What Do We Know and What Should We Do About Social Mobility? 2020940435, 9781529732047, 9781529732030


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Table of contents :
Title Page
Copyright Page
Contents
titles in the series
about the series
about the authors
1-introduction
2-background
3- what do we know?
4-what should we do?
5-conclusion
references
Index
Recommend Papers

What Do We Know and What Should We Do About Social Mobility?
 2020940435, 9781529732047, 9781529732030

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what do we know and what should we do about…?

social mobility Lee Elliot Major and Stephen Machin

SAGE Publications Ltd 1 Oliver’s Yard 55 City Road London EC1Y 1SP SAGE Publications Inc. 2455 Teller Road Thousand Oaks, California 91320 SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd B 1/I 1 Mohan Cooperative Industrial Area Mathura Road New Delhi 110 044 SAGE Publications Asia-Pacific Pte Ltd 3 Church Street #10-04 Samsung Hub Singapore 049483

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© Lee Elliot Major and Stephen Machin 2020 First published 2020

Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of research or private study, or criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form, or by any means, only with the prior permission in writing of the publishers, or in the case of reprographic reproduction, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside those terms should be sent to the publishers.

Library of Congress Control Number: 2020940435 British Library Cataloguing in Publication data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 978-1-5297-3204-7 ISBN 978-1-5297-3203-0 (pbk)

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contents

About the series About the authors

v vii

1 Introduction

1

2 Background

13

3

What do we know?

25

4

What should we do?

55

5 Conclusion References Index

93 97 111

titles in the series What Do We Know and What Should We Do About Immigration? Jonathan Portes What Do We Know and What Should We Do About Inequality? Mike Brewer What Do We Know and What Should We Do About the Future of Work? Melanie Simms What Do We Know and What Should We Do About Internet Privacy? Paul Bernal What Do We Know and What Should We Do About Housing? Rowland Atkinson and Keith Jacobs Forthcoming: What Do We Know and What Should We Do About Terrorism? Brooke Rogers What Do We Know and What Should We Do About Sustainable Living? Kate Burningham and Tim Jackson What Do We Know and What Should We Do About Fake News? Nick Anstead What Do We Know and What Should We Do About Slavery? Julia O’Connell-Davidson

about the series

Every news bulletin carries stories which relate in some way to the social sciences – most obviously politics, economics and sociology, but also, often, anthropology, business studies, security studies, criminology, ­geography and many others. Yet despite the existence of large numbers of academics who research these subjects, relatively little of their work is known to the general public. There are many reasons for that, but arguably, is that the kinds of formats that social scientists publish in, and the way in which they write, are simply not accessible to the general public. The guiding theme of this series is to provide a format and a way of writing which addresses this problem. Each book in the series is concerned with a topic of widespread public interest, and each is written in a way which is readily understandable to the general reader with no particular background knowledge. The authors are academics with an established reputation and a track record of research in the relevant subject. They provide an overview of the research knowledge about the subject, whether this be long-established or reporting the most recent findings; widely accepted or still controversial. Often in public debate there is a demand for greater clarity about the facts, and that is one of the things the books in this series provide. However, in social sciences, facts are often disputed and subject to different interpretations. They do not always, or even often, ‘speak for themselves’. The authors therefore strive to show the different interpretations or the key controversies about their topics, but without getting bogged down in arcane academic arguments. Not only can there be disputes about facts but also there are almost invariably different views on what should follow from these facts. And, in any case, public debate requires more of academics than just to report facts; it is also necessary to make suggestions and recommendations about the implications of these facts.

about the series

Thus each volume also contains ideas about ‘what we should do’ within each topic area. These are based upon the authors’ knowledge of the field but also, inevitably, upon their own views, values and preferences. Readers may not agree with them, but the intention is to provoke thought and well-informed debate. Chris Grey, Series Editor Professor of Organization Studies Royal Holloway, University of London

vi

about the authors

Lee Elliot Major is the UK’s first Professor of Social Mobility, based at the University of Exeter. His Penguin book Social Mobility and Its Enemies, co-authored with Stephen Machin, has attracted attention across the world. His book What Works? (Bloomsbury, 2019), provides evidenceinformed tips for teachers to improving learning. He was formerly Chief Executive of the Sutton Trust and a trustee of the Education Endowment Foundation. He has a PhD in theoretical physics, and was previously a journalist working for the Guardian and THES. He is the first in his family to attend university. Lee was awarded an OBE in 2019. Stephen Machin is Professor of Economics and Director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics. He is a F ­ ellow of the British Academy, has been President of the European ­Association of Labour Economists, is a Fellow of the Society of Labor Economists and was an independent member of the UK Low Pay Commission from 2007–14. He has researched extensively in various areas of empirical economics, including current research interests in the areas of labour market inequality, social mobility, the economics of education and the economics of crime.

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1 introduction We know quite a lot about social mobility, but much less about what to do about it. For at least a century we have been gathering evidence on the transmission of traits from one generation to the next. Yet, for all our efforts, the truth is that we have made little progress in creating a more fluid society where a person’s family background is less predictive of their outcomes. Our motivation for writing this book is to assess, given the evidence, what general principles we might agree upon to frame credible policies paving the way for greater equality of opportunity. We want to elevate the discussion to consider the bigger picture that so often gets lost in the countless feverish debates over how to make society more open. Too often, social mobility debates resemble throwing confetti at a wall: a well-intentioned rush to do something, anything, about it. What emerges is a host of short-term piecemeal, often small-scale, initiatives. Such minor tinkering with policies is unlikely to lead to transformative change. Another tendency is for people to wave a magic wand and ignore the evidence altogether. They claim there is one simple answer: vanquishing inequality, enabling education to be the great leveller, boosting economic growth, creating more high-status jobs. Others take another extreme view: it is all down to our genes and we are powerless to do anything about i­ntergenerational inequalities at all. A fundamental shift in the debate is required. It was needed before the COVID-19 crisis, and has become even more pressing as the vulnerable

what do we know … about social mobility?

in society are suffering most from the global economic recession triggered by the pandemic. In hard times, the disadvantaged take the biggest hit. They suffer longer run consequences: the scarring effects from economic downturns that damage life prospects. There are credible concerns that inequalities resulting from COVID-19 could have a generational impact, with the potential to trigger a dark age of declining opportunity. Yet the unprecedented government steps taken to alleviate the crisis may signal a new dawn for renewed thinking in which we seriously consider radical policies to create a more inclusive, better functioning economy. Why should we care about social mobility? One reason the topic has attracted so much interest among politicians is connections with the concept of equality of opportunity. That interest has flourished during a modern era when governments have embraced market-based policies in an increasingly global economy characterised by widening inequalities. The hope that everyone has the same chance of getting on in life is essential to defend a world of ever starker gaps between the haves and have-nots. The problem, as we shall discover, is that the link between social mobility and equality of opportunity is not as simple as decision makers would like to believe. There is a deceptively complex relation that requires many assumptions (and contradictions). Indeed, some political philosophers spend their working lives ruminating over these issues (Swift, 2006). There are clear trade-offs. While we might want a fair society that promotes the life prospects of the most disadvantaged, parents also want to be able to do the best for their children. Those two aspirations often do not happily co-exist. The question of where you draw the line between what is acceptable and unacceptable becomes a matter of judgement. Moreover, improving social mobility is not simply a matter of catapulting a fortunate few into elite universities and prestigious professions, but a much broader challenge: creating decent jobs and improving prospects for the unfortunate majority living in neglected areas across the country. Our view is that society is currently not doing well on the social mobility test: failing to meet our collective responsibilities; failing to empower local communities, failing to provide decent jobs and lives, and to offer fair access to opportunities for all. Higher levels of generational persistence, when compared with other countries or earlier times, suggest we are missing out on a sizable talent pool, fishing in the same small pond generation after generation. That is not just unfair for individuals who are unable to realise their potential,

2

introduction

but damaging to the nation’s overall economic productivity. Even modest increases in social mobility could increase the UK’s GDP growth by 2–4  per  cent a year, equivalent to recovering from a recession (Sutton Trust, 2010). Allowing movement into the higher echelons of society is important because diverse elites can make for better leaders and decision makers (Elliot Major and Machin, 2018). In a world of increasingly complex and diverse organisations, we need leaders to empathise with the people they are meant to serve. They are less likely to suffer from the groupthink and narrow perspectives that undermine homogeneous ruling classes. Newsrooms are healthier if they are made up of journalists from different walks of life. Cognitive diversity, like gender or ethnic diversity, improves decision making in organisations. In medicine, general practitioners from less affluent backgrounds are more likely to practise in deprived communities (Steven et al., 2016). This is one of the reasons why we should pursue both social mobility and social justice. Improving social mobility unlocks the upper parts of society making justice more likely. Less ingrained privileged elites may be more inclined to support the redistributive policies that enable those on the lowest ranks to get a foot on the ladder. But, even then, improving relative social mobility is much more realistic in a world of increasing absolute mobility, where more opportunities are available. The UK’s low level of social mobility is an increasingly pressing issue: young people growing up today are fighting over fewer opportunities amid the growing spectre of downward mobility. We have become a fragmented and fractured country, defined by economic, geographical and political divides. Failure to do something will store up greater problems for future generations. That was already the case before the coronavirus crisis; it is even more so as we emerge from it.

Measures of mobility It is important to be clear what social mobility means. Often policy debates and academic studies fall at this first hurdle, with people unclear about what aspect of social mobility they are hoping to improve. In economic research, mobility patterns are usually assessed by studying individual or family earnings and income, with a small set of studies also looking at wealth. In sociology, the changing status of people is studied in terms of

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what do we know … about social mobility?

social classes, based on the jobs people and their parents do, sometimes considering how much they earn and how much job security they enjoy.1 Both can be tracked within families across generations, providing different insights into where people come from and where they end up. For example, economic studies often rank the population with the richest at the top and the poorest at the bottom, looking at cross-generation movements up and down the income distribution. This means the relative income categories used to classify people can be kept constant across successive generations.2 By contrast, as the composition of the labour market has altered through time, the numbers of people in different social class categories has changed. It may come as little surprise that the economic and sociological approaches have sometimes produced differing estimates of how social mobility has changed over time. Most of the early research on intergenerational mobility tracked only the status of fathers and their sons. This was because fewer women were working in the labour market in the past, and their patterns of employment were less predictable than those for men. There were therefore prohibitively low sample sizes of mothers with labour earnings in many data sources. This has changed during recent decades as more females have joined the labour force, and richer data have become available. There is a separate literature focusing on many important issues of gender inequality we do not cover. However, where possible we report mobility trends and relevant statistics for women as well as men. Similarly, the literature has for the most part suffered from a paucity of data tracking the outcomes for people with different ethnic backgrounds. An important emerging research area is gauging intersectional impacts – assessing outcomes for people categorised by status, gender and ­ethnicity – but the studies are few and far between. Wherever possible we highlight findings for the UK as a whole, but sometimes (especially on school education) we have to make do with data covering just England. Many of the most relevant large-scale data studies also come from the United States, but we will refer to international studies where relevant as well. Intragenerational mobility, as opposed to intergenerational mobility, refers to movement between income or class positions during a person’s own lifetime. Multigenerational mobility refers to transitions over not one, but multiple generations. Social mobility can be short range and long range, featuring a nudge along the income spectrum, or a full rags-toriches leap. Average social mobility rates conceal large variations for those

4

introduction

at the top and bottom of society. Considering the whole distribution as well as the nature of shifts at different points is critical for the study of intergenerational mobility patterns. Social mobility can be measured in absolute or relative terms. For relative measures, if one person goes up, another one goes down. On the other hand, absolute mobility rates show the percentage of people whose income or class destinations improve or worsen compared with their income or class origins. This can be upward and downward in direction. An example of upward absolute intergenerational mobility would be earning more in real terms than your parents. Alternatively, it occurs when your social class is higher up the class structure. Relative mobility rates on the other hand describe the relative chances of people from different backgrounds moving up or down the income or social ladder. Sociologists sometimes call this social fluidity. In education debates, social mobility has been used as a more generic term for improving the results of pupils from poorer backgrounds – tied to efforts to close achievement gaps between disadvantaged children and their more privileged peers. The guiding principle is that children should fulfil their potential irrespective of their background. However, as we do not know the status of students’ parents or outcomes of students as adults, these are only indicative measures of social mobility, based on the assumption that the individual benefits from education in the past will ­continue for future generations.

Social mobility research To our knowledge, the term social mobility was first coined in the early twentieth century. The Russian–American sociologist Pitrim Sorokin was himself a story of upward mobility – a trait of many scholars in this field. In 1922, he fled from Russia, evading capture by Lenin’s forces as the Bolsheviks consolidated power after the Russian Revolution. Sorokin emigrated to the United States where he founded Harvard University’s sociology department. Sorokin was a keen political activist and was interested in the stratification of societies into lower and upper classes defined by their wealth and power. Tracking the backgrounds of people entering various elites, Sorokin studied what he called vertical social mobility – ‘any transition of an individual, social object or value…from one social position to another’

5

what do we know … about social mobility?

(Sorokin, 1927). Vertical mobility could occur when individuals leaped from one class to another. On the other hand, it could describe the movement of whole groups or people closer or further apart. Over the last century, the field has gone from data poor to data rich. The golden era of British sociological studies after the Second World War was founded on nationally representative cohort surveys offering rich details of parents, families and children. However, even these studies seem small scale compared with the big data era of the early twentyfirst century. Chetty et al. (2014b) used the tax records of some 40 million Americans to reveal a detailed map of upward mobility levels for children born between 1980 and 1982 in different cities, counties and states across the United States. This landmark work based on extremely rich data shows how far social mobility research has advanced. Data are the life blood of social science. The UK has been blessed with national cohort studies enabling researchers to gain numerous insights into the changing life experiences and outcomes of successive generations. The 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS) follows the lives of 17,000 people born in England, Scotland and Wales in a single week of 1970. Other birth cohort studies include the 1946 Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD), the 1958 National Child Development Study (NCDS) and the 2001 Millennium Cohort Study (MCS). Without the findings from these studies, we would live in a less enlightened world, less equipped to face future societal challenges. It is criminal that social mobility research in the UK has itself suffered its own dark ages. We have no nationally representative datasets of similar quality tracking generations born in the 1980s and 1990s. The studies were victims of cuts to social science research under Margaret Thatcher’s government. Thatcher’s children are the lost generation at least in research terms. It is a tragedy that no British cohort study has been commissioned since the Millennium. Future researchers will be left guessing about the generations born in the 2010s (and perhaps 2020s), and will have to use different types of analysis and data to try to fill the gap.

Different dimensions Studies of intergenerational persistence have become increasingly multidimensional. Generational persistence is observed not only for earnings

6

introduction

and occupational class but also for many other attributes as well: from wealth to health, education to happiness, crime, consumption and even divorce. The extent of intergenerational persistence (or immobility) can be measured using various statistical methods. Table 1.1 summarises statistical measures used in the literature. The first four measures described in the upper panel are relative measures: a correlation coefficient of a particular measure of economic or social status between generations; the intergenerational elasticity (IGE) from statistical regression ­methods;  a rank correlation which compares rank in the respective distributions from one generation to the next; and transitions between different parts  of the economic or social status distribution of family members across generations. For the first three correlational measures, a value of 1 corresponds to complete immobility, with parents and offspring outcomes perfectly correlated. A correlation of 0 corresponds to complete mobility, with no relationship between family background and the adult outcomes of children. For transitions, the example given in the table splits parental and child measures into five equally sized groups – quintiles running from the bottom 20 per cent to the top 20 per cent. In this case, complete mobility corresponds to children growing up in any parental quintile having a 20 per cent chance of ending up in any of the five quintiles in their own generation. Complete immobility is where everyone stays in the same quintile as their parents. There is no movement and everyone remains on the diagonal of the five-by-five transition matrix. Absolute mobility is about how well all children of a generation do compared with their parents. The metric of absolute mobility shown in the lower panel of Table 1.1 is therefore the fraction of children who do better for a given measure of economic or social status than their parents did in an earlier time. For example, it could be the percentage of children whose labour market earnings or family income are higher in real terms than their parents were at the same age. It could be the percentage of children with higher education levels or social class than their parents It is possible, in theory, to have different patterns of absolute and relative mobility (Berman, 2019; Bukodi and Goldthorpe, 2016; Nybom, 2018). There could for example be near-complete absolute mobility and, at the same time, little or no relative mobility, if children are growing up in periods of rapid economic growth. Nybom’s (2018) review, however, concludes

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what do we know … about social mobility?

Table 1.1  Measures of intergenerational mobility Measures of relative mobility 1. Correlation coefficient, ρ

2. I ntergenerational elasticity (IGE), β

3. T  ransition matrix probabilities

4. R  ank–rank correlation coefficient

Measure of absolute mobility 5. Higher level of economic or social status than parents

ρ measures the linear interdependence of two variables measuring economic or social status of parents and children and takes a value between −1 and 1. A higher positive value implies lower intergenerational mobility, meaning children are more likely to be of the economic or social status of their parents. Complete mobility corresponds to a value of 0. Complete immobility to a value of 1 β is measured from a statistical regression of the relevant economic or social outcome for children (specified in logarithms so that it is scaled to reflect proportionate effects) on the same outcome for parents. Complete mobility corresponds to a value of 0. Complete immobility to a value of 1. If the dispersion (the standard deviation, σ) of the child and parent outcomes are the same in their respective generations then β is equal to ρ. If they differ, the IGE is equal to the intergenerational correlation coefficient scaled by the ratio of standard deviation of the parental outcome to the child outcome, so that β = ρ(σparent/σchild) The coefficients of a transition matrix give the probability that a child is in the same or a different part of the economic or social status distribution as their parents. Both child and parent measures are split into equal-sized groups (e.g. four for quartiles, five for quintiles, ten for deciles). For the example of quintiles, the probability that a child whose parents were in the bottom quintile is also in the bottom quintile, or makes an upward move to the second, third, fourth or top quintile, can be assessed – as can the other combinations. For the quintile case, complete mobility has all probabilities being equal at 0.2 (for quartiles it would be 0.25 and deciles 0.1). Complete immobility means that all children are in the same part of the distribution as parents, so there is no upward or downward mobility ρ is calculated for the full set of percentile ranks of the relevant economic or social outcome. The mean percentile rank achieved by children can be calculated for each parental percentile. For example, in the case of income, differences in the mean percentile rank of children from the richest families compared with children from the poorest families

The percentage of children with higher levels of the relevant economic or social outcome than their parents

8

introduction

that ‘it turns out that absolute and relative mobility levels seem to go hand in hand’. One of the first academic papers on the intergenerational transmission of traits was published in 1886 by Francis Galton, the cousin of Charles Darwin. ‘Regression towards mediocrity in hereditary stature’ reported results from a study of the relationship between the heights of parents and the heights of their children as adults (Galton, 1886).3 The correlations between the heights of parents and their offspring are relatively strong, varying from 0.4 to 0.6.4 Correlations for intergenerational income for developed countries vary a lot. For example, OECD (2018) reports a range from 0.12 to 0.62 for 23 developed countries, with Britain registering a relatively high 0.44. This is around twice as high as the clustering around 0.2 for the Scandinavian countries. Consideration of international differences, and their drivers, from comparable research is important as it suggests how the UK might improve its mobility levels. There are far fewer studies assessing intergenerational persistence of wealth – including assets and housing – but what data exist show strong persistence, indicating that assets can have profound impacts on the trajectories of offspring (Blanden, Eyles and Machin, 2020; Charles and Hurst, 2003). A large body of research confirms that education begets education. This works in several ways. Children with highly educated parents perform better in school and achieve higher test scores than children with less educated parents (Bukodi and Goldthorpe, 2019). There is strong intergenerational transmission, as people whose parents attended private school are vastly more likely to themselves be privately educated (Dearden, Ryan and Sibieta, 2011). Strong intergenerational education correlations feature in almost all countries, confirmed by research looking at the association between parents’ education, measured as the average years of schooling of the father and mother, and children’s completed schooling (Hertz et al., 2008). The global average correlation between a parent’s and child’s schooling was 0.4. In a separate OECD study, d’Addio (2007) found one in ten people with low-educated parents continues on to tertiary education compared with two-thirds of children who do so with high-educated parents. Intergenerational correlations in health status have generally been found to be smaller than other attributes, ranging from 0.2 to 0.3 (Halliday,

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Mazumder and Wong, 2018). However, more recent studies have produced higher estimates, suggesting that health status, like other measures of socioeconomic success, is strongly influenced by family background. Several studies have found that children with separated or divorced parents have a higher risk of experiencing instability in their own marriages or partnerships as adults (Kiernan and Cherlin, 2010). This is found not just in the UK, but also around the world. Sons of divorced couples are also less socially mobile than their peers from intact families. Crime persists across generations. Swedish researchers found that children with criminal fathers in Sweden are twice as likely to have a criminal conviction than those with non-criminal fathers (Hjalmarsson and Lindquist, 2012).5 This is a high level of persistence across generations, and other evidence confirms this pattern in other countries. It suggests that law enforcement agencies should in part think of fighting crime as an intergenerational battle. One lesson from these studies is that we should consider longer term cross-generational policies. Ideally, these should recognise the scope and aims of improving outcomes for both current and future generations. They are likely to have greater impact than the short-term reforms typically preferred by politicians. In this book, following the background discussion in Chapter 2, Chapter 3 covers what is known about social mobility, summarising the main studies from several disciplines, focusing mainly on the UK, but also drawing on evidence from other countries, particularly the United States. Insights from research are grouped into four sections: reviewing international comparisons; detailing the era of declining absolute mobility; charting the variation of social mobility by place; and considering the persistence of traits across several generations. Chapter 4 covers what we can do about social mobility. This is in some ways the harder question. We explore the general principle of fairness – which lies at the heart of all social mobility debates – and show how this relates to notions of collectivism, decency, community and equitable access, alongside intergenerational justice. We then assess the evidence for policies that have the potential to make the UK a more mobile society. But first we provide the background on historical trends of social mobility.

