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This article is written by Kushang, from Himachal Pradesh National Law University (HPNLU). This article talks about social inequality and social mobility in India. The article also gives recommendations for increasing social mobility in the country. 


“All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talent.” This has been rightly said by the former U.S. President John F. Kennedy. This forms the basis of social mobility in society. A society can develop only when people have equal opportunities to excel. India has less social mobility than in many under-developed countries. This is a problem that needs to be answered. Social inequality and social mobility are two terms that one must know in order to have an understanding of a particular society existing in a country.

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What are social inequality and social mobility

Social inequality means inequality that exists due to factors like gender, caste, race, religion, or financial position which devoids a person from equal opportunities and rewards in society. People are not equal on economic and social terms. There can be many factors which can lead to social inequality like societal factors, custom, or poverty. Another term that is often related to social inequality is social mobility.

Social mobility is the extent to which people are able to move between socio-economic strata during their lifetime and between generations. In simple terms, it means how much the starting point of the life of a person affects his future. To what extent the initial factors relating to the child affect the future outcome of his life. High social mobility means that a child from a poor family would have the same chances of achieving their goal as that of a child from a rich family. Whereas, in low social mobility this is vice versa. Individuals’ lives are determined by where the person comes from and who his parents are. Social mobility is actually a measure of the extent up to which a person can change his position in society over a period of time. Social mobility helps in understanding the society and thus, make changes to it based on the results. It helps in determining equal opportunities for everyone even if they don’t come from the same social position.

How is social inequality related to social mobility

As stated above social inequality and social mobility are related. There exists an inverse relationship between social inequality and social mobility. In a society where exists high inequality based on religion, caste, sex, etc. have less social mobility. This means they are deprived of equal opportunities in their life. Thus, the outcome of their life is affected to a great extent by social inequality. Similarly, in a society where there is less inequality, social mobility is high. In those societies, the life of the individual is not affected by inequalities, and they enjoy equal opportunities to achieve their goal. Thus, the social mobility of a country depends upon social equality in the country. It is a determinant to find the level of inequality existing in a society. Recently, India ranked very low in the global social mobility index, which clearly indicates that there are still certain inequalities existing in the country on various grounds.

Social Inequality in India

Social inequality has been prevalent in India for a long time. Various measures were undertaken to reduce these inequalities. There are various provisions in the constitution as well as statutes that aim to reduce inequality in Indian society. Still, the rank of India in the global mobility index indicates inequality that still persists in the country. There are various types of social inequalities existing in India like gender inequality, deprivations, etc. Some of the major inequalities are-

  • Regional disparity increased in the 1990s with southern and western parts doing better than northern or eastern parts. The economic disparity also increased within states.
  • The most persistent inequality in India is in the income and distribution of income and resources among the people. This is due to factors like family influence and inheritance etc.
  • There exists a large scale difference between people employed in the formal and non-formal sector. People received less money in the informal sector when compared to formal sectors.
  • There have been inequalities faced by various communities in the country. This has often led to various conflicts within groups or between one social group and the other.
  • People are still fighting on the basis of religion. There exists inequality between these groups on various fronts like employment and education. For instance, upper-caste Sikhs and Christians are more affluent than upper-caste Hindus in both urban and rural areas.
  • The caste system followed in India has been abolished but only on paper. People still practice the same. There exist wide inequalities between upper caste people and lower caste people.

Thus, to sum up, India is facing social inequality in the country in the present scenario as well. The government took various steps like reservations for special groups. However, these steps have not worked to a great extent. Instead, it has led to more conflicts among the communities. Even various land reforms and wealth redistribution could not help in eliminating the existing income inequality in the country. 

Social Mobility in India

There are various types of social mobility described by sociologists. Absolute mobility refers to the extent up to which children are better off than their parents. Whereas, relative mobility refers to looking at whether children are better off than their parents in terms of their position in the distribution. There is also intragenerational and intergenerational mobility. The former refers to change in one’s position during their lifetime, while the latter relates to whether class and income positions are passed on across generations.

Social mobility is a complex process to measure and requires a lot of data. Let’s discuss intergenerational income mobility and intergenerational occupational mobility which has been very evident in India.

