Staunton, May 4 – For the first time in 100 years, young Russians face the prospect not just of slowing upward mobility as was the case at the end of Soviet times but of actual downward mobility in which their life chances and achievements will be less than their parents, according to Moscow sociologist Boris Kagarlitsky.
In the course of a wide-ranging interview with Kazan’s “Business Gazeta,” he recalls that in the mid-1970s, “reformist sociologists calculated that social mobility was two times lower in the Brezhnev’s times than it had been in Stalin’s” and that this alone suggested the system was entering a period of crisis (m.business-gazeta.ru/article/309544).
Today, Kagarlitsky says, the situation is quite a bit “worse” because “if at the end of the USSR, one of the factors of its decay was the reduction in the rates of rising social mobility, now, what is seen is not simply a reduction in the rate of increase but their [actual] movement downward.”
He points to the findings of his colleague Anna Ochkina who he says “very justly has noted that the phenomenon of falling social mobility is unique for our time” and that “the generation now entering working life faces the risk not only of not rising above the level of its parents but of falling lower.”
According to Kagarlitsky, in Russia at least, its members are “also less well educated because the level of education has fallen. Sometimes people say that pupils earlier read ‘War and Peace’ but now don’t because it isn’t important. Instead, they know how to use computers.” But he argues this “thesis is incorrect.”
“The problem is that they are poorly educated even according to the measures and demands of the contemporary market system.” They lack general knowledge and thus the possibilities of adapting to the market because as studies in the US have shown, those who do best are not those with specialized training but rather broad and high quality education.
“In other words,” Kagarlitsky says, “the current reform of education which is focused on habits and competences creates a generation not capable of adapting and which will find it extremely difficult to survive under market conditions.” Such people will be among the first to discover that the social guarantees that had existed no longer do.
There are many possible responses to this crisis ranging from escapism to political activism, but “in Russia,” the sociologist continues, “young people will not be the factor which will put someone forward.” Instead, they will be available for mobilization by older people as is happening in the US with the Bernie Sanders campaign.
“Today in Russia,” he argues, “as polls show, the older generation is much more radical and ideological” than the younger ones. If one considers attitudes toward the family, for example, “the older generation in Russia even pensioners sees a quite emancipated role for women and supports freedom and equality of the sexes.”
Young Russians in contrast, Kagarlitsky says, are increasingly attached to “domostroy” traditional values at least at the level of declarations. “In practice, of course, everything is not that way: young people live free lives but their ideas about what is ideal are very conservative” compared to their parental generation.
“Conservatism can be healthy, but this is simply an archaic revival,” the sociologist concludes. “Therefore there will be an inversion of roles: young people now will not be in the avant-garde.” Instead, at least at the beginning, older people may take the lead – although once the young realize their own power, things could get “really interesting.”