To what extent has social mobility become common in Britain during the last fifty years?
It is universally known that Britain during the post war period, during the last fifty years, has undergone an upward mobility. Many people could climb up the ladder as Britain has become more egalitarian than the inter war period. This essay will depict on “to what extent has social mobility become common in Britain during the last fifty years. Firstly, I will define what social mobility means, and then talk about various surveys used to measure upward mobility. Secondly, I will mention about the three main reasons that account for more upward mobility: occupational changes, industrial changes, and education and also talk about public attitudes towards the trend of upward social mobility. Thirdly, and finally, I will conclude by repeating my main points and also give my own opinion that Britain seems to face an upward mobility and less class barriers are no longer considered the main drawback issue..
Social mobility as defined by Brogan (1997) “occurs wherever people move across social class boundaries, or from one occupational level to another.” Mobility can be upwards or downwards. Since 1945, Post-war era, Britain is apt to have been experiencing an upward mobility rather than a downward mobility during the last fifty years.
An earlier study by Goldthorpe of men born between 1907 and 1948 had found that in the mid-20th century 'the chance of men of working class origins being found in service class rather than working class positions ...worsened relative to the chances of men of both service class and of intermediate class origins being found in service class rather than working class positions'. Opportunities have remained rigidly unequal in modern Britain, despite the social reforms of the postwar Labour government and the brutal shake-up of British capitalism under Mrs Thatcher.
During 1950s to 1960s Britain was undergoing economic recovery and social transformation. This period is a golden age. British society and the rest of Europe had become more liberalized and is said to be called an affluent society. with regards to affluent society it is also a mobile society; and there seems to be a decrease of class barriers when compared to the early centuries. Such mobile society led to more egalitarian and dynamic society. What is more, the social welfare state was also developed by the labour party who held office from 1945-1951. The affluent society based on markedly increased wealth, consumerism and leisure time was also created. This society took as granted all the gains of the 1950s and 1960s and grew to expect increasing affluence. It was also increasingly well organized and mobilized in its political activities, as seen in the events of 1968.
An example for Britain to be considered an affluence society and a mobile society can be seen from some blue-collar workers, assembly workers and car assembly workers in Vauxhall Motors in Luton near London is the case in point. During the 1950’s these groups were earning high wages for jobs according to studies and survey done by Lockwood and Goldthorpe What is more, most working class people could climb up a social ladder and become middle class.
In the 1970’s, much data indicates that there is at least as much social mobility in Britain as in other countries. The sociologist, John Goldthorpe did a major survey on social mobility in the 1970s and concluded that in fact Britain is an “open society”. More than a quarter of the managers and professionals had fathers who were manual working class, a higher proportion than those whose fathers were professionals. A study in 1996, tracing the lives of children born in 1958, found that more than 50% had moved class: of those in the lowest class (semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers), half had moved into the "intermediate" class and a quarter into the professional class. This may infer to us that in the post war period, the chances of intergenerational mobility have increased but the chances of intragenerational mobility have declined.
Goldthorpe’s original study was conducted in 1972 but in a second edition, Goldthorpe he was able to update it by drawing on data from the British General Election Survey of 1983. Goldthorpe concluded that the mobility chances of the working class had become “polarized”. On the one hand, their chances of moving into the service class had improved –consider on both absolute and relative terms. On the other hand, the economic recessions since 1972 had created a higher risk of unemployment.
