Higher education is considered the traditional resource that guarantees rise on the social ladder. It turned out, however, that it was in fact not the most educated individuals that ended up being the most successful in Russia in the 1990s. Social capital and energy were priority. Social capital is traditionally understood as social connections and cooperation among people. Its development is connected with an increase in trust in society. The meaning of social capital carries both a positive and a negative connotation, however. This concerns situations in which a person acts, using tried and tested social connections that replace or compensate for education and experience, Elena Avraamova said.
Surveys carried out during the research study prove that in their ideas of how to achieve success (rising on the social ladder and increasing material wealth), Russians have not strayed far from post-Soviet reforms. The older a person is, the more certain he or she is that people with connections become successful. Russian youth are to a large degree inclined to focus on their own intellectual resources and personal potential, but the “almighty power of connections” mind-set does exist among younger people as well. The Institute of Social Analysis and Forecasting of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) conducted the study in 2013. A total of 4,000 individuals were surveyed in the study, which provided a representative sample of all of Russia.
During the study, respondents were asked questions that characterized their views towards resources and ways of achieving success. The majority of these respondents (63.8%) agreed with the statement “people get high-paying jobs based on who they know.”
Respondents said the quality of education played the most modest role in achieving success. Only 17% of respondents believe that “wealthy people achieve success through a good education,” while 82% of respondents said they disagreed with this. Only one in three university graduates is certain that he or she became successful thanks to the education received. “It is interesting that agreeing with the opinion that it is possible to achieve success through a good education does not depend in any way on the quality of the education received practically. It seems that having an education – that is, the symbolic meaning of an education – is more important than its quality,” Avraamova said.
More than half of Russians do not believe in the effectiveness of hard work; 52.2% of respondents disagreed with the idea that those who work a lot gain a lot. Avraamova noted that the question of the connection between the scope of a job, its effectiveness and productivity is not likely a problem in the societal consciousness unlike another aspect – sources of the elite’s material wealth. “Here, according to numerous surveys, it is clear that the belief that ‘all wealth is amassed in a dishonest way’ is prevalent in society,” she said.
One of the research study’s main conclusions concerns the difference identified in the views of the older generation and the younger generation. This concerns not only success strategies that exist in the public mentality, but also the assessment of various economic factors and prospects for the future.
Representatives of the younger group of respondents, as might have been expected, were more optimistic. For example, 27% of respondents aged 18-29 said the condition of the area where they lived was good, while only 16.8% of respondents aged 60-69 said the same.
About the same breakdown was seen in an assessment of the economic situation of a respondent’s family. Age-related disparity was more evident in expectations of a family’s economic future. Around 40% of respondents below the age of 30 expected improvement. This figure fell to 27% for those younger than 40, around 15% for respondents younger than 50, and just 10% of those 50 or over expected positive change.
As concerns the research’s main focus, Avraamova noted that the understanding of the crucial role played by social connections prevailed in all age groups. Younger individuals largely differ from the older generation in that youth is typically more inclined to believe in the role of personal qualities in achieving success. A total of 28.6% of respondents aged 18-29 agreed with the opinion that success can be achieved thanks to personal qualities, while 21.8% of respondents in the 30-39 age group said the same. Just 15%-16% of individuals above 40 agreed with this idea.
The results of the study nonetheless leave open the topic of youth optimism and the focus of personal potential and education as ways of achieving success. It is possible, Avraamova believes, that this is a consequence of an emerging new system of values and mind-sets, and it is possible that it is a consequence of an inadequate perception of the soundness of the existing institutional matrix. “It seems that both hypotheses have the right to exist,” Avraamova notes.
A final typology was constructed during the study as concerns respondents’ focus on accumulating and actualizing certain resources for upward mobility.
Type 1: Focus on personal efforts (higher education, work ability, and other personal qualities)
Type 2: Focus on both personal efforts and social connections
Type 3: Focus exclusively on social connections
The study showed that most respondents fell under the type for which work and social movement were focused exclusively on social connections. The research’s conclusions show that this gives evidence to serious dysfunction in the mechanism for upward mobility. “Such dysfunction affects the competitive ability of the national economy in the most serious way since, not being a stimulus for professionalism and responsibility to grow, it reproduces unproductive models for social and economic behaviour,” Avraamova notes.