Präg, P., Fritsch, N. S., & Richards, L. (2022). Intragenerational Social Mobility and Well-being in Great Britain: A Biomarker Approach. Social Forces.

Social theory has long predicted that social mobility, in particulardownward social mobility, is detrimental to the well-being of individuals.Dissociative and “falling from grace” theories suggest that mobility isstressful due to the weakening of social ties, feelings of alienation, andloss of status. In light of these theories, it is a puzzle that the majorityof quantitative studies in this area have shown null results. Our approach toresolve the puzzle is two-fold. First, we argue for a broader conception ofthe mobility process than is often used and thus focus on intra generationaloccupational class mobility rather than restricting ourselves to the morecommonly studied intergenerational mobility. Second, we argue thatself-reported measures may be biased by habituation (or “entrencheddeprivation”). Using nurse-collected health and biomarker data from the UKHousehold Longitudinal Study (2010–2012, N  = 4,123), we derive a measure ofallostatic load as an objective gauge of physiological “wear and tear” andcompare patterns of mobility effects with self-reports of health usingdiagonal reference models. Our findings indicate a strong class gradient inboth allostatic load and self-rated health, and that both first and currentjob matter for current well-being outcomes. However, in terms of the effectsof mobility itself, we find that intragenerational social mobility isconsequential for allostatic load, but not for self-rated health. Downwardmobility is detrimental and upward mobility beneficial for well-being asassessed by allostatic load. Thus, these findings do not support the idea ofgeneralized stress from dissociation, but they do support the “falling fromgrace” hypothesis of negative downward mobility effects. Our findings have afurther implication, namely that the differences in mobility effects betweenthe objective and subjective outcome infer the presence of entrencheddeprivation. Null results in studies of self-rated outcomes may therefore bea methodological artifact, rather than an outright rejection of decades-oldsocial theory.