Relational mobility is a socio-ecological factor that represents how much freedom and opportunity a society or social context affords individuals to choose and dispose of interpersonal relationships based on personal preference (Thomson et al., 2018).
In low relational mobility environments, people tend to stay in long-standing relationships and groups, and it is hard to change them if they want to. Interpersonal relationships (friends and acquaintances etc.) are generally defined by existing social network structures (like hierarchies and histories of social groups, and work, school, and community groups in more recent times). Traditionally, human societies – such as small-scale tribal societies – tended to be low in relational mobility characterized by relatively ‘closed’ interpersonal networks and stable group memberships.
In high relational mobility environments, on the contrary, opportunity and freedom abounds to select friendships based on personal preference. In cities (vs. villages) and in some areas of the online world, for example, relationships are more likely to be formed through personal choice than external constraints (Adams & Plaut, 2003; Schug et al., 2009).