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Upward social mobility has gone into reverse

A new study carried out by the University of Oxford and LSE shows that upward social mobility has gone into reverse. Following a ‘golden age’ of progress and prospect from the 1950s to the 1980s, it seems social mobility is now firmly set in a downward direction, and there is now much less ‘room at the top’ for younger generations to aspire to.

The research undertaken by the universities studied more than 20,000 people, splitting them into 4 groups; those born in 1946, 1958, 1970 and the early 1980s. They gathered data from the National Survey of Health and Development (1946), the National Child Development Study (1958), the British Cohort Study (1970) and the UK Household Longitudinal Study (1980‐84).

These 4 groups were then divided into 7 social categories depending on their father’s career position. Comparing this with their own occupation in their late 20s and 30s, the study reveals that around 75% moved to a different social class within this time frame.

However, expert in social policy at Oxford and lead author, Associate Professor Erzsébet Bukodi, explained, “There is a clear change in the direction of mobility. Over the past four decades, the experience of upward mobility has become less common, and going down the social ladder has become more common.”

Published in the early online issue of the British Journal of Sociology, this research also shows that there were increasing numbers of the current younger generation who were effectively becoming working class by their mid‐20s. People are therefore more likely to slide down the social scale than go up the social scale.

This sheds new light on the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s second annual State of the Nation 2014 Report published in October 2014.

A spokesperson from the Commission told Cherwell, “This study demonstrates the challenge facing the UK in improving social mobility – the problem is far greater than previously thought. It shows that a child from a middle‐class background is up to 20 times more likely to get a professional job than one from a working‐class background with little change in this over time.”

Certainly, it remains too hard for those born into lower classes to reach the higher classes and exploit their skills and talents. This stretches back to a person’s birth and education, impacting on their prospects of university and beyond.

However, a spokesperson for the University of Oxford stresses that “Oxford is committed to ensuring all those with the talent and ability to succeed apply here, regardless of background, and selection for places is based on academic merit only. The University devotes a huge amount of resource to widening access and student support.” This is despite the fact that the Department of Education’s statistics show that one in twenty students from private school went on to study at Oxbridge in 2011 opposed to one in 100 from state school.

However, Oxford University has stressed that, “Social mobility is an issue stretching back to birth and beyond, and early inequality of attainment is one of the major barriers to progression. This is why support for students early on in their educational careers is vital.”

The University also suggests that early damage of poorer education appears to be the culprit. Pre-university inequality influences children in their struggle to climb up the social ladder, before university is even a prospect.

But what about hope for the future?

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission suggests that, “without a new focus the gap in attainment between the poorest children and their better‐off peers will take 20 years to even halve.”

A spokesperson told Cherwell, “These figures should act as a wake‐up call for politicians from all parties and emphasise the key conclusion of our recent State of the Nation report: radical new approaches will need to be adopted to avoid Britain becoming a permanently divided society”

The University, meanwhile, suggest that “diversifying intake is something that can only be done on the understanding that everyone – government, schools, parents, teachers, and universities – has to work together.”


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