability compared to the caste system. People can really change their social positioning throughout their life, often by means of education for example. Now finally, I want to raise a rather idealized concept of the meritocracy. And what a meritocracy is is a concept that people achieve their social position based on their ability and achievements, and solely based on their ability and achievements. So, in a meritocracy someone's position is not really determined by their place of birth, their parental background. So, this is a highly idealized state that isn't really operating anywhere in the world. Some people say the United States may be turned to meritocracy, but in an ideal meritocracy what we have is actually extreme social mobility. People are continuously going up and down depending on their most recent level of performance and achievement. So, really now instead of background, we're basically purely focused on ability and their achievement. As you can imagine, there may not be as much social stability because their relative kind of the background organization of families and social groups may be much less stable than the caste system and the class system and the purest form or meritocracy. So, as we can see here, in a meritocracy we have the greatest degree of upward and downward social mobility compared to the caste and class system.