Horizontal mobility takes place when someone moves from one job or occupational position to another, without their social standing changing.
In other words, social mobility is horizontal when an individual moves from one job that brings a certain status and prestige, to another one which has the same value in the eyes of society (Sorokin, 2019).
Examples of horizontal mobility include a teacher in a school becoming a teacher in another school, or a manager moving to another branch.
Horizontal mobility can take place because of reasons such as problems in a specific workplace, the closing of a branch or an institution, or moving to another city or country.
Horizontal Mobility Definition
While horizontal mobility is relatively easy to understand, it’s often good to use academic definitions in essays. Some scholarly definitions of horizontal mobility are provided below to either quote, compare, or paraphrase:
“Horizontal mobility is the process of making changes in the same status level while vertical mobility is the process of changing from one state to another either to a higher or lower level.”(Reddy, Reddy, & Naik, 2023, p. 300)
“Horizontal mobility refers to territorial, religious, political party, family, occupational and other horizontal shifting without any noticeable change in vertical position.”(Sorokin, 2019)
Horizontal Mobility Examples
- Changing organizations: A student working part-time at Burger King is starting to work full-time at Mcdonald’s. Despite an increase in their working hours and net salary, this mobility is horizontal since their position remains the same.
- Transitioning to online work: A language teacher in a private school quitting their job to start working as an online tutor.
- Moving from freelance to in-house: A freelance translator becomes a salaried interpreter in a non-governmental organization.
- International work exchange: A teaching assistant in a university moving to another country as a visiting research assistant.
- Moving to a job with similar status: A doctoral candidate becoming a postdoctoral researcher in another university. While their academic rank slightly increases, both positions are temporary academic jobs which have the same kind of social status and prestige.
- Inter-company transfers: A company’s district manager being transferred to another provincial office as their manager.
- Moving towns to a similar job: A psychological counselor in a university became a private psychologist in another town.
- Changing careers to a similar status career: An accountant for a tourism company starting work as an accountant for a tutoring business.
- Moving across to a shoulder career: An adjunct professor in a university starting to work as a part-time lecturer in a college.
- Starting your own consultancy: An economist who has worked for a big financial firm leaves the firm to start their own consultancy but continues to offer the same services and earn a similar income as before.
1. Moving from one Manual Job to Another
A common time horizontal mobility occurs is when individuals move from one type of manual job to another.
Often, those who perform manual jobs belong to the working class of society, and they are also referred to as blue-collar workers.
These jobs range from gardening and carpentry to plumbing and construction work.
In some societies, manual jobs are stigmatized as unskilled labor, despite requiring significant physical strength and some problem-solving skills.
Moving from a part-time construction job to a full-time one can be an example of horizontal mobility since it does not change one’s social status. Similarly, moving one’s work sector from gardening to plumbing would also be horizontal mobility, since both manual jobs have the same standing in the society.
2. Horizontal Mobility Within the Customer Service Industry
Service industry is one of the most rapidly growing sectors and service workers are a part of the middle-working class. Individuals that are part of the service industry include restaurant servers, retail workers, or customer service workers in call centers.
While service work is often chosen by young people or students, the pay ranges can vary depending on the experience. Many people also work at multiple part-time service jobs at the same time.
Despite this broad range of these occupations, moves across these jobs will still keep an individual within the customer service industry. Therefore, someone changing their job from a restaurant server to retail worker would be an example of an individual who has gone through horizontal mobility.
3. Moving to a Different Managerial Role
Managerial jobs are positions through which individuals supervise other employees, and they have a very high status.
An example of horizontal mobility can be a human rights manager in Company A quitting their job, and starting to work as the financial manager in Company B.
Regardless of the changes in work positions and workplaces, both jobs are managerial positions, therefore having the same social standing – which makes this move a case of horizontal mobility.
4. Moving to Different Academic Role
Academic jobs have a wide range of positions, occupations, and pay scales. They include teaching assistants, research assistants, adjunct instructors, tenure-track and tenured professors.
Despite this variety, most of the academic jobs have the same social standing and prestige in the non-academic world.
