Social mobility in Russia’s regions

It is no secret that after graduating from school, young people living in the Russian regions are eager to move Moscow or St. Petersburg to receive higher education or build a career. They use education as the main means of social mobility, even if there are enough state-funded openings at their local universities. Unfortunately, social mobility almost does not work in the regions. Jobs with a high level of social mobility are mostly in law enforcement: police, the Federal Security Service, tax authorities, the Emergencies Ministry and others. Most of their personnel have special ranks. For instance, one starts as a lieutenant, in two or three years they become first lieutenant, and three more years later they advance to captain. Then, their career growth either slows down or speeds up depending on the position. In addition, many employees have the opportunity to receive free housing. There is no better alternative in terms of social mobility for an average school graduate, especially for those who are not financially established enough. Thus, many young people in the regions cannot afford to buy their own apartment. Most of those who have it either inherited it or their parents helped them with the mortgage.


What can be done to multiply parents’ achievements and increase the family economic, symbolic, cultural and social capitals? Answering this question, French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu said that a person’s social practices depend on the social field, capitals (cultural, symbolic, economic and social) and habitus (socially ingrained habits, skills and dispositions shared by people with similar backgrounds such as social class, — Ed.).

At the moment, many school graduates choose a major that does not fit their skills and wishes, and rely on the family’s resources and their own capabilities. As a result, they end up being mismatched to their jobs. Their discontent with the job directly affects their overall life satisfaction, because work usually takes up most of our daily routine.

In case a chosen career fails to allow people to express themselves, cognitive dissonance, depressions and frustrations occur. A person who has obtained a degree different than what they initially planned, or who works in an organization that is not the one they sought, can neither feel happiness nor help their families feel it; they are unable to bring benefit to the society and the nation.

Even measures taken by employers to boost people’s self-esteem and increase job satisfaction cannot save the situation; those include regular mass media reports about their enterprise or organization, organizing professional skill competitions and youth congresses, issuing books on enterprise dynasty, introducing enterprise veteran worker badges, honor rolls, and many others. Some people either get used to the current reality or seek other ways to express and assert themselves, including through such hobbies as photography, painting or sports, while others resort to alcohol and substances as a way to escape reality, or even commit suicide. 

In single-industry towns, young people have few options for their future career; the situation is drastically aggravated in case there is only one university in the area.

Secondary school graduates in such monotowns who seek to study in universities normally show the following behavioral patters: firstly, leaving to any regional or major federal city depending on intellectual abilities and financial resources; secondly, entering the city’s only university to obtain any higher education degree, with a chosen major and qualification being of no particular importance; thirdly, some part of well-off school graduates may choose, at the urging of their parents, to leave country and receive higher education abroad, which is rare but still occurs.

Among these options, the second one is definitely the most common. Most young people enter university with the sole aim of obtaining education; upon graduation, they will choose something outside of their major and pursue a job that offers high social mobility and salary and is not very labor-intensive.

Behavioral patterns among secondary school graduates in regional capitals are somewhat different yet overall similar. Graduates with high Unified State Exam scores and enough financial resources choose to move to Moscow or St. Petersburg to obtain higher education and, ideally, to stay there for good. In certain instances, receiving education in a major city is seen as an intermediate stage before leaving the country — which is a normal response to the unfolding situation, new opportunities and prospects, rather than an initial plan pursued by a school graduate.

Whenever possible, young people choose the city’s most prestigious university as well as the most prestigious department. A number of applicants, despite their high Unified State Exam scores and immense financial resources, stay in regional capitals. This is common among young women whose parents believe this will help them avoid such problems as alcohol use, sexual promiscuity, and other negative impact. A small number of young people leave the country immediately upon graduating from schools to study in EU countries or the United States.

As evident from the above, school graduates in regional capitals are in a better position than those in single-industry towns. Since the Soviet era, regional centers have boasted plenty of various universities; this allows young people to make their choice according to their preferences.

We currently see that a successful career path pursued by at least one of the parents in their social organization ensures a higher probability of their children choosing their career within the same organization, which is particularly observed in regions.

The nation’s progress requires efforts to equalize levels of the regions’ socio-economic development. To make social mobility efficient, we need to develop operating mechanisms that would allow people to feel happy and competent and help the country avoid skills mismatch.

By Sergei Talanov, PhD (Sociology), Assistance Professor and Senior Research Fellow at the Federal Center of Theoretical and Applied Sociology, Russian Academy of Sciences

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