Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Robert Heasley, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Valerie Gunter, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Melanie Hildebrandt, Ph.D.


Social mobility, moving into a higher socio-economic standing than that of one's birth, is an important ideal in American society. In the process of moving up from one socio-economic class to another, individuals encounter the cultural traits, such as behaviors, attitudes and the values that tend to be associated with a particular social class. While the American ideal presupposes that anyone can make this move, little is known about what happens to these individuals during the transition nor is there understanding of how they experience this change in their life situation. The objective of this study was to understand the phenomenon of personal and social identity development and socio-economic class allegiance that occurs for those who have been upwardly socially mobile. This study was completed within the interpretivist research paradigm using a philosophical hermeneutics approach since the focus is to understand. Thirty-nine individuals who were the first in their family to graduate from college participated in this study. In-depth interviews were conducted with the participants in which they recalled their experiences and reflected on their own understanding of their transition and identity. The transcripts of the participants' understanding, their reflection of that experience and my analysis of them add to the body of knowledge that exists regarding what the upward social mobility process is like, by providing an alternative to the current social identity theories related to upward social mobility.