Movin’ on Up? How Perceptions of Social Mobility Affect Our Willingness to Defend the System

Martin V. Day, Susan T. Fiske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

124 Scopus citations


People’s motivation to rationalize and defend the status quo is a major barrier to societal change. Three studies tested whether perceived social mobility—beliefs about the likelihood to move up and down the socioeconomic ladder—can condition people’s tendency to engage in system justification. Compared to information suggesting moderate social mobility, exposure to low social mobility frames consistently reduced defense of the overarching societal system. Two studies examined how this effect occurs. Compared to moderate or baseline conditions, a low social mobility frame reduced people’s endorsement of (typically strong) meritocratic and just-world beliefs, which in turn explained lower system defense. These effects occurred for political liberals, moderates, and conservatives and could not be explained by other system-legitimizing ideologies or people’s beliefs about their own social mobility. Implications for societal change programs are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)267-274
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Psychological and Personality Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Social Psychology


  • ideology
  • motivation
  • social mobility
  • system defense


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