Vertical Mobility in Sociology: Definition & Concept

Vertical Mobility in Sociology: Definition & Concept
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  • 0:01 Vertical Mobility
  • 1:34 Comparison to…
  • 2:12 Examples
  • 2:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

In this lesson, you'll learn the definition of vertical mobility and see how it works in some real-life examples. You'll also learn how vertical mobility differs from horizontal mobility in real life.

Vertical Mobility

Malcolm is a construction worker who was just laid off from his job of 15 years. Malcolm has a few dollars in his pocket, so he decides to play the lottery. That night, Malcolm cannot believe his eyes when his lottery numbers appear on his television screen. Malcolm uses his lottery winnings to start his own construction company, which eventually evolves into a multi-billion dollar corporation. Malcolm's transition from unemployed construction worker to billionaire business owner is an example of vertical mobility.

So what does the term 'vertical mobility' mean? Before we can adequately define this term, we should touch upon the concept of social status. Your social status is your rank in the social hierarchy as determined by many factors, including:

  • Wealth
  • Career or occupation
  • Accomplishments
  • Marital status
  • Level of education

Vertical mobility refers to the movement from one level on the social hierarchy to another. In other words, it is a change in social status. A change in any of the factors that influence social status has the potential to lead to vertical mobility. For example, a change in Malcolm's wealth and occupation caused him to move up the social hierarchy.

It is important to note that vertical mobility refers to any change in social status, whether it's moving up to a higher level or moving down. For example, had Malcolm not played the lottery and instead become homeless, that would also be an example of vertical mobility.

Comparison to Horizontal Mobility

Suppose that instead of playing the lottery, Malcolm went out and found a job at a factory making slightly more than he did as a construction worker. This would not be an example of vertical mobility, but rather horizontal mobility.

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