What is Social Mobility

The Social Mobility is a concept of sociology that defines the classes changes (of individuals or social groups) within an organization and / or hierarchical social structure. From Latin, the term mobility comes from the verb “Movere”, which means to move, to set in motion.


Social mobility is closely related to the types of social structures, that is, in a state society (defined by estates), characteristic of the medieval feudal period, the social pyramid did not allow social mobility.

Thus, at that time, if the individual were born into a noble family, he would die noble; The same was true of the other estates, that is, the servants who worked for the feudal lords had no possibility of becoming of another group.

The structure of the state society in the Middle Ages was based on the feudal system, which allowed landlords (called feudal lords) to use the labor force of the serfs, who in turn performed tasks in exchange for protection and food, however, they had a much lower quality of life than other estates, hierarchically defined by: King-Nobility-Clergy-People.

However, this panorama changes with the decline of the Middle Ages and the onset of the Modern Age. In this sense, it is noteworthy that in the period called Low Middle Ages (XI-XV), Europe underwent several transformations in the political, economic, scientific, social and cultural universe, as trade intensified with the emergence of new sea routes, the Crusades and the opening of the Mediterranean Sea.

In addition, the feudal servants, dissatisfied with this “social immobility”, began to frequent places closer to the medieval walled cities (called burgos) in order to acquire a better life. Note that the Burgos were formerly part of the property of the nobles and feudal lords, who considered it an administrative and religious center.

From the emergence of a new social class (the bourgeoisie), change in the economic system (introduction of the currency as exchange value) and scientific discoveries, the European population acquires a new mentality, based on the values ​​of Renaissance humanism (anthropocentrism), to the detriment of the theocentrism that prevailed in the medieval period.

This new social class, made up of merchants, traders and the most diverse professionals, gathered to sell their products at least once a week. These agglomerations near the Churches, and sometimes within the Burgos, began “free markets,” as well as shaping the ideals of this emerging new class, the bourgeoisie, and a primitive capitalist system.

All these changes and, above all, the emergence of the bourgeois class, essentially changed the social and economic structure of Europe, which would then allow social mobility, based on a stratified and hierarchical society. In other words, stratified society (divided into strata) accepts the change of social position (or social status) within the defined social structure.

Types of Social Mobility

Depending on the degree of social mobility, it can occur in two ways:

  • Horizontal: The individual or social group acquires social mobility without changing social strata.
  • Vertical: The individual or social group acquires social mobility, changing strata. In this case, social mobility can be upward (upward) or downward (downward).

In addition to this classification, mobility can also be:

  • Intragerational: occurs among individuals of the same generation
  • Intergenerational: occurs between individuals of different generations

Social Mobility in Brazil

Public Policies of educational, social and cultural development have increasingly allowed social mobility in Brazil, although there is still much inequality, generated by the differences between social classes.