Inspite the above data, Goldthorpe was countered by other survey groups such as the Oxford Mobility Study (OMS)-The Scottish mobility by Payne (2002). According to OMS, they said that Goldthorp had failed to all measures; OMS claimed that Goldthorpe found only limited support which could not be used to draw an accurate conclusion. As The Scottish Mobility Study by Payne placed more emphasis on mobility between occupations rather than between classes, its investigation resulted in even higher estimates of absolute mobility rates. Likewise, it concluded that relative class inequalities had been modified to a certain extent. According to Payne, British society is less, ‘closed’ and static than Goldthorpe believes. Certainly, there were signs that employers were increasingly relying on the “direct recruitment” of highly qualified and educated individuals (rather than recruiting people who had worked their way up through the ranks). For OMS they believe that the intergenerational mobility had been just as important as intergenerational mobility, for men in the Oxford study sample. http://ppoint.future.easyspace.com/pcsocmob.htm
Similarly, Saunders (1990) takes issue with Goldthorpe’s view that nothing has really changed. Saunders claims that Goldthorpe ‘moved the goalposts’ in an indefensible way. After discovering that mobility rates were higher than expected, Goldthorpe continued to dismiss their significance by insisting that only relative rates mattered. But Saunders argues that improvements in absolute rates cannot be dismissed quite so easily. Capitalism may not have eliminated class inequalities but it has certainly opened up new opportunities for advancement. If this has brought benefits to the middle class as well as the working class, then this is a matter for further celebration (it would be little to insist that the only benefits that count are where some group loses while another group wins). What is more, Saunders challenges Goldthorpe’s assumption that abilities and talents are randomly distributed across all social groups. Goldthorpe seems to deny that ‘natural’ inequalities play a part in deciding class destinies: for example, the working class accounts for half of the population, then for Goldthorpe...we should expect half of all doctors, managers, and top civil servants to have originated from the working class. (Saunders, 1990). To counter this, Saunders strongly believes that talents are unevenly distributed across social classes. The most talented usually end up in the higher social classes and they tend to pass on some of their genetic advantages to their offspring. So differences in relative mobility rates cannot be totally attributed to ‘injustices’.
Conversely, The Oxford Mobility Study and Goldthorpe’s later work suggests that there is not a high measure of social conclusion at the top of the British stratification system, but Goldthorpe has been criticized for ignoring the existence of small elite, or in Marxist terms a ruling class. Goldthorpe’s class 1 is comparatively large grouping containing 10-15% of the male working population. Studies, which concentrate on small elite groups within class one, reveal a much higher degree of closure.
This procedure by which members of rich and influential groups are drawn from children of those who already belong to it is known as “elite self-recruitment”. The following studies indicate a degree of elite self-recruitment in Britain. Willmott and Young carried out a study in 1970 in the London area and found that 83% of managing directors were the sons of professionals and managers. The sample was 174. A survey by Stanworth and Giddens found out of 460 company chairmen, in 1971, only 1% had a manual working class background, 66% came from the upper class, such as industrialists and landowners.
Never the less, according to Blanden, Goodman, and Machine (2001) survey on Intergenerational mobility (they use a method of comparison and contrasts estimates of the extent of intergenerational income mobility over time in Britain based on two British father-children generation). Their survey demonstrates that social mobility appears to have fallen in people who grew up in the1950s and 1970s when compared to a cohort who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. The sensitivity of labor market earnings to parental income rises, thus showing less intergenerational mobility for the more recent cohort. This supports theoretical notions that the widening wage and income distribution occurred from the late 1970s onwards slowed down the extent of mobility up or down the distribution across generations.
Towards the twentieth century, there has been evidence shown by Aldridge that 'there is a great deal of income and earnings mobility … but much of this is short-range' as people may move from low paid positions to slightly better paid ones, but no further. 'earnings mobility in Britain has declined over the past 20-25 years', and 'poverty is more persistent in Britain than in, say, Germany'. Many people are stuck in 'a low pay/no pay cycle', a vicious circle where the low paid are more likely to experience unemployment and 'the unemployed are most likely to enter low paid jobs'. Aldridge cites the extensive studies of social mobility mainly by John Goldthorpe and other sociologists based at Nuffield College, Oxford. These distinguish between absolute and relative social mobility. Because the proportion of manual jobs has sharply fallen during the 20th century there has been a great deal of absolute social mobility (though interestingly this seems to have trailed off at the end of the 1970s). This mobility has involved people from manual working class backgrounds moving into white-collar jobs. This represents upward mobility only if you take the view that most white-collar employees are middle class (or as Goldthorpe prefers to call it 'service class'). Marxists deny this, arguing that a person's class position depends on their place in the relations of production rather than on whether they work in a factory or a mine as opposed to an office or a call centre.
