A study by the London School of Economics has found that names which arrived with the Norman Conquest are still overrepresented at Oxford and Cambridge. These findings suggest that social mobility may not be as fluid as many hope as the holders of names like Percy, Darcy and Montgomery, have been attending Oxbridge uninterrupted since the Middle Ages.
Despite constituting a clear minority of the country these names continue to thrive at Oxbridge, occupying a disproportionately large number of places. The study, carried out by Dr Neil Cummins and Professor Gregory Clark, cite their findings as key evidence that social positions have remained remarkably consistent since 1170.
Dr Cummins commented, “Surnames such as Baskerville, Darcy, Mandeville and Montgomery are still over-represented at Oxbridge and also among elite occupations
such as medicine, law and politics. What is surprising is that between 1800 and 2011 there have been substantial institutional changes in England but no gain in rates of social mobility for society as a whole.”
The study’s findings point to the conclusion that little has changed in Britain, despite the advent of mass education and a supposed meritocracy, with those members of the elite continuing to dominate the same social position which their ancestors did. Similarly names which are of comparable age, including Defoe, Goodhill and Tonbridge, but of lesser social stature, remain underrepresented at these institutions.
These findings have met with mixed reactions from the student communities of both universities. A first year at Magdalen commented, “I think that broadly speaking it’s
not too surprising given that these families have had the means to get their children into Oxbridge for a long time – previously through nepotism, and now by paying for the high quality education and tutoring that inevitably is going to be useful for gaining acceptance
into a meritocratically revamped institution. That the pattern has persisted for the last 800 years is in some cases surprising though.You would think that revolutions, wars
etc. would have broken any such educational lineage. Does it really matter though? The persistence of a name doesn’t necessitate the persistence of elitist attitudes.”
Lucy Talbot of Emmanuel College Cambridge commented, “My Talbot family came to England with William the Conqueror. Factions of the family split into different workplaces and sectors, etc. and there was quite a mix of wealth distribution, for example one part of the family used to have a castle in Malahide, Dublin (way back when), whilst other parts led very modest lives. Although the name connotes old wealth and status, and although I attend Cambridge University, I don’t think this is anything to do with elitism.”