The Social Sciences and Social Mobility

The Stakes of a Statistical Imbalance in Relation to Intergenerational Social Mobility
By Cédric Hugrée


This text deals with two debates on French social mobility that have appeared in recent years. They concern the downward social mobility of recent generations, on the one hand; and on the other, the questioning of the scales of observation of the social trajectories of parents and children. First, we analyze the life courses of people born in 1975. This leads to a nuancing of the idea of a trivialization of successive downward shifts from generation to generation and from one social group to another. It shows in particular that middle and upper class children born in the mid-1970s experienced a real but limited erosion of their prospects. However, working-class children have better social positions today, in 2014, than those estimated by Louis Chauvel, 15 years ago. Secondly, the article examines the benefits of a detailed table of social mobility from parents to children. We propose here a closer look at social mobilities based on scale 2 of the French nomenclature of professions (PCS). This approach is particularly useful for observing small mobilities and querying specific terms of social reproduction. Finally, we argue that it is not so much observed mobility, but rather the detailed mobility that is probably “closest to the concrete experience that individuals have of mobility phenomena”. Thus, far from closing the door to the ethnographic and qualitative knowledge of social mobilities, these first statistical results clearly need to be completed by the ethnographic analysis of social paths.
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