By contrast, relative social mobility, as Aldridge (2001) puts it, 'is concerned with the chances people from different backgrounds have of attaining different social positions'. Goldthorpe and his collaborators 'find no evidence of a statistically significant change in relative social mobility in the later decades of the 20th century, particularly in the case of men'.
Aldridge (2001) highlights the capacity of those at the top to pass on their privileges to their children. In a genuinely meritocratic society one would expect there to be downward as well as upward mobility. In other words, the less talented children of those at the top would sink in the social structure, creating openings for the able offspring of the lower classes. But this is precisely what did not happen in 20th century Britain. Aldridge cites studies which show that 'there has been declining downward social mobility amongst the highest social classes for most of the past century ...whilst the barriers against bright working class children succeeding are quite low, the safeguards against failure enjoyed by dull middle class children are quite strong.'
The next thing to be discussed is the causes of upward mobility in the post war era. The main three reasons that account for more opportunities in post war Britain are occupational changes, industrial changes, and education.
First, occupational changes: the changing occupational structure has created “more room at the top”. With computerization and automation, there is less demand for manual labor and greater demand for non-manual skills and a better-educated workforce.
Goldthorpe’s survey found unexpectedly high rates of absolute mobility and the main reason for this was the transformation of the occupational structure of post war Britain. There had been an enormous expansion in the number of service class and intermediate jobs and this had created more room at the top. So compared with previous generations, working class people now had a better chance of moving upwards. For example, in 1900 the sons of miners had a slim chance of becoming middle class but by 1970 their chances of upwards mobility had improved considerably. Thus absolute rates had increased (http://ppoint.future.easyspace.com/pcsocmob.htm).
However, the transformation of occupational pattern should not be looked at one sided. It is believed that egalitarian regarding upward social mobility was treated unfairly. In the year 1970, for example, there may have been room at the ‘top’ but some social groups were more likely than others to fill these places. In another words, someone born into the middle class had a good chance of getting a middle class job but someone born into an unskilled manual family had a slimmer chance of becoming middle class. This can be expressed in terms of the 1:2:4 rule -whatever the chance of a working class boy reaching the service class, a boy from the intermediate class had twice the chance and a boy from the service class had four times the chance (relative mobility rates measure the chance of one group relative to other groups).
In the same way, Goldthorpe noted that even though absolute mobility prospects had improved, there had been little change in relative mobility rates. Thus, the probabilities were still biased in favor of those from the higher classes and so equality of opportunity had not been achieved. Britain according to Goldthorpe was no more ‘fluid or open’ than it had been in the inter war period. Goldthorpe concluded:
No significant reduction in class inequalities has in fact been achieved.
Second, industrial changes: industrialization in the nineteenth century had caused the fragmentation of British class systems. The working class was divided into skilled and nonskilled workers. And the middle class split into lower, middle, and upper sections, depending on job classification or wealth. However, “the upper class was still defined by birth, property and inherited money rather than by association with particular profession” (Oakland, 1995:191). After the war, at that time the world agricultural prices were high, and it was necessary to keep the rationing, it seemed certain that the assistant foe agriculture should be maintained and to expand commercial market (Oakland, 1995:49). The Agricultural Act, 1947, provided for the fixing and guaranteeing of prices by the Ministry of Agriculture. A lot of skilled worker, skilled agricultural workers needed as a result of scientific and technological advance, which had had a deep impact on industries, had also account for the changes in agricultural factors (Hopskins, 2000: 98-99) became of necessity was needed in industries to speed up process. It is generally agreed that the rate of social mobility - the amount of movement from one stratum to another - is significantly