Statistical studies in social ascent and descent. Within the last three decades those social scientists who have adopted the statistical approach to social phenomena have tried to come to grips with the realities of social class rigidity and mobility by the use of that method of research. Much as the other chief aspects of social class continuity, stability, and circulation have been treated in detail, it is now proper that the reader be given a digest, explanation, and criticism of a fair number of these statistical studies.Next Page
It is obvious that the social classes, as defined and so far as possible adhered to in this thesis, are not quantitatively calculable. Estimates of their numbers, even in local situations, would not come up to the requirements of strict statistical standards. Therefore, in order to have categories that are self-exclusive, statisticians have made use of lists of famous persons, occupational groupings, income groupings, and political officeholders. These are a hundredfold more easily placed within statistical norms than are the associative groups of kindred social types, differentiated from each other according to their rank on the social ladder.
The statistical method has not served to enlighten the whole subject matter of social class but instead only a part of it. Statistics have perforce limited the data to such matters as are numerically calculable without answering the questions of interchange between the less tangible and more exclusive social class groups. Statistical studies in this field fail to come to grips with human feelings and prejudices (vanity, pride, and honor) which are quite as much at the heart of social class formation and maintenance as are money, occupation, and political office.
For example, as a part of the general subject of social mobility, Sorokin uses the following objective criteria: 14
If, for instance, one individual in one year climbed from the position of a man with yearly income of $500 to a position with an income with $50,000, while another man in the same person succeeded in increasing his income only from $500 to $1,000, in the first case the intensity of the economic climbing would be fifty times greater than in the second case.
It is, of course, clear that the rise in income of the one man is fifty times greater than in the other, but the significance of this difference in income is to be found in the intangibles of social class. If the first man were a stake grubber, he might waste his fortune in three nights. If he were of a high family and had merely passed from an allowance to a position in a bank, his social position would likewise not be greatly affected. One must know much, much more about these men than their changes in income. Gangsters have mobile incomes but relatively immobile status.
Nothaas, in his statistical studies of social ascent and descent does not pause to define social rank or social status. He set up statistical categories, the upper stratum of which includes professionals and artists and all the political leaders, as well as the rich and the aristocrats. 15 But there are artists and artists, many kinds of professionals, and the political leaders include a motley assemblage of intellectuals, aristocrats, churchmen, and a few ex-workers.
Geiger, who has perhaps worked most assiduously with the perplexities of social class in terms of statistical categories, finally comes to the following conclusion: 16
Neither strata (Schichten) in general nor classes in particular are calculable quantities, like all abstract quantities, and as such they escape quantification and numbers; also where classes include persons whose behavior or other psychological characteristics are alike (according to Max Weber, Momber, and others) statistics have no direct access or application to them. The people could be counted but for lack of trustworthy and objectively usable characteristics, it is not determinable which people are to be counted.
Mombert, who first came to grips with the complexities of social class terminology and the difficulties of interpreting statistical studies, became early convinced that "the manner of present day class formation does not lend the talented and capable up the social ladder and does not take place in the form of a selective process which chooses out the best." 17 Mombert, unlike Geiger, early committed himself to the principle that class relationships and changes could be statistically determined. "If we know still today little about these questions, it is coincident with the fact that social statistics among us are still very little developed . . . " 18
However, as we shall see, Mombert complains of the very statistical studies from which we awaited so much. Sombart's division of the population into the four classes, Junkers, bourgeoisie, lower middle class, and proletariat, is dismissed by Mombert as inadequate for statistical purposes. Likewise is Lange's division of the classes into independents, salaried employees, and workers passed by. 19 The sons of a peasant (an independent) can become a civil servant (a salaried employee) without losing class standing, Mombert says, and the son of a skilled worker can become a small merchant or independent craftsman without necessarily rising in status. This is very important because it is frequently seen that changes in occupation are confused with changes in social standing.
One of the earliest statistical studies in social mobility was made by Abelsdorf in 1900, entitled: "Beiträge zur Sozialstatistik der deutschen Buchdrucker." In 4374 cases the occupation of the father could be verified: 50 fathers of printers were academically trained civil servants, clerics, officers, supervisors of foresters, and members of the liberal professions. In 76 cases the fathers were factory owners or managers. "In these 186 (out of 4374) cases one can speak of a clear cut social ascent . . . " 20 At the other extreme were "the 392 cases in which the fathers were day laborers or unskilled workers." In itself, on its face value, this study reveals very insignificant degrees of social mobility. Mombert, in explaining the data, adds the comment that not only the fathers should be known but also the "occupations of the grandfathers." 21 A study by Bernay into changes in occupations among the workers of the Gladbach textile mills shows that out of 2372 workers, 169 were descended from persons of higher positions. To these belonged foremen, artists, teachers, bureaucrats, business employees, inn keepers, and white collar workers. Mombert (who summarizes these studies, themselves almost altogether inaccessible in New York) comments that "not even in each of these cases is there evidence of social mobility." 22 It should be noted that the percentage of mobility, if all the cases were accepted on their face value, is quite insignificant.
14. Sorokin, op. cit. (2), p. 136.
15. Nothaas, op. cit., p. 5.
16. Theodor Geiger, Die Soziale Schichtung des Deutschen Volkes (Stuttgart, 1932) p. 12; translation ours.
17. Paul Mombert, "Die Tatsachen der Klassenbildung," in Schmollers Jahrbuch für Gesetzgebung, etc., vol. 44 (Munich, 1920) p. 1042; translation ours.
18. Ibid., pp. 1044 - 5; translation ours.
19. Ibid., p. 1047.
20. Ibid., p. 1048.
21. Ibid., p. 1049.
22. Ibid., pp. 1051 - 52.