Featherman-Jones-Hauser hypothesis

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This states that there exists a cross-national similarity of social mobility rates at the level of underlying ‘relative mobility chances’, such that in all societies having a nuclear family system and market economy, the mobility pattern will be ‘basically the same’ (see D. L. Featherman, F. L. Jones, and R. M. Hauser, ‘Assumptions of Social Mobility Research in the US: The Case of Occupational Status’, Social Science Research, 1975). The argument has since been much disputed (see R. Erikson and J. H. Goldthorpe, The Constant Flux, 1992).

The manner in which the thesis is formulated raises two problems for the researcher who attempts to subject it to empirical testing. The first is the gap between the loose verbal formulation of the argument and the strict ‘common social fluidity model’ against which it is conventionally tested.

The former refers to a basic similarity whereas the latter postulates identical intergenerational social mobility chances across nations. The second problem is to determine whether or not the thesis is intended to apply to societies without a market economy-such as, for example, the former communist states of Central and Eastern Europe.

The latter issue is the more easily resolved. Featherman and his colleagues themselves raise the possibility that their arguments also apply in non-capitalist countries. In any case, it is certainly possible to extend the hypothesis in this way, and subsequent researchers have routinely included data for communist (and formerly communist) countries in their investigations.

However, the terminological inexactitude of the hypothesis itself continues to cause difficulties, so that debate about its empirical standing remains lively and unresolved. On the one hand, there are those such as Erikson and Goldthorpe who argue that the weaker (verbal) formulation is essentially sound, and that the key features of cross-nationally common fluidity patterns can be represented in a so-called ‘core model’. Although their data for fifteen countries show some cross-national variations in relative rates that are not captured by this model, these are relatively minor. On the other hand, Harry Ganzeboom, Ruud Luijkx, and Donald Treiman have argued that analysis of 149 intergenerational class mobility tables from 35 countries ‘suggests that the hypothesis of common social fluidity is simply incorrect’. Their results seem to show that ‘the between-country variance accounts for about one third of the total variance in the mobility parameters, indicating that there are significant between-country differences’ (‘Intergenerational Class Mobility in Comparative Perspective’, Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 1989).

It is difficult to arbitrate between these and other similarly competing accounts, not only because they tend to adopt different criteria as to what constitutes mobility regimes that are ‘basically the same’, but also because they have invariably been arrived at from an analysis of alternative data-sets, coded to class schemes (including Goldthorpe class schemes) of varying complexity and reliability, and conducted on the basis of competing statistical tools. It does seem to be generally agreed, however, that the cross-nationally common element in relative mobility chances heavily predominates over the cross-nationally variable one.

Subjects: Sociology.

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