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Mobilization and improvement in human capital of the middle class and vulnerable groups

Priority areas of development: economics, sociology
The project has been carried out as part of the HSE Program of Fundamental Studies.

The object of this studyis human capital of middle class and vulnerable groups, inequality, social mobility and social policy.

Goal of researchis to examine the processes of mobility and improvement in human capital of middle class and vulnerable groups.


For the project objectives, the following methods were used: desk research, theoretical and methodological analysis of Russian and foreign publications; descriptive, multidimensional statistical and econometric analysis of micro-data from sample population surveys; analysis of qualitative sociological data; various methods of microsimulation.

Empirical base of research

Most estimates presented in the next sections were obtained using different waves (1994-2018) of the Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey (RLMS-HSE) as well as its panel component of 2009-2017. Also, microdata of population surveys were used such as: the population survey provided by Levada Centre in January, 2019; International Social Survey Programme (ISSP), 2019; the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC); Family Resource Survey, special survey of middle class in Russia “Middle class: readiness to invest in human capital development” (2018); Selective supervision of quality and availability of services in education, health care and social service, assistance of employment of the population (2017); Сomprehensive monitoring of living conditions (2016); Statistical Survey of Income and Participation in Social Programs (2017); Statistical Survey of Reproductive Behaviour (2012, 2017); Generation and Gender Survey (GGS); survey “A tool for social and professional assessment of school inclusion”. For a number of tasks the results of qualitative research, including focus groups “Attitudes and models of reproductive behaviour” (2017), the qualitative research of migrants (2019), semi-formal interview with participants of educational process, were applied. Additionally the materials of legislative acts of Russian Federation and its regions were used.

Results of research

Amongall results of the research, the following ones can be described in more details

  1. The analysis of relative mobility of Russians between income quintiles on the nine years indicates that Russia is similar to developing countries by the features of income mobility. Russia has a similar immobilized population in the first income quintile as OECD countries on average but the entirely different immobilized population in the fifth income quintile, which underlines general instability of monetary welfare in mass strata of the population. Only 11,9% of the population demonstrated stable upward or downward mobility in the nine years. The proportion of steadily unfavorable groups by current income is 6.6% of the total population; the proportion of steadily favorable ones is 4.6%. The risk of long material problems is higher among children from large families, especially in rural areas, single Russians (primarily single pensioners), as well as the working population at unstable job places – primarily unskilled workers.

  2. The worker’s cultural capital significantly influences on the individual’s position in the system of socio-economic inequalities in modern Russia. If human capital influences mostly on incomes and standard of living, cultural capital influences mostly on the quality of job places, even in the same professional groups, and on the quality of life. Although, on the whole, the social structure of Russian society is open and intergenerational occupational mobility is rather high, the institute of social reproduction strongly influences on opportunities of intergenerational mobility in Russia. The stable low positions in the occupational hierarchy are typical for the most unfavorable groups (children from families of “blue collars” and workers of trade and commerce). That is why, in public social policy, it is necessary to take into account the influence of both incorporate kinds of capital – human and cultural – on an individual’s position on the labor market.

  3. In general, subjective self-assessment of Russians corresponds with the trend of “negative stabilization” that is observed after the crisis of 2014: the proportion of those who fix negative dynamics is 2.5 times higher than the proportion of those who give positive estimates (27% and 10% correspondingly). Negative dynamics of the last five years moved Russians to the positions of their parents, in 2019, intergenerational mobility can be evaluated as negative (double excess of negative evaluations over positive ones). Low opportunities for upward mobility and mass downward mobility may generate additional inquiries to social policy. The decreasing of subjective evaluations over the last five years has led to the situation when inequality reduction is more relevant than social lifts. Thus, the current social structure and the system of social status need the instruments which allow realizing mobility “from the bottom to the middle.” 

  4. There is no adaptation to poverty in Russia: longer poverty spells correlate with low subjective well-being. The adaptational behavior varies along with the place of birth and living, the poverty duration, and the frequency of entrance to poverty.

  5. The middle class demonstrates positive attitudes to innovations and new technology implementation in various areas (education, health care, agriculture, production of goods, etc.). In this context, this population group is more advanced than other population groups. The practices of using innovations (at the example of different services via the Internet) are more common among the middle class than among the whole population, especially – regarding Internet consultations with specialists (lawyers, psychologists). Overall, the results show heterogeneity of the middle class in the context of innovations. Thus, innovativeness can be an additional or independent stratification variable, especially in the determination of social groups – drivers of innovation development.

  6. The evaluations of the quality of life on the data of Index of older generations’ quality of life with corrected weights indicate that accumulated human capital correlates significantly with the indicators of quality of life in older age. “Younger” older people with higher education and rather high incomes, living in cities and towns, having a partner are characterized by the highest quality of life. Lower quality of life is typical for single elders with lower educational level and lower incomes. The comparison of estimates of various indexes of quality of life and active aging, including international, shows that poor health is the primary constraint to the growth of active aging. Nevertheless, the opportunities of Russian elders have significantly improved after 2000, including due to health improvement and educational level increasing. Meanwhile, public health promotion guarantees are redistributed more equally among children under three than among the elderly; for the last ones, low availability of opportunities to support health is typical. Thus, the limited availability and low quality of medical care and social services, transport infrastructure, favorable environment for older generations need the attention of the government.

  7. The inflow of labor migrants to Russia raises the questions of their inclusion to Russian society and its influence on the social infrastructure of cities. The results show that schools, where children with Russian non-native language study and schools with the status of “difficult social context” are located not in “migrant” isolated areas (as in Europe or the US) but in the former workers’ quarters, formed in the middle of the previous century. These schools, often with student storage, are urban infrastructure that can or need to use low-status migrants. Being many years of school for children from families with low-status, these schools are the place where the children of working migrants are attracted: this is the result of informal strategies of schools in the local area as well as parents, both local and migrants. One of the results of the research of the treatment of migrants with socially significant diseases is the finding that in-depth knowledge and behavioral factors contribute to the high vulnerability of migrants in the context of HIV infection in the country of migrants’ arrival. Russian norm on unwanted stay of HIV-positive migrants is not useful. HIV migrants do not have rights on health, while the Russian government does not have actual data on this issue because the official statistics do not take into account the real amount of HIV-positive migrants in Russia.

  8. Level of implementation, recommendations on implementation or outcomes of the implementation of the results:The results of the research were presented on more than 40 scientific conferences, including international – in Russia, Sweden, France, UK and the US. Based on the results of the research 22 scientific publications were prepared, including 13 (6 – in English) – articles in WoS and Scopus journals. Some results have been used in preparation of the 2019 analytical notes and expert recommendations, which were directed to the Government of the Russian Federation and federal authorities.

Level of implementation

The results of this project can be used for consultation of public authorities and improving existing or developing legislation in the fields of social, tax and economics policies and evaluation of their effectiveness, particularly in the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of Russian Federation, Russian Pension Fund, the Ministry of Finance of Russian Federation, the Ministry of Economic Development of Russian Federation and Ministry of Health of Russian Federation.


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Тихонова Н. Е. Социальная политика в современной России: новые системные вызовы // Общественные науки и современность. 2019. № 2. С. 5-18. doi