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introduction

Notes 1.  British official statistics since 2001 are based on the National Statistics SocioEconomic Classification (NS-SEC). At the top of the class hierarchy are the two levels of the managerial and professional salariat – Classes 1 and 2; and, at the bottom, are wage-workers routine jobs – Classes 6 and 7. 2.  The distribution can be split into equal-sized groups of so-called quantiles, for example ten as deciles, five as quintiles, or the full set of 100 percentiles. 3.  Galton uncovered the statistical phenomenon known as regression to the mean: the tendency of any measures to move closer to the average when they follow observations that are particularly high or low. The paper used many statistical terms still used by researchers to this day, namely correlations, standard deviations and percentiles. 4.  A correlation of 1 would equate to complete immobility, with parents and offspring outcomes perfectly correlated. A correlation of 0 would signal no relationship. These are correlations and do not prove causality. 5.  They titled their paper ‘Like Godfather, Like Son’.

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2 background We know little about the UK’s social mobility trends before the Second World War. There is a lack of data on pre-war generations. But what we do know appears to confirm the UK’s reputation as a rigid society. One study tracking fathers and sons from the beginning of the 1850s to the beginning of the 1900s found higher rates of social fluidity in the United States compared with Great Britain before both countries introduced modern welfare systems (Long and Ferrie, 2013). ‘Britain has been viewed, since the time of Alexis de Tocqueville and Karl Marx (in the early nineteenth century), as a considerably more rigid system in which family background plays a much more significant role in determining current prospects than in the US’, they reported. Miles (1999) found between 60 and 68 per cent of men married between 1839 and 1894 in England were in the same occupational class as their fathers when the grooms married.1 The UK’s social mobility story since the end of the Second World War can be told in much richer detail. It can be defined by four distinct ages, across seven decades since 1950. First was the golden age of absolute social mobility, fuelled by a boom in professional jobs of the new postwar economy; then came the decade of economic decline, triggered by a global recession; this was followed by the era of rising inequality with those on the upper rungs of the social ladder increasingly detached from the majority below; finally, there was a modern era of falling absolute mobility, defined by shrinking opportunity and increasing divides in society. The fear

what do we know … about social mobility?

More economic growth Era of rising inequality 1980–2008

Golden age 1950–70

Less equal society

More equal society Decade of decline 1970–80

Declining opportunity 2008–20

Less economic growth Figure 2.1  Four ages of social mobility in the past 70 years

is that this will turn into a dark age with the COVID-19 recession exacerbating existing inequalities and hindering social mobility. Figure 2.1 shows each of these time periods featuring different patterns of absolute mobility resulting from economic growth and societal inequality. The upper right quadrant corresponds to the high growth of 1950 through to 1970 with relatively low levels of inequality. With the 1970s came declining absolute mobility, but again without inequality rising, as shown in the lower right quadrant. The 1980s is the period of rising inequality, but with decent economic growth generating absolute mobility (the upper left quadrant), while the post-global financial crisis period from 2008 to the present day (in the lower left quadrant) has the worrying feature of falling absolute mobility.

The golden age (1950–70) In 1957, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan famously told the nation: ‘Most of our people have never had it so good.’2 This was indeed a golden era. Social mobility prospects in absolute terms were buoyant. The economy grew by 3 per cent per year between 1950 and 1973. The unemployment rate between 1950 and 1969 averaged just 1.6 per cent (Crafts, 1995).3 The labour market was abundant with decently paid jobs. Income gaps

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background

between the highest and lowest earners stayed the same (Armstrong, Glyn and Harrison, 1984). There was widespread belief that a growing economy would improve the lives of everyone – a rising tide would lift all boats.4 A high proportion of people enjoyed upward mobility, filling the expanding jobs in hospitals, universities and central and local government created by the new welfare state (Goldthorpe and Mills, 2004). There was said to be more ‘room at the top’.5 In 1951, the managerial and professional classes made up just 11 per cent of the working male population, while the wage-earning working class made up 55 per cent. By 1971, the managerial and professional classes made up 25 per cent while the working class made up 45 per cent (Goldthorpe, 2016). Among women, the managerial and professional classes grew from 8 per cent to 14 per cent. This was an era of social ascent. There was also a rapid upgrading and expansion of education. In 1944, the Butler Education Act introduced free secondary education for all and raised the school leaving age from 14 to 15. In 1963, the Robbins Report heralded an expansion of universities and polytechnics. The Robbins principle was established: university degree places ‘should be available to all who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so’. It has remained an unfulfilled aim at the heart of education policy ever since. In 1940, just 1.5 per cent of working-class 18–19 year olds enrolled on degree courses compared with 8.4 per cent from the professional classes; by 1970, the equivalent figures were 5.1 per cent and 32.4 per cent. It would take another 50 years before the proportion of working classes surpassed the enrolment rate of their more privileged counterparts in 1940. And by that time the professional classes had leaped further ahead.6 The social mobility boom also enriched the country’s creative arts: working-class artists, writers and actors emerged in the 1950s and 1960s – from David Hockney to Michael Caine – introducing different voices and perspectives in the arts and theatre, in film and on television. Yet for all this absolute upward mobility, the golden age did not mean golden tickets for those on the lower rungs of the social ladder to leapfrog over those with higher status. Relative mobility rates remained constant. Macmillan’s Conservative government Cabinet in 1957 were uniformly upper class: 94 per cent had been educated at private schools, attended by the 7 per cent of children whose families were able to afford their fees. These enduring social class rigidities may have sowed the seeds of the

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what do we know … about social mobility?

country’s future economic decline. At the very top, the country was missing out on its biggest talent pool, fishing in the same small pond lacking social and cognitive diversity. While there was room for social climbers to move into the broad professional classes, the door remained firmly closed to the cliques in charge. Sociologists studying elites in the early 1970s found an ‘extraordinary near monopoly exerted by the public schools in general, the influence of the Clarendon schools in particular, and of Eton especially, over elite recruitment in this country’ (Giddens and Stanworth, 1974).

Decade of economic decline (1970–80) The 1970s are remembered for stagflation – the combination of rising inflation and unemployment brought about by the global recession. Inflation rose to double figures, reaching over 25 per cent in the mid 1970s; 1.5 million people were unemployed by 1978, nearly triple the figure of a decade earlier. It signalled declining absolute mobility. Throughout the 1970s successive governments seemed to be constantly teetering on the edge of crisis. In 1974, the Conservative government introduced the Three-Day Week to restrict electricity use in homes, as the national economy nosedived, exacerbated by global oil price hikes. In 1978, the Winter of Discontent witnessed widespread strikes by public sector trade unions, symbolised by mounting piles of uncollected rubbish on streets across the country. Education debates were dominated by growing concerns over falling standards, while governments were forced to cut public expenditure for schools. In the 1972–3 school year, the school leaving age was raised to 16. The tripartite system of selective, secondary modern and technical schools had failed to create any parity of esteem between children pursuing academic and vocational routes. The majority of children who did not get into grammar schools were consigned to an inferior education. The system was dismantled. By the end of the decade, over 90 per cent of schools were comprehensive. Private schools meanwhile saw a marked improvement in academic performance during the period. The proportion of young people going to university declined between 1970 and 1980. For all this apparent decline, the 1970s did not see any discernible changes in inequality of incomes, nor in relative social mobility levels.

16

background

The rungs of society’s ladder were no wider, but movement between them no greater. With 91 per cent of Cabinet members educated at private schools, Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in 1979 looked strikingly similar to Macmillan’s two decades earlier. Thatcher, the grammar-schooleducated daughter of a shop keeper, would end the post-war consensus on state intervention, adopting a Darwinist approach to social mobility (Mandler, 2015). Individuals and families would improve their lives through competition based at least in theory on hard work and a little self-help. Thatcherism introduced a new language of aspiration.

Ages of growing divides (1980–2008, 2008–20) The 1980s, 1990s and 2000s were the decades of rising inequality (Brewer, 2019). In the 1980s inequality increased throughout the earnings distribution. The result was the fanning out of earnings, shown for selected percentiles of weekly wages through the decade. The 1990s and 2000s saw the highest earners pulling away. Figure 2.2 highlights the trends in absolute mobility over 40 years. Real wages grew for all three of the pictured percentiles until a peak level reached around the onset of the global financial crisis in 2007–8. Top-end earners at the 90th percentile experienced real wage growth of 103 per cent at its peak, with median earners growing 63 per cent, and bottomend earners at the 10th percentile by 25 per cent. Even though the highest earners fared a lot better than the others, and the middle in turn did better than the bottom, all three groups experienced real wage growth over these years. This meant that a high proportion of people were earning more than their parents were at the same age, signalling improved absolute intergenerational mobility. After the peak, real wages dropped for all the percentiles. They fell more for the top earners, helping to narrow inequality. However, the figures demonstrate that inequality in wages was substantively higher in 2019 than it was in 1980. Wages increased by 93 per cent for those at the 90th percentile, 58 per cent for those at the 50th percentile, and 30 per cent for those at the 10th percentile. These real wage falls, which were not experienced by parents at the same age some three or four decades earlier, mean that absolute intergenerational mobility has been falling.

17

what do we know … about social mobility?

Real hourly wages, indexed to 0 in 1980

1.2 1.03 1

0.93

.8 0.63

0.58

.6 .4

0.30

0.25 .2 0 1980

1990

2000

90th percentile

50th percentile

2010

2019

10th percentile

Figure 2.2  Wage trends, 1980–2019 Note: Hourly wages deflated by consumer price index (CPI), indexed to 0 in 1980. Source: New Earnings Survey/Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings

Rising inequality (1980–2008) The deep recession of the early 1980s hit the country hard. Some areas in the Midlands and the North that had previously benefitted from the manufacturing industry never recovered, and still suffer high rates of joblessness to this day (Amior and Manning, 2018). As we have seen, the 1980s saw a big rise in the earnings gap between the richest and poorest as technological changes and weakening of collective bargaining yielded labour market gains to more educated workers. Those with less education increasingly lost out (Machin, 1996). The government’s victory in the bitter miners’ strike of 1984–5 signalled profound changes in society: the diminishing power of the unions, and the loss of local jobs in large swathes of the country. Behind these neoliberal reforms was the paradigm of trickle-down economics: free markets might lead to higher inequality, but the wealth at

18

background

the top of society percolates down to make everyone better off. George W Bush, who became US President in 2001, later summed up the belief on both sides of the Atlantic. Free market capitalism, he proclaimed, was ‘the engine of social mobility – the highway to the American dream’. The 1980s saw wage inequality rise rapidly as the whole distribution fanned out as each percentile above that below experienced faster wage growth, as shown in Figure 2.2. In the next two decades the anatomy of rising wage inequality altered. Wage inequality rose rapidly in the top half of the distribution, but narrowed in the bottom half. Salaries for lower earners benefitted from the National Minimum Wage introduced in 1999, as they experienced faster wage growth than those in the middle of the distribution. Middle earners also saw some gains through ‘spillover’ or ‘knock-on’ effects: they benefitted even though they were not targeted by the policy. The occupational structure of work continued to shift. By 1991, the managerial and professional classes made up 35 per cent of the working male population and 27 per cent of the working female population. Where once there had been room for the working classes to climb up to, there were now increasing numbers of people concerned only with sustaining their lofty positions at the top of the social hierarchy. The 1980s also witnessed the wholesale cull of middle-management jobs as corporates downsized as part of managerial reforms (Heckscher, 1995). Educational inequality also rose during this period. Elected in 1997, the New Labour government left intact the market-based policies for schools ushered in by the 1988 Education Reform Act, including published school league tables and school inspections alongside a national curriculum. A series of education initiatives followed, from Sure Start centres to new autonomous state schools (academies).7 There was more funding for schools and early years support. The aim was to close the gap between poorer children and their more privileged peers. However, by most measures there was only a tiny reduction in the attainment gap during 1997–2010. And the proportion of young people aged 16–18 who were not in education, employment and training (so called NEETs) remained ­stubbornly high. This was also the era of higher education expansion. In 1992, former polytechnics became fully fledged universities. Continued expansion was made possible by tuition fees in England, introduced in 1998 and raised to £9,000 a year in 2012. In 1980, 9 per cent of 26–30 year olds were university graduates; by 2019, 45 per cent of 26–30 year olds had a degree.8

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what do we know … about social mobility?

For all this expansion, the graduation gap between rich and poor widened. Figure 2.3 records the percentage of all young people who graduate from university by age 23 and compares those from the poorest fifth of families with those from the richest fifth (denoted as poorest and richest quintiles on the figure’s legend). It also shows educational inequality in 1981, 1993, 2005 and 2017 defined as the graduation gap between richest and poorest quintiles. This metric of education inequality nearly trebled between 1981 and 2017, with the most rapid increases occurring in the 1980s and 1990s, but continually rising at a slower rate of increase up to 2017. After three and a half decades, the graduation rate for those from the poorest families (16 per cent in 2017) was still lower than the rate for those from the richest families in 1981 (20 per cent).

Per cent completed degree by age 23

60

55 51

50 40

37 30

30

10 0

33

39

30 20

18

20

36

15 16

10 6

All

7

Poorest quintile 1981

14

1993

Richest quintile Richest - Poorest 2005

2017

Figure 2.3  Degree acquisition and education inequality, 1981 to 2017 Notes: Degree completion by age 23 for all people, for the bottom and top 20 per cent of the family income distribution (respectively the poorest and richest quintile) when aged 16 and the gap between the top and bottom quintile in 1981, 1993, 2005 and 2017. 1981 and 1993 numbers based on the 1958 National Child Development Study and the 1970 British Cohort Study, taken from Blanden and Machin (2004). The 2005 and 2017 numbers are own calculations, respectively from the British Household Panel Survey and from Understanding Society data.

20

background

Increased numbers of disadvantaged students enrolling at universities were observed across the UK, despite the introduction of university fees in England in 1997. But the extra charges for degrees, required to fund the continuing expansion of universities, coincided with falling numbers of part-time and mature students. At the same time, the gap in entry rates between advantaged and disadvantaged students at the country’s most selective universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, widened between the mid 1990s and 2011–12. In 2004, Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke of creating a new meritocratic Britain ‘where people should rise according to merit not birth’. But a report for the Sutton Trust found that relative income mobility was lower for the generation born in 1970 compared with that born in 1958 (Blanden et al., 2004). Children who grew up in poorer homes in the 1970s and 1980s, and who were now adults, were more likely than the previous generation to end up relatively poor. The UK, at least according to the barometer of earnings, had become less mobile. Low social mobility was a product of educational and income inequalities. Like all politicians, Blair did not want to entertain the unpopular prospect of downward mobility: ‘This could create economic instability and social tensions’, cautioned an internal memo to his Cabinet (Aldridge, 2001).

The era of falling absolute mobility (2008–20) When he became Prime Minister in 2007, Gordon Brown set his sights on improving absolute mobility, likening it to a national crusade. However, the plan rested on improving people’s wages. The global financial crisis of 2007–8 saw the UK’s economic growth stalling. Workers went through the worst sustained period of real wage decline since Victorian times. The golden age of the 1950s and 1960s has turned into the bleak age of the early twenty-first century. Falling absolute mobility at age 30 is shown in Figure 2.4. It charts the proportion of children who go on to earn more than (or as much as) their fathers did for successive generations. In the middle of the first decade of the 2000s, over half of 30 and 40 year olds exceeded or equalled their fathers’ earnings in real terms at the same ages (the peak was in 2006–7 at 64 per cent). But by 2019, this fell dramatically to 44 per cent. The majority now earned less. The dream of just doing better, let alone climbing the social ladder, had fallen. The reason for this is the slowdown in economic

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what do we know … about social mobility?

65

64

Upward AIM (Per cent)

60 59

55

50

45

44

40 1995

1999

2003

2007

2011

2015

2019

Year of children’s earnings Figure 2.4  Absolute intergenerational mobility, 1995 to 2019 Notes: Percentage of children whose real weekly earnings matches or exceeds that of the generation of their fathers when both are aged 25–44 (consumer price index used to deflate earnings), from the 1995 to 2019 Labour Force Surveys. Source: Taken from Blanden, Machin and Rahman (2020)

growth and extremely low real wage growth in the UK since the onset of the global financial crisis (Blanden, Machin and Rahman, 2020). The real wages of workers in sectors affected more by the huge exchange rate depreciation that accompanied the unexpected Brexit referendum result acted to further slow real wage growth, through the twin effects of slower wage growth in worse-hit sectors and higher price inflation (Costa, Dhingra and Machin, 2019). In 2011, improving social mobility was announced as the ‘principal goal’ of the Coalition government’s social policy (Cabinet Office, 2011). It oversaw real-terms cuts to school funding, but introduced a pupil premium grant to support disadvantaged pupils. At the same time it introduced a new levy to support apprenticeships to give a much needed boost

22

background

to training in the workplace. David Cameron’s advisers came up with a phrase for the Etonian Prime Minister to demonstrate his aspirations for a classless society: ‘It’s where you are going to, not where you’re from that counts.’ But the problem was that many people at the top of the social hierarchy wanted to stay put. Economic and social fractures from the global financial crisis, austerity and Brexit exposed a disconnect between the Westminster elites and the communities they are meant to serve. The least socially mobile areas of the UK were those areas most likely to vote for Brexit. Those with little chance of moving up tended to vote to leave the European Union (Elliot Major and Machin, 2018). In December 2019, Boris Johnson’s return to power extended a remarkable Parliamentary tradition: every Prime Minister since the end of the Second World War who has attended an English university has attended just one institution: Oxford. Johnson was one of 11 Etonians in the new Parliament. Social mobility remained a popular concept among the populace despite growing scepticism about the openness of the UK. The crushing defeat for the Labour Party, delivered by many working-class constituencies in the Midlands and the north of England, came after it vowed to focus on improving social justice rather than social mobility, helping the many not just the few.9 The voters disagreed: they wanted both. Johnson proclaimed this new administration was the ‘people’s government’. The Cabinet included a record number of ministers from ethnic minority backgrounds. Yet, in other respects, government ministers looked very familiar. Just under two-thirds (64 per cent) were privately educated. Like all the Prime Ministers before him, Johnson vowed ‘to level up opportunity around the country…closing the opportunity gap’. In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic swept across the world, triggering a global recession. As with previous downturns, the most vulnerable workers, those on short-term contracts with low pay and minimal benefits, stood to suffer the most (Adams-Prassl et al., 2020). Yet the crisis also saw unprecedented moves from the government to support employees most at risk, amid growing recognition of the role played by key public sector workers. Many asked whether the collective response to the pandemic would usher in a new cohesive era for the country. Could it turn away from a reliance on global markets towards a more self-sufficient economy that would be more equitable for all its citizens? Or would the crisis undermine

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what do we know … about social mobility?

the Prime Minister’s promise to invest in the disadvantaged areas which had swept him to power?

Notes 1 

2 

3 

4  5  6  7  8  9 

The registry data are far from ideal as they include only couples married in Anglican churches, an increasingly unrepresentative sample towards the end of the nineteenth century. Macmillan said: ‘Go round the country, go to the industrial towns, go to the farms and you will see a state of prosperity such as we have never had in my lifetime – nor indeed in the history of this country.’ In later work, Crafts notes that while growth was relatively high in the UK in the 1950s and 1960s, the country fell behind competitor nations which grew much faster in the golden age period. The phrase ‘a rising tide will lift all boats’ was used by President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Room at the Top is a 1959 British film based on the novel of the same name by John Braine. For more in-depth statistics see Elliot Major and Machin (2018). Eyles and Machin (2019) study the new academies’ impact on pupil intake and performance. Own calculations from General Household Survey (1980) and Labour Force Survey (2020). ‘Social justice’ was seen as helping the many, not the few. Labour vowed to establish a Social Justice Commission instead of the Social Mobility Commission.

