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Life Course Risks, Mobility Regimes, and Mobility Consequences: A Comparison of Sweden, Germany and the U.S.

Discussion Papers 255, 40 S.

Thomas A. DiPrete

2001. Jun.

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Intragenerational mobility has been a central concern in sociology, especially in the latter half of the 20th century. Most of this analysis has proceeded using measures of social position that are functions of an individual's occupation. This approach has been based on two primary justifications. First, occupational mobility is a key attribute of labor market structure, and the labor market, along with the educational system, is the principal institution responsible for a country's structure of inequality. Second, occupation is an income producing asset that provides an approximate measure of "permanent income" and standard of living. Occupation-based models of social mobility, however, have limitations that arguably have grown during the recent past. Meta-analysis of available evidence for Sweden, western Germany, and the United States concerning occupational mobility, household income mobility, job displacement, union dissolution, and poverty dynamics shows the limitations of the individual-level occupation-based careertrajectory approach to life course mobility. An alternative formulation at the household rather than the individual level is developed that focuses on cross-national variation in the extent to which institutions influence the rate of class-altering events, and the extent to which they mitigate the consequences of these events. The combination of these two institutional processes produces the distinctive characteristics of the mobility regimes of these three countries.

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