Left Luggage

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Archive for the ‘Social mobility’ Category

Snapshots of a divided society

Posted by Left Luggage on April 18, 2009

One of the sillier responses to Left Luggage since we launched three weeks ago, has been the argument that class is a redundant category. A poster on our opening article about the Left, argued that “working class” was a redundant category, basically suggesting that it had no structural reality in society.

Of course, the fact that 53% of British people self-identify as working class gives us some indication that it is a relevent political category. And two new pieces of research published this week further underlined the point. The first, in a paper presented by Dr Will Atkinson, of Bristol University’s Department of Sociology, showed that the class in Britain is alive and well. In the study:

He found that those whose parents had a limited amount of money, education and social connections had had a much narrower choice during their lives.

He found that the working-class people he interviewed were disadvantaged in getting into higher education because their parents had had less money to spend on private education or supplementary tutoring for them, and were less able to cover their university fees.

This was consistent with the fact that although the expansion in university places over the past 20 years had allowed the number of working-class people at university to rise, they were under-represented as a proportion of those attending.

Dr Atkinson said his findings help explain why only 13 per cent of those from working-class backgrounds go to university, whereas 44 per cent of those from middle-class backgrounds do. He said: “The precise characteristics of the classes in terms of occupations, educational experiences and work life experiences has shifted with the social changes of the late 20th century. But the fact that some are better educated, with more choice in their lives and with more money still persists, and this maintains class differences that are as wide as they were in the 1970s.”

The fact that this system of entrenched privilege, far from disappearing, is stronger than ever was shown by a Cabinet Office report released on Tuesday showing that jobs in elite professions have become more socially exclusive.

The report suggested that privately educated people took the lion’s share of jobs in some professions, despite accounting for only 7 per cent of the population. Three-quarters of judges, 70 per cent of finance directors and 45 per cent of top civil servants went to independent schools, for example.

The middle-and upper-class domination has increased in recent decades, the report suggests. For example, lawyers born in 1970 grew up in families with an income 64 per cent above the national average, compared with a gap of 43 per cent for lawyers born in 1958. For top journalists, the trend is even more marked, with the 1970 generation coming from families with incomes 42 per cent above the national average, as against a 6 per cent gap for those born in 1958.

Class-based differences in aspiration, as well as educational attainment, affect recruitment patterns for the professions, the report suggests. More than four out of 10 – 41 per cent – of young people from the AB socioeconomic groups aspire to be a professional, against only 13 per cent of young DEs.

The report includes this illuminating graph, which shows how the privately-educated dominate the elite sectors of society to a remarkable degree given they constitute only 7 per cent of the population as a whole:

This graph shows how the proportion of those in different elite professions that were privately-educated. The top bar, in yellow, shows the percentage of the population as a whole that has a private education, 7%.

This graph shows how the privately-educated (top bar, 7 per cent) dominate the elite sectors of British society.


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