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Falling From Grace? The Psychological Impact of Downward Intragenerational Mobility
Unformatted Document Text:  ABSTRACT In the influential book Falling From Grace: Downward Mobility in the Age of Affluence, Newman (1999) shows how those who are downwardly mobile from the middle class experience a great deal of psychological distress, self-blame, and mental anguish from their descent down the social hierarchy. However, Newman‟s qualitative analysis leaves it unclear as to whether their poor mental health is an effect of their downward mobility, or the result of residing in a lower social class that carries psychological burdens for all of those who inhabit it. I argue that this is an important distinction to make, as the answer could mean the difference between a social problem that plagues mobile societies and an illustration of the power of social structure in shaping individual outcomes. Using data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, I utilize Sobel‟s Diagonal Mobility models (1981; 1985) to estimate the association between downward intragenerational mobility from the professional/service class and psychological distress and self-acceptance. After accounting for background characteristics and origin and destination occupational status, I find little evidence for “mobility effects.” Rather, I find that the downwardly mobile are shaped by their past and present experiences, but are not at any greater risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes than those in their origin and destination status. Insofar that the downwardly mobile middle class are distressed and have poor psychological functioning, it seems to be the result of living in their destination social class, not their downward mobility, per se. Implications of the findings are discussed.

Authors: Houle, Jason.
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ABSTRACT 
 
 
In the influential book Falling From Grace: Downward Mobility in the Age of Affluence, 
Newman (1999) shows how those who are downwardly mobile from the middle class experience 
a great deal of psychological distress, self-blame, and mental anguish from their descent down 
the social hierarchy. However, Newman‟s qualitative analysis leaves it unclear as to whether 
their poor mental health is an effect of their downward mobility, or the result of residing in a 
lower social class that carries psychological burdens for all of those who inhabit it. I argue that 
this is an important distinction to make, as the answer could mean the difference between a 
social problem that plagues mobile societies and an illustration of the power of social structure in 
shaping individual outcomes.  
Using data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, I utilize Sobel‟s Diagonal Mobility 
models (1981; 1985) to estimate the association between downward intragenerational mobility 
from the professional/service class and psychological distress and self-acceptance. After 
accounting for background characteristics and origin and destination occupational status, I find 
little evidence for “mobility effects.” Rather, I find that the downwardly mobile are shaped by 
their past and present experiences, but are not at any greater risk of experiencing poor mental 
health outcomes than those in their origin and destination status. Insofar that the downwardly 
mobile middle class are distressed and have poor psychological functioning, it seems to be the 
result of living in their destination social class, not their downward mobility, per se. Implications 
of the findings are discussed.  
 
 
 
 
 


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