The expansion of the economy and the rapid growth of the urban, industrial, and service sectors made high rates of social mobility possible in the 1970s and the 1980s. Population growth, which accelerated in the late 1950s and peaked around 1970, was barely able to keep up with the expansion of positions in new factories, schools, and local government bodies. In the 1980s, most Mongolians worked in occupations different from those of their parents, who were almost universally herders. These conditions, however, were not expected to continue. Most of the cohort, born in the late 1950s and the 1960s, who secured skilled industrial, professional, and administrative jobs in the 1980s, will not retire until the 2020s. The even more numerous cohort born in the 1970s and the 1980s will find many desirable positions already filled by those ten to fifteen years older. If the rapid expansion of the economy, which has been fueled by extensive Soviet aid and investment, falters in the 1990s, then the generation born in the 1970s and the 1980s will not be able to match the mobility rates of their elders.
Channels of Social Mobility
There was a single, well-defined track for social mobility, which led through the school system and the youth organizations of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party. The keys to upward mobility were good academic performance, including command of Russian, and political reliability, as evidenced either by membership in the Mongolian Revolutionary Youth League or by recommendations of administrators and party members. The party controlled job assignments and promotions at all but the most basic levels, and its favor was necessary for significant upward mobility. Advanced study in the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe was both a reward for good performance and a qualification for further career advancement. Military service, which until 1988 was three years for almost all young men, did not in itself confer any particular advantage on veterans, although it was possible for soldiers with secondary educations who had performed exceptionally well to be commissioned as officers. It was possible for children of herders in the most remote regions to progress, through examinations and recommendations, to the Mongolian State University and on to further training in the Soviet Union or the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). A 1981 account of an eight-year school in a herding cooperative revealed that half of the sixteen-year-olds completing the course left school to become herders, while the other half went on to two more years of secondary school in the aymag seat, from which they could go to white-collar jobs or to further vocational or general education.
In the late 1980s, the government was discussing a range of economic reforms, including increased use of the contract system as well as relaxed controls on privately owned livestock, on the development of cooperatives, and on individual labor. To the extent that such reforms were implemented, they would open an additional channel for social mobility for those who had not been favored by the monolithic system that had controlled occupational movement and advancement.
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