Intergenerational income mobility in India

It is the association between the income of the parent with that of the children when they grow up. This mobility measure helps to determine how a child’s income in future is similar to their parent’s income. This gives an idea about the society in which they live. In India, for a child whose parents’ income is very low, their chances of reaching into a high-income group are therefore low as well. Similarly, the children whose parents’ income is high tend to enjoy the same in the future. Thus, most children will end up in the same position as their parents. We can say that India has low intergenerational income mobility.

Intergenerational occupational mobility

It is the relationship between the occupation of the parents and the future occupation of the children. In a simple sense, it means the extent up to which the children are going to follow the same occupation as their parents. For instance, how likely is it that the son of a barber would become a barber itself or go on to some other job.

In a country like India, this is more relevant. Occupations are related to the caste of the individual. The caste system has a strong occupational affiliation. In this aspect also, India has less mobility. The children born to parents involved in skilled occupations, end up in the same sector. Similarly, the majority of children born to unskilled workers, also end up in unskilled professions. However, it is important to know that this mobility is high in urban areas. Thus, a child of an unskilled worker in urban areas has more chances of getting into skilled jobs than a child of unskilled labor in rural areas. Thus, here again, we see social inequality playing a vital role in the social mobility of society.

Thus, we can say that social mobility in India is very low. This is proven by the Global Social Mobility Index, wherein India stood at the 76th position out of 82 countries. Social mobility in the country has increased but it is still very low. This signifies the unequal opportunities present in the country. It has led to a situation where rich people get more rich and poor people to get poorer.

Recommendations for increasing social mobility

As stated above, India needs to improve its social mobility to provide a situation where everyone has the same level of opportunities to excel in their life. Steps were taken earlier but they failed. There are a few areas where the government needs to work for having a better society in the country. Some of these measures have been listed below-

  • There is a need to increase geographical mobility. As stated above states differ in opportunities that they provide to their people. This is the reason many people get involved in internal migration that is moving within states itself for better opportunities. People generally don’t involve in going from one state to another as social benefits are issued at the state level. There are reservations by many states for their residents in many important jobs. This is not favourable for migrants and they face discrimination as well. Thus, it is not possible for everyone to migrate to different places to get equal opportunities. The government should take steps to create equal opportunities within the state itself. Also, a positive political discourse around migration is needed to increase geographic and social mobility.
  • Education plays a very important role in changing the social mobility of a country. The country should aim to improve equality in education. It is seen that people belonging to high-class rich families are able to get a better education than those who are not rich. There is a need for investment in the education sector particularly in areas where access to education for the children is very low. New ways need to be developed to make education available to the disadvantaged groups. Education should be made accessible not only for the children but for also those people who want to learn again in their life. Education helps in bringing everyone on the same level thus, increasing social mobility in society.
  • Youth are very important for any country and especially whose majority population is youth. The government should focus on these youth and invest in them. There is a need to create a situation where all these youth have equal opportunities to excel. However, a major problem that youth is facing in the country is that most of them find it difficult to get a job. This has to be solved. Moreover, youth need to be guided by various programs like internships to develop their skill.
  • A special focus needs to be given to social protection to the workforce. Social protection like maternity leave, paid sick leave, etc support the individuals. These protections help the workers during hard times and thus help in increasing mobility. This social protection can help the individual in reducing the risks of poverty and increasing long-term earnings.
  • Organizations and companies can also help in increasing social mobility in the country. Many times, companies hire new individuals based on certain biases. Sometimes, the promotions given by these organizations are based on gender. These types of practices increase the gap between individuals. Thus, contributing to unequal opportunities for them and hence decreasing social mobility. Companies should try to prevent these activities. For instance, a blind hiring process should be followed by the companies which would prevent any type of biases while hiring. A fair promotion strategy needs to be implemented to reduce any disparity among various groups. The government should play a role in making the companies accountable in these aspects.


Social inequality in society has led to decreased social mobility in society. No country can develop if they have less social mobility in their society. People need to have equal opportunities to succeed in their life. The condition should not be such that only privileged classes enjoy privileges and there is no room for other disadvantaged groups to come in the main-stream. Equal opportunities would lead to generating the true potential of the people of a country. Especially in India where most of the people are young, there is an ardent need to work towards increasing social mobility in the country.


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