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Women’s Social Mobility in the United States of America

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Women’s Social Mobility in the United States of America

We live in a world full of obstacles where it’s said that the one who is born poor will remain poor. Like many other country in the world the United States of America is also struggling with the difficulties regarding social mobility. The American dream is that the poorest suburban person can be a rich person too and America is the home and land of unlimited possibilities. The main idea is that if you work hard enough you can make it to the top. Is it true for everyone? Can women make it to the top?
But before I start my essay on Women’s Social Mobility in the United States of America let me clarity certain definitions.
The concept of social mobility has two main meanings: a) in the narrow sense, represents the moving in a stratification system, b) broadly refers to the space movement (territorial mobility) and / or change of employment (or mobility fluctuation labor).
Studies (theoretical and empirical) say that social mobility can be placed in three categories:
- those using a hierarchy criteria, tracking movements between strictly hierarchical layers. It’s the American tradition, which uses the social status as a hierarchical criteria.
- those who use as a classification criteria exclusively the individual’s occupation, this leading to the establishment of a social space consisting some number of socio-professional categories: tradition
- those using as a criteria social classes and social strata. Here fall particularly Marxist researchers.
In other words social mobility can be:
- horizontal mobility when moving within the same status category
- vertical mobility when moving from one social level to another. Promotion (upward mobility) or falling back on the rank (downward mobility)

- intragenerational mobility when there’s a change in an individual's social standing, ”walking up the ladder”.
- intergenerational mobility when there’s a change in social standing across generations ( Intergenerational mobility is lower in the US than in France, Germany, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Norway and Denmark. Among wealthy countries only Britain has a lower rate of mobility than the US.)

Now let’s take a look at the determinants that affect the access to social mobility and opportunities. These are education, family background, financial access, financial capital and network of contacts. In order to succeed there’s need for one’s willingness to aspiration, risk, finding motivation, determination, tenaciousness and fearlessness too. The reasons are unfair and unjust. The children of low income parents don’t get high education as the children of higher income parents.
Family is probably one of the main mechanisms through which one can achieve her goals. Families leave to the next generations, to their heirs, their resources. Different social classes tend to teach their children in different ways: to act and to think differently, to have different education levels, jobs and careers. Childhood poverty can influence one’s psychological and behavioral development. A number of studies show that the childhood experiences (poverty) influences the later life. The individual can become to have lack of aspiration (If the parents failed to move up why would she succeed?) or not be willing to take risk (why risk to loose the little she has?)
Childhood events can determine the later life. Gender matters from the moment she is born. No matter how hard one thinks that the stereotype thinking, that women’ role is to raze children and to guide the household, is defashioned it still exist in the 21st century society. A woman’s future is determined the minute she was born, more or less.
Nowadays thanks to parents enlightened thinking girls have chances to have a career, to upward mobility. In the case where in a family there are only girl born children, the first born tends to get the chance for further studies. If she has a brother the chances for her further studies are reduced. The usual pattern in American families is that boys are the first ones who get further educational opportunities. If the child is single child, than she has the best chances for breaking out. Boys, firstborns, singles get more chances.
Parents are role models for their children, they are indicators. If the sex role stereotype lives vividly in the family, the girl child’s chances are banned again. In those families where the mother goes back to work (not just because financial reasons) the girl child’s sees a different model from the stereotype. Less stereotyped views of feminine and masculine roles. Parent’s attitude towards working women. Working mothers can give a positive role model for their daughters.
Motherhood has been traditionally regarded as women’s major role in terms of society. Cultural pressure on women to become wives and mothers still prevents even today many talented women to finish college and pursue a career. A career still means a lack of family and vice versa. In most cases women are disadvantaged when it comes to finding a better paid job, assumption of responsibility or professional development. Women have a disadvantage in earning, getting promotions.
Being ambitious, wanting more has financial costs. In the United States education costs money, there are college tuition fees. The cost of studying varies widely among universities, but the fact that they have to pay hinders the person from further studying. So the access to higher education is almost banned for children from low or middle society.
There are few subjects more intensely debated than the role of education in modern society, especially related to its economic development. All tests on the competitiveness of developed countries focus on workforce well trained, specialized. Education plays one of the most important role in the social mobility chances.
Students who attend institutions of higher education obtain a wide range of personal, financial, and other lifelong benefits; likewise, taxpayers and society as a whole derive a multitude of direct and indirect benefits when citizens have access to postsecondary education.(Sandy Baum; Jennifer Ma, 2)

(Sandy Baum and Jennifer Ma reported that typical college graduates earn over 60 percent more than typical high school graduates, and those with advanced degrees earn two to three times as much as high school graduates. (8)

Today the jobs require people with higher education (college, university degree) and/or specific qualification. The ones who have a higher education can achieve a more favorable position. So in order to receive/get a well paying job the individual has to study.
One of the greatest concerns regarding social mobility is the possibility of further education. Every higher education institution in America is tuition-based. Just to see the situation lets look at some data. Currently according to the US Census Bureau an average American makes 27590.16 a year (www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ocs/liheap/guidance/SMI75FY09.pdf). Tuition fee and room, board charges for the 2009-10 academic year, average tuition and fees range from $2,544 at public two-year colleges and $5,930 at public baccalaureate colleges, to $32,349 at private doctorate-granting universities. The average published price at private baccalaureate colleges is $24,040; at for-profit institutions it is $14,174. (Jennifer Ma, Sandy Baum, 6). So we can easily see that an average family can’t afford to send their children to college or university. Not to mention the reputable universities tuition fees where that amount can be doubled. Although there are scholarships and the state has established a student loan for those who do not have the financial background, still is not enough financial support for children from more disadvantaged families.

