Social mobility: Is there such thing as an ‘economic ladder’?

Social mobility is all about how easy is it for people to improve their position in the economy. In a lot of societies, people use the language of ‘rising in the ranks’ or ‘going up in the world’ to mean we’re doing well. But what exactly the social ladder looks like depends on the how fair the economy is and the culture we’re talking about. Not all cultures have the same steps on the ladder, and some don’t really have a ladder at all. ¹

It’s obvious why a secure, comfortable lifestyle is something worth striving towards, but the economic ladder as we know it today is a lot steeper than that. Films, magazines and music celebrate a level of income going far beyond what we would need to live comfortably. The desire to lead this glamorous lifestyle and move up the social ladder is what incentivizes a lot of people to try and move up the economic one.

But in some societies, the idea of social mobility doesn't really exist. In Ladakh, a region in the Tibetan Plateau of Northern India, most people work in agriculture, producing food to sustain themselves and their family.² As the area is predominantly Buddhist some people will become monks and nuns, others will practice Shamanism and act as the doctors of society, and others mediate any civil pursuits. While, of course, different people in society are respected on different levels, there is no real economic ladder for people to climb - instead, everyone chips in to sustain a functioning society, without any particular role being seen as above or below the other.

This is obviously not the case in many economies across the world, where clear hiearchies and inequalities exist between different groups of people; what is often called socio-economic class.³ But in these socieities, how possible is it to climb the metaphorical ladder?