Based on ones wealth, relationship with the cultural goods and education, and networking range there are three types of capital; the economic, the cultural, and the social (Bourdieu (1984)). One persons social class is designed and based on these types of capital and thus the closer the relationship of the person with them the higher he or she ranks in the social pyramid. (Bourdieu (1984)). Within the society there are seven social class categories; the elite, the established middle, the technical middle, the new affluent workers, the traditional working class, the emergent service workers, and the precariat, with the elite to own the highest amount of the three capital types compared to the rest of the social classes and the precariat which owns the lowest one (Savage etc all (2013)). Social mobility within the social pyramid occurs whenever one exits his old class and enters a new one (Sorokin, Aleksandrovich (1998)). This essay attempts to illustrate real-life examples of social mobility in relation to business growth and the frequency of social mobility in the United Kingdom.
Elon Reeve Musk
The first case where upward social mobility takes place is this one of the multibillionaire entrepreneur and software developer Elon Musk. He was born in 1971 in Pretoria of South Africa, a country that was characterised by the highly frequent violent actions and behaviours between the black and the white Africans. Musks family belonged to the middle class with his mother and father to be a model and nutritionist, and an electromagnetic engineer, respectively (Vance (2015)). Despite Musks social class his school years and young adolescence after his parents divorce have been full of violence since he experienced serious bullying and physical abuse by his peers and his father, which resulted in his social isolation and sometimes in traumas that needed hospitalisation. In 1989 Musk emigrated to Canada with a little amount of money, which led to him performing different jobs, such as farmer assistant and boiler cleaner in order to make his living while in 1922 he studied physics and business at Pennsylvania University (Vance (2015)). Thus, Musk at this point had moved from the middle-class to the working one.
His journey to the elite class began in 1995 when he and his brother Kimbal founded with only $28.000 the Global Link Information Network software company that initially offered website design services and afterwards internet city guide services to newspapers, such as The New York Times (Vance (2015)). The company in 1996 changed its name to Zip2 while it continued to grow and receive high investment that reached $3 million before it was sold to Compaq Computer in 1999 for $307 million with Elon Musk to have received $22 million. Simultaneously, in 1999 Musk co-funded with Greg Kouri, the financial company X.com that was merged with Confinity Inc. and rebranded into PayPal, until it was sold to eBay for $ 2.5 billion, with Musk receiving a share of $250 million (Vance (2015)). However, the business expansion will continue with the founding in 2003 of his car manufacturing company Tesla, which produces high quality and performance electric cars, and with the founding of Space X in 2003, a company specialising in the production of spacecrafts for future commercial travels in space. Therefore, it seems that Elon Musk despite his hard time at school and as a young adolescent, and of his downfall from the middle to the working-class, he actually achieved to enter the upper elite-class and become a worldwide famous and well respected for his innovative and multimillion valued ideas entrepreneur. Simultaneously, he created a business empire operating in many fields that offered him in 2019 net wealth of $23.2 billion and a place among the 40 billionaires worldwide (Forbs (2019)).
Jan Koum is a modern real-life example of a man that moved from almost the bottom of the social spectrum to the top and own a place among the modern billionaires worldwide. Koum was born in 1976 in a small Ukrainian village and was the only child in the family. His father worked as a construction manager while his mother occupation was limited to household activities. The family struggled to meet ends with the house to lack even hot water on a daily basis (Forbs (2014)). In 1992 he and his mother immigrated to the United States where he performed many types of jobs including working as a floor cleaner at a grocery store and decided to quit his studies. However, he has been self-taught programmer which provided him a job as an infrastructure engineer at Yahoo where his occupation there ended in 2007 (Forbs (2014)). In 2009 he co-founded with Brian Acton the WhatsApp Inc. a mobile messaging software that dominated in the social media messaging industry mainly because of its fresh digital features and constant updates and improvements. Finally, WhatsApp Inc was purchased by Mark Zuckerberg in 2014 with a 19 billion deal. Thus, even though Koum began his entrepreneur journey with little economic capital he achieved to create a very popular and profitable messaging application that has transferred him in the elite class and offered him a net fortune of 9.9 billion US dollars (Forbs (2019)).
