Acta Politica

, Volume 53, Issue 2, pp 269–282 | Cite as

Social mobility and political distrust: cults of gratitude and resentment?

  • Stijn DaenekindtEmail author
  • Jeroen van der Waal
  • Willem de Koster
Original Article


We study whether and how intergenerational social mobility affects political distrust. Mobile individuals may blame/praise the political system for their movement down/up the social ladder. Accordingly, we theorize how social mobility influences the way people evaluate the political system. We use Dutch survey data and apply diagonal reference models to study effects of intergenerational educational mobility. We find that—controlling for the influence of social positions of origin and destination—downward social mobility results in higher levels of distrust. This suggests that the downwardly mobile perceive their demise from a ‘blame the system’ perspective, while the upwardly mobile perceive their success from a meritocratic perspective. Presumably because upwardly and downwardly mobile individuals rely on a different narrative to frame their experience of mobility, only downward mobility has an impact on attitudes towards politics. As our results demonstrate political consequences of social mobility, they highlight that there is a need to include socialization experiences outside the political domain that take place after early childhood into the theoretical framework to explain political trust.


Cultural theories Educational mobility Institutional theories Political socialization Political trust Social mobility 



We thank Eefje Steenvoorden and the anonymous Acta Politica reviewers for their kind and helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.SociologyGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  2. 2.Public Administration and SociologyErasmus University RotterdamRotterdamNetherlands

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