This week brings more bad news for Millennials (pax Ruairi) with the finding that young people’s prospects are worse than their parents.
The source of this news was John Goldthorpe, the eminent sociologist, who gave a lecture at the British Academy on March 15th – “Social Class Mobility in Modern Britain: changing structure, constant process”.
While the press covered the lecture, they did not report the data behind the findings. I was there, collected the handouts and can share the key data with you today. We have also added a future perspective from Trajectory’s bank of social trends.
The first data show how the class structure has changed over the last 60 years – in 1951 only 11% of working men were in classes 1 and 2 – known as the “salariat” this includes the professional and managerial classes – in 2011, this percentage had risen to 40%. People in classes 1 and 2 have significantly better material well-being than those in classes 6 and 7 as they have higher incomes, greater employment security and better long term income prospects. For example, in classes 6 and 7 you can expect to reach your peak income at around the age of 35, for classes 1 and 2 peak income is reached at aged 50+.
The chart shows how the expansion of the salariat continued at a slower pace in the 90s and noughties than in the 1950s and 60s. The wage-earning working classes (in classes 6 and 7) were shrinking at a similar rate, while classes 3, 4 and 5 remained relatively constant.
We have extrapolated these data to look at the position in twenty years (2031) assuming the current trends continue. In fact looking at wider employment trends, we expect a different picture will emerge. We expect downward pressure on the growth of the “salariat” classes, and upward pressure on the growth of classes 3, 4 and 5 (which includes the self-employed).
Expanding salariat and contracting working class 1951-2011
% of working men
Goldthorpe then discusses social mobility over the same period (1951 to 2011) – the data show that overall social mobility has remained constant over the whole period at around 50% (or nearly 80% depending on the number of classes used in the comparison).
In other words, over half of the working population have ended up in a different social class to their parents and this proportion has not changed over time.
His next step is to break down total mobility into those who have moved upwards and those who have moved downwards. Goldthorpe’s data here show that there has been a change in the trends of absolute upward and downward mobility – for the 1946 birth cohort, nearly 50% of men aged 27 were in a higher social class than their parents and only around 20% were in a lower social class. By the 1980-84 cohort this had changed to just under 35% who had moved upward and just over 35% who had moved downward. Importantly, Goldthorpe explains this change as resulting from the fact that those in the salariat class CAN NOT be upwardly mobile as they are already at the top. Given that between the 1946 and 1980-84 cohorts, increasing numbers of individuals started out life from a more advantaged class (eg. the proportion of people originating in the salariat class tripled while that originating in the working class halved) more people have the possibility of moving downward and fewer have the possibility of moving upward. The change in absolute rates just reflects this reality.
The critical analysis is to look at relative mobile chances ie, if you look at the rate of social mobility assuming all other things are equal. And this is where Goldthorpe makes his most important finding – he shows that for men born between 1946 and 1970 (the age groups for which all the relevant data is available) there has been no change in the relative view of class inequalities. In other words, there has been no weakening of the link between original social class and destination social class for men in these age groups.
Finally, Goldthorpe turns to whether education has made a difference to an individual’s social class. He shows that the critical thing here is not whether someone has A Levels or a degree but the rarity of that qualification relative to other people. In his words…
“Decades of educational expansion and reform have had little effect [on increasing upward social mobility]….Parents in more advantaged class positions will respond…by using their own superior resources….to help their children retain a competitive edge”
His latest data show that men born in the salariat class are 6 times more likely to end up in the salariat class than men born in classes 6 and 7 – this ratio has remained the same since the 1946 cohort.
It remains to be seen if the expansion of the academies announced this week will have any impact on social mobility but it seems unlikely given that neither grammar schools, comprehensive schools, nor the expansion of tertiary education in the 1960s and 1990s has had any impact.
What does seem likely is that many young people incurring debt to get a degree will not benefit in terms of long term job security.