Social Mobility and Ethnicity: Trajectories, Outcomes and the Hidden Costs of High Educational Achievement

Funding: NKFIH Innovációs Alap, OTKA
Duration: December 1, 2017 - December 31, 2020 (36 months)

What differences and factors explain upward mobility trajectories, through successful academic performance, among Roma and non-Roma men and women in Hungary? The project “Social Mobility and ethnicity: Trajectories, outcomes and hidden costs of high educational achievement” by the researcher Judit Durst investigates the so called “first generation intellectuals” in Hungary, those college educated individuals whose parents have no degree. The project explores what benefits and costs the rising up process comes with, and also, how changing class affects the social, familial, and personal relations of the upwardly mobile people.

Durst was inspired by the term “segmented assimilation”, coined in a 1993 study, which explained the differentiated assimilation process of second-generation immigrants in America, compared to their first-generation co-nationals. According to that research, when confronted with fewer opportunities in the US, second-generation immigrants resorted to their co-ethnic community’s resources to make upward mobility less painful. Durst seeks to explore this phenomenon in the Hungarian context, investigating whether there is a ‘minority culture of mobility’ for the Roma graduates which is distinctive from the mobility trajectories and outcomes of the non-Roma graduates.  She also analyzes the role of ethnic associations in serving as a buffer against status anxiety or cultural dislocation in the minority’s path toward upward mobility.

To explore educational mobility, she uses both qualitative and quantitative research methods. She planned to conduct 48 narrative, semi-structured interviews with 24 Roma women and 24 Roma men. Additional interviews with 48 non-Roma individuals will allow her to compare different types of educational mobility trajectories among people with different ethnic belonging. She also envisioned case studies, focus groups with leaders of institutions facilitating educational mobility, as well as documentary and survey data analysis as part of her mixed methodological approach.

By the end of the project, Durst envisions the publication of journal articles and a book. She and her team will also present their results in local and international academic conferences. Her results have diverse societal impacts. Tracing educational mobility by ethnicity, gender, among others, sheds light on the factors leading to academic success, and also on the outcomes and costs of social climbing among the Roma (and non-Roma) community. And raises awareness of how different social actors—institutions, policymakers, and influential individuals—may foster a strong Roma middle class, one that can serve as an engine for social integration of the country’s most discriminated and disadvantaged minority group.

Research participants:

Judit Durst, Principal Investigator  (MTA TK KI and UCL, Department of Anthropology, UK)

Ábel Bálint Bereményi (UAB, Spain)

Zsanna Nyírő (MTA TK KI)

Attila Papp Z. (MTA TK KI)

Margit Feischmidt (MTA TK KI)

Ernő Kállai (MTA TK KI)

Publications, Conferences:  

Durst, Judit – Nyírő, Zsanna (2018): Mitigating the price of the ticket: racialised patterns, identity bricolage and hidden costs of social mobility for academically high-achieving Roma college graduates in Hungary. EASA2018: Staying, Moving, Settling. The (im)mobility of race: European perspectives [Anthropology of Race and Ethnicity Network] (P141), 2018.08.16., Stockholm.

Nyírő, Zsanna – Durst, Judit (2018): Soul work and giving back. Ethnic Support Groups and the Hidden Costs of Social Mobility. Lessons from Hungarian Roma Graduates. Intersections East European Journal of Society and Politics. 4(1): 88-108. DOI:

Principal investigator (PI):

Judit Durst 
Research Fellow 
Researcher profile page 

Contact the PI