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Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union


Social mobility, or an individual's movement upward or downward through the strata of society, has been facilitated in the Soviet Union through changes in occupation, marriage, education, and political or even ethnic affiliation. Nepotism and cronyism have also played a significant role in social advancement. In addition, social mobility has stemmed from geographic mobility, such as the move of an agricultural worker to the city to work in industry. For non-Russians, social mobility has also involved learning the Russian language and culture.

Given the centralized and bureaucratic official structure of the Soviet Union in 1989, citizens could not legally become wealthy or achieve high social status outside official channels. Therefore, the paths for advancement remained fairly fixed, and an individual's upward progress was usually slow. In the past, political purges and an expanding economy had created positions for the ambitious. The faltering of the economy in the mid-1980s, however, restricted upward mobility, and as of 1989 Gorbachev's attempt to restructure the economy had not created new opportunities for social mobility.

In the 1980s, downward mobility was less of a problem than it had been during the Stalin era, when high-level government bureaucrats were demoted to menial jobs. However, even though elite positions had become more secure under Brezhnev, children of the elite who lacked higher education did not necessarily retain their parents' social position.

In 1989 social mobility tended to be "inter-generational" (advancement to a social position higher than the one occupied by parents) rather than "intra-generational" (advancement to a higher social position during one's own adult life). Thus, social mobility had slowed down. Soviet studies from the 1960s to the mid-1980s also showed that children of manual laborers were less likely to obtain high-level educational qualifications than children of nonmanual laborers. Nearly four-fifths of the children of unskilled manual laborers began their work careers at the same social level as their parents.

Data as of May 1989