The World Economic Forum has come out with its first-ever Global Social Mobility Report, which has ranked India a lowly 72 out of the 82 countries profiled.


  • Inequalities growing across the globe: The rise of inequality has not only created massive social unrest but also adversely affected the global consensus on the kind of economic policies that countries follow.
  • Rise of trade protectionism: several countries including the USA have started looking inwards in the hope that greater trade protectionism will help allay the fears and apprehensions of domestic workers.

Calculation of social mobility

The WEF’s Global Social Mobility Index assesses the 82 economies on “10 pillars” spread across the following five key dimensions of social mobility:

  1. Health;
  2. Education (access, quality, and equity, lifelong learning);
  3. Technology;
  4. Work (opportunities, wages, conditions);
  5. Protection and Institutions (social protection and inclusive institutions).

Features of the report:

Ranks: According to the report, the Nordic economies such as Denmark and Finland top the social mobility rankings while countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and South Africa languish at the bottom.

India’s performance: India’s overall ranking is a poor 76 out of the 82 countries considered. 

The Concept of social mobility is much broader than income inequality: Many situations exist where, despite high levels of absolute income mobility, relative social mobility remains low. 

  • For example, in economies such as China and India, economic growth can lift entire populations upward in terms of absolute income, but an individual’s status in society relative to others remains the same.
  • The notion of relative social mobility is more closely related to the social and economic status of an individual relative to their parents. 
  • In a country with a society with perfect relative mobility, a child born in a low-income family would have as much chance to earn a high income as a child born to parents who earn a high income.

Intragenerational mobility: The ability of an individual to move between socioeconomic classes within their own lifetime.

Intergenerational mobility: The ability of a family group to move up or down the socio-economic ladder across the span of one or more generations.

Absolute income mobility: The ability for an individual to earn, in real terms, as much as or more than their parents at the same age.

Absolute educational mobility: The ability of an individual to attain higher education levels than their parents.

Relative income mobility: How much of an individual’s income is determined by their parents’ income.

Relative educational mobility: How much of an individual’s educational attainment is determined by their parents’ educational attainment.

Significance of social mobility 

  • How far an individual can move up in society determines a lot whether one is closer to the income “floor” (or poor) or “ceiling” (or rich). 
  • Social mobility levels, then, can help us understand both the speed – that is, how long it takes for individuals at the bottom of the scale to catch up with those at the top – and the intensity – that is, how many steps it takes for an individual to move up the ladder in a given period – of social mobility. 
  • For India: it would take a whopping 7 generations for someone born in a low-income family in India to approach mean income level; in Denmark, it would only take 2 generations.
  • Conversely, countries with low relative social mobility—such as India, South Africa or Brazil—also exhibit high levels of economic inequality.

That’s why it matters for countries like India to increase social mobility.

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