As a class escapee, I’ve always been interested in social mobility. What drives it? Well, here’s an interesting analysis from the January 2009 edition of the American Journal of Sociology: Microclass Mobility: Social Reproduction in Four Countries (subscription). It should interest journalists and their social-mobility-minded offspring.
Why are occupations such an important conduit for social reproduction? In all countries, parents accumulate much occupation‐specific capital, identify with their occupation, and accordingly “bring home” their occupation in ways, both direct and indirect, that then make it salient to their children and lead their children to invest in it. It follows that children develop a taste for occupational reproduction, are trained by their parents in occupation‐specific skills, have access to occupational networks that facilitate occupational reproduction, and use those skills and networks to acquire more occupation‐specific training outside the home. If children are risk‐averse and oriented principally to avoiding downward mobility, the safest path to ensuring that objective may well be to use these various occupation‐specific resources on behalf of occupational reproduction. Indeed, even in the absence of any intrinsic interest in occupational reproduction, children may still pursue it because it is the best route to big‐class reproduction (Erikson and Jonsson 1996).
These supply‐side mechanisms, while likely to be important, may be supplemented by additional demand‐side mechanisms. Most notably, employers or training institutions (e.g., professional schools) may sometimes discriminate in favor of workers or students who have parents in their chosen trade or profession, either because such family involvement is presumed to signal underlying skills (statistical discrimination) or because family networks are directly deployed to garner favor or privilege (pure discrimination). In subsequent analyses, it would be useful to examine the role of aspirations, training, networks, and discrimination in furthering microclass inheritance and mobility.