Social class mobility in modern Britain: changing structure, constant process

by John H Goldthorpe

18 Jul 2016
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Full text posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 4, pp. 89-111.

Abstract: The class structure provides an important context for the study of social mobility. The evolution of the class structure is the all-important factor determining individuals’ changing experience of mobility, as expressed in absolute rates. The total mobility rate shows long-term stability; but, because of structural change, trends of rising upward and falling downward mobility in the mid-20th century are now being reversed. Relative mobility rates, comparing the chances of individuals of different class origins arriving at different class destinations, also show long-term stability. All this is evident over a period of more or less continuous educational expansion and reform—thus calling into question the belief that educational policy is key to promoting mobility. Education is best considered as a ‘positional’ good; and the motivation, and capacity, of parents in more advantaged class positions to help their children maintain their competitive edge in the educational system, and in turn in labour markets, underlies the resistance to change that the mobility regime displays.

Keywords: social mobility, class structure, education, cohort studies.

Lecture in Sociology, read 15 March 2016 (audio recording with presentation slides)

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