24

3 what do we know? In this chapter we summarise what we know about social mobility. Most studies focus on how intergenerational persistence varies across either place or time. In the first section, we adopt an international lens, comparing the UK’s social mobility levels with those of other nations. In the following section, we focus on the present day, documenting trends in relative and absolute mobility for our most recent generations. In the third section, we provide an overview of spatial patterns, considering how social mobility varies by region. And, in the final section, we turn to the long-term view, discussing how family traits can persist across not one but several generations.

International How much more socially mobile could the UK be? This question might seem a simple one. But it is far from straightforward to answer. Few would desire a world of complete mobility where someone’s outcomes in life were completely unconnected with their background – even if this were achievable. It is difficult to envisage a world in which parents were prevented from striving to do the best for their children, who are born with a range of talents. At the same time a world of total immobility where someone’s outcomes are determined completely by the parents to whom they happen to be born to is equally undesirable – this would be a dystopian society

what do we know … about social mobility?

where people were unable to progress in life for all their efforts. Where between these extremes would the ideal or realistic levels of social mobility be? One way to try to answer this question is to compare the UK with other countries. Many studies have confirmed the UK’s low international standing on income mobility. Estimates published by the OECD suggest the UK lies 18th out of 23 developed countries when ranked in terms of income mobility, as shown in Figure 3.1 (OECD, 2018). The height of each bar shows the intergenerational income elasticity for each nation. Recall that an intergenerational elasticity of 1 corresponds to complete immobility, and 0 to complete mobility. Britain has an elasticity of 0.44 while for Denmark it is 0.12.1 In 2020, the World Economic Forum, using its own methodology, concluded that the top five ranked countries for social mobility were all Scandinavian, with only the United States and Italy having a weaker .12

Denmark Norway Finland Sweden Spain New Zealand Canada Greece Australia Belgium Japan Ireland Netherlands Portugal Korea United States Italy Great Britain Switzerland Austria France Germany Hungary 0

.1

.16

.19

.26 .28 .29

.32 .32

.35 .35 .35

.39 .39 .39 .4 .41 .43 .44 .45

.2 .3 .4 Intergenerational elasticity

.48

.5

.53 .55

.62 .6

Figure 3.1  OECD estimates of intergenerational mobility Notes: Intergenerational earnings elasticity of fathers with sons, taken from OECD (2018). Gini coefficients refer to the mid 1980s/early 1990s.

26

what do we know?

performance than the UK among the G7 industrialised nations. Launched during the Davos summit, the report’s message to the world’s leaders was that greater social mobility was essential for economic growth. It found only a handful of 82 countries had policies in place that would increase opportunities for people to achieve their full potential.

Anglophone comparisons The danger with international comparisons is that on deeper inspection they reveal that other societies are so different that it is hard to take any meaningful lessons that could be applied back home in the UK. But what is noteworthy is that income mobility levels are higher in Canada or Australia, despite a significant degree of shared history, common language and cultures. These differences lend stronger weight to the conclusion that the UK could be more mobile. Two major factors drive low social mobility: greater inequalities in income and in education. There are smaller gaps in education achievement between poorer children and their more privileged counterparts in Canada and Australia. Children from poorer families in Canada and Australia have a greater chance of doing well at school, getting into university and earning more in later life than children in the UK (and in the United States which also has lower relative income mobility). Australia and Canada are not characterised by the same education extremes observed in the UK and the United States. Fewer young people leave schools without basic numeracy and literacy. And high-performing schools are less socially selective in contrast to the elite private schools in the UK. But this is not a matter of spending: the UK and the United States spend a greater proportion of their GDP on schooling than their anglophone counterparts. As we shall see, Canada and Australia have large income gaps between the rich and poor compared with many countries. But the countries are more equal than the UK and the United States. What distinguishes the UK (and the United States) from other countries are the high earnings commanded by university graduates, particularly those attending the most selective institutions compared with school leavers. These not only result in greater inequality, but also send a signal to the wealthy that they should invest their resources in education to retain their family’s position in the next generation.

27

what do we know … about social mobility?

Education in the UK has traditionally been a good investment, yielding higher labour market earnings for those with higher education levels. But these gains have required increasingly higher educational levels as time has progressed. The wage returns to a degree rose sharply in the UK through the 1980s and 1990s (Machin, 2011), then plateaued out somewhat. Only recently have they begun to drop back a little (though still remaining considerably higher than 40 years ago) despite the huge increases in the number of graduates. At the same time, the dispersion (or variance) of these returns has become a lot wider, and the big returns now accrue to an undergraduate degree from an elite university (Britton et al., 2016) and a postgraduate qualification (Lindley and Machin, 2015). Just as the education arms race has increasingly rewarded individuals with more and more education, there has been an increase in the pay premium from studying at private school. Green et al. (2011) reported evidence from the 1958 and 1970 birth cohorts showing an upward trend between the early 1990s and mid 2000s. In 1991, privately educated 33–34 year olds were earning on average 25 per cent more than their otherwise similar state-educated counterparts. In 2004, the pay premium had increased to 41 per cent. This wage advantage is particularly large for women. Their educational and employment success, combined with lack of access for children from all but the wealthiest backgrounds, makes private schools powerful vehicles of intergenerational persistence. The UK has also for a long time been characterised by a long tail of underachievement. In 2012, the OECD revealed a quarter of 16–65 year olds in England did not have basic numeracy or literacy skills (Elliot Major and Machin, 2018). Low numeracy and literacy rates were the same for 16–29 as 30–65 year olds, contrasting with declining proportions of younger people with low skills in other countries (Canada, Finland and the Netherlands, for example). Only the United States has a higher proportion of adults lacking basic skills. A major weakness for the UK is the transition between education and work. A viable alternative route of vocational education remains conspicuous for its absence. Further education colleges are underfunded. There are too few advanced apprenticeships, and not enough programmes for training and retraining people coming in and out of employment. Children in the UK and the United States are at least twice as likely to be born to teenage mothers as children in Australia and Canada (Bradbury et al., 2012). Being born to a single teenage mother is one of the strongest predictors of performing poorly in school in any country – and earning less

28

what do we know?

in the labour market as an adult. We lack data on life prospects for people from different ethnic backgrounds. But US studies suggest mobility is also lower for immigrants than for natives and also for black people compared with their white counterparts (Hertz, 2005). Canada and Australia are far less densely populated than the UK and are not dominated by one major international metropolis. They are also beneficiaries of significant incomes from their vast mineral resources, exporting iron ore, coal, natural gas, gold, aluminium and petroleum. Their secondary school pupils enjoy genuine vocational options. For example, around 60 per cent of upper secondary students in Australia enrol in vocational education and training, with about 40 per cent undertaking apprenticeships (Hoffman, 2011). It would require a significant increase – around 40 per cent up – for the UK’s mobility levels to reach those experienced in Canada. In the UK, 9.6 per cent of people who began life in the bottom fifth of the income distribution made it into the top fifth of incomes by their late 30s. In Canada, a higher percentage (13.5 per cent) make this leap. The flipside is that there could be a 20 per cent drop if the UK fell to US levels where 7.5 per cent of people climb from the bottom to the top of the income ladder.

The Great Gatsby curve The Great Gatsby curve charts the levels of income inequality and income mobility for a range of countries.2 It was first unveiled by Alan Krueger, when serving as President Barack Obama’s chief economic adviser.3 We redraw it in Figure 3.2 with more recently available OECD data for a range of countries. The further to the right of the graph, the bigger the income gap between the richest and poorest in society; the higher up the graph, the lower the earnings mobility across generations. As Figure 3.2 shows, one of the challenges for the UK and the United States is high levels of income inequality. This means that the rungs on the income ladder are wider apart. They are harder to climb than in other countries, notably the Scandinavian nations. The curve shows that in general more unequal societies are less mobile. (The exception to this rule is a cluster of European countries – France, Austria, Germany and Hungary – that exhibit less income mobility than would be expected from their levels of inequality.) But the curve charts a correlation between two statistics, not a causal relationship. Nonetheless, Krueger was convinced inequality actually leads to lower

29

what do we know … about social mobility?

.65 Hungary

.6 Intergenerational elasticity (IGE)

.55

Germany France

.5

Austria

.45

Switzerland Italy Korea Netherlands

.4 .35

Belgium Canada

.3

.2

United States Ireland Portugal

Australia Japan

Greece

New Zealand Spain

Sweden

.25

Great Britain

Finland Norway

.15

Denmark

.1 .2

.25

.3 Gini coefficient

.35

.4

Figure 3.2  The Great Gatsby curve Notes: Intergenerational earnings elasticity of fathers with sons and Gini coefficients for the mid 1980s/early 1990s. Source: Taken from OECD (2018)

mobility: ‘another way of thinking about this is that if it is a causal relationship then this relationship is exactly what one would expect’ (Elliot Major and Machin, 2018). This is not to say that improving mobility would be a straightforward task of raising taxes to redistribute money. It is how money is spent that decides who progresses up, or slides down, the income ladder. And it is not just earnings but total wealth – including financial investments and housing – that set the moneyed elite apart.

Absolute comparisons Sociological research meanwhile finds that the UK is decidedly mediocre when it comes to international comparisons of total absolute social class mobility and social class fluidity (Bukodi and Goldthorpe, 2019).

30

what do we know?

This in part is due to increasingly similar occupational class structures in richer countries. They have all experienced the expansion of professional and managerial classes that characterised the early post-war UK. In that sense, everyone has experienced more room at the top. Some suggest that the inevitable consequence of liberal capitalist market economies is a finite limit to the chances of climbing the occupational (if not income) ladder (Bukodi and Goldthorpe, 2019). This is because advantaged families are so good at opportunity hoarding – deploying considerable resources to maintain their children’s position on the upper rungs of the ladder. With absolute mobility in earnings falling across generations, and significant changes taking place in the nature of work, the UK could soon become a country in which individuals’ chances of moving down the class structure are greater than their chances of moving up (Bukodi and Goldthorpe, 2019). Interestingly in this context, debates over social mobility seem to attract less political prominence in nations including Austria, Germany, Switzerland and the Benelux countries where upward mobility still predominates. The UK is not alone in witnessing a turnaround in fortunes: similar trends are seen in a range of countries including the United States, Sweden, France, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain (Breen and Müller, 2020). In general, people born before the 1950s enjoyed increasing rates of upward mobility while a person’s class gradually came to depend less on the class of their parents. Later generations born after the 1950s, however, experienced more downward mobility and, at the same time, little change in how origins and destinations were linked. International comparisons suggest it is possible to create a flourishing economy for all. It is hard to draw conclusive evidence from these comparisons, but nations appear to have benefitted from less individualistic, fairer and more equal societies with less hierarchical schools and workplaces. Australia, Canada, as well as Finland, Norway and Sweden, are all among countries that experienced a rise in real wages in contrast with the UK following the 2007–8 global financial crisis (Manduca et al., 2020). An important point, often missed, is that these nations benefit from both higher absolute and relative mobility levels. Figure 3.3 places the UK experience into an international context showing real wage growth for developed economies between 2007 and 2018. The UK is among a group of four out of thirty-four countries that experienced declining real wages during this period (together with Greece,

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what do we know … about social mobility?

Poland Latvia Lithuania Slovak Republic Estonia Chile Czech Republic Norway Korea Germany Sweden Iceland Hungary Canada Slovenia Denmark Ireland New Zealand France Luxembourg United States Switzerland Australia Finland Austria Netherlands Spain Belgium Japan Israel Italy Portugal United Kingdom Greece –19

–20

2 2

–2 –2 –2

–10

3 3

6 5 5 5

6

8

9

20

15 14 14 13 12 11 11 11 11 10 10 10

0 10 Percent real wage growth

20

33

26 25 24 24 23

30

Figure 3.3  International average real wage growth, 2007–18 Note: Data on average real wages (wage bill divided by hours worked, deflated by the consumer price index). Source: Taken from OECD (2019)

Portugal and Italy). Its story is one of declining opportunity and living standards as we will document in the next section.

Decline Millennial gloom In the background chapter we detailed four ages of social mobility. In this section we document the era of decline. ‘For much of history, economic growth ensured that each subsequent generation did better than the last. But this is no longer true’, conclude Blanden, Machin and Rahman (2020). Sociologists also point to a generation coming through the education

32

what do we know?

system and into the jobs market whose chances of social advancement are worse than that of their parents: ‘The emerging situation is one for which there is little historical precedent and that carries potentially farreaching political and wider social implications’ (Bukodi et  al., 2015). These sobering views were made even before the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 plunged the world into a deep global recession. It makes grim reading for the Millennial generation living in the UK in the 2020s. It is unlikely to get much better for Generation Z, the cohort born in the early years of the twenty-first century. Previous generations may have faced low chances of climbing the social ladder, but many could console themselves that their wages or jobs were superior to those of their parents at a similar age. That is no longer the case. As we have seen, the occupational class structure upgraded dramatically over the second half of the twentieth century with a proliferation of professional jobs. Tracking four successive generations born from 1946 to 1984, sociologists found that around three-quarters of men and women end up by their late 20s or 30s in a different occupational class to the one they were born into (Bukodi et al., 2015). But as the British economy slowed down, the direction of movement between classes reversed. Falling down, rather than climbing up, the class ladder had become a more common experience. The unsettling experience of downward mobility became increasingly common for both men and women. Younger generations faced worse mobility prospects than did their parents – or their grandparents. Intergenerational inequalities are sizable when defined across the range of social class. The chances of a child with a higher professional or managerial father ending up in a similar position rather than in a wage-earning working-class position were up to 20 times greater than these same chances for a child with a working-class father (Bukodi and Goldthorpe, 2019). For those stuck on the lowest rungs, the prospects of ending up on the social ladder’s highest rungs are extremely slim. Savage et al. (2013) defined social class in terms of occupation alongside economic capital (household income and savings), social capital (known networks of people) and cultural capital (education, behaviours, traits and attitudes). Their analysis reports that long-range social mobility, defined as rising from the precariat to the elite group, seldom happens.4 Changing patterns of income across generations also reveal a similarly bleak mobility picture. The United States has experienced a large

33

what do we know … about social mobility?

decline in the rate of upward income mobility across successive post-war generations. Nine in ten American children born in 1940 went on to earn a higher income than their parents. Only one in two Americans born in the 1980s could say the same. Despite its enduring appeal, the American dream of just doing better, let alone climbing the social ladder, has been fading away for many Americans. As noted above, more recently (in the past 15 years) upward mobility has been declining in the UK (Blanden, Machin and Rahman, 2020). The Millennial generation, who have seen real earnings fall, are suffering the most. The wage freeze for the young meanwhile has also restricted their ability to get on the housing ladder compared with previous generations. In 1994–5, 42 per cent of those under 25 were private renters; by 2013–14 this had climbed to 67 per cent (Clarke, Corlett and Judge, 2016).

Fissuring of the workplace Other research suggests that the UK’s decline in opportunity it not just a case of shrinking ‘room at the top’, but a squeeze at the bottom as well. Indeed, the UK’s emerging industrial model of the twenty-first century comprises a deeply divided system. For many privileged elite university graduates there is the royal route of seamless career progression, a path populated with perks and promotion and higher pay. For those on the wrong side of the employment divide, there are poorly paid dead-end jobs, with many lacking basic rights or entitlements. For global executives and private equity owners it is the commercial logic to prosper in a competitive global economy: invest in core talent, and outsource basic work to independent contractors. The problem is that this model pulls away the rungs of the ladder for non-graduates who once followed an alternative route into good jobs. It is a similar story in the United States. In the past, major companies like General Motors employed people throughout the education and income distributions. In contrast, today’s large ‘superstar’ firms – the Amazons, Apples and Goldman Sachs – tend only to employ directly university graduates (and postgraduates) and those from high-income families (Autor et al., 2020). The superstar firms have become increasingly dominant in many business areas, increasing profit by technological innovation but also outsourcing of staff. Rather than benefitting customers with lower priced goods, these monopolies are able to mark up prices.

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Some argue that the boom of gig economy jobs, the proliferation in temporary work, has offered opportunities people have never enjoyed up to now: working flexibly, when and where they want. But others see it as little more than exploitation. Temporary workers often find themselves doing the same service jobs in the same places, but no longer sharing in the same benefits, insurances and pay levels as their fellow company employees. They are the first to go in a recession. ‘When janitors work at Goldman Sachs as Goldman Sachs employees, they tend to share in the firm’s huge productivity benefits and huge rents’, argued Lawrence Katz when interviewed by Clement (Katz, 2017). ‘But if they work for Joe’s Janitorial Services, they no longer share in those rents.’ The fissuring of the workplace is driven partly because companies are paying so much to their graduate employees that they want to lower the costs of benefits for other staff.5 All of us who use the Ubers, Sports Directs and Deliveroos in our own lives have bought into this model. The insatiable demand for services has generated a booming gig economy serviced by an army of workers lacking security, progression or rights: the young, poorly educated on short-term and temporary contracts (or gigs). Employers are not obliged to provide any minimum working hours for those employed on zero-hour contracts. Many more work in solo self-employed positions – solo meaning they have no employees as compared with the more traditional entrepreneur model of self-employment with employees. This position has been reached after several decades of rising wage inequality as the gap between the highest and lowest earners has widened. The last four decades of new technologies permeating modern workplaces have been skill biased, favouring workers with complementary skills, and disadvantaging workers lacking these skills (Katz and Autor, 1999; Machin and Van Reenen, 1998). In response, employers have raised demand and wages for tech-savvy workers. Low-skilled employees have faced lower wages or lay-offs. New technologies are constantly changing the working ­environment – from the computer revolution (until the computer became a general purpose technology), to product and process innovations, and through information and communications technologies. Research has shown it is the kind of tasks people do in their jobs that matter, not just their skills (Autor, Levy and Murnane, 2003). In task-biased technical change, the key is whether or not tasks are routine and can be easily replaced by technologies like computers or robots. Educated workers in high-wage jobs

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doing complex tasks are unaffected. But many low-wage jobs cannot be routinised as well – examples would be security guards, care workers or cleaners. Where technologies can replace roles is for middle-skill and education jobs including bank tellers, secretaries and jobs in manufacturing production. The result has been increasing polarisation of employment and a U-shape pattern across the skill distribution (Goos and Manning, 2007). Employment has grown strongest at the top and bottom end of the distribution, and weakest in the middle. This hollowing out of the labour market has meant the middle stem of the UK’s hourglass economy has been disappearing. New waves of technological change, including artificial intelligence and robotics, are raising significant questions about the future of work (Simms, 2019). Jobs further up the skill distribution (e.g. paraprofessional roles) are increasingly under threat. Examples include accountants, insurance underwriters, radiographers and financial analysts. What is clear is that rapid technological advances will continue to impact on employment. We need to make sure workers’ skill sets, training and education are geared up for this to avoid new problems of inequality and social mobility. And this will be even truer as we recover from the COVID-19 induced recession. At the same time, the role of collective bargaining has diminished. In the UK in 1980, almost 60 per cent of workers were members of a trade union. By 2019, this had plummeted to 24 per cent, and to 13 per cent in the private sector. The long-term decline was driven by the failure of unions to organise in new workplaces and appeal to young workers (Disney, Gosling and Machin, 1995; Machin, 2000). Research shows that trade unions raised pay for their members, reducing wage inequalities through their ‘sword of justice’ redistributive effects (Freeman and Medoff, 1984; Metcalf, Hansen and Charlwood, 2001). It is little surprise, then, that the sharp decline in unions coincided with rising wage inequality. A range of studies show this to be the case (e.g. Card, 2001, for the United States; and Gosling and Machin, 1995, or Machin, 1997, for the UK). These trends present significant challenges to society. They also pose big questions about the ability of the current economic model to work for all. The challenges need to be confronted head on. It has become even more pressing in a post-COVID-19 world with more home working, less international travel, shorter supply chains, increased domestic production, and a realisation of who exactly constitute our ‘essential workers’. It could lead to more local sustainable inclusive and interconnected economies.

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This could be a good thing for inequality, for a more collective society and for social mobility.

