Social mobility October 10, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, The Left.
Interesting piece in Prospect on social mobility which considering the thoughts of John Goldthorpe, a professor at Nufield in Oxford, and apparently the ‘doyen’ of social mobility research, argues that the perception of social mobility in the UK stalling is incorrect. By contrast it argues that Goldthorpe’s view has more explanatory power.
Goldthorope suggests that:
What happened in this so-called Golden Age of social mobility was that you got a really marked change in the shape of the class structure through expansion of professional and managerial employment, on the one hand, and the decline of manual employment on the other. This expanding room at the top created a stay rise in upward class mobility. But at the same time relative rates didn’t change because although you got this big increase in upward mobility driven by expansion at the top, immobility at the top also increased. In other words it’s perfectly possible to have major changes in absolute mobility rates without any significant changes in relative rates.
Expanding on relative and absolute rates he says:
…absolute mobility rates refer to the simp percentage of individuals who are found in the same or in a different class to that in which they originated – their parental class. Relative rates refer to the relative chances of individuals starting in two different class of origin ending up in two different classes of destination. The crucial thing is that absolute mobility rates are primarily determined by changes in the shape of the class structure over time.
He has some interesting thoughts on education too..
I’m not at all against efforts to raise standards of educational attainment, especially from children from disadvantaged backgrounds. I’m just sceptical about how far that is going to make especially relative mobility chances more equal.
This is because more advantaged families will always use their resources to maintain their children’s competitive edge. Even if parents acna’t afford to send their children to private schools, they employ tutors, buy houses in areas where there are good schools, help out with tuition fees and so on. This brings home the way in which inequalities of conditions serve to maintain inequalities of opportunity.
In the accompanying article by Times journalist Philip Collins a curious, but I think telling, line of argument is made. It’s not the point that ‘anyone concerned to combat relative social mobility needs to be anxious about inequality but equality sounds like a much more radical proposition than the obscure objective of social mobility’ – which is true, but no reason to give up on either. It’s this throwaway line:
Social mobility really is a troublesome idea whose complexity hide some very difficult questions that politicians tend to evade. Let us pass by without really going into the controversy about genetics, which places a major limitation on this argument. the consensus is that somewhere between a third and a half of our talent is programmed at birth but there is no sense of this from the political debate’.
That seems to me to be almost entirely irrelevant, particularly in light of Goldthorpe’s own thoughts on the extra resources advantaged families have. Is Collins arguing that genetically ’talent’ is pooled in one class or another? I find that deeply unlikely given the stark class differentiation that characterised societal structures across centuries until the relatively recent past (in other words there was very few of them and a whole heap of us and no evidence of a genetic superiority on their part). But if not what particular difference does it make given that genetic ‘talent’ will then be spread out pretty much equally between advantaged and disadvantaged and educational and societal structures must endeavour to ensure all are treated fairly? And that of course leads to the thought that mobility may have little enough to do with ’talent’ in any case. Let’s not forget our old pals chance and luck. And does it have anything at all to do with class as such, in the sense that where you are born into or even wind up is a reflection of superior – presumably pre-existing -’talent’ etc? That seems an absurd proposition, at least from where I stand.