Quality & Quantity 32: 383–398, 1998.
© 1998 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
A Theory of Mutable and Immutable
Characteristics: Their Impact on Allocation
and Structural Positions
KENNETH D. BAILEY
Department of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90024, U.S.A.
Abstract. This article presents the global-mutable-immutable scheme. Globals are purely macro
properties of societies, while immutables are purely micro properties of individuals. Mutables are
the micro-macro bridging elements, having both an aggregated macro (distributional) form, as well
as a micro form. The importance of this distinction for the analysis of norm, status and role is shown.
The article concludes by showing how the conﬁguration of globals, mutables and immutables affect
the allocation of an individual into the ﬁve-dimensional mutable structure of his or her society at a
given point in time.
Social mobility (or the lack of it) is often measured in terms of relatively few vari-
ables, generally education, occupation and income (McFarland, 1969; Hauser et
al., 1975), and often these variables are analyzed separately or sequentially, rather
than simultaneously. In truth, as many scholars know but relatively few elucidate,
the so-called “openness” or degree of permeability of a system is a highly complex
and multivariate matter, even if only income mobility or occupational mobility, for
example, is being discussed. Few careful students of the subject would claim that
the degree of permeability is independent of a number of “background” variables,
such as race, gender, age, and so forth. What is needed is more complex work on
social structure, such as the books by Bailey (1990, 1994), Blau (1977, 1994) and
The purpose of this article is to craft a more complex model of the stratiﬁcation
process than is usually found in the sociological literature, meaning that our model
is more simultaneously multivariate. Our approach is a dual micro-macro approach.
I see individual mobility as existing within a real (if sometimes almost invisible)
structure of constraints.
The model is distinctly multivariate and nonlinear. It posits that each individual
is continually affected by a set of signiﬁcant variables (micro, meso and macro),
which constrain and shape his or her goals and actions. Furthermore, it is not
sufﬁcient to know an individual’s position on a given single variable, or even on all