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Soviet Union

Other Determinants of Social Position

Social position in the Soviet Union in 1989 was determined not only by occupation but also by level of education, party membership, place of residence (urban or rural), and nationality. Education level and party affiliation were by far the most important nonoccupational determinants.


Education was the chief prerequisite for social mobility, playing an important role in determining one's occupation and hence one's position in society. Few opportunities for advancement existed for individuals who lacked formal education. In general, the person who had an incomplete secondary education, that is, left school after eight years, received only a factory apprenticeship or an unskilled job. The person who completed secondary education, that is, finished school through the tenth year, was placed in a skilled or perhaps a low-level white-collar position, depending on the type of secondary school attended (see Institutions of Learning , ch. 6). Professional and bureaucratic positions required an even higher level of education.

Access to higher education, however, was not equal for all social groups. In general, the higher the parents' status in the social hierarchy, the better were the children's chances of entering a university. This advantage was only partially attributable to the parents' better connections and influence. Children from these families also received better primary and secondary educations, which made it more likely that they would pass difficult university entrance examinations. In addition, their parents could more easily afford tutoring for these examinations if it were needed. They could also better afford the expense of school tuition in the absence of a stipend. Because of their better educational backgrounds, the children of white-collar workers and the elite were more likely to obtain higher positions in the social structure than the offspring of agricultural and blue-collar workers. Since education was the chief means of social advancement in the Soviet Union, this unequal opportunity greatly hindered upward social mobility and tended to perpetuate the intelligentsia and political elite.

Data as of May 1989