Therefore, while an individual’s move from being a research assistant to a tenure-track professor will imply a pay raise, it can still be considered a case of horizontal mobility as it does not change their overall social status.
5. Moving to a Different Work Schedule or Location
With the increased prevalence of the internet in the workplace, remote work options have become increasingly available and popular.
Many moves from offline jobs to online jobs have taken place since these lockdowns (Angelucci et al., 2020).
Examples include instructors in colleges and private institutions becoming online tutors, or IT workers quitting their full-time jobs to become ‘digital nomads’, which means working online without being location-dependent (Thompson, 2019).
These examples, as well as moves between part-time, full-time, and flexitime job positions, often qualify as cases of horizontal mobility since individuals remain within the same socioeconomic class.
Causes of Horizontal Mobility
Horizontal mobility refers to a move between different jobs which have the same social status and prestige. Then, why would someone make such a transition if it does not bring an increase in status?
The reasons may include immigrating to another country or moving to a different town. In these situations, one may obtain a work visa to perform their own job in another place.
Other reasons can be an individual’s goal to obtain a higher salary, the closure of one’s workplace or work branch, or problems experienced with colleagues in the workplace.
In addition to horizontal mobility, other types of social mobility include upward, downward, and exchange mobility (Sorokin, 2019).
Upward mobility and downward mobility are two contrasting types of vertical mobility.
While upward mobility refers to increasing one’s social position and status, downward mobility means the exact opposite.
Exchange mobility, on the other hand, refers to the movement of a large group of people upwards and downwards, in a way that keeps the proportions of the social classes the same (Hutchinson, 1958).
Horizontal and vertical mobility can also be structural, intergenerational, or intragenerational. These three types, respectively, refer to movements that affect a whole population, a family, or just an individual.
1. Horizontal vs. Vertical Mobility
In contrast with horizontal mobility, which is a movement between occupations without a change in social status, vertical mobility refers to moving between occupations that are ranked differently in the social hierarchy (Sorokin, 2019).
An example of horizontal mobility can be a cashier in a grocery store starting to work as a cashier in another store. If the same person changes their job to become an assistant manager in a store, that would be an example to vertical mobility.
Vertical mobility can be either upward or downward mobility, referring to the direction towards which one’s status changes. In contrast, in horizontal mobility, this status always remains the same.
2. Horizontal vs. Exchange Mobility
In addition to Horizontal mobility, exchange mobility is a prevalent type of social movement across positions.
However, unlike horizontal mobility which is a movement between occupations or jobs with the same status, exchange mobility refers to changing social statuses.
Also, while horizontal mobility is a micro-level concept referring to an individual’s move, exchange mobility has a macro-level focus referring to the upward mobility of a group happening at the same time as the downward mobility of another.
Thus, the exchange mobility keeps the proportions of the upper, lower, and middle classes relatively equal, while horizontal mobility takes place within these classes (Hutchinson, 1958).
Moves between jobs and positions that have the same social standing are referred to as horizontal mobility. Through this type of social mobility, individuals stay within the same socioeconomic class.
Different examples of horizontal mobility include moving from one manual job to another, moving between different managerial jobs, or performing the same or similar job in-person or remotely.
Reasons for horizontal mobility can include workplace closures or individuals moving to different towns or countries.
Angelucci, M., Angrisani, M., Bennett, D. M., Kapteyn, A., & Schaner, S. G. (2020). Remote work and the heterogeneous impact of COVID-19 on employment and health (No. w27749). National Bureau of Economic Research.
Hutchinson, B. (1958). Structural and exchange mobility in the assimilation of immigrants to Brazil. Population Studies, 12(2), 111–120. https://doi.org/10.1080/00324728.1958.10405012
Reddy, K. N., Reddy, S. N, and Naik, K. K. (2023). Kalyana Mitra: Contemporary History and Diaspora. New Delhi: BuleRose Publishers.
Sorokin, P. A. (2019). Social and cultural mobility. In Social Stratification (pp. 303-308). Routledge.
Thompson, B. Y. (2019). The digital nomad lifestyle:(remote) work/leisure balance, privilege, and constructed community. International Journal of the Sociology of Leisure, 2(1), 27-42. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41978-018-00030-y