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Is the social status changeable?

Does social mobility happen? Yes and no, and always with some surprises.

Even if modern societies allow greater social mobility than ever before, access to opportunities is still largely context-specific, even between similar socio-political realities. Elaborating data on the relationship between social class origin and social class destination in Europe, the European Social Survey (ESS) has produced a chart with the odd ratios indicating mobility between the high managerial and professional class and the working class for man aged 25 to 64. Have working class European citizens improved their social status or have they remained substantially the same? Has the middle class maintained its privileges? Is there a negative correlation between income inequality and intergenerational social mobility? And, how is social mobility influenced by nation-states’ cultural heritage and welfare system?

Looking at what emerges from the chart, Hungary, Italy and Luxembourg – historically different settings, both in terms of their societal stratification an economic model – appear to be the least favourable context for intergenerational mobility. Surprisingly, even Germany appears to be confronted with the same issue. Amongst the best performers, Slovenia and Estonia top the chart, followed by the United Kingdom and Russia.

Considering the scarcity of data available, the European Social Survey warns against rushed conclusions. Nevertheless, the ESS’ graph provides a good picture of the extreme complexity characterising class relations in the 21st century.


Founded in 2001, the European Social Survey – based at the Centre for Comparative Social Surveys at the University of London – is an academically driven cross-national survey, charting and explaining the interaction between Europe's changing institutions. Financed through contributions combining a basic membership fee with an additional amount defined in proportion to the GDP of each country, the ESS is dedicated to conduct face-to-face interviews with cross-sectional samples. Providing new data every two years, the Survey has been developed to measure “attitudes, belief and behaviour patterns of diverse populations in more than thirty nations” as to “chart stability and change in social structure, conditions and attitudes in Europe and to interpret how Europe’s social, political and moral fabric is changing”. As to 2017, ESS’ User Community accounts for 100,000 registered users.