Aristoteles Socrates Onassis
Another typical example of social mobility is this of the Greek multibillionaire ($2.3 billion) entrepreneur and ship owner Aristoteles Socrates Onassis (1906 – 1975). In this case, the movement across the social pyramid is frequent since Onassis had begun as a member of the middle-class who then moved downwards almost to the bottom and eventually achieved to enter to the very high of the global elite class and become a worldwide famous entrepreneur and ship owner.
Aristoteles Onassis had been the son of a well-known middle-class family whose father had been a tobacco merchant. This allowed the family to meet both the financial and social criteria to residence in the wealthy and cosmopolitical suburb of Smyrna located in Turkey and live with other middle- or high-class Greeks, Americans, British, and French (Harlaftis (2014)). Throughout his residence in Smyrna, Onassis, had an impressive educational background, since he attended and graduated from the Evangelical School, which has been one of the best and with high reputation Greek schools of his time and simultaneously, he could speak four different languages, including Greek, English, Spanish, and Turkish. However, shortly after Onassiss school graduation took place, during the Greco-Turkish war (19191922) the Asia Minor Catastrophe in 1922 occurred which forced the entire family, as well as other Greek refugees, within a night to flee to Greece and leave everything behind (Harlaftis (2014)). The Onasium family lived in Athens for approximately a year with having experienced a rapid and significant downfall within the class pyramid. Finally, the upcoming year (1923) the family decided to immigrate to Latin America and specifically to Argentina (Harlaftis (2011)).
Onassis in the early 20s decided to start his entrepreneurial activity in Argentina by entering into the tobacco industry while he had been working at the British United River Plate Telephone Company. He had noticed that the East Mediterranean cigarettes had a softer flavour compared to the Cuban ones that had been imported so he started to trade them and after some years he owned his two cigarette brands, called Primeros and Osman (Harlaftis (2014)). The different cigarette taste, the cigarette trade deal between Onassis and the Greek government and the fact that Onassis targeted the women smokers as well as with the male ones are three main factors that offered him in the middle of his 20’s his first $1 million. However, the economic crisis that followed because of the Great Depression (1929 – 1939) gave Onassis the great opportunity to enter the ship industry and purchase in 1932 six freight ships, which as it is illustrated in figure 1 was the best time for one to buy ships because of their extremely low price (Harlaftis (2014)) .
Source: The Onassis Global Shipping Business 1920s1950s
Aristoteles Onassis realised that in order to survive and succeed in the shipping industry he needed to be in constant contact and develop a close relationship with other ship owners around the globe and so he did. The business success that followed was huge with his international ship range to be consisted of 42 tankers, 19 Liberties, 16 whale catchers, 9 Victories, and 1 T2 by the end of 1957 while in 1976 his group of shipping companies was among the top 10 largest independent tanker companies (Harlaftis (2014)). The friendships he developed offered him the essential knowledge to improve himself as a ship owner, to interact with well-known elite ship owners such as Costas Gratsos and Lars Christensen, and to increase further his global reputation. Alongside with shipping, Onassis noticed that he could expand his business by entering the airline’s industry so he purchased the TAE Greek National Airlines in 1951 from the Greek state but this didnt last long since the airlines were nationalised again in 1975.
Being Onassis in the upper high class contributed to his marriage in 1946 with Athina Livanos the daughter of the elite ship owner Stavros Livanos , to the conduction of a long run relationship with the worldwide known female soprano Maria Callas after his divorce in 1960 with Athina, and eventually to his last marriage in 1968 at his private island called Scorpios, with the widow of the American President John Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy. Thus, Onassis despite his original forced by the war social and financial downward, he achieved not just to return in a relatively short period of time to his initial class but to create an international multi-billion business empire, to interact and keep close contact with ship owners, entrepreneurs, and politicians such as Eleftherios Venizelos, and to maintain his high status up to the end of his life.
The frequency of social mobility in England
Conclusions regarding the social mobility trends and rates are usually based on the perspectives of the economic and social capital with economists to give great emphasis on ones wealth and income, and sociologists to focus on ones occupation in order his or her social status to be designed (Buscha and Sturgis (2017)). Nevertheless, when it comes to the United Kingdom it seems that there are three main points of view in terms of the social mobility trends, with the first suggesting an increase (Goldthorpe, etc all (2015); Lambert, etc all (2007); Li and Devine (2011)), the second indicating a decrease (Blanden et al. 2004, 2013), and the last one presenting a stable situation (Goldthorpe and Jackson 2007, Goldthorpe and Mills (2008)). Therefore, comparing the intergenerational social mobility may illustrate a more accurate picture (Buscha and Sturgis (2017)). Overall, men who were born between 1908 and 1947 appear according to figure 2 to remain at their parents status but the percentage that had experienced a rise in their social status and a better quality of life compared to their parents had increased.
