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Does the development of industrial societies necessarily entail increasing levels of social mobility?
The Liberal theory of industrialism (e.g. Blau and Duncan 1967, Kerr 1983) argues that industrialisation leads to increases to absolute mobility by way of changes to the occupational structure and also through the intermediation of increases in fluidity, which is sometimes termed relative mobility. I argue that the onset of industrialisation and its most rapid stage, or stages,
cause an increase in absolute mobility, primarily due to changes in the occupational structure.
However, since the pace of industrialisation does not continually increase, absolute mobility stabilises, and can even fall, as the rate of change to the occupational structure decreases.
Liberal theorists also predict that industrialising regimes will see increases to fluidity, which is mostly explained by the influence of education. Firstly, industrialisation is thought to lead to the expansion of education, which increases fluidity by weakening the origin-education association,
and, according to more recent research, through a compositional effect: fluidity is higher for more educated persons. A third important aspect of the liberal theory is that the educationdestination association strengthens as employers increasingly select according to achievement
- represented primarily by education - and less according to ascriptive traits. In brief, my argument here is that the role education plays in influencing fluidity is more complex than liberal theorists suggest. Firstly, industrialisation does not necessarily cause educational expansion.
Secondly: the weakening of the association between origin and education, even if educational availability does increase, is not a given. Thirdly, the compositional effect - the idea that the origin-destination association may be weaker for more educated people - is contingent on other factors. Finally the education-destination association has in fact tended to weaken, contrary to liberal theorists' expectations. I will also attempt to outline respective theoretical frameworks for the circumstances in which a weakening of origin-education associations may occur, and for the circumstances in which the compositional effect may obtain. I will then briefly outline two perhaps more appealing variants of the liberal theory -, firstly, that geographic mobility (which liberal theorists argue is a consequence of industrialisation) is a possible driver of increases to fluidity, and secondly, that the expansion of education, rather than increasing absolute mobility through the intermediation of fluidity, may actually have a greater impact on absolute mobility by driving changes to the occupational structure. This idea of course has the direction of causality between changes in the occupational structure and the availability of education going in the opposite direction to the ordinary liberal theory. Throughout I have treated mobility, whether absolute or relative, as being fully reflected by occupational status, which is at points labelled 'destination'. This is a simplification - some research looks instead at parent-child income associations, or at parent-child education attainment association as itself a measure of mobility.
However, primarily because these two alternative measures make long range historical enquiry near impossible, I have looked, as I say, solely at occupational status as the dependent variable. it is worth distinguishing between relative mobility (or fluidity) and absolute mobility.
The former is expressed with odds ratios that state the relative chances a member of a certain class has of ending up in a given class - their chances independent of changes to the occupational structure. The latter measure simply expresses the odds a member of a certain class has of ending up in a given class. Fluidity, then, is one explanatory variable for absolute mobility, alongside changes to the general distribution of individuals amongst classes.
One aspect of the liberal theory of Industrialism is undeniably sound. As societies industrialise,
the relative numbers of individuals in certain occupational classes decreases. (This happens more rapidly than in pre-industrial societies, which have quite static occupational distribution structures.) Two of those classes are the agricultural classes (farmers and farm workers) and the artisanal classes. The degree of this decline changes (Italy remains a nation with a high proportion of small shopkeepers and other artisans, for example - see Ginsborg (2003)) but its direction seems to be inevitable. These occupational classes, across eras and across countries,
exhibit a low degree of relative mobility. That is because, for these occupational classes, the means of production (the plough, the bakery oven, etc) are highly heritable across generations,
and business often remains 'in the family' so to speak. So, as their relative share of the workforce declines, fluidity should increase. Absolute mobility should also increase thanks to a more general change in the occupational structure, as middle class jobs come to predominate.
Upward mobility, therefore, will be higher than downward mobility, but the net effect is high overall mobility, both due to the general changes to the occupational structure and the decrease in the most 'heritable' occupations.
But as industrial status is achieved, or as industrialisation slows, we would expect the rate of increase of mobility to slow, or for the phenomenon to reverse, even. For the rate of mobility to continually increase, it is likely that the rate of change in the occupational structure would also need to continually increase. It is possible that a continual increase could be delivered by increases to fluidity, but this is unlikely, since fluidity in fact normally plays a small role in absolute mobility. An illustration of this is provided by Breen (2004): if one takes the fluidity pattern from the 1997 italian men's table (which shows low fluidity) and inserts it into the 1991 Israeli men's table (which shows exceptionally high fluidity), but keeps the Israeli marginal distributions, the index of dissimilarity is just 6% - that is to say, just six in a hundred cases are misclassified by imposing a radically different fluidity regime. SInce the latter is highly sensitive to technological innovation, that, too, would need to continually increase. Continued increases to the pace of industrialisation seem unlikely and is the opposite of what some recent research by a school of economists labelled 'techno-pessimists' finds (e.g. Gordon 2016). It isn't easy to find examples of how a stalling in the pace of industrialisation stabilises absolute mobility. Of course, in most currently developed nations, the process of industrialisation was underway well before the time periods covered by the sorts of datasets this work would require. However, the case of Sweden, which is, thanks to the Husförhör, a country with unusually detailed historic sociological records, provides a case in point. Maas and van Leeuwen's 2002 study, which uses these records, finds that, in concert with the pace of industrialisation, absolute mobility rose quickly between about 1850 and 1870, but was stagnant for the rest of the century.
Turning now to changes to fluidity that in turn affect absolute mobility, the Featherman Hauser
Jones hypothesis (1975) states that the onset of industrialisation causes an increase in fluidity but that there is no further increase with ongoing industrialisation (contrary to the prediction of
Treiman (1970, p221) who forecasts that continued increases to the level of industrialisation will lead to increases to fluidity), and that cross-national similarity applies not at the 'phenotypical'
level of absolute mobility but at the 'genotypical' level of fluidity. These theses finds support in the Constant Flux (Goldthorpe and Erikson 1992). However, Breen's (2004) study, which has the benefits, not enjoyed by TCF, of temporally variant data, more observations (which make it easier to reject null hypotheses) and the more sophisticated UniDiff model of fluidity, conclude that there is more variation in cross national fluidity, and that, in general, fluidity is increasing over time. When the author tests the liberal theory of industrialisation, they, at first glance, find a relationship between industrialisation (operationalised as GDP per capita) and fluidity, but when the year variable is added as a control, the effect disappears, suggesting that time is a confounding variable.
I think it seems fair to say that the 'big picture' evidence for the idea that industrialisation entails increasing levels of fluidity is weak, but it is worth looking at the mechanisms which liberal theorists say explain this alleged relationship. What follows focuses on the interplay between industrialisation, education, which plays a large role in most liberal theories of industrialism, and fluidity. LToI says that industrialism causes achievement (labour market experience, but
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