Social mobility is the extent to which people are able to move between socio-economic strata during their lifetime and between generations. In societies with low social mobility like ours, a person’s background often predetermines the upper limit of education they would attain, the type of work they would do and the level of income they would earn.
Social mobility in India
According to the World Economic Forum’s Social Mobility Index (2020-21) – a holistic assessment of 82 global economies on their performance on five key dimensions of social mobility – India ranks 76th.
Recent trends highlight how vulnerabilities were already severely impacting the career prospects and consequently incomes earned for a huge section of the population, but the situation now is only worsening due to pandemic. Education of nearly 300 million children across 1.4 million schools in the country has been impacted since the onset of the pandemic.
The hardest hit have been the youth from disadvantaged backgrounds and rural areas where there are severe constraints in switching to digital learning, like lack of smartphones, computers, internet, etc. The government, CSR and social sector organizations across the country are trying their best to come up with reforms and initiatives to mitigate the impact on education, learning disparities and job losses in this moment of crisis.
A study by the World Bank measured the extent to which parents’ incomes are reflected in the incomes earned by their children, and found that the children’s incomes were closer to their parents’ incomes in India compared to other countries. In contrast to this, in societies with high social mobility, children from humble backgrounds have the same opportunities and chances of achieving their goals as those from prosperous backgrounds. Certain other studies that examined the correlation between fathers’ and sons’ occupations found a very high rate of intergenerational persistence indicating very low social mobility in the country.
An extensive study based on the Indian Human Development Survey (IHDS) indicates that over 75% of sons born to white-collar fathers ended up in white-collar, skilled or semi-skilled occupations as well. And almost 60% of those born to manual labourers ended up in unskilled professions.
A study in 2013 that looked at three different occupational “silos” – engineering, business management, and the higher civil services, found that on the whole, children born to salaried and self-employed professionals are the ones joining higher education and higher-status occupations.
School education and social mobility
Results from both the National Achievement Survey (NAS) 2017 and the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2019, show severe lags in learning outcomes for youth from rural areas. The NAS results also indicate that learning outcomes are significantly lower for the youth from SC, ST and others close to the poverty line. On average, youth from traditionally marginalized or religious minority groups as well as girls from economically weaker households, have the highest out-of-school rates.
Unified District Information System for Education (U-DISE) data shows that while gross enrollment ratios (GERs) are high in primary school and relatively high in upper primary school, it starts dropping in secondary and higher secondary levels for both girls and boys and across social groups. Enrollments are especially lower at the secondary levels for the youth from Scheduled Tribes. For people with disabilities, available data suggests that less than 60% are literate.
Youth from Scheduled Castes constitute the highest share of casual workers, while those from Scheduled Tribes constitute the lowest share of wage or salaried workers in India. Far fewer female youth are in employment as compared to males. Unemployment is lower among the lower socio-economic strata, possibly indicating that these youth work out of necessity in low-paying menial jobs in the informal sector.
Certain data shows that unemployment rises for youth with higher levels of education, indicating mainstream education often lacks job orientation. Underemployment remains a perennial challenge in India. Certain data suggests that per capita income decreases as one moves down the caste hierarchy and is the lowest for youth from minority religious groups.
CSR for improving employability
With 93% of the total labour force in India in the unorganized sector, there is a huge need to complement all efforts aimed at improving employability and livelihoods. Apart from the Government’s push on skill development, there is a need to focus on talent development as well. i.e., helping youth to follow careers matching their talent despite the background they are born into, and not just be skilled to undertake a minimum viable job.
This requires corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives that are incremental or different from those required only for skills development. CSR interventions should address the root causes that the vulnerable youth face on their journey towards better livelihoods and upward social mobility.