Figure 2: The social mobility trend between men that were born between 1908 and 1947. Source: Goldthorpe (2016), Social class mobility in modern Britain: changing structure, constant process.
Throughout the Golden Age (1950-1970) the rising demand for educated professionals led to an expansion of the salariat class (Goldthorpe (2016)), while by the end of the 20th century the absolute intergenerational social mobility remained relatively stable (Goldthorpe, Waller, Kuha (2014)). During the last two decades, ones, family social background, received level and quality of education, budget to afford to participate in unpaid internships, and residential area contribute significantly to his or her social evolution (Social Mobility Commission (2017, 2018)). In fact, as it is depicted in figure 3 regional areas, such as the affluential ones and London, promote social mobility hotspots compared to others coldspots for instance the former industrial ones.
Figure 3: Percentage of hotspots and coldspots across different British areas. Source: Social Mobility Commission (2017).
Simultaneously, lack of working experience due to the commonplace unpaid or below the national minimum wage paid internships can be an obstacle to upward social mobility, since a big proportion of people cannot afford to participate in such activities without receiving a salary especially, when it comes to cities such as London (Social Mobility Commission (2017)). Furthermore, the precariat children have little possibilities of entering a top university and reaching high scores in GCSE, especially in English and maths (Social Mobility Commission (2018)). Education has been one of the highest national priorities after 1997 with the UK government to implement policies to support it, including a rise of public spending on education to limit the educational gap of the disadvantaged children and their advantaged peers, the establishment of free school meals for the disadvantaged children, and the Teach First program targeting the rise of teachers in disadvantaged schools (Social Mobility Commission (2017)). However, the A-level performance and the received educational quality of those children compared to their advantage peers across the nation havent improved much (Social Mobility Commission (2017)) which may negatively affect the overall social mobility trend of the future adults. Last but not least, targeting the government to tackle the under- or unemployment rates, increase the national GDP, and shrink the occupational gap within the population, it promotes the solution of self-employment to the disadvantaged and over 50-year-old unemployed people (Down (2010)). Nevertheless, a rise in the start-ups number doesnt contribute significantly to the national GDP and doesnt create a great amount of new jobs, while entrepreneurs income is less compared to their actual working hours (Shane (2008)), but it does contribute to the peoples feeling of belonging in the society and being active members of it (Down (2010)).
Social mobility is a phenomenon that can be accomplished by the upward or downward movement across the social class spectrum and doesnt require necessarily huge shifts such as this one of exiting one the precariat class and become an elite member (Sorokin, Aleksandrovich (1998)). However, similar shifts arent impossible as shown through the examples of Musk, Onassis, and Koum but the chances of occurring appear little (Shane (2008)). These three men took advantage of the negative circumstances that were surrounded by and managed mainly because of their entrepreneurial spirit and innovative and creative ideas to convert them to successful business plans and build their worldwide business empires. Social, regional, and financial factors such as ones family background and networking, received educational level, residential area, and wealth level affect vitally his or her current and future social status, while they affect the persons possibilities of moving across the social class pyramid (Social Mobility Commission (2017)). Despite the UK governments intention to support social mobility throughout policies, eventually, the situation within the last two decades hasnt indicated great steps of improvement (Social Mobility Commission (2017)). Perhaps, focusing the government further on improving the educational quality of the disadvantaged children and emphasising on the Early Years Pupil Premium program so as teachers of poor children to receive further support, may shrink the educational gap between the advanced and their disadvantaged peers (Social Mobility Commission (2017)) and may increase the possibilities of moving future adults from lower classes to upper ones. Last but not least, it is important citizens to feel active members of the society (Down (2010)), so even though start-up businesses dont create a plethora of new jobs (Shane (2008)) it may turn a pleasant way for some people to earn their income and support further their feeling of being productive.