The large contribution of education reflects the strong link between parental income and educational attainment. This, in turn, consists of a direct financial effect (namely, that higher-income parents can purchase more and better educational services for their children) as well as an indirect effect (that higher-income parents possess other attributes which support and encourage their children to get a good education). The direct financial linkage represents a clear challenge to the ideal of equality of opportunity, while, according to the logic of Jencks’ and Tach’s argument, the indirect effect does not.(Tom Hertz, 10)

The child parent relationship is an influencing factor too. The best chances a child can get in her future is where there is a stable relationship with the parent, a trouble-free relationship, where the parents are supportive, achievement orientated, encourage their children, let them make decisions, let them have their own choices. Their mother’s worked outside their home, had jobs.
Family background counts. The financial background affects a child’s future. If one has insufficient financial background further education opportunities can be limited as well. The family’s network influence schooling and job opportunities too. Well situated high-class families who have a large capital acquaintances tend to give better opportunities for the child, because they can do it, afford it.
Individuals with low income may move up one or two steps on the income ladder, but not much more. A study by economist Tom Hertz of American in his article University, “Understanding Mobility in America”, finds that: Children from low-income families have only a 1 percent chance of reaching the top 5 percent of the income distribution, versus children of the rich who have about a 22 percent chance. Children born to the middle quintile of parental family income ($42,000 to $54,300) had about the same chance of ending up in a lower quintile than their parents (39.5 percent) as they did of moving to a higher quintile (36.5 percent). Their chances of attaining the top five percentiles of the income distribution were just 1.8 percent. (Tom Hertz, i)

As Peter Daniels writes in the article ”Reports expose myth of upward social mobility in US” that as far as intergenerational mobility is concerned, it is not only the children of the poor in the US who have little chance of becoming wealthy. Children born in the middle quintile (the 40-60th percentile of incomes in the country, $42,000 to $54,300) also have only a 1.8 percent chance of reaching the top five percent, a likelihood not much higher than in poor families.
Let’s suggest that one has had the origins from where she could went to university even got the degree and a job. The list of problems that women encounter during their climbing on the social ladder is not over. Here are some other issues, problems women have to face after getting a job or being in a certain position.
They are not taken into account. It’s not that men would not hit this problem, but the reason is different. A woman is simply not taken into account because she belongs to a different sex. The classic scenario of a session in which a woman has an objection or raise an issue she is ignored, interrupted, but later when during the meeting a man a raises the same issue everyone pays attention and he can express his views, unlike the woman.
Women are continuously tested. If a man and a woman go to a meeting together, both representing the same company it’s immediately assumed that the man has a higher function and the woman serves as an assistant women. Even when it’s found out that this is not the situation and the woman has the same or even higher position than the man prejudices continue. They wonder how she got the higher position and sometimes testing her to see if she’s aware and informed, qualified, really deserved the position.
Appearance and behavior:
After they have had several bad experiences, some women begin to think that changing their appearance and behavior could be a way to get rid of mal mistreating. Perhaps it would be better to look more like men than to women to be able get promoted, to get the standards man make.
Excluded, avoided:
Women are excluded and avoided from business partnerships, official meetings. They are consolidated mainly by informal meetings.
For a solid career it’s not enough to be good at your job. A woman has to be flexible, adaptable and tolerant.
If all of the above mentioned conditions meet and a woman can manage to work herself up the social ladder, get a well paying job or even start a career there are still other factors that limit them other tasks they have to perform.
What is the case when a woman in the middle of her career decides to have a family, that including having children? The woman who wants to find a balance between professional and family will have to answer some hard questions, will have to face discrimination and prejudgments. It is thought that it is impossible for a working woman to keep balance between her family life and her professional life. Working women work too much therefore they don’t have enough time to spend with their children.
Between the fulfillment through profession and fulfillment through motherhood, today’s woman crosses a complicated road and has to make difficult choice. There’s a constant uncertainty between the biological and social pressures. What to choose: Career or children?
Every choice a woman makes depends on her level of aspiration, education, maturity, experience and personality type. Whatever career-related decisions women make I think they do not need to sacrifice any of the above, not the career not the family, there can be maintained a balance.
Women who choose to take off a few years from the career path to have children, but later wish to get back have to face difficulties and have to realize that they have to re-build almost everything from start, they have to climb again the steps they claimed before.
As much as women dislike the fact or even negate the fact of convenience marriage in the 21st century, it still exists. No matter how hard may some contradict, but this is a quite used way for women to have a change in their social-financial background, climb up the social ladder.
We have known very little about female social mobility, because social mobility studies have been mostly concerned with men. People are still optimistic regardless to the facts of reality. Women’s chances undeniably get better day by day, but they are still far from the possibilities men get. Women need more positive models, other women to show a good model role as mothers and as career women at the same time. They need more educational opportunities. Investment in education, ensuring affordable access to higher education for children from low and middle class. Ensuring qualification for all who want to study. Improving access to financial sources. Providing jobs for women who want to go back working after having children. Change peoples point of view and attitude toward working women.

Works Cited

Baum, Sandy and Jennifer, Ma. ”Trends in higher education series” 29 Oct 2008 < professionals.collegeboard.com/.../2008-trends-presentation-10-29.ppt >
Daniels, Peter. ” Reports expose myth of upward social mobility in US”. 20 May 2006
Hertz, Tom, ”Understanding Mobility in America”. 26 April 2006. American University Center for American Progress. 1333 H Street, NW, 10th Floor Washington, DC 20005

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