Social Mobility in Developing Countries

Concepts, Methods, and Determinants

Social mobility — defined as the ability to move from a lower to a higher level of education or occupational status, or from a lower to a higher social class or income group — is the hope of economic development and the mantra of a good society.

There are disagreements about what constitutes social mobility, but there is broad agreement that in a just society all people should have a roughly equal chance of success regardless of the economic status of the families into which they were born. Concerns about rising inequality have engendered a renewed interest in social mobility, especially in the developing world.

Three basic questions configure the examinations of diverse aspects of social mobility presented in the book:

  1. How to assess the extent of social mobility in a given development context when the datasets required by conventional analysis and measurement techniques are at best limited and often almost entirely unavailable?
  2. How to reliably identify the drivers and the inhibitors of social mobility in particular developing country contexts?
  3. How to acquire the knowledge required to design interventions that are likely to raise social mobility, either by increasing upward mobility or by lowering downward mobility?
Table of contents
  1. The state of knowledge about social mobility in the developing world
    Vegard Iversen, Anirudh Krishna, Kunal Sen
  2. Drivers of mobility in the Global South
    Patrizio Piraino
    Working Paper
    | Drivers of mobility
  3. Exploring concepts of social mobility
    Gary S. Fields
    Working Paper
    | Concepts of social mobility
  4. Social mobility in developing countries: Measurement and downward mobility pitfalls
    Vegard Iversen
    Working Paper
    | Can ‘good’ social mobility news be ‘bad’ and vice versa?
  5. In praise of snapshots
    Ravi Kanbur
    Working Paper
    | In praise of snapshots
  6. Income mobility in the developing world: Recent approaches and evidence
    Himanshu, Peter Lanjouw
    Working Paper
    | Income mobility in the developing world
  7. Educational mobility in the developing world
    Florencia Torche
    Working Paper
    | Educational mobility in developing countries
  8. Rethinking occupational mobility in developing countries: Conceptual issues and empirical findings
    Anthony Heath, Yizhang Zhao
    Working Paper
    | Occupational mobility in developing countries
  9. Economic approach to intergenerational mobility: Measures, methods, and challenges in developing countries
    Shahe Emran, Forhad Shilpi
    Working Paper
    | Economic approach to intergenerational mobility
  10. Social mobility in China: A case study of social mobility research in the Global South
    Yaojun Li
    Working Paper
    | Social mobility in China
  11. Ethnography and social mobility: A review
    Divya Vaid
    Working Paper
    | The ethnographic approach to social mobility
  12. Measuring social mobility in historic and less developed societies
    Gregory Clark
    Working Paper
    | Measuring social mobility rates in earlier and less-documented societies
  13. Social mobility and human capital in low- and middle-income countries
    Jere R. Behrman
    Working Paper
    | Human capital and social mobility in low- and middle-income countries
    | Dual learning disadvantages in East Africa
    | The inheritance of human capital
  14. Informalities, volatility, and precarious social mobility in urban slums
    Anirudh Krishna, Emily Rains
    Working Paper
    | Will urbanization raise social mobility in the South, replicating the economic history of the West?
  15. Gender and social mobility: Gender attitudes and women’s labour force participation
    Nancy Luke
    Working Paper
    | Gender and social mobility
  16. Social mobility and horizontal inequality
    Patricia Funjika, Rachel M. Gisselquist
    Working Paper
    | Social mobility and inequality between groups
    | Grandads, dads, and sons: Examining multigenerational mobility in India
  17. Social networks as levers of mobility
    Anandi Mani, Emma Riley
    Working Paper
    | Social networks, role models, peer effects, and aspirations
  18. Social mobility in developing countries: Directions for research practice, knowledge gaps and policy support
    Vegard Iversen, Anirudh Krishna, Kunal Sen
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This collection of essays offers valuable insights on the measurement and meaning of social mobility both as an inherent part of economic development and as a valued outcome. This careful framing and measurement of an inherently long-term process, fraught with challenges even when the best data are available, deepens our understanding of equality of opportunity in a wide variety of countries and circumstances. This book will certainly be a valuable touchstone encouraging more research and thinking about the relationship between growth and mobility. Miles Corak, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Social or economic mobility may well be the most important of all concepts related to social wellbeing, but it is also the most challenging, both conceptually and empirically. In this book, Iversen, Krishna and Sen have assembled an all-star interdisciplinary group of authors who deftly navigate the labyrinth of different meanings, measures and dimensions of mobility in the challenging context of low- and middle-income countries. The diversity of methods and perspectives is a real strength of this important contribution. Francisco H. G. Ferreira, Amartya Sen Professor of Inequality Studies, London School of Economics

How can people in developing countries attain a better life? How secure are their achievements? Can they avert catastrophic descents into enduring impoverishment? What enables or impedes their upward social mobility, and what interventions might reduce (and prevent the widening of) social and economic inequalities? From diverse disciplinary perspectives, the studies in this book provide vital insights into the challenges of studying and comprehending social mobility in developing countries—and underline the urgency of highlighting the ever-shifting risks and precarity with which most people must grapple in their daily endeavours to sustain (and perhaps even enhance) their wellbeing. Patricia Jeffery, Professor Emerita in Sociology, University of Edinburgh