Opportunity hoarding A defining characteristic of this era is the spectre of downward m ­ obility  – something better-off families will go to almost any length to avoid for their children. Tilly (1999) describes their efforts as opportunity hoarding, describing the tactics deployed by privileged elites to prevent their children falling down the social ladder. In societies with high levels of inequality, downward mobility is more critical as the gaps between rungs are so large. Some studies suggest that children from advantaged backgrounds retain their high status despite lacking the raw talent that would otherwise predict more lowly positions. In the book Dream Hoarders, Reeves (2017) argued that the privileged classes in the United States are becoming more effective at passing on their status to their children – using their contacts and cultural capital to secure college places and unpaid internships, elbowing out the less fortunate. Nudging your daughter into a better college or using your contacts to help your son get an internship may seem fair. But Reeves argues that these individual choices are damaging for collective society as a whole, unfairly diminishing opportunities for non-elites. Sociological research terms this defensive expenditure: rearguard tactics adopted by the middle classes to preserve their status (Goldthorpe, 2013). Goldthorpe observes that parental – and, perhaps, grandparental – resources, even if not sufficient to allow for children to be educated in the private sector, are still widely deployed to buy houses in areas served by high-performing state schools, to pay for individual tutoring, to help manage student debt, to support entry into postgraduate courses for which no loans are available, or, in the case of educational failure, to fund ‘second chances’.

Middle-class parents deploy a range of tactics to enable their offspring to stay ahead in an ever-escalating educational arms race in which the poorest parents are ill-equipped to fight no matter how much they may want their children to achieve what they could not (Elliot Major and Machin, 2018). The investments come in many forms. Surveys show that one in three (32 per cent) professional parents with school-aged children had moved to an area they thought had good schools. Parents pay significant house price

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premiums to live close enough that their children can enrol in better performing schools (Black and Machin, 2010; Gibbons and Machin, 2003). A significant minority of parents admitted to cheating in school admissions: buying a second home, or renting a property nearby (Sutton Trust, 2018a). Marketbased policies in education may have brought out parents’ darker sides. The clearest manifestation of the arms race is the explosion in private tutoring outside normal schooling hours. This is a phenomenon observed in countries across the globe. Figure 3.4 shows that the percentage of children aged between 11 and 16 in England receiving private or home tuition rose by a third in 14 years, increasing from 18 per cent in 2005 to 27 per cent by 2019 (Sutton Trust, 2019a). In London, 41 per cent of young people in 2019 said they had received some form of tutoring. The main reason for tuition is to help prepare for tests. The UK’s private tuition market is estimated to be worth £1–2 billion

Percent receiving private tutoring

50 41 40 34 30

20

27

18

10

0

2005

2019 All

London

Figure 3.4  Trends in private tutoring, 2005 and 2019 Note: Percentage of secondary school age children receiving private tutoring in England and London. Source: Taken from Sutton Trust (2019a)

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a year. It is largely a middle-class affair. Pupils at private schools are twice as likely as state-educated pupils to receive private tuition. One concern about so much private tutoring is that it is creating a generation of learners who lack independent study skills. But England still has some way to go to catch up with South Korea, where spending by households on private tutoring now rivals public sector education budgets. Private schools meanwhile have been termed ‘the glue maintaining stickiness at the top of British society’ (Elliot Major and Machin, 2018). The combination of educational success and lack of access for children from all but the wealthiest backgrounds offers a powerful vehicle for opportunity hoarders. Annual fees at leading private schools are prohibitively expensive for most parents, often exceeding the country’s median household income. A constant over half a century has been the high proportions of privately educated elites – across a range of elite professions, from politics, media and the law, to film, the arts, music and elite sports. Private schools make up around 50 per cent of leading people despite comprising only 7 per cent of all schools. In law, 76 per cent of top judges attended private schools in the late 1980s, 75 per cent by the mid 2000s and 74 per cent in 2016 (Sutton Trust, 2016). The same unerring trend applied to leading news journalists despite profound changes experienced by the media industry. Just over half (51 per cent) of editors, presenters and commentators in 2016 were privately educated. This is slightly lower than the 54 per cent of leading news journalists in 2006 educated in private schools, but higher than the 49 per cent of top journalists in 1986 who had a fee-paying education (Sutton Trust, 2006). Figure 3.5 shows the proportion of privately educated individuals across a range of different professions. Overall, 40 per cent of the elites examined attended independent schools, more than five times as many as the population at large (7 per cent).

Workplace divides Research on social mobility in the workplace is a relatively new field. However, the emerging evidence suggests an increasingly competitive graduate marketplace skewed towards those from more privileged backgrounds. The UK appears to suffer particular barriers in entry to elite professions. Some have compared the competition for jobs with English tennis: ‘a competitive game but largely one the middle classes play against each other’ (Willetts, 2010).

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Politics 7

All

9

Shadow Cabinet

18

Shadow Junior Ministers

25

Select committee members

29

MPs

33

Select committee chairs

39

Cabinet

52

Junior Ministers

57

Lords 0

10

20

30 40 50 Percent Privately Educated

60

70

60

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Business and Media 7

All

26

Tech firm CEOs

27

FTSE 350 CEOs

28

Sunday Times Rich List

29

BBC executives Entrepreneurs

34

FTSE 350 Chairs

34

PR Consultancy CEOs

34 43

News Media 100

44

Newspaper columnists 0

10

20

30 40 50 Percent Privately Educated

Whitehall and public bodies, Public servants, Local government 7

All

9

Local government CEOs

16

Vice Chancellors

20

Local government leaders

24

Police chiefs and PCCs

45

Public body chairs

49

Armed forces

52

Diplomats

59

Permanent secretaries

65

Senior judges 0

10

20

30 40 50 Percent Privately Educated

60

70

Creative industries, Influential women, Sport 2

Football (women) Football (men) All Rugby (women) Popstars Olympic medallists Cricket (women) Rugby (men) TV, film and music Cricket (men) Influential women

5 7 13 20 31 35 37 38 43 43 0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

Percent Privately Educated

Figure 3.5  Per cent privately educated in selected professions Note: Per cent privately educated in 2019. Source: Taken from Sutton Trust (2019b)

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Privately educated graduates are significantly more likely to enter top occupations than state school peers with similar academic grades (Macmillan, Tyler and Vignoles, 2015). This success could be due to other personal assets, including: human capital (wider knowledge and skills); cultural capital (e.g. being able to converse on a range of topics during interviews); social capital (access to networks in the workplace); and financial capital (money allowing a longer time to search for jobs). The country suffers from what recent sociological research has termed a class ceiling (Laurison and Friedman, 2016). People in elite occupations whose parents were employed in semi-routine and routine workingclass jobs earned on average £6,200 a year less than their colleagues from higher professional and managerial backgrounds. The earnings gap remained after taking into account educational qualifications, job tenure, the ‘London effect’, ethnicity, gender, age, hours worked, firm size, and whether a person worked in the public or private sector. The children of the working classes experienced a particularly large pay disadvantage in the law, media, medicine and finance. There is also evidence of generational persistence of employers. Around 40 per cent of a cohort of young Canadian men had been employed at some time with an employer for which their father also worked (Corak and Piraino, 2011). This helps to preserve economic status at the very top of the earnings distribution in particular: here 70 per cent of sons had worked for the same employer as their fathers. ‘It could well be that children resemble their parents because of nepotism in the hiring process determining access to good jobs’, argue these authors. Sometimes the exclusive norms that those in power work by are transparent: a ‘brown shoes effect’ highlighted how young people from less privileged backgrounds lost out on banking jobs because of their dress, accent and behaviour; wearing brown shoes was considered a no-no by recruiters (Social Mobility Commission, 2016b). But merit can manifest itself in many professions as tacit middle-class codes defining the right behaviours for those at the top, excluding those not in the know (Friedman and Laurison, 2019). These authors find that supposedly objective measures of merit in elite occupations are often received, assessed and valued very differently according to how they are performed: ‘when the mobile enter elite occupations, the lack of fit is deeply felt, and often generates a sense of unease that lingers’. They also find that upwardly mobile women and members of some minority ethnic groups face a double earnings disadvantage in elite professions.

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Many people who are upwardly mobile moreover pay a high price for their ‘success’. In her book Respectable, Hanley (2017) describes the ‘risky, lonely journey’ undertaken from ‘respectable working class’ to middle class. ‘Changing class is like emigrating from one side of the world to the other’, Hanley writes. Awkward climbers can make many sacrifices and suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’ in their newly found positions of power and increasing separation from those they have left behind. However, research on recent generations concluded that overall individuals who have achieved long-range upward mobility fare better than those who are immobile (Chan, 2018). The upwardly mobile report more positive relationships with family and friends, despite less face-to-face meetings with parents. Those born at the turn of the Millennium are the generation who ran out of opportunity. Not only do they have to suffer the ignominy of staying at home with their parents until their mid 20s, unable to afford to live on their own let alone take out a mortgage, but also they have to navigate an uncertain and unstable jobs market. Increasingly, internships (and exclusive postgraduate courses) are the gateways to starting a professional career, across a range of industries, from journalism and politics to fashion and the arts. Unpaid and often unadvertised, the positions have become yet another impediment to social mobility (Sutton Trust, 2018b). People across the country who do not happen to live in or near London face additional systematic disadvantages when it comes to accessing professional elites, as we show in the next section.

Place The place not to be If any place in the UK currently encapsulates the idea that social mobility is about escaping the place from where you come, it is Blackpool. In 1981, the Conservative minister Norman Tebbit made a memorable speech at the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool’s Winter Gardens. The conference will forever be associated with Tebbit’s story of his unemployed father who ‘got on his bike and looked for work, and kept looking till he found it’. It was a controversial rebuke to the inner city riots that had erupted across the country. Over 2.5 million people were unemployed at the time.

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Opened in 1878, the Blackpool Winter Gardens symbolised the Lancashire town’s former prominence as a thriving entertainment resort. It was once a mecca for the working classes, who would arrive in their thousands using the cheap and accessible travel of the new railways. But like many seaside towns, Blackpool is now a remnant of its glory days. In the early twenty-first century, it had an altogether different notoriety: known as the most deprived local authority in England. Blackpool no longer hosts major political conferences. It is estimated that just under a third of children live in low-income families in Blackpool (Department for Education, 2017). The town has a greater proportion of children with special education needs than any other local authority in England. Young people in Blackpool are much more likely than their peers elsewhere in England to suffer from poor health and be affected by issues such as teenage pregnancy and alcohol and substance abuse. In 2018, Blackpool’s poorer pupils were trailing their peers by over two years by the time they finished their compulsory school exams – one of the largest gaps in the country.6 In the wake of lower tourist visits, increased poverty and poor work prospects, housing is a major challenge. Defunct guesthouses have been bought up by landlords to profit from housing benefit claimants piled into houses of multiple occupation. More than half of the local population smokes, the highest rate in the country. Catastrophic levels of liver cirrhosis and digestive problems account for up to one year of the town’s fiveyear longevity gap with the rest of England. Another year is put down to violence, self-harm, overdose and poisoning. Blackpool is ranked as one of the worst places for social mobility (Social Mobility Commission, 2017b). Blackpool may be an extreme example. But we now know that where you are born, not just who you are born to, has a profound impact on your life prospects. Place matters. Studies have used proxies for social mobility – how well disadvantaged pupils do at school or the likelihood of young people getting good jobs – to map stark differences across constituencies and local areas (Social Mobility Commission, 2017b; Sutton Trust, 2015). The progress of those born and growing up in different places varies significantly, often in neighbouring districts. Poorer pupils across the Midlands or the north of England, in Derbyshire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, are the least likely to do well across a range of measures. The worst places include coastal towns, former

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industrial centres and many rural constituencies. On the other hand, 23 out of the 32 London boroughs were classified as ‘social mobility hotspots’. Two-thirds of teenagers in Bethnal Green and Bow are from lowincome households. Yet they were almost four times as likely to get basic GCSEs at age 16 as their peers living in Barnsley Central in South Yorkshire. According to this analysis, it is no longer a case of the North versus the South, but London (and its affluent commuter belt) versus the rest. Patterns of significant spatial variation appear in other studies of the geography of social mobility. Upward occupational mobility in England and Wales is significantly higher for people born in London and the SouthEast than elsewhere in the country (Bell, Blundell and Machin, 2019). For example, children born in the decade 1974–83 to fathers working in lower earning occupations in outer West and North-West London had more than twice the probability of reaching higher earning occupations than similar children born in Cumbria. The country is characterised by extremes: inner West London is the richest area in Northern Europe, while West Wales is the poorest. These divides have persisted for several decades. The exception is Inner London: those born in the capital in the mid twentieth century had higher rates of upward mobility than those born in the 1970s and 1980s. Some mobility measures reveal common patterns. For example, areas of low upward occupational mobility coincide with areas of low education mobility. This is not so surprising given that degrees have, over time, become increasingly required to get into top professions. However, the geography of home ownership mobility exhibits a different pattern. London offers the clearest example. Many parts of the city are exceptional in their rate of upward occupational mobility. Yet children born to parents who did not own their own home are much less likely than elsewhere in the country to own a home themselves as adults. This in part is because house prices rose so fast in the capital, but also confirms that area-level differences are complex: a single metric of social mobility does not always provide the complete picture.

The US mobility map Significant spatial and local variation has also been starkly documented in the United States where upward income mobility levels vary significantly across different cities, counties and states (Chetty et  al., 2014b). In the highest mobility areas of the United States, more than 1 in 10 children with

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parents in the bottom quintile of the income distribution reached the top quintile by adulthood. In the lowest mobility areas, less than 1 in 20 poor children reached the top quintile. Figure 3.6 reproduces Chetty et al.’s (2014b) pathbreaking geography of mobility map of the United States. In some cities the likelihood of climbing the income ladder is on a par with socially mobile countries such as Denmark or Canada. These include San Jose (where children have a 12.9 per cent chance of becoming a high earner as an adult), San Francisco (a 12.2 per cent chance), Seattle (a 10.9 per cent chance) and parts of New York (a 10.5 per cent chance). But for other places, mobility levels are very low. These include Atlanta (where children have a 4.5 per cent chance of becoming a high earner as an adult), Cleveland (a 5.1 per cent chance) and Chicago (a 6.5 per cent chance). Income mobility was highest in the west and north-east of the country and lowest in the south-east of the country and the Rust Belt. In a follow-up, the researchers found black Americans have far lower rates of upward mobility and higher rates of downward mobility than whites (Chetty et al., 2020). The black–white income gap is driven entirely

Figure 3.6  The geography of upward income mobility, United States Sources: From The Equality of Opportunity Project, www.equality-of-opportunity.org/neighborhoods/, and the paper by Chetty, Hendren, Kline and Saez (2014)

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by differences in wages and employment rates between black and white men. The fastest growing cities were creating jobs for well-off people, but many had low rates of upward mobility for young black males. The few places with small black–white gaps tended to be prosperous neighbourhoods with low levels of racial bias among whites and high rates of father presence among black families. Chetty et  al. (2020) concluded: ‘If you think of achieving the American dream as climbing an income ladder for white Americans, it’s more like being on a treadmill for black Americans.’ The Social Mobility Commission’s (2016a) report emphasises sizable differences in education achievement by ethnicity and gender. Coupled with the large body of evidence that there are persistent labour market inequities in earnings and employment by race and ethnicity (Altonji and Blank, 1999), this has clear implications for problems of restricted social mobility for Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) individuals. Moreover, at least some of these labour market penalties (precisely how much is debated in the existing literature) relate to labour market discrimination in both hiring and remuneration (Charles and Guryan, 2011). Research during the COVID-19 crisis in the UK has also sent out warning signs that work inequalities have been exacerbated for many ethnic minorities who were already more likely to be working in more marginal or lower paid or parttime work (Platt and Warwick, 2020). A deeper question that follows this, especially given patterns of residential segregation, is whether the place you grow up in has a genuine causal impact on your life chances? Part of the answer came from analysing data from the Moving to Opportunity experiment in the United States in the 1990s (Chetty, Hendren and Katz, 2016). Children under the age of 13 who moved to better-off neighbourhoods were more likely to go to college and earn more in their 20s compared with children left behind. Girls who moved into better neighbourhoods meanwhile were more likely to stay in the same relationship as adults when they had children. Every extra year of childhood spent in a better neighbourhood seems to matter. The positive message from the data is that local policies can improve social mobility. The message from the spatial study of income mobility patterns across the United States resonates with the international evidence. The lowest opportunity districts are those with the biggest income gaps between rich and poor. This does not prove that income gaps cause immobility, but the local patterns are exactly what you would expect if the relationship was causal. High-opportunity areas meanwhile were linked with higher test

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scores at local schools and lower dropout rates for students, and a higher proportion of two-parent families. In high-opportunity districts, black and white and richer and poorer families were more likely to live side by side. Urban sprawl, as measured by commute times to work, on the other hand, was bad for mobility: poor transport limits access to jobs. Analyses of official data suggest an overlap between places in England with poor public transport and places with underperforming secondary schools. Isolated locations suffer a double whammy: a school needs to be in commuting distance to attract teachers, while pupils face long tiring journeys. The geographical isolation limiting mobility in US cities mirrors the stagnation of the UK’s coastal communities such as Blackpool. These seaside towns are a reminder of the difficult question left unanswered: it is all well and good to show people’s lives are transformed by moving away from low-opportunity areas, but what about the communities left behind? While there is much merit to enable talented young people from less privileged backgrounds to move up the social ladder, this has little impact on the UK’s enduring stickiness at the bottom of society’s ranks. ‘Unless the goal of social mobility is that we all eventually move to London, we need to start taking northern towns and their potential seriously’, argued two teachers who had taught in North-West England, writing in the Guardian newspaper in 2019. ‘Rather than encouraging talented young people to leave and take their ideas with them, we ought to invest in entire communities. If moving out is the only way of moving up, something is not working.’

London London meanwhile remains a tale of two cities, highlighting again the inadequacy of summarising social mobility levels for an area in one simple statistic. As we have seen, many Londoners enjoy better prospects in terms of gaining higher qualifications or securing higher earning jobs, but stand less chance of owning a house or flat, if their parents are not home owners. According to some social mobility maps, London is a hot bed of social mobility, benefitting from a mix of aspirational multicultural communities, good schools and dynamic industries. Demographic change in large part drove the capital’s education turnaround, and indeed its improved performance relative to other regions on a wide range of economic and social outcomes, including wages, health and crime. People, not specific policies, have shaped London. By 2016, a third

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of London families had two parents with degrees. Average family incomes meanwhile in London and the South-East pulled away from those in other areas of the country. There is another side to London. The escalating costs of the global metropolis have made it increasingly inaccessible. One report concluded that the ‘Dick Whittington vision’ of moving to the capital to seek your fortune and move up in the world is now largely a myth (Sutton Trust, 2020). Those who benefitted most from opportunities in London were either born in the city or well-off people from elsewhere. Those from richer backgrounds who are based in or near London were simply more likely to cope with the low pay and high insecurity endemic during their early careers. London had become the ‘epicentre of the elites’. A separate report meanwhile found that some young Londoners from low-income backgrounds were almost half as likely to move into professional or managerial jobs than young people in any other English region: 17 per cent compared with 30 per cent nationally (Mayor’s Fund for London, 2020). This was despite better school results in London. London has a highly competitive labour market, preventing young Londoners from low-income backgrounds without the networks or resources to access higher status careers. The report highlighted London’s ‘doughnut problem’: most high-value jobs and opportunities are in London’s core districts, while its outer boroughs face high levels of poverty and crime. In some ways, London’s divides remain just as stark as they were when described by Charles Dickens in Victorian times. The evidence suggests significant spatial variation in social mobility, but any local or regional efforts to improve opportunities would have to consider the specific set of challenges relating to a broad range of public policies from job creation and education to housing and connectivity. Unless we unlock these problems many communities will be stuck not for one but for several generations to come, an issue we explore in the next section.

Dynasty A universal law? Could there be a universal law of social mobility – an unchanging pattern across generations resembling an underlying physical law of nature?

