Document Type


Date of Award



Social mobility, Political sociology

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

James A. Geschwender

Second Advisor

Donald B. Trow

Third Advisor

Evelyn Rosenthal


The review of the literature on political behavior of intergenerationally mobile Americans suggests that mobile individuals, as aggregates, take on an intermediate political position between manual and non-manual stable groups. This finding has been interpreted as an indication of an acculturation or partial resocialization process experienced by intergenerationally mobile individuals. More complicated hypotheses involving psychological factors such as stress, cross-pressure, and status needs were found to be unnecessary to explain the political behavior of mobile Americans. However, the recent preoccupation with proving or disproving ‘mobility effects’ has distracted attention from several alternative processes which could account for the intermediate political position of mobiles.

It was hypothesized that the political behavior of intergenerationally mobile individuals can be explained by the same forces as determine individuals’ political behavior in general. These forces include (1) structural determinants as implied in the class interest theory, (2) socialization forces as suggested in political socialization theory, or (3) a combination of these two theoretical frameworks. The class interest (resocialization) theory would predict that intergenerationally mobile individuals change their political behavior in correspondence with their new class position, while the primary group socialization (inheritance) theory suggests that no attitudinal change occurs due to social mobility. A third conception is that both resocialization and inheritance forces affect mobile individuals, leading to a blending of political cultures (acculturation). The relative importance of these attitudinal processes will determine the effect of intergenerational mobility on the level of class polarization in society.

To test these alternatives, a sub sample (n=1132) of the CPS 1972 American National Election Study (SRC, University of Michigan) was analyzed. The dependent variables include R’s party preference, R’s class identification, and attitudes towards a socioeconomic issue. Multiple regression, multiple classification, and cross-tabular analyses were employed to (1) establish the determinants of intergenerationally mobile and stable respondents’ political and socioeconomic attitudes; (2) test for the statistical and substantive importance of mobility effects; and (3) determine the attitude change processes of mobile and stable persons’ party preferences and class identifications. In addition, a demographic projection model was developed to establish the effect of intergenerational social mobility on the level of class polarization in party preferences and class identification, under various assumptions of attitude change among mobiles.

The research findings on party preference and class identification support the following conclusions:

  1. The political behavior of intergenerationally mobile individuals can be explained by the same set of determinants which account for the behavior of stable individuals. The mobility experience, per se, does not seem to be a substantively important factor when explaining political behavior.
  2. A process such as acculturation or partial resocialization appears to account best for the aggregate position of mobiles, but does not characterize the attitude change process of the majority of mobile individuals. In contemporary American society, the majority of intergenerationally mobile individuals is not likely to change their political behavior due to mobility. Moreover, the acculturation hypothesis ignores the variety of other attitude change processes, their relative importance, and their contextually specific occurrence.
  3. On the aggregate level of analysis, intergenerational social mobility tends to change the political position of the aggregate of mobiles. The aggregate of mobiles is not likely to take on a political position which is identical to that of stables who are identical in their socioeconomic characteristics. The political position of mobile groups will reflect to some extent the political position of their origin class.
  4. Therefore, the overall effect of intergenerational social mobility is to undermine to some extent the level of political class polarization on issues such as party preference and class identification.