New Community’s inquiry on italians’ perception of social mobility

News - Monday 28 May, 2018

It moves a little, but it is so slow that it seems almost still. We are talking about Italians’ social elevator. The latest ISTAT report on the country shows that it is not just a mere perception.

Ascribed characteristics, those coming from our origins, still have a decisive weight in determining our biographical, educational and professional paths. Less than a fifth (18.5%) of those who start from the social stratification’s lower levels are able to obtain a degree, while an even lower percentage (14.8%) is able to get a qualified job.

This happens despite having a fluid and highly flexible society, as well as several employment opportunities and inventiveness provided by new technologies. Indeed, traditional inequalities are once again taking on a significant role, by virtue of this new competitive context characterized by an age of radical changes.

That is because, when lacking of a stable and structured social infrastructure system, those who have poor family resources and relationship’s networks face greater stickiness in their paths. In other words, a family with scarce financial and relational means cannot support a youngster that, in turn, will struggle to undertake long training courses and invest in professional paths (masters, Erasmus programme, stays abroad, etc.).

Since we have few tools and policies aimed at redistributing opportunities – and those that work have poor resources – the family of origin remains the only (social) launching pad, with its tangible and intangible heritage. Furthermore, the social and economic background creates the scenario within which the subjects move and find a spendable social capital.

Suffice to think about what would happen if, unfortunately, one loses his/her job or if a person is looking for it: in the lack of effective active labour policies, relocation services and income support and without continuous training’s national system, individuals and families are called to almost entirely bear the burden of this situation. They can only count on their own capability to juggle and identify new opportunities.

Here is some data:  in Italy, Public Employment Centres (CPIs) carry out only 4% (Eurostat) of the intermediation between labour demand and supply. The remaining part is performed by word of mouth and autonomous research through family connections. 6% of the active population (25-64 years old) attends training or retraining courses, while the European average stands at 10.5% (ISTAT, Eurostat).

Therefore, in a ‘do-it-yourself’ time, those with the right tools have a significant competitive advantage. Conversely, the future perspective appears uncertain. Therefore, in this respect, the social elevator appears to be substantially blocked compared to previous decades.

The latest survey carried out by Community Media Research is aimed at verifying the population’s perception regarding its current membership in the social stratification, comparing to their past situation.  Then a comparison with a similar survey that took place in 2016 is performed, allowing us to further check if we are facing social mobility or immobility phenomena.

Overall, over two-thirds of the population (70.3%) currently place themselves in the low and medium-low social class, while the remaining 29.7% is set in the highest part of social stratification. Going back in time, 5 years ago, 58.4% of the respondents positioned themselves in the lower part of the social classes, with 41.6% in the upper one.

Therefore, in the span of a five-year-period, a considerable part of Italians believes they have suffered a social retrocession. This does not only mean an income drop, but can also come from giving opportunities up or from savings or assets’ erosion required to maintain the same lifestyle. The average figure, as usual, hides uneven situations in our country that translate into a territorial gap seen by just a handful of other European countries.

Thus, if in the North, on average, 64.3% of citizens are in the lower and medium-low classes, a similar situation can be seen for the 74.4% of the population living in the Centre-South of the country (with the South reaching 76.1%). By comparing the self-placements in the two periods, it is possible to draw Italians’ perceived social mobility, that is to say how and if the social elevator works. The outcome pictures a mainly blocked country. Almost three quarters of Italians (71.8%) believe the social elevator remains blocked on the same floor: in the examined period (2013-2018) there has only been a horizontal mobility.

On the other hand, a fifth of the citizenship (21.4%) has seen its social elevator falling down. This drop mainly involves those with a low educational level (31.3%), while the ones belonging to a lower class (51.7%) are unemployed (32.8%) or self-employed (32.8%). It mainly affects people living in the South (24.1%). Very few (6.8%) experienced an upward social mobility, almost exclusively involving those belonging to the upper-middle class (30.0%).

The comparison with what emerged in 2016 makes it possible to highlight that, in reality, the elevator has (slowly) moved. In other words this means that today’ descent path involves a lower number of people (21.4%) compared to 2016 (34.3%). However, this did not translate into a rise for those who went uphill (6.8%, 3.6% in 2016), but rather there was an increase for those who remained steady on the same floor: 71.8%, compared to 62, 1% in 2016. If Italy’s GDP grows slowly, the social elevator does not follow the same trend: on the one hand, the number of people going down is lower than the one recorded a few years ago, while on the other hand, the basin of people keeping still is widening and the rise is reserved to very few citizens.

Slow economic recovery and blocked social mobility feed the processes of social inclusion/exclusion and boosted social inequalities once again. These represent the real hurdles that need to be quickly removed by the new Government.

Reasearch methodology

Community Media Research, in collaboration with Intesa Sanpaolo for La Stampa, carried out a country-wide survey called Indagine LaST (Laboratorio sulla Società e il Territorio) from January 9th to January 22nd, on a sample of the whole Italian population over 18 years old. The methodology aspects and the outcome have been studied by Questlab. 1,482 people in total (out of 13,384 contacts) have been surveyed. Data analysis was re-balanced according to gender, territory, age groups, working condition and education. The margin of error is about +/-2.5%. The survey was a visual one using the main social networks, with a casual sample reachable with CAWI and CATI systems. To download the full survey please visit and