Social Mobility

Social mobility is a key understudied aspect in developing countries. It is not possible to tell whether the rags-to-riches story of the popular movie Slumdog Millionaire is pure fantasy or freak occurrence, or whether, in fact, such steep ascents are taking place regularly and have simply not been observed. No existing datasets trace the social origins of highly-placed individuals, nor is information available about the destinations attained by talented individuals from humbler origins. In India and in other developing countries, social mobility has taken a back seat to the broader agenda of poverty reduction. Certainly, all possible means need to be deployed to eliminate mass poverty. But raising someone above dollar-a-day is only partial achievement. It is also important that individuals rise commensurate with their abilities and motivations.

The pilot projects reported here commence an investigation of social mobility in India, where a growing economy has opened up a slew of higher-earning career opportunities. In the services sectors, particularly in finance, management, public administration, and engineering, vast numbers of new positions have been created. What types of people occupy these new and higher-paying positions? Is it mostly the elite, people from upper- and middle-class backgrounds, leading to a verdict of growing inequality of opportunity? Or have significant numbers of individuals from less-advantaged backgrounds also succeeded in acquiring such positions, thereby leveling the playing field to some extent? What more needs to be done by way of policy interventions in order to make this structure more open and equitable?