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This was the provocative claim made by Clark (2014) in his book The Son Also Rises. The economic historian developed a novel technique to measure long-term social mobility rates. Rather than using traditional measures of persistence across generations such as earnings or occupational class, he took a different tack by using rare surnames in England and other countries as a proxy for social status, comparing their positions in society with people with more common surnames. The results yielded much higher estimates of generational persistence than those produced by other studies. They were also unerringly constant over hundreds of years and across national boundaries. Norman conquerors recorded as property owners in the Domesday Book, for example with surnames such as Mandeville, Percy and Darcy, were 16 times more likely than more common names to enter Oxford or Cambridge Universities in 1170. A Millennium on, they were still 25 per cent more likely.7 The famous seventeenth-century diarist Samuel Pepys has a rare surname, for example. But at least 58 Pepyses attended Oxbridge in the last 500 years, a far greater number than would be expected. Deploying a similar approach an Italian study found that a high proportion of top earners in Florence, Italy, in 2011 were from families who had been at the top of the socioeconomic ladder in the city six centuries before (Barone and Mocetti, 2016). It suggested intergenerational mobility in the fifteenth century was half that of modern levels, with an intergenerational earnings elasticity between 0.8 and 0.9. According to Clark, it takes 10 or even 15 generations for elites to move down the social scale to average status. Momentous developments such as the Industrial Revolution, the introduction of universal education and the modern welfare state, and even world wars, apparently had little impact. Could it be that we are powerless when it comes to improving social mobility because it is governed by some underlying immutable law? At first glance, it is easy to see how persuasive Clark’s account is given the sustained social exclusiveness of elites in a country like the UK. The privately educated elites are remarkably persistent, making up 50 per cent of leading people across a range of professions for at least half a century. Quite apart from sharing in common an Eton and Oxford education, the two Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and David Cameron also happen to be distant relations. Cameron is also the ninth great-grandson of Sir Edmund Sawyer, an auditor for Prince Charles in 1623, and descends from King William IV who ruled the country in the 1830s. Political elites

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endure across the political spectrum. The Benn family has been prominent in politics since the late nineteenth century. Former Labour Leader Neil Kinnock’s son Stephen meanwhile is a Member of Parliament and married to a former prime minister of Denmark. However, an extensive review of the evidence on multigenerational mobility by Solon (2018) concluded that in fact there is no universal law of social mobility proposed by Clark. Partly this was because Clark’s analysis is based on such small numbers that it is hard to generalise these patterns to the entire population. But also other studies have failed to replicate the results. Some argue that Clark’s technique of using surnames is methodologically flawed (Torche and Corvalan, 2018). By tracking surnames in the US population others have found around twice the levels of mobility compared with Clark’s estimates (Chetty, Hendren and Katz, 2016). Another reason why Clark sparked so much interest was his argument that genetic transmission of ‘social competence’ – some underlying innate ability – was most likely to explain why elites remain unchanged over so many generations. ‘By and large, social mobility has characteristics that do not rule out genetics as the dominant connection between the generations’, he argued. The complex interaction between children’s environments and their genetic inheritance remains a hotly disputed area with an extensive scientific literature. Others have argued that current social mobility levels are the product of centuries of mating that has sorted out the genetically superior humans from the rest. According to this argument, we are already a meritocratic society as class origins are mostly due to our cognitive ability (measured at age 11) (Saunders, 2010). This has been strongly refuted by other studies. One found that cognitive ability only mediates about 35 per cent of the total parental background effect on the educational attainment of offspring, and only about 20 per cent of the total effect on their eventual social class position (Betthäuser, Bourne and Bukodi, 2020). Nonetheless, Solon’s review concluded that multigenerational trends are more important than previously thought. Most social mobility studies look at trends and associations across one generation. It is now becoming clear that that does not provide the whole picture. The previous assumption was that persistence of wealth and income fades away after three generations (Solon, 2018). ‘From clogs to clogs in three generations’ is a Lancashire proverb from around 1700. The ‘rule of three’ was supported by the early academic literature on social mobility.

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This is the opposite conclusion to that of Clark: rather than lasting for ten generations, traits have disappeared within three. One major study assessed income mobility trends and concluded that ‘almost all the earnings advantages or disadvantages of ancestors are wiped out in three generations’ (Becker and Tomes, 1986). But that wisdom has now been turned on its head. Several studies have documented the grandparent effect. Long and Ferrie (2018), for example, report that grandfathers mattered for earlier generations born in the UK and the United States between 1850 and 1910: even when a father’s occupation is taken into account, a grandfather’s occupation ‘significantly influenced’ the occupation of the grandson. The grey pound can make a big difference to the lives of grandchildren: paying for expensive school fees or handing down huge housing wealth. The odds of grandchildren becoming professionals rather than unskilled manual workers are at least two and a half times better if the grandparents were themselves professionals (Chan and Boliver, 2013). This effect persists even when parents’ education, income and wealth were taken into account. When time-poor parents are at the height of their busy careers, time-rich grandparents can step in to help with child-rearing duties. This is particularly relevant when many grandparents benefitted from the post-1950s economic boom. Grandparents can play powerful roles in augmenting the parental resources helping children – compensating children for any deficit in their parents’ resources and abilities, and cushioning against adverse circumstances. Extended families may act strategically to promote their children by pooling labour market resources, shielding job opportunity from outsiders and by providing useful contacts. Social mobility across many generations is likely to vary for particular populations at different times and places. Research has tended to focus on averages rather than variation when it comes to measuring intergenerational persistence. ‘Just as recent research has found that the intergenerational income elasticity varies considerably across countries, we may find that multigenerational mobility behaves differently in different times and places’, Solon (2018) concluded. Persistence in outcomes appears to be stronger at the extremes of society. Low levels of income mobility in the UK are due to a stickiness, or immobility, at the bottom and top of the income spectrum (Elliot Major and Machin, 2018). Children born into the highest earning families are most likely themselves in later life to be among the highest earners; at the other

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end of the scale, children from the lowest earning families are likely to mirror their forebears as low-earning adults. Sociologists also observe greater immobility at the top and bottom of the social class hierarchy. The review by Payne (2017) highlighted ‘the social closure at the upper echelons of society and the isolation of those at the bottom’, contrasting these extremes with comparatively high levels of mobility elsewhere. US research by Wightman and Danziger (2014) found that the adolescent conditions experienced by parents during their childhood influenced the household environment and by extension the educational attainment of their own children – an association particularly concentrated among low-income households. Amid the gaping wealth divide of the twenty-first century, elite family advantage is likely to extend over many generations into the future. Funds can be invested in financial and capital assets for the long term. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren will benefit long after assets have been set aside. What evidence we do have suggests a large intergenerational persistence in family wealth. Charles and Hurst (2003) used US data to estimate an intergenerational wealth correlation of 0.5 – stronger than the link in incomes between generations. The disparity in wealth mushrooms between the generations. Piketty (2014) has observed that we are returning to an age where earnings from tax-efficient financial assets exceed wages. Multigenerational persistence is a product of extreme inequalities of wealth and income. ‘You need some inequality to grow (economically)’, Piketty has argued. ‘But extreme inequality is not only useless but can be harmful to (economic) growth because it reduces mobility’ (Piketty, 2014). What could we do to create a more balanced and inclusive society that is both fairer and more productive? That is a question we now seek to answer.

Notes 1 

This means if an adult earns £10,000 less than the average earnings for Britain as a whole, 44 per cent of this difference (£4,400) will be passed on to their children. In other words, the children will earn £4,400 less than the average for their own generation. In Denmark only 12 per cent of the relative difference is transmitted, on average, from one generation to the next. If a family earns £10,000 less than the average for their generation, their children will earn £1,200 less than the average.

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2 

3  4 

5 

6  7 

The graph was named after The Great Gatsby because the United States had returned to the extreme income inequality last witnessed in the 1920s in which F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel is set. See Krueger (2012). In the Savage et al. work, the precariat lie at the bottom of the class structure, living precarious lives on low income. This group constitutes 15 per cent of the population. It is made up of the unemployed, cleaners, care workers, postal workers and shopkeepers mainly from outside South-East England. In 2017, the New York Times ran a story about the lives of two cleaners. One cleaner was a full-time employee of Kodak in the 1980s. She received more than four weeks of annual holiday per year, help with part-time college costs, and a bonus. The other was an employee of a contractor that Apple headquarters used to clean its facilities in 2017. She had not taken a holiday in years, while attending college or transferring to another role was out of the question. The Kodak cleaner went on to become a senior executive, while the Apple cleaner faces a ceiling on any prospect of advancement. It was just one story, but it was a powerful example of how generational changes have dislocated today’s low-skilled employees from job security and progress. In 2018, poorer pupils were only 3.9 months behind their peers at GCSE in Westminster, and 5.3 months behind in Tower Hamlets. The surnames include Berkeley, Baskerville, Darcy, Mandeville, Montgomery, Neville, Pakenham, Percy, Punchard and Talbot.

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4 what should we do? Fairness In 2017, the Social Mobility Commission published a damning critique of the effectiveness of government efforts over the previous 20 years to improve social mobility. Long-term progress had too often been sacrificed at the altar of glitzy short-term reform. Despite grand words and deeds, the report argued, governments had demonstrated little headspace to inject the necessary energy required to achieve significant change (Social Mobility Commission, 2017a). The report added that the drive to improve social mobility could be a rallying point to show that modern capitalist economies are capable of creating fairer and more inclusive societies. It might offer the best antidote to the rise of populism in politics. All this came at a time when more people were feeling that the UK was becoming increasingly unfair.1 What is fair? This is a question that goes to the heart of debates over what we can do about social mobility, which is the focus of this chapter. One reason why the topic is at once both fascinating and frustrating is that there are no simple right or wrong answers, without associated value judgements being made. A central message of our earlier book Social Mobility and Its ­Enemies was that we are all to some extent part of the problem (Elliot Major and Machin, 2018). It is easy to lay the blame of low social mobility on a host of other evils: school admissions cheats, elite opportunity hoarders, bad

what do we know … about social mobility?

employers, socially selective schools and stark inequalities. We tend to apply more stringent rules of what is fair to others, particularly if their actions impinge on our own family’s choices. A more generous stance is taken when it comes to our own actions. For example, as noted above, a significant minority of parents admit to cheating in admissions for highly sought-after schools: renting a property nearby, even faking medical ailments for their children so they get ahead in the admissions queue. Before we take the moral high ground, however, we have to ask ourselves whether we have ever stepped over the line – stretching the truth to ensure that our son or daughter gets ahead? In the race to secure opportunities and avoid the dreaded experience of downward mobility it can be easy to trample over the prospects of the less fortunate when fighting for the futures of our own children. Such behaviour is a response to the society in which we exist. The fear of falling down the social ladder is exacerbated by the fact that the lower rungs are so far away from those higher up. If all jobs commanded decent pay and conditions and all schools had the minimum resources to do their job, and success was not so narrowly defined, maybe there might be less individualistic and sharp-elbowed behaviour. But under the current system we are all having to decide what we think is fair and how far we are prepared to go. Systemic change is required to alter this – a tough ask, but one we believe worth fighting for.

Fair game? To whom? What is judged as fair game shifts from one generation to the next (and can vary from one country to another). Unpaid internships in the UK were once seen as harmless job opportunities enabling graduates to secure a foothold on the career ladder: they would gain valuable experience and contacts, while companies would benefit from a low-cost and low-risk way of testing out future employee prospects. Yet, unpaid and often unadvertised, such positions have become another impediment to social mobility (Sutton Trust, 2018b). Working for free is fine if you are rich enough to cover the costs. But the practice is now generally judged a systematic disadvantage discriminating against those from less privileged backgrounds who are unable to afford it. In 2011, the then Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg launched a government strategy to tackle the ‘tacit conspiracy’ of elite internships. Work experience

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placements and internships in the Civil Service became openly advertised. Three-quarters of people surveyed supported a ban on unpaid work experience lasting more than four weeks. The fairness question relates very closely to discussions about equality of opportunity, and whether that it is a goal to aspire to. Breen (2010) argues that policy makers need to define exactly what they mean by equality of opportunity before we can measure progress towards it. Some argue that individuals may legitimately benefit from attributes they have acquired through the accident of birth – genetic endowments and personality traits, such as being hard working and being able to delay gratification, for example. But this would not extend to advantages acquired from wealth or social status. Some degree of intergenerational persistence may be inevitable, but background should not count as much as it does now. ‘This argument might be more congenial to those who favour the idea that parents should be able to pass on some of their advantages to their children, [but] it still leaves open the question of where we draw the line’, argues Breen. Swift (2006) suggests it might be more accurate to call for less inequality of opportunity. Some sociologists speculate that the UK may have already reached a natural limit in social class fluidity – an unsurpassable point all countries with a capitalist economy and a nuclear family system eventually reach. Calculations we made in the book Social Mobility and Its Enemies estimate that a realistic target for improving the UK’s relative income mobility would require us to increase current levels by 40 per cent, reaching levels observed in other similar nations. That suggests there is room for improvement in making the UK a fairer society. But this is not a world of complete mobility. Indeed, it is a long way from that, reflecting both that equality of opportunity is not the aim and that equality of outcome is different from equality of opportunity. This is complex, not just from an economic and social perspective, but also on moral and philosophical grounds. Much of this is well beyond the scope of this book, but there are many questions as to how or why a reduction in intergenerational persistence is a desirable target to aim for. It is also the case that the public policies we will consider can only create better conditions that make higher levels of social mobility more likely. It is ultimately down to people’s individual talents, hard work – and luck – to progress in the direction they have chosen. We can only hope that social mobility ensues when more opportunities are created. As the sociologist

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John Goldthorpe (2008) has argued: ‘I would push for more genuine equality of opportunity and then let the mobility chips fall where they will.’

Rawls’ test of fairness and justice Dilemmas over what constitutes fair game are part of broader questions over competing principles in modern liberal democracies. The work of US political philosopher John Rawls addresses this head on. Rawls developed a theory balancing the rival claims of equal basic rights, equality of opportunity, and safeguarding the interests of the least advantaged in society (Rawls, 1971). We all agree that we should be free and equal. But there are also some limits to our freedom. We do not want to encroach on other people’s choices. At the same time, most people accept that some inequality is needed to encourage and reward people doing the jobs that are demanding and can potentially benefit us all. Rawls imagines a meeting in which we all represent our family members. At the meeting we negotiate over the principles deemed to be fair that we can all live by. Participants are under a ‘veil of ignorance’ so they are unaware of their relative status in society. In this way unfair advantages are excluded from the discussion. Rawls states that in these circumstances people would agree on two principles. First, that each person has a right to basic freedoms, allowing them to have freedom of speech and to pursue their own choices, political and religious beliefs. Second, that social and economic inequalities are allowed for positions which are won through fair and open competition, but these inequalities must be beneficial to the least advantaged in society. The last clause is supposed to protect against the excesses of inequality. The beauty of Rawls’ theory is that it offers a potential equipoise between the principles advocated by those on the free market right and those on the redistributive egalitarian left. It provides a compromise that might enable a consensus to be achieved. But after 50 years of scrutiny, numerous criticisms and caveats have been raised. And there is difficulty in applying the theory to practice. It is open to many different interpretations. Advocates of strict equality argue that inequalities are unacceptable even if they do benefit the least advantaged. Libertarians object that the theory points to unacceptable state interventions that would infringe liberty. Rawls’ ideas remain highly relevant. A survey carried out before the EU Referendum in 2016 confirmed widespread pessimism among the

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populace about the prospects of climbing the social ladder (British Social Attitudes Survey, 2016). Nearly three out of four people believed it was difficult to move between classes, a rise up from two-thirds a decade previously. More than three out of four people thought the class divide was very or fairly wide. The notion that all share in the gains from economic prosperity – so-called ‘trickle down’ – that characterised the post-war period has not materialised. The harsh winds of global recession in the 1970s dashed the ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ hypothesis: that all would benefit from a booming economy. The theory of trickle-down economics developed alongside the market-based reforms of the 1980s fared little better. In reality, increasing resources attracted by our wealthy elites have stayed closely guarded at the top. Median earnings have decoupled from productivity: since 1990, growth of the former has outstripped the latter, with respective 49 and 19 per cent increases in output per hour and median weekly earnings in real terms (Elliot Major and Machin, 2018). Contemporary evidence suggests we have reached unhealthy levels: those on the lower rungs of the ladder are peering up at such an impossibly steep climb they would rather step off then step up. The Great Gatsby curve highlights the link between inequality and social mobility for a range of countries. Inequality of incomes, when children are younger, leads to greater inequality of opportunity. The fairness test lurks beneath debates about the booming gig economy. For some it is one of the most positive developments since fair employment rights were established – giving freedom and flexibility to millions of working-class people to choose how they earn and when and where they work. It has enabled small businesses to compete against the major corporates, allowing them to retain a small core staff and hire extra temporary workers when needed. For others it contravenes basic rights and exploits the vulnerable, creating a second class of workers with little or no job security, no guaranteed income or benefits, no prospect of career progression and no legal framework from which to bargain or protest against unfair treatment. Contractors meanwhile are exploiting a legal and ethical grey area. ‘On the one hand it’s the future of work, on the other it’s absolutely Darwinian survival of the fittest, I think both views are simultaneously real and relevant’, Steven Power, a software entrepreneur, told Forbes Magazine (2019). Research looking at choices made in real-world experiments (call

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centre job applications) finds that most workers are not willing to give up pay for more flexible work arrangements (Mas and Pallais, 2017). The only thing that workers seem willing to sacrifice pay for is avoiding employers dictating work patterns. Boosting absolute mobility – expanding overall opportunities by boosting skills in an equitable way or increasing economic growth – is one way of avoiding the zero-sum game. On education, a review of ambitious government targets to widen access to England’s most selective universities warned that failing to find ways of expanding university places would prompt a ‘clash of the classes’ (Elliot Major and Banerjee, 2019). Without faster progress, it would take nearly a century for the highly selective universities to equalise participation rates of young people from the poorest and richest backgrounds. This could only happen by doubling the number of student places at highly selective universities or cutting the number of places for advantaged pupils by one-third of their annual intakes. Private school heads cried foul, warning universities not to discriminate against their pupils ‘on the basis of the class they were born into’. They urged universities to expand to take as many suitable students as necessary ‘rather than rob some students of a future to award it to others’. The question here is balancing the individual rights of privately educated students to compete fairly for elite university places against the need to safeguard university chances for disadvantaged students. Despite countless reforms, expansion and investment, the education system as a whole has failed to equalise outcomes for poorer children compared with their more privileged counterparts. A credible alternative vocational or creative stream to challenge the high-status academic path has yet to materialise. Further education colleges remain education’s Cinderella sector. Have we done enough to address the inequities suffered by the half of young people who do not attend university? Issues of fairness have again permeated society during the COVID-19 crisis. Concerns about long-term scarring effects of the COVID-19 economic downturn – companies being put out of business for good, employees facing permanent lay-offs – are greater for more vulnerable workers (the low paid and the young in the 2020 downturn). The initial economic and health impact of the virus was larger on people in poorer communities, particularly affecting the low paid, young and ethnic minorities. Meanwhile shocks to education, operating through school closures, meant disadvantaged pupils would experience significant learning losses

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compared with their more privileged peers. One estimate, based on studies of summer learning loss, suggests the COVID-19 learning slide would be between four and six months in reading (Elliot Major and Machin, 2020). This would obliterate any marginal gains in narrowing the achievement gap during the previous decade. The danger for many disadvantaged pupils is that they suffer permanent ‘educational scarring’ – long-lasting negative impacts that occur at key education transition points, where selection into different pathways creates a step change in outcomes. For example, failing to get standard passes in GCSEs at age 16 incurs a big earnings penalty – even by a single mark below the pass threshold (Machin, McNally and Ruiz-Valenzuela, 2018). These shocks are likely to reverberate across successive generations, not just existing school cohorts experiencing unprecedented levels of home and digital learning, but children yet to start school, many of whom find themselves in fractured family environments.

Questions of fairness In the following sections we will consider the broad areas of major policy reforms that could pave the way for greater social mobility. 1. Collectivism: Policies promoting collective success – not penalising others by helping a few Social mobility is lower in countries like the UK and the United States that have embraced the American dream – an individualistic notion of success. It is higher in the Scandinavian countries that promote a more collective mindset. In Scandinavia, people talk about the Law of Jante – putting society ahead of the individual, not boasting about your accomplishments or being jealous of others. Policies should ideally level the playing field for all while enabling individual talents to flourish. 2. Decency: Policies enabling people to live decent lives whatever they choose to do in life We need to reassess the UK’s emerging industrial model in which lower level work is contracted out to temping agencies and other contractors. It

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has created a two-tier system between those pursuing seamless career progression and those stuck in dead-end jobs lacking security, progression or rights. Economic growth needs to be inclusive growth. We need to establish minimum rights to create decent jobs, with career progression built in. We also need to consider reforms to provide the most basic functional skills for all school leavers. For too many the academic approach is not working. Could children be assessed against a basic threshold of key skills required to get on in life, taught as part of a practical, meaningful jobsfocused curriculum? 3. Community: Policies improving the prospects of people in different communities There are many programmes catapulting a lucky few into elite universities and prestigious professions. But there is scant evidence of effective regional rejuvenation for those ‘left behind’. We need a new model of social mobility – one that seeks to improve both absolute and relative levels, and where effective place-based policies can deliver. The evidence suggests a mix of factors is required: affordable housing; proximity to jobs; connected and integrated communities; and good local schools with good teachers. 4. Access: Polices promoting fair access into education and work Social mobility battles are at their most intense at the point of admissions – in schools, universities or the labour market. This is where the zero-sum game bites: for every winner, there must be a loser. How do we define merit and talent in a way that is fair for all? Across all these areas, there are cross-cutting questions. Our review of evidence suggests we need to seek longer term policies designed to improve outcomes for current and future generations at the same time. Social mobility is by definition an issue than spans lifetimes. Increasingly, we are understanding that the forces shaping people’s outcomes extend over many generations. Yet policy making continues to operate in ever-diminishing time-frames. We need a longer term perspective. How can policies improve the lives of future generations, not just current ones? Corak (2012) has argued that making the tax system more progressive, for example, hits two targets with one arrow: it levels outcomes in the current generation and also diminishes disparities in the next: ‘A labour

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market in which college graduates earn so much more than others is not only resulting in greater inequality, it is also sending a signal to the rich that their extra resources should be invested strongly in the education of the next generation’. At the same time, we need to consider intragenerational mobility: lifelong learning and retraining during people’s lifetimes. Finally, what evidence is there for potential impact, and how feasible is the reform? Policy making should as far as possible be evidence-informed, assessing the evidence from programme evaluations and wider studies. We must also consider how scalable a programme is – and whether it is politically feasible. We need policies to help promote absolute social mobility, the general improvement in life prospects for all, as well as relative social mobility, the equalisation of life chances. A mix of policies is likely to be required, targeted at particular areas, igniting inclusive economic and education growth: affordable housing, good schools, job opportunities, amid more aspirant, stable and connected communities. But, in moving this way, we must ask: what constitutes a level playing field, and what individual, community and societal changes are needed to move towards it?

