Onwards and upwards? Exploration of the inter-generational social mobility effects on subjective wellbeing through life trajectories of the Aberdeen C

Lead Research Organisation: University of Aberdeen
Department Name: Sch of Social Science


The dominant academic and political discourses of social mobility in the UK have almost entirely focused on heated debates over mobility rates and problems of mobility measurement (Payne, 2017). Rates of social mobility as measured by 'objective' markers, predominantly income and occupation, have become indicators of a 'healthy' and just society which has inadvertently solidified the notion of upward mobility as a socially progressive force (Friedman, 2014). The impact of social mobility on subjective wellbeing (SWB), and the experience of social mobility, as topics of sociological interest, remain relatively unexplored. However, the contemporary literature on the topic that does exist is deeply divided along the lines of quantitative and qualitative paradigms.

This proposed study is therefore directed towards a twofold aim: firstly, to explore the effects of class and inter-generational social mobility on SWB, and secondly, to investigate the mobility experience of socially mobile individuals. For this purpose, I intend to examine the Aberdeen Children of the 1950s (ACONF) cohort study (N=12,150) (Leon et al., 2004, 2006), to provide a complete and rich account of an entire cohort's social mobility on a historical backdrop of the middle-sized Scottish city. In an attempt to reconcile the quantitative - qualitative divide, this project will employ a mixed-methods approach of quantitative analysis and original follow-up life-story interviews. This unique approach is the single biggest advantage of the study and has never been utilised. Only a few qualitative researchers merely draw their samples from survey studies (see Friedman, 2016; Miles, Savage, Buhlmann 2011). Adoption of the Bourdieusian framework would add additional dimensions to social mobility as acquisition of particular types of capital, especially cultural capital, is thought to have impact on the mobility experience, at least within the qualitative tradition, resulting in maladjustment and feeling 'out of place' (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1977; Lahire, 2011; Friedman, 2016). This study will also look beyond the two most common unidimensional measures of SWB: life satisfaction and happiness. Instead, it will focus on psychological distress as a proxy for SWB, which is closely associated with the conceptualisation of 'negative mobility effects' by their first proponents (Durkheim, 1951; Sorokin, 1959). Ultimately, this project aims to answer the following questions:

1. Does inter-generational social mobility have an independent effect on subjective wellbeing?

2. How far does the fact of 'objective' social mobility actually correspond to individuals' 'subjective' understanding and awareness of their life trajectory?

3. To what extent are inter-generational gains and losses of economic, social, and cultural capitals shaping the experience of social mobility and influencing individuals' subjective wellbeing?


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000681/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
2117604 Studentship ES/P000681/1 30/09/2018 17/01/2023 Krzysztof Adamczyk