Collectivism The American dream is an idea cherished and embedded in US society. It is thought to originate from the early settlers in the New World who believed that anyone, irrespective of their background, should be able to strive to better their lives. But somewhere along the line, that dream got bastardised into a much more extreme ideal. It has come to represent the idea that anyone can get to the top, get rich or get famous – often escaping the place and background they are from. This dream has been embraced by the UK and, to differing degrees, has spread across the world. It is all around us – on TV shows such as the X-factor or The Apprentice promising to pluck talent from nowhere. Individuals can now become ‘influencers’ by creating an online personal brand which can then be monetised. Increasingly, the dream is about individualistic and materialistic success. The assumption is that the winner takes all and their lives will be complete if they make it. Everyone else is left behind. In the UK this narrow ideal has come to be associated with an individualistic notion of social mobility. In Margaret Thatcher’s famous words, ‘there is no such thing as society’.2

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The paradox is that long-range social mobility, the chances of climbing from the bottom to the top of the social ladder, is low in countries such as the UK and the United States. International comparisons demonstrate that people are more mobile in cultures that prioritise collective success over individual gain. In Denmark, for example, it is estimated to take two generations for low-income families to approach the mean income in society, but in the UK (and the United States) it is more like five generations to achieve the same goal (OECD, 2018). In 2011, US politician Elizabeth Warren attracted widespread support for her arguments that all of us owe our success in life to others. ‘There’s nobody in this country who got rich on his own – nobody’, the Democrat argued, in a clip that went viral: You built a factory out there? Good for you! But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces the rest of us paid for.

Warren’s point is that whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we are all connected. She argued that those who make lots of money should pay a proportion back so future generations also stand a fair chance of making a success of themselves. Surveys showed that the majority of Americans agreed. ‘The American Dream is slipping away – too many people are working too hard and they’re still sinking, not even able to cover the basic costs of living’, wrote Arianna Huffington, in her review of a proposal from Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes to provide guaranteed income including a guaranteed income for poorer families in his book Fair Shot (Hughes, 2018). This would be financed through extra taxes on the top 1 per cent of Americans. With so many Americans stuck on the lower rungs of the ladder, genuine redistribution is now part of mainstream debate. In the UK, as in the United States, the backlash against excessive individualism gained more momentum during the coronavirus crisis. The Prime Minister Boris Johnson, an avowed libertarian, said that ‘there really is such a thing as society’ as tens of thousands of retired NHS staff returned to the frontline, and over 750,000 people volunteered to aid the health service. These carefully chosen words were an attempt to draw a line under pure Thatcherism. They followed the unprecedented expansion

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of public spending underwriting businesses and livelihoods, and the growing recognition for the jobs done by teachers, nurses, carers and other key workers, many of whom face poor pay and working conditions. Even before the pandemic, questions were being asked, in many quarters, about the current model of capitalism. A perfect storm of extreme inequality, automation and globalisation has dashed the hopes of a decent standard of living for all. The employment market has been fractured into part-time roles, contractors and temporary jobs, with little prospect of progress for most people.

Inequality Inequality in the UK is multi-dimensional, characterised by many features and trends over the years including the stagnating wages of younger generations, rising inequalities in wealth and opportunity, as well as in health, crime and life prospects (Deaton, 2019). The undeniable fact is that the level of income inequality is high, and higher than it was 50 years ago: ‘Every year of high inequality is another year that strains a sense of fairness and of social justice and another year where equality of opportunity becomes harder to achieve’, concludes Brewer (2019). Economic growth has been benefitting the few, especially the top 1 per cent. The Great Gatsby curve highlights the link between inequality and social mobility for a range of countries. Inequality of incomes during the childhood years fosters greater inequality of opportunity. Children are deprived not just because of the lack of material basics money can buy – food, a place to sleep – but because of the absence of a stable, consistent and nurturing environment in the home with adult role models holding decent jobs. Yet, it still seems hard for the UK’s detached elite to comprehend what it means to grow up on the other side. A more equal society, with economic gains distributed more evenly, matters for rising absolute mobility as well. Chetty et al. (2017) identify the potential drivers of the very sharp falls in absolute intergenerational mobility seen in the United States by looking at different rates of economic growth, changes in inequality and changes in relative mobility. They do so by defining different counterfactual scenarios to assess the importance of each. For example, they note that earlier birth cohorts had higher absolute mobility during a time period of higher economic growth. They assess its

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importance by recalculating a counterfactual level of mobility for later birth cohorts under an assumption that, instead of experiencing the lower level of economic growth they did in reality, they experienced the same growth rates as older cohorts. The difference between the counterfactual mobility and the actual one can be used to gauge the importance of economic growth for falling absolute intergenerational mobility. The same exercise of defining a counterfactual and then assessing the gap between the actual and counterfactual outcome can be undertaken for the other explanations. The findings of Chetty et al. show that slower economic growth – and stagnating real incomes – in the US economy for the more recent birth cohorts are important factors. But inequality matters as well. The inequality counterfactuals show that, had inequality not risen and if growth had been shared more equally, absolute mobility would not have fallen as much. For absolute mobility to come about, higher economic growth needs to be inclusive and shared across the income distribution – as Katz and Krueger (2017) put it in their analysis of the absolute mobility trends: ‘faster growth is necessary but not sufficient to restore higher intergenerational mobility’. The challenge of quelling rising inequality does not necessarily mean we should lurch from one extreme to another. It is important to understand the context of higher inequality and its drivers. Landersø and Heckman (2017) argue that Denmark’s lower income mobility compared with the United States is mostly down to its higher taxes, which compress its income distribution. This brings the rungs of the ladder closer together, making it easier to move between them. But poorer Danish children are just as dependent on their parents when it comes to school results or getting into university. Given Denmark’s success in closing education gaps earlier in life, social mobility might be improved if there were more market incentives, or higher earnings, associated with getting a degree. This suggests there may be a middle-ground between the extremes of the US lowtax regime and Denmark’s more generous welfare system.

Taxation One way in which public policy can enable collective responsibility is through the redistributive role of taxation. Wealth tax policy is an attractive approach from an intergenerational perspective: unlike taxes on earnings, taxing wealth does not discourage people working hard or investing in wealth-creating activity. Wealth is often bequeathed from previous

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generations, not earned, and is an enabler of family advantage persisting over many generations. A society in which income through a lifetime of work matters less than the capital inherited from parents is unlikely to be a productive one. A one-off progressive wealth tax moreover offers a practical and fair way of helping the UK as it emerges with large financial debts and greater divides in the wake of the devastating COVID-19 crisis. The pandemic hit young and low-paid employees the hardest, who were most likely to lose jobs or be furloughed. Meanwhile, older, higher earners were able to work from home and accumulate wealth via ‘forced saving’ of unspent earnings. Reforming the country’s tax system has the potential to promote social mobility and economic growth. A wealth tax is also more effective than income tax as many of the super-wealthy earn little more than they spend, while their annual increases in wealth escape taxation. Wealth taxes still exist in many European countries including Spain, Norway, Switzerland and Belgium.3 A tax on wealth is more progressive than property taxes, because houses are much more equitably distributed than net wealth. In recent years a mansion tax has been mooted in the UK – which would charge tax for people living in expensive houses. One option would be to reform property tax, known as council tax, which is currently regressive.4 Owners of more valuable properties pay a smaller proportion of the value of their asset than owners of less valuable homes. Saez and Zucman (2019) find in an extensive analysis that general taxation in the United States has become deeply regressive, for example with billionaires paying lower tax rates than their secretaries. This has been due to several factors: increasing tax exemptions offered to capital owners, the surge of a new tax avoidance industry, and the spiral of tax competition between states and nations. Their solution is a wealth tax on all assets, applied to people over a certain wealth threshold. Such a tax would apply to property, financial investments, bank savings, assets including yachts and even works of art. Signalling a changing mindset in the United States, these ideas have been embraced in mainstream debate. In the race for the Democratic presidential candidacy in 2020, Senator Warren proposed that American households with net worth above $50 million would pay 2 per cent tax on their wealth, while those with assets over $1 billion would pay 6 per cent tax (yielding estimated revenues over a decade of $2.75 trillion). Warren’s

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rival Bernie Sanders unveiled a more radical plan: a 2 per cent wealth tax on households with net worth over $32 million, gradually increasing to 8 per cent on those over $1 billion. Proponents (including several billionaires) argued that the revenues could be used to fight climate change, repair ailing infrastructure and help provide prospects for the poor. While neither candidate prevailed, the proposals received significant support. Our view is that there are equally strong arguments for a one-off wealth tax in the UK. This might for example apply to households with net worth above £5 million, paying a 2 per cent tax on their wealth, with those with assets over £250 million paying a 6 per cent tax. This would be more politically feasible than Piketty’s (2019) suggestion of a graduated 5 per cent annual tax on wealth over €2 million. Higher taxes, Piketty points out, did nothing to inhibit economic growth and thriving social mobility during the mid twentieth century. As we look to recover from the COVID-19 recession, economic history suggests we follow Germany’s example of progressive wealth taxes which helped to fuel the country’s inclusive growth after the Second World War (Landais, Saez and Zucman, 2020). In 2020, social distancing measures served only to widen wealth disparities because most high-income earners retained their incomes during the crisis, consuming less and saving more. Given the extreme concentration of wealth, a wealth tax is the most progressive fiscal tool available to put the country on a path of economic rejuvenation. Another intergenerational battleground is how to reform inheritance tax, the tax paid on money or property received from someone who has died. Initially designed as a levy on only the very wealthy, it has in the past acted as a social leveller. Inherited wealth is unearned and therefore unfair, it is argued (Hood and Joyce, 2017). It is also plagued by tax loopholes, with only 4 per cent of estates paying any inheritance. But the so-called ‘death tax’ has become increasingly unpopular, as soaring house prices see more families affected by the tax. MPs have proposed that the tax should be cut from 40 per cent to 10 per cent on estates. Others argue that it is not redistributive enough. Former Prime Minister Theresa May warned that the ‘divide between those who inherit wealth and those who don’t will become more pronounced’. Governments have raised thresholds so that married couples can leave up to £1 million to their descendants without paying tax. One option would be to remove tax-free allowances on family homes passed down to children and grandchildren before a parent’s death, and

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scrapping a rule that lets gifts made seven years before death go tax free. Another possibility would be to levy a lifetime gift tax not on the giver, but on the receiver, taxing this as income. Whatever the option, it is clear that inheritance tax requires reform, and that this could aid improved social mobility. Finally, the tax system needs to become more transparent to tackle avoidance and evasion. In the era of rising inequality governments have explicitly chosen to tolerate such practices, leading to lazy assumptions that they are impossible to tackle (Saez and Zucman, 2019). There has been greater scrutiny of offshore trusts, used by the wealthy to hold their money outside the UK to avoid income tax and to pass their wealth to heirs without inheritance tax. But these are still exploited by overseas nationals living in the UK with non-domiciled status. British overseas territories including the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands as well as Jersey remain some of the world’s tax havens enabling companies to avoid tax. Raising tax rates for the rich is often met with the retort that the wealthy will leave the country or engage in activities to ensure they do not pay their due tax. If the wealthy up sticks, that means less, not more, income for the government. But research suggests otherwise. And research suggests otherwise. Studies in the United States based upon 45 million tax records found the rich act as ‘embedded elites’ rather than ‘transitory millionaires’ (Young et al., 2016). Family and community ties are important to all of us, millionaires included.

Collective action Collectivism is also about collective action. In some ways, all of us contribute to the problem of low social mobility, even though we might rationalise it as being the fault of other ‘enemies’. But there is no reason why we could not act together to push for a fairer, more open and mobile society. People movements have transformed attitudes towards gay rights, the environment, and more latterly, challenged institutional racism; might the younger generations facing the era of declining opportunity one day take to the streets to campaign against the ills of low social mobility? We could act in a more socially responsible way: demanding that the businesses we use, and invest in, adopt the parity policies ensuring equal rights and pay, as well as fair access and promotion policies open

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to talents from all backgrounds. ‘Just as we’re now encouraged to keep the planet in mind when we go to the high street,’ Tom Clark has written in Prospect magazine, ‘perhaps we could give some thought to the job opportunities that open up (or shut down) when we shop, eat and employ as we do.’ Promoting social action requires meaningful government policies rewarding collaboration alongside competition if they are to constitute more than empty rhetoric. Tony Blair’s ‘Third Way’ sought to unlock potential within society beyond the state and the markets, while David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ promised a shift from ‘unchecked individualism to national unity’. But a review in 2015 found that the Big Society had failed to deliver against its original goals (Slocock et al., 2015). Efforts were undermined by an over-reliance on market-led policies for public services, leading to charities being treated as subcontractors. In reality, there was no third way. As we reassess the world of work in a post-COVID-19 world we need to consider the incentives for businesses to protect the interests of stakeholders as well as shareholders. The platform that the co-operativism movement offers is an alternative approach to technology businesses owned by powerful but unaccountable central funders. Jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprises would enable gig workers to become their own bosses. Collectivism might also mean private schools working in genuine, rather than cosmetic, partnerships with state schools to earn tax relief. Promoting partnerships between private and state schools is a treacherous topic to navigate, populated with any number of pitfalls. Politicians often end up upsetting both sides of the school divide: accused of class war on the one hand and patronisation on the other. But there have been mutually beneficial partnerships and the growth of online teaching may enable greater sharing of resources. Evaluations of impacts are desperately needed (Lucas et al., 2017). A key ingredient is collaborating as equal partners. A national social mobility service for university students and graduates to tutor disadvantaged children or for mentoring in the workplace meanwhile has genuine potential to level up the playing field. With the right training they could tutor disadvantaged pupils in basic maths and English in nearby schools. Help could be targeted for pupils at the end of primary school or during the first years of secondary school when they tend to fall behind. Undergraduates would benefit from the experience and be rewarded for it. Successful charities are already delivering programmes

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in different parts of the country, but this could become a national programme, with schemes available in every university, benefitting hundreds of thousands of children and young people across the country. One-to-one tuition is one of the most reliable ways we know of helping learners catch up if they are falling behind. Delivered well, it can lead to an extra five months’ learning gain for pupils during one academic year (Elliot Major and Higgins, 2019). Torgerson et al. (2018) found that children who received tutoring from university undergraduates for primary school maths made three months’ extra progress. Professional development, training and structured guidance for practitioners are essential. There is also evidence that tutoring can have significant positive impacts on progress as a supplement to state schooling (Dang and Halsey Rogers, 2008). More formal workplace mentoring programmes are also needed to help new employees from less privileged backgrounds navigate the alien world where rules of how to progress are not explicitly stated. In many elite occupations a culture of informal sponsorship exists that exacerbates divides in the workplace (Friedman and Laurison, 2019). As we have seen, senior staff, often operating outside of formal processes, fast-track the careers of junior staff who come from similar cultural backgrounds (and often the same schools). Organisations could offer rewards and promotion for those helping to mentor and champion others in the workplace. Programmes that are the most successful have a clear structure and expectations, and provide training and support for mentors. What is clear is that there is huge appetite among many to give back to the cause of social mobility. Groups of civil servants in many government departments have in their own spare time established social mobility networks to develop ways of diversifying recruitment, improving progression and promotion, and question some of the prevailing cultural norms that can alienate employees from non-traditional backgrounds. Other innovative programmes offer a room to stay in London as well as mentoring support. One initiative, PressPad, created through crowdfunding, matches existing journalists with aspirant new entrants providing rent-free accommodation during their internships in the media. ‘We want to reduce that financial barrier,’ the founder, BBC journalist Olivia Crellin, said. ‘You could have a million mentors in the world, but if you can’t afford to show up to work, you don’t have much of a chance.’ Last but not least, there are compelling reasons for paying more to those who do valuable public service jobs – nurses, teachers, social

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workers, carers, police officers, among many others. Widespread recognition for the essential jobs they do during the COVID-19 pandemic was long overdue. But many public sector workers are on low pay and poor conditions, earning less than train and tram drivers, rail repairers and waste disposal operatives (Elliot Major and Machin, 2018). Many childcare workers are paid the minimum wage, while carers are employed on zero-hours contracts, with few rights and little security. In England, there are moves to boost teachers’ starter salaries. But teacher salaries would need significant hikes to reach the pay levels enjoyed in Switzerland, the Netherlands or Germany. As Andrew Hargreaves (2020) has argued, a strong public sector can offer a career route for people that does not depend on networks, contacts and cronyism in order to succeed in life: ‘It is a place of mission and purpose – the very thing many young people now say they have been missing,’ he argues, ‘where upwardly mobile teachers, civil servants and health workers can give something back to the communities and societies that raised them.’

Decency Job parity policies We have discussed collective notions of work, but it cannot be overstated how many jobs lack the protection and social insurance that all decent work should offer. The decline of collective bargaining in the workplace, falling union membership, rapidly rising self-employment and the erosion of social insurance have all contributed to this over time. In this context, the minimum wage has been a shining beacon of success. It is arguably one of the UK’s greatest policy achievements since the turn of the Millennium. Introduced in 1999, it has become an established feature of the national economy, gaining support from all the main political parties. The minimum wage has made the UK’s labour market more equal. Since 1999, the main rate (expected to be over £9 per hour by 2020) rose by 127 per cent over two decades, far faster than growth in average earnings of about 75 per cent. The National Living Wage (NLW), the minimum wage rate for adults aged 25 and over, is equivalent to 60 per cent of the median wage, up from the level of 45 per cent when the initial minimum

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wage was set (at £3.60 per hour) in 1999. A strong reduction in wage inequality came about following the introduction of the minimum wage (Dickens and Manning, 2004), and without the damage to employment that many predicted (Low Pay Commission, 2020). However, this is in many ways the bright light of the past two decades. Other developments have been much less rosy. And fairness at work is about conditions as well as pay. Better minimum rights encompassing sick pay, holiday and pensions, bargaining, training and career progression need to be established. Only then can we guarantee decent jobs with the potential to make the country more productive again. We need to reassess the UK’s emerging industrial model in which lower level work is contracted out to temping agencies and other contractors. It has created a two-tier system between those pursuing seamless career progression and those stuck in jobs lacking security, progression or basic entitlements. For too many in the labour market, the test of fairness is being failed. Levelling up in the workplace is linked with higher social mobility. Analysis of the US income mobility map concluded that when it comes to long-range movement at least, factors like higher minimum wages, the presence of unions, and clear local career pathways are likely to play a bigger role than improving schools (Rothstein, 2019). A healthy and inclusive economy has to spread benefits to all, not just elite workers, shareholders and business owners. All employers should be required to adopt pay and benefit parity policies. These commit to providing the same wages and benefits to contractors as in-house workers – unless there is a good business rationale to do otherwise. Good practice is found in some elite employers. In 2002, prompted by student action, Harvard became the first academic institution in the United States to introduce a wage and benefit parity policy. Service workers on the payroll of an outside contractor earn the same pay and benefits they would get as direct university employees — including health insurance and pension benefits, paid vacation and childcare assistance. Some have warned of unintended consequences of job parity p ­ olicies – better jobs, because they cost more, may mean fewer jobs. Employers may struggle to stay competitive, or forced to take on better trained workers, displacing less educated ones. The same concerns were raised when the minimum wage was introduced in 1999. But it has coincided with no job loss – and extra tax revenues that higher wages bring about.

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Parity policies make economic sense as they relate to how organisations attract, retain and develop their biggest asset: the people they employ. The UK has long looked on enviously at the German model of partnership between company owners and employees. In Germany, renowned for its long-term economic growth, employee representatives get half of the seats on a company’s supervisory board while shareholders appoint the executive board. Employees give feedback on overall strategy, although the executives make final decisions. That seems light years away from the British obsession with quick profits and cheap and flexible labour. It makes for a divided, not democratic, workplace. More radical reform could involve giving employees seats on executive boards and scrapping the voting rights of major shareholders; but for some this would be a step too far, compromising the work of wealth-creating businesses.

Human capital tax credits and a lifelong learning levy We also need to incentivise investment in human as well as physical capital to address the litany of problems faced by the UK economy, including a chronic shortage of intermediate skills, stagnating productivity and falling real wages. Skills and knowledge of workers are just as important as physical assets in the production process. We need to follow the example of other countries who offer tax incentives for human capital investment – see LSE Growth Commission (2017) and Costa et al. (2018). A carefully designed human capital tax credit would cover the full distribution of firms and not be limited to types of training that can be classified as ‘apprenticeships’. The apprenticeship levy (and associated incentives) only cover large firms and even then only for a very specific type of human capital. Making investment in human capital work, and redressing the balance relative to incentives offered for investing in physical capital, have scope to create a more inclusive and productive economy. In a fast-changing workplace, uprooted by the rapid rise of robots, artificial intelligence and globalisation, those from poorer backgrounds are more likely to be cast adrift, as the lower rungs of the social ladder are blown away. This is not to say that new technologies are certain to put people out of work (OECD, 2019). The reality is probably far from it. As with previous waves of technological change, workers are likely to be reallocated to the newer forms of work that emerge with the new advances.

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It is important that systems are in place for affected individuals to retrain and upskill throughout their lives as they change careers. Apprenticeships, the learn-while-you-earn route, have enjoyed renewed attention since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in 2015, compelling companies to spend a proportion of their turnover on staff training. Yet the UK still has one of the lowest levels of on-the-job training for workers among developed nations, and the volume of training has been falling (Social Mobility Commission, 2019), especially employerprovided training. The apprenticeship levy should be recast as a lifelong learning levy to train and retrain people at all ages and stages of their career. This is partly about education justice: providing equal support for the half of the population pursuing a different path to the well-trodden ‘royal route’ of university education. But it also has the potential to improve the country’s flatlining productivity. As the former schools minister, Jim Knight, has said: ‘If the population is to be productive, if we are to be less dependent on migrant skills and if we are to avoid a contagion of disaffection spreading from the rust belt, we need an education system designed around a culture of lifelong learning.’ For a long time, a major weakness for the UK has been the education– work interface, and the opportunities for retraining throughout people’s careers (Hoeckel et al., 2009). We suffer a stark training gap. The poorest adults pay the biggest penalty; with the lowest qualifications they are the least likely to access training, despite being the group who would benefit most from it. Surveys suggest half of adults from the lowest socioeconomic groups have received no training since leaving school (Social Mobility Commission, 2019). Retraining will become even more important as people seek new jobs in the post COVID-19 world. The government should establish a ‘what works’ centre to assess the best training programmes. Several cost-effective approaches in the United States are ready to trial in the UK, some rehabilitating prisoners and equipping school leavers with basic skills and access to work placements.

Educational justice Education is often seen as social mobility’s single greatest hope. Yet there is little evidence that education systems consistently reduce achievement gaps between poorer pupils and their more privileged counterparts, let

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alone lift children into the upper rungs of the social ladder (Elliot Major and Machin, 2018). This is despite countless education reforms ushered in by successive governments over many decades. Moreover, the expansion of higher education has disproportionately favoured those from rich backgrounds (Elliot Major and Machin, 2018). This is in large part due to what happens outside the school gates over which teachers have little control. Parents view education in relative rather than in absolute terms (Bukodi and Goldthorpe, 2019). When attempts are made to equalise educational opportunities, parents in higher classes take defensive measures ensuring their own children retain their competitive edge. For this reason, egalitarian reforms have had very little effect in weakening the association between individuals’ class origins and destinations. The pattern observed is the ever-escalating educational arms race in which the poorest children are hopelessly ill-equipped to fight. Education shows its impact in a more equal environment. Reforms in Finland during the 1970s, which raised the age of academic streaming from 10 to 16 (while introducing a uniform curriculum), were associated with a 20 per cent increase in the country’s income mobility levels (Pekkarinen, Uusitalo and Pekkala, 2009). Reviewing social class mobility trends in the United States and a range of European countries, Breen and Müller (2020) conclude that more equal outcomes in education may have contributed to an increase in social fluidity. Meanwhile, Blanden, Gregg and Macmillan (2007) offer evidence that widening education inequalities coincided with the UK’s decline in relative income mobility for cohorts of people born in 1958 and 1970. Most studies estimate that the majority of the variance in pupil scores is explained by individual background factors and home environment as opposed to school factors. This is hardly surprising given that children spend most of their lives outside the classroom. But disentangling family and school influences in studies is extremely difficult (Hanushek, 2016). Middle-class families move to areas with high-performing schools which may attract better teachers. This is an indirect family effect rather than a direct school effect. This is why it is so hard to close achievement gaps between poorer children and their more privileged peers solely through education policy. The Education Policy Institute (2019) concluded there was no prospect of the gap being eliminated at secondary school. Other research estimated it would take just under 100 years to equalise university intakes (Elliot Major

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and Banerjee, 2019). Exceptional success stories of schools transforming outcomes for children in poorer areas have always been lauded, but, as with other areas of public policy, education faces a ‘scale-up crisis’, the failure to translate these into more systematic improvements (Czibor, Jimenez-Gomez and List, 2019). However, there are grounds for optimism: evidence indicates education could exert greater impact in improving academic achievement and other life outcomes. Studies documenting summer learning loss demonstrate the equalising effects of schools (Cooper et al., 1996). The effects of teachers are significant (Nye, Konstantopoulos and Hedges, 2004) and poorer pupils gain most from good teaching. An obvious target is to reduce the variation of teaching effectiveness within schools. Students taught by highly effective teachers enjoy long-term benefits: they are more likely to attend college and earn higher salaries (Chetty et  al., 2014a). Indeed, education’s ultimate legacy is intergenerational: enhancing the education levels of future parents. Parental education has been identified as the single strongest factor associated with children’s success in school.

A decent education for all Could we make our education system fairer? International comparisons point to two areas where the UK could do far better: preparing all school leavers with basic life skills, and offering a credible vocational option for pupils, closely linked with employers. In the UK, more pupils, around a quarter, leave school without basic literacy and numeracy than in most developed countries (Elliot-Major and Machin, 2018). The big questions at the heart of education – how we measure schools and what is best for our children – need to be asked again. We need to reframe the goal of education not solely as a quest to identify the best academic minds (important as this is), but as the enabler of all talents. It is time to consider a genuine dual vocational and academic approach in upper secondary education – one that will improve prospects for the future of work. The attributes of the world’s most effective career and technical education systems are well documented (Hoffman and Schwartz, 2015). They offer pupils academic and vocational options from age 14 alongside a solid foundation of core skills. In vocational streams students combine

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learning in school with hands-on learning in the workplace. Local businesses provide real-world work opportunities and develop in each industry sector common qualifications, assessments and curricula. Students earn while they learn and at the end of the apprenticeship they receive a nationally recognised and portable qualification. There are many opportunities to transfer between academic and vocational streams. In Switzerland, and in Germany, Austria, Denmark and Norway, between 30 and 70 per cent of upper secondary school students participate in vocational streams. In the UK, concerns that a two-tier system would see academic streams become the preserve of middle-class pupils have drifted into the flawed assumption that all children should be entered into an academic race that only some can win. Australia, on the other hand, developed new forms of vocational education and training in the 1990s to boost the performance of young people disengaged from a largely academic curriculum. Now 60 per cent of upper secondary students are enrolled in vocational streams, with about 40 per cent undertaking an apprenticeship as part of a senior secondary certificate. Under a dual approach, all pupils would be assessed against a basic threshold of key skills required to get on in life, including functional maths and English. Maths and English language GCSEs could each be split into two separate qualifications: a compulsory test examining basic numeracy and literacy skills; and a separate exam for pupils pursuing more academic study. A dual approach would also help address some of the inherent flaws of the current examinations system. National tests at age 16 are effectively ‘norm-referenced’, meaning that a third of children have to fail in English and maths (and other subjects). The current system in England guarantees that one in three pupils will not meet the ‘standard pass’ (a grade 4 out of 9), irrespective of how hard they have worked and the raw scores they have achieved. Most are forced to do re-sits – with just under seven in ten pupils doomed to failure again. Failing to get standard passes in GCSEs at age 16 incurs a big penalty – even by a single mark below the pass threshold – in working life (Machin, McNally and Ruiz-Valenzuela, 2020). Many employers treat a grade 4 in English and maths as the minimum needed to get a job. The COVID-19 crisis offers an opportunity to review how we test children. For hundreds of thousands of pupils the lasting memory of school is being forced to sit an exam they are destined to fail.

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Levelling up Could we also do more to divert resources to help pupils throughout their lives? Over the 2000s, spending on education in England shifted to become ‘pro-poor’ with children from disadvantaged backgrounds receiving more funds than those from better-off homes (Belfield, Farquharson and Sibieta, 2018). Charging university tuition fees has helped, removing an effective state subsidy for middle-class students. However, the big losers have been further education colleges educating 16–18 year olds, often serving the most disadvantaged. Funding per pupil still lags behind that for secondary schools. We need to ensure that all 16–18 year olds are supported equally, irrespective of the education or training route they choose. The same can be said for spending on pre-5 year olds. The advantage of quality pre-school investments is they reduce the need for costly catch-up programmes later in children’s lives.5 Evidence of the impact of early years education suggests the gains that have been found relate to reduced crime rates later in life, rather than improved school results (Heckman, Pinto and Savelyev, 2013). But gains from early initiatives can fade without further support as children age. An equitable education system is one that acts to equalise support at every stage of the lifecourse.

Community – Restoring local opportunities The price of educational justice How much does it really cost to give a child a good start in life, wherever they live? An important test case is the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) in New York, a wraparound community initiative attempting to provide support inside and outside the school gates. What is distinctive about the HCZ is that the outcomes it produces for children are being scrutinised through robust evaluation. We all get to learn the lessons. The Zone’s cradle-to-career services help more than 8,000 children and 6,000 adults across 100 blocks in Harlem, New York (Tough, 2009). They range from legal advice, medical services and substance abuse treatment to parenting programmes and job training. Hundreds of children also attend two Promise Academies, schools that offer among other things a longer school day and a culture of high expectations. Pupils receive free meals as well as medical, dental and mental health services. The driving

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idea behind the HCZ is that the worlds outside and inside schools are deeply intertwined, echoing the evidence from the US social mobility map. It offers a middle way between the community-focused and school-­ centred approaches that so often split social reformers. It is also a long-term generational effort, first set up in 1994. Its founder, Geoffrey Canada, aimed to create the ‘ever-present helping hands’ that from the very first days of life stimulate and support middle-class children so they can succeed in life. Some argue the Zone’s development can be traced back to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s ‘War on Poverty’ in the 1960s combining social welfare and education efforts. So far, the results have been promising. The maths achievement gap between some black children attending the academies and the average for white students in New York disappeared (Dobbie and Fryer, 2011).6 These are impressive results in any education context. The study did not detect any extra benefits for children who did not attend the academies, but were helped by community services. This could mean that the wraparound services offered directly through the schools – free meals, medical, dental and mental health services – are the ones making the difference for children. Moreover, the benefits from community support may be longer term and wider in nature than just school results. However, this comes at a high cost. The Dobbie and Fryer study estimated that to cover the expenses of running the Promise Academies and the afterschool and wraparound programmes, the HCZ spent just under $20,000 per pupil each year, equivalent to around £15,000. That was significantly higher than the average per-pupil funding in New York state. Students requiring catch-up in the academies are in school for twice as many hours as are traditional public school students in the United States, according to one estimate. The schools also record high teacher turnover.

Place-based approaches Place-based approaches, at least at first glance, seem an ideal response to address the multi-faceted challenge of social mobility at the neighbourhood level, rather than specific programmes targeted at individuals. The evidence shows we must act inside and outside schools. Place-based approaches aim to empower communities to address their particular set of issues for themselves.

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Care is needed, however, since many initiatives have had limited impact. Blackpool is 1 of 12 Opportunity Areas receiving extra place-based support across England.7 These are light-touch efforts to forge local partnerships between schools and others to lift young people’s aspirations. These efforts resemble the Promise Neighborhoods in US cities launched in 2010 by the Obama administration, but with budgets well below the HCZ levels in New York. What is clear is that each Opportunity Area or Promise Neighborhood faces its own unique set of challenges. Replicating one single model for all places does not work. And there is always the challenge of sustaining efforts over the long term: most programmes have seen funding cut after three to five years – hardly the timescale for generational change. The Excellence in Cities programme, launched by the New Labour government in 1999, is a good example. The programme had mixed results in raising standards in inner cities (Machin, McNally and Meghir, 2004). Many believe that the ‘London Challenge’ school improvement reforms contributed to the improvement of London’s schools in the early 2000s. But, combining several programmes, it was hard to establish causality. Similar programmes in the Black Country in the West Midlands and Greater Manchester failed to produce the same impact. The evidence suggests that these well-intentioned interventions fall far short of what is required. Could the UK instead create its own children’s zones? The model will already resonate with many schools across the country. They are already becoming as much centres of social welfare as sites of learning. Schools are doing ever more to enable children to be better prepared for learning – providing free breakfasts, offering sleep education and ensuring they get glasses for poor eyesight, to take a few examples (Elliot Major and Higgins, 2019). The boundary between what counts as educational and social inequality is blurring. Effective teaching in the classroom is critical. It is no coincidence that the success in Harlem has also been put down to increased instructional time. Meta-analyses summarising studies conclude that teachers – and their classroom teaching – are the most important factor within schools impacting on children’s progress (Higgins et  al., 2016). The most effective teachers succeed with all of the pupils in their class (Kyriakides et al., 2019). In many countries, from France to Japan, teachers are compelled to work in poor areas as part of their professional development.

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Children’s zones, more intensive approaches combining community and education efforts, may be our best chance of levelling up opportunities in different areas of the country, concluded one review (Dyson, Kerr and Wellings, 2013). The authors argued that replicating the Harlem approach had potential to achieve greater impacts than more limited school-led approaches to extend education. We need to evaluate the impact of zones that have started to emerge in the UK. In Scotland, the Children’s Neighbourhoods programme, launched in 2018 in Glasgow’s East End, brings together not just schools, but local resources and businesses. The West London Zone deploys link workers with participating schools, matching selected children with services provided by 24 local organisations, including one-to-one tutoring, confidence building, counselling and sporting activities. The Reach Children’s Hub meanwhile has been launched to offer wraparound services for children in Feltham in West London. The question is whether we are paying charities and schools enough. To put the HCZ costs into perspective, in England a pupil at secondary school receives around £6,000 for their education, with an extra £1,000 uplift if they are from a disadvantaged home. This is roughly half the budget that children receive in Harlem. Could that be enough to turn around children in a place like Blackpool suffering from a multiplicity of profound problems – poverty, violence, abuse, poor housing and health – driven by generations of decline? There is a strong argument for introducing a regional weighting to the national pupil premium money for disadvantaged pupils – ­providing significantly more money to turn around areas of multigenerational poverty. Children experience deeper disadvantage in some areas compared with others. A child on free school meals in Bradford, Doncaster, Stoke-on-Trent on average performs far worse in school than an equivalent pupil in London.

Economic regeneration Analysis of the spatial variation in income mobility across the United States concluded that factors like higher minimum wages, the presence of unions, and clear career pathways within local industries are likely to play a more important role than improving schools and skills (Rothstein, 2019). Social capital indices, indicated by the strength of social networks

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and community involvement, were also significant. High upward mobility zones were populated with people more likely to participate in local civic organisations. These findings chime with those on the US social capital divide documented by Putnam (2000). This suggests we should redouble efforts to relocate many of our major employers outside London, including both private and public sector organisations. Many of today’s opportunity areas were once economic powerhouses and strong working communities. Coastal towns, former industrial centres and many rural constituencies scattered across the country are still recovering from the loss of manufacturing and tourism industries that offered local occupations, job progression and decent pay. In the United States, tax incentives have been introduced in an attempt to lure businesses into poorer regions, although the effectiveness of such programmes is disputed. We might also look to Japan where genuine contributions to local communities are seen as a vital part of a business, rather than a tokenistic add-on to satisfy a corporate social responsibility policy. Many Japanese companies will seek to address regional unemployment and procure goods and services within the region as far as possible. Company creeds allude to principles of ‘fairness, innovation and harmony’. Employees are expected to play their part. Traditional policies around the world to improve productivity and economic growth meanwhile include boosting research and development and technological innovation. Some question whether these strategies still work in the early twenty-first century as they did before. But tackling the regional imbalances in research funding will still be a key strand of regeneration across the country. This should be part of the government’s aim to increase research and development investment to 2.4 per cent of GDP. The role of universities is critical, but they cannot act alone. One of the lessons of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) success story is that collaboration matters. The growth of the economy in Greater Boston was due to a critical mass of players, MIT, other outward-facing, multi-disciplinary collaborative universities, entrepreneurs, corporates and local government all working together in one geographical place. An ‘MIT for the North’ is quite possible if it brings together different players: investment should certainly be directed outside of the golden triangle of London, Oxford and Cambridge.

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Access Merit wars A key battleground of social mobility is how we define merit. And once again it relates to the recurring question of whether we have reached the right balance between protecting the freedoms of families to pursue opportunities and the need to promote the prospects of the most disadvantaged in society. The last 50 years have seen the emergence of a powerful ‘meritocratic elite’, as predicted by Michael Young in his 1958 book The Rise of the Meritocracy. This elite is more powerful than previous elites as it can legitimise its position by controlling how we judge talent. Our education system is a case in point: it is dominated by end-ofyear academic tests that are eminently game-able by wealthy families. An A grade at A-level may on the surface look like an objective measure of someone’s worth in university admissions. But, very often, it signals how much help someone has received in preparing for the exam. It is at best a noisy measure of academic potential. As we have seen, private tutoring outside normal schooling hours has boomed over the last two decades. Evidence from the national cohort studies reveals that children from wealthier backgrounds with the same cognitive ability as poorer children (measured by IQ tests) obtain higher grades in school tests such as A-levels (Galindo-Rueda and Vignoles, 2005). Studies have found that privately educated students graduate on average with lower degree classes than their state counterparts with similar A-levels (Hefce, 2015). One explanation is that state school candidates have achieved lower A-level grades than they would otherwise have achieved with more support, and are able to fulfil their potential as undergraduates. In the United States, elites have been equally adept in the self-­ preservation game, but have opted for other ways of ranking talent. In the book The Chosen, Karabel (2005) charted the evolving definitions of merit during the twentieth century at Harvard, Yale and Princeton. The Ivy League colleges limited numbers of Jewish and Asian entrants by assessing ‘character’ alongside academic performance in their admissions. Merit has always been a malleable concept, meaning many things through the ages from manliness and aggression in ancient Sparta to athleticism, life experience, intelligence in modern times (Mijs, 2016). As the stakes get ever higher, some can convince themselves that they are acting in the best interests of their children. In 2019, US investigators

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uncovered widespread cheating in elite university admissions. ‘In my desperation to be a good mother I talked myself into believing that all I was doing was giving my daughter a fair shot’, Felicity Huffman pleaded with her prosecutors, after admitting paying thousands of dollars to inflate illegally her daughter’s university entrance test score. The Desperate Housewives actress completed a 14-day prison sentence, as the shockwaves from the affair reverberated across the United States. As we have seen, circumventing the rules is not confined to California’s rich and famous: many parents in the UK admit to some form of cheating in school admissions. The myth of meritocracy has not even helped the winners of this rigged race according to some observers. The wealthy elite lead stressful lives as they invest evermore time and money to secure the best universities and top jobs for their sons and daughters (Markovits, 2019). Young may have predicted a revolt that would overthrow our meritocratic rulers, but Markovits’ hope is that our suffering elites will be convinced to share their wealth to make society more equitable. The current situation, where elites are pulling ever further away from a populace finding it harder to make ends meet, appears unsustainable.

University admissions Elite university admissions are a clear crunch point. Universities have for some time taken into account the individual context of prospective students when assessing their potential for academic study. But up to now the practice has been far from systematic. Universities reduce grade offers for disadvantaged students by, on average, half an A-level grade – little different from the average reduced offers made to other students (Boliver et al., 2017). In 2019, the Office for Students (OfS) unveiled the most ambitious access targets ever set in England, matching equally ambitious goals in Scotland. The OfS said it wanted to equalise the rates of participation of young people living in the least and most advantaged areas of the country within one generation – by 2037–8 (Office for Students, 2018). This aim applied to all universities and colleges, including the most selective universities with the highest A-level entry requirements.8 The University of Oxford was one of the first elite universities to announce a sea change in admissions. It declared that 50 students who had suffered severe disruption in their lives would be enrolled with A-level

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grades as low as three Bs on an initial foundation year before starting their degrees. Another 200 state school students would receive extra support during the application process. Oxford’s aim was to enrol a quarter of undergraduate home students from poorer backgrounds within four years.9 Vice-Chancellor Louise Richardson said it was essential that ‘every academically exceptional student in the country knows that they have a fair chance of a place at Oxford’. The case of Oxford highlighted the brutal logic of the new zerosum admissions game: with the same numbers of students enrolled at the university, more disadvantaged students would mean fewer places for advantaged students. Anthony Wallersteiner, head of Stowe School, said parents at his fee-paying school were worried that Oxford and Cambridge were engaged in ‘social engineering’ to reduce numbers of privately educated students. The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), which represents elite private schools, warned that the OfS access targets could ‘discriminate against young people based on the class they were born into’. Once again, a contested question over fairness lay at the heart of a key social mobility debate.

Random justice Bombarded by thousands of prospective candidates, the most soughtafter university courses have resorted to hyper selectivity – evermore refined, but increasingly unreliable, ways of selecting the very best students. The battery of admissions criteria designed to distinguish between equally well-qualified applicants grows each year: personal statements, teacher recommendations, school exam grades, university admissions tests, interviews and much more. An alternative (and less costly) approach would be to assess students against a specific academic threshold to gauge whether they have the potential and achievement to study on a degree course. This is the ‘good enough’ approach. Then other criteria could be used to select students: assessing their social backgrounds and shaping the class as is routinely done in the United States, or by other means. The fairest way to allocate places to equally deserving candidates in oversubscribed universities is a very simple one: select them randomly. This would mean picking students as long as they have achieved an agreed threshold of A-level grades. Universities could develop a ballot system that

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suited their needs. Dutch medical schools, for example, select the very highest academic performers on academic grades, and then enter lower achievers into a lottery (Lucieer et al., 2016). Losers could be compensated – for example, they could be guaranteed a place at another university. Lottery schemes have been deployed in several countries to ease oversubscription in universities and schools (Stasz and Van Stolk, 2007). In the United States and New Zealand, ballots for school admissions have been a key element of school choice, charter school or voucher programmes. In Sweden and New Zealand, lotteries were part of reforms aiming to increase competition between schools and raising the standard of overall schooling. In the United States, charter schools routinely use a lottery system to select pupils when they have more applicants than places available. A typical charter school lottery is blind, ensuring that every student who signs up has an equal chance of getting in. But many schools also give extra weighting to returning students, students with siblings attending the school, and disadvantaged students. While in the UK lotteries remain a contentious idea, in the United States they are seen as self-evidently fair and practical, indeed a non-issue (Boyle, 2010). Those who argue against the use of lotteries in education claim they are unfair. But many children’s life prospects are damaged precisely because of the lottery of where they happen to be born. Lotteries are by definition the purest vehicle for ensuring equity and justice. Another option would be to create a British ‘Per cent’ scheme following the model trialled by universities in Texas and California. This would guarantee a university place to say the top 10 per cent of academic performing pupils in each state school in a local region or across the country – irrespective of the actual grades they achieved. Evaluations of the Texas Percent scheme so far have produced a mixed picture: student diversity has improved in the most selective university at Austin, but poorer students still tend to enrol at less selective universities, and in the least popular subjects (Flores and Horn, 2015). Black, Denning and Rothstein (2020) studied student outcomes and found that pupils from schools benefitting from higher enrolment rates at Austin earn more after graduating, while those dislodged from other schools see no declines in graduation or earnings. Rising population levels in Texas have meant that only the top 7 per cent of pupils in each school are now automatically enrolled, and this proportion is likely to drop further in the future.

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School lotteries Increasing numbers of schools in the UK are deploying ballots, alongside other admissions criteria, recognising this is the fairest way to allocate places when they are oversubscribed. It means giving equal chance to all children living in a catchment area, rather than selecting ones living nearest to the school. Pupils are guaranteed a place at one of their local schools. When explained clearly there is strong support for the idea among the general public (Stasz and Van Stolk, 2007). One suggestion might be to allocate half of places at a school to the children living close by and use a ballot for the remaining half. The experience in Brighton and Hove, which introduced a lottery scheme for community schools in 2007, shows that it has to be carefully designed alongside other admissions criteria (Allen, Burgess and Mckenna, 2013). The system has stopped the relentless rise of house prices near sought-after schools. But Brighton and Hove linked the balloting system to six catchment areas, each including one or two schools, to keep a link between schools and their local neighbourhoods. The catchments have remained a bone of contention for many parents when their children fail to get their first local preferences, forcing them to travel further to get to school. ‘There probably is less social selection than before the lottery,’ a local primary school parent, Nick Imrie, told the Guardian newspaper in 2017. ‘But Brighton being Brighton, there are still people who want social justice but not at the cost of their child not being able to go to their local school. So local schools still reflect house prices.’ Opportunity hoarding still persists. Lotteries could also be used for selection into grammar schools (where they exist). Despite a paucity of robust evidence, Ministers have at various times called for an expansion of selective schools, arguing that they were once engines of social mobility for the minority of children who gained places. A quarter to a third of the country’s leading people are former grammar school boys and girls (Sutton Trust, 2016). But whatever their impact was in the past, any expansion of selective schools would now benefit mostly middle-class students. Only 2 per cent of grammar school pupils are eligible for free school meals compared with 15 per cent in surrounding areas. Less than 3 per cent of entrants to ‘super-selective’ schools are entitled to free school meals (Gorard and Siddiqui, 2018). Instead of trying to identify evermore intricate ways of distinguishing between candidates, the schools could agree a threshold of academic

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excellence that is good enough for entry. Those that pass the grade would then be randomly picked. Grammars might then help rather than hinder social mobility.

Private schools Questions over what is fair in British society are never more contentious than those relating to private schools. As we have documented, they have been consistently successful in producing leading people across all walks of life for successive generations. At the same time, they are only accessible to a small minority of families able to afford the fees required to get in. The ‘education apartheid’ that divides the UK’s schools does not exist in similar countries like Canada and Australia. It proves hard not to avoid the conclusion that fee-paying schools are a major contributor to the UK’s low social mobility. In their book Engines of Privilege, David Kynaston and Francis Green (2019) argue that: ‘In Britain, private schools – including their fundamental unfairness – remain the elephant in the room.’ The only way to democratise selection at leading independent schools, according to education philanthropist and founder of the Sutton Trust, Sir Peter Lampl, is to charge means-tested fees, adopting a principle embraced by Ivy League colleges (Sutton Trust, 2012).10 Lampl argues that the Open Access scheme would enable children from all backgrounds to benefit from the teachers and facilities of 100–200 leading independent day schools. A trial at the Belvedere Girls School near Liverpool found improved results, and at lower cost per pupil than if they attended state schools (for the girls who needed help with fees) (Sutton Trust, 2014). The evaluation showed that unfulfilled talent is out there, waiting to be nurtured. ‘You are not increasing selection as those [independent] schools are already selective, you are just democratising selection,’ Sir Peter told MPs in 2003: At present well-off people have the opportunity to opt out of the state sector into what are by and large academically the best schools in the country…when I was at school you could go to the best academic school in this country for free and that is the way it should be.

Yet paying for a fully blown Open Access scheme is a difficult sell to ministers on both sides of the political divide. Labour politicians are opposed

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to more academic selection, while Conservative politicians are nervous of diverting state funding to the private sector, particularly when budgets are tight. A more palatable approach in the UK for politicians may be to demand that private schools form genuine and accountable partnerships with state schools or relinquish the charitable status they enjoy that saves them £100 millions in tax breaks each year.

Elite professions Fair access to the professions has become a growing debate amid concerns that elite employers are increasingly closed off to individuals from non-privileged backgrounds (Cabinet Office, 2012). The debate echoes that over university access – centring around the question of how to define merit and recruit talent from further afield. While some argue for increasing use of contextual background information on candidates, others advocate less data to level the playing field. There have been calls to ban unpaid internships – used by some employers as a screening device to observe talent close up at no cost (Sutton Trust, 2018b). These have proliferated across a range of industries, from journalism and politics to fashion and the arts. Less research has been carried out on the barriers created by expensive university postgraduate courses which have become the gateways to many professions. Many British businesses now use some form of blind recruitment practice, whether that is removing names, grades, schools or universities on the CVs or anonymising applications, or getting third parties to conduct interviews. The hope is that recruiters make more objective, less socially biased decisions on potential candidates. Companies can instead use a few questions designed to reveal transferable skills. Critics of this approach point to the lack of evidence of its efficacy, and the loss of personal information that can help recruiters spot working-class individuals who for example have excelled in education despite their background. At the other extreme, there are calls for more background data on entrants and employees. According to government guidelines, data should be collected in four areas; parental occupation, type of schooling, free school meal eligibility and parental experience of higher education. Many creative and cultural employers have attempted to measure skills such as team playing, rather than focusing on academic achievement – which can reflect background as much as ability.

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Here again the use of lotteries – alongside a ‘being good enough’ threshold – could offer a mid-way approach for employers. Publishers like Penguin Random House already use a random selection process to offer work experience, stating: ‘we’re firm believers that everyone should have an equal opportunity to do work experience with us’. As with universities, defining what thresholds applicants are required to meet is key. Inundated with applications, many employers still resort to crude benchmarks, for example having a good degree from one of the country’s highly selective Russell Group universities. A report reviewing the lack of socioeconomic diversity in the Civil Service Fast Stream produced a host of practical suggestions for better identifying talent (Bridge Group, 2016). These included reviewing the definition of talent, shortening the recruitment process, introducing more regional assessment centres, considering gamification techniques, video assessment and realistic acted scenarios, as well as reviewing the diversity of assessors. What is clear is that improving social mobility has become core business rationale. There is increasing appetite among major employers to demonstrate they are recruiting talent from all backgrounds. Corporate giants rub shoulders with Whitehall departments in the Social Mobility Employer Index assessing how they perform across seven areas, including outreach, recruitment, selection and progression (The Social Mobility Foundation, 2018). Over 500 organisations have signed up to a ‘Social Mobility Pledge’. The UK Social Mobility Awards have been established to celebrate good practice. Top law firms and investment banks recruit from more diverse backgrounds to better reflect the customers they work with. Many believe that social class background should become a protected characteristic alongside gender and ethnicity, monitored in the workplace from new recruits to senior board rooms.

Notes  1.  By the end of that year all the Commissioners had resigned. On stepping down, Paul Gregg, professor of economic and social policy at the University of Bath, said there had been ‘few lights in the darkness of policy neglect’.  2.  Thatcher’s argument was that the ‘tapestry’ of men and women should take responsibility for themselves to improve their lives (rather than depend on the state) and help those who are unfortunate.

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 3.  Emmanuel Macron’s abandonment of France’s solidarity tax on wealth in 2018 prompted widespread anti-government protests.  4.  This was brought in to replace Margaret Thatcher’s hated poll tax and is used to finance local government.  5.  Heckman’s research presents estimates that every dollar invested in quality early childhood development for disadvantaged children produces a 7 per cent to 10 per cent return, per child, per year – due to reduced costs in the later life.  6.  Dobbie and Fryer provide a set of causal estimates of the effect, using the fact that students are enrolled at the schools via a lottery. Students living outside the Zone garnered the same benefit from attending the academy as the students inside the Zone; siblings of academy students, who have access to the same community programmes, showed no detectable gains in achievement.  7.  Opportunity areas are based in Blackpool, Derby, north Yorkshire coast, ­Norwich, Oldham, west Somerset, Bradford, Doncaster, Fenland and east Cambridgeshire, Hastings, Ipswich and Stoke-on-Trent.  8.  ‘High-tariff’ universities are higher education institutions which admit young students with the highest A-level (and other Level 3 qualifications). They represent the top third of institutions in England when ranked by this measure.  9.  At present about 15 per cent of Oxford’s undergraduate students are from deprived areas – based on their own definitions. 10.  Peter Lampl, the son of Viennese immigrants who escaped the Nazis in the Second World War, founded the Sutton Trust charity that has helped tens of thousands of state school students to access the world’s most prestigious universities in the UK and the United States.

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5 conclusion There are encouraging signs that a new approach to the winner-takesall society might emerge from the horrors of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Economic downturns are bad news for social mobility: they leave deep scars disproportionately hurting the economic and education prospects of the most vulnerable in society. Widening inequalities in the workplace and the classroom are a toxic mix because they create even deeper societal divides for future generations. Yet a shared external threat can lead to greater unity and collectivism in society. In the early weeks of the 2020 crisis, the Conservative Chancellor Rishi Sunak thanked trade unions for helping to devise an unprecedented package of government measures to protect people’s jobs. ‘We want to look back at this time and remember how we thought first of others and acted with decency,’ he declared. ‘In the face of a generationdefining moment, we undertook a collective national effort – and we stood together.’ The sentiments captured the zeitgeist of the nation. There was a widespread recognition of the crucial roles played by key public sector workers, while people volunteered in their millions to help others in their local communities and through the NHS. These social movements captured a collective spirit, particularly among the younger generation. The crisis shone a harsh light on society’s inequalities. Could a more balanced society emerge from the post-pandemic era, with greater emphasis on local community and national collectivism,

what do we know … about social mobility?

on decent work and less dependency on global markets and hyper-­ individualism? Seaside towns may see a renaissance as families choose to holiday on the homeland. Future governments could promote more regional manufacturing industries alongside high-tech sectors to create local jobs and a self-sufficient economy less reliant on the global industrial model that can be so divisive. A tax on the wealthy meanwhile may be needed to help the country recover. The COVID-19 crisis, after all, enabled many middle-class earners to accumulate greater wealth as, unable to spend, they accrued savings. In truth, we were already heading towards a reckoning. Young people growing up today were facing declining absolute mobility, meaning falling real wages, fewer opportunities and the growing spectre of downward mobility. The dream of just doing better, let alone climbing the social ladder, was dying. The UK had become a fragmented country, defined by economic, geographical and political divides. Efforts to close school achievement gaps have been stalling. And where you are born in the UK matters. Education cold spots litter the country from coastal towns to former industrial centres, inner city areas and rural constituencies, brutalised by ineffective education and deprivation over successive generations. The fissuring of the workplace has created a two-tier system: the royal route of seamless career progression, with perks and higher pay; and poorly paid dead-end jobs lacking basic rights or entitlements. Real wages and incomes have stagnated and fallen for many. Increasingly, prospects will be linked not just to the status of parents but to grandparents. Improving social mobility is much more than catapulting a few deserving individuals into the elites – it is about creating decent lives for all, ensuring that everyone can realise their potential whatever they choose to pursue. Social justice and social mobility are two sides of the same coin. One cannot be pursued without the other. We need the rungs of the social ladder to be closer together and the ladder to be less steep. The policy areas we advocate can pave the way for both greater equality and mobility. We must ask: what constitutes a level playing field? We need to find common ground in an increasingly polarised society. Most agree that some inequality is needed to encourage and reward people doing the jobs that can potentially benefit us all. But, as the COVID-19 crisis highlighted, we need to give greater status to key public sector workers. It is in all our interests that we promote the opportunities of the least advantaged in society. For too many, the fairness test is being failed.

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The evidence suggests we need a more systematic, longer term ­ erspective – developing policies to improve outcomes for current and p future generations at the same time. From an intergenerational perspective, the argument for a wealth tax is compelling. Those who make lots of money should pay a proportion back so future generations stand a good chance of also making a success of themselves. A wealth tax would apply to expensive properties, second homes, financial investments and tax-avoiding corporates. The current system is highly regressive. Tax revenues could be used to boost prospects for the poor. There is no reason why we should not pursue collective action to push for the reforms that would make for a fairer society. There is appetite to give back through a national tutoring and mentoring programme. We can demand that the businesses we use and invest in treat all employees fairly. They should be required to adopt pay and benefit parity policies providing the same wages and benefits to contractors as in-house workers. A healthy and inclusive economy has to spread benefits to all, not just elite workers, shareholders and business owners. For too many children meanwhile, the academic approach in education is not working. We need to establish with employers a dual approach to upper secondary schools, with a credible vocational stream alongside current academic routes. Children should be assessed against a basic threshold of key skills required to get on in life in a school leaving certificate. We need to reframe the goal of education not solely as a quest to identify the best academic minds (important as this is), but as the enabler of all talents. This would be a fairer system for all. We also need to restore our local communities. People want decent jobs, and rewarding lives, where they live. The evidence suggests trialling adequately funded place-based approaches that combine community and education efforts. That may mean acknowledging that schools are hubs of social welfare as much as centres of learning. A mix of factors is required: connected and integrated communities; good local schools with good teachers; affordable housing; and proximity to decent jobs. It is no longer a case of the North versus the South. It has become London (and parts of the South-East) versus the rest. The escalating costs of the global metropolis are making it increasingly inaccessible to all but the privileged few. We should redouble efforts to relocate major employers outside London to create opportunities elsewhere.

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Admissions to schools and universities and employers meanwhile are tilted in countless ways to the already advantaged. The notion of merit has become corrupted. The fairest way to allocate places to equally deserving candidates is to pick them randomly. In schools, this means giving equal chance to children living in a catchment area, or meeting other admissions criteria. In universities, it means picking students as long as they have achieved a basic threshold of academic grades. A roll of the dice would level up life’s lottery. The triple whammy of the global financial crisis, Brexit and COVID-19 has not been good for current and future social mobility. COVID-19 looks set to increase the toxic mix of rising economic and education inequality. Unless we tackle these inequalities, we face a dark age of declining opportunity. We need to act. There is an opportunity to establish a new course to create a more collective, community-based society, a fairer education system and a more productive economy, providing decent jobs and lives for people wherever they are born. Addressing today’s income and education inequalities is the greatest legacy that can be given in the hope of improving the lives and mobility prospects of future generations.

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index

absolute mobility 3, 5, 7–9, 13, 14–15, 16, 17, 21–4, 30–1, 60, 63, 65–6, 94 American Dream 19, 34, 46, 61, 63–4 basic skills 28, 62, 77, 78, 95 Brexit 22, 23, 96 cohort studies 6, 84 collectivism 61, 63–72, 93, 95 community 62, 79–83, 93, 95 COVID-19 crisis 1–2, 14, 23–4, 33, 36–7, 46, 60–1, 64–5, 67, 72, 78, 93–4, 96 decency 61–2, 72–3, 93 downward mobility 21, 31, 33, 37, 45, 94 economic growth 14, 32, 62, 65–6, 68, 83 education 5, 9, 15, 16, 19–21, 27–8, 46, 60–1, 75–80, 81–2, 84, 95 educational arms race 28, 37–9, 76 elites 3, 16, 37, 39, 48, 49–50, 84–5 employers 35, 41, 73, 90–2 equality of opportunity 1, 2, 57–8, 65 fairness 55–63, 73, 86, 94 fissuring (of the workplace) 34–7, 94

intergenerational persistence 2–3, 6–10, 25, 28, 41, 49–52, 57 labour market 4, 34–7, 46, 48, 62–3, 72–4 level playing field 61, 63, 70–1, 90, 94 merit 21, 41, 84–5, 96 minimum wage 19, 72–3 multigenerational mobility 4, 48–52 opportunity hoarders 31, 37–42, 88 private schools 9, 15, 16, 17, 28, 39, 41, 60, 70, 86, 89–90 professions 39–41, 42, 90–1 relative mobility 3, 5, 7–9, 15–16, 16–17, 21, 31, 57, 63, 76 room at the top 15, 31, 34 social class 3–4, 5–6, 15–16, 19, 30–1, 33, 41, 42, 50, 52, 58–9, 76, 91 social justice 3, 23, 58–61, 94 social mobility measures 3–5, 7, 8 social mobility research 5–6 tutoring 38–9, 70–1, 84

gig economy 35, 59–60 global financial crisis 17, 21, 22, 23, 31, 96 golden age 13, 14–16 Great Gatsby curve 29–30, 59, 65

university admissions 15, 60, 85–7, 96 upward mobility 5, 6, 15, 34, 41–2, 44 vocational education 28, 29, 77–8, 95

income inequality 27, 29–30, 45–6, 59, 65 inequality 13, 14, 17, 18–21, 52, 58, 65–6, 94, 96 intergenerational mobility 4–5, 17, 21–2, 26, 33–4, 49, 65–6

wage inequality 17, 18, 19, 35, 36, 73 wealth 9, 30, 52, 66–8, 94, 95 zero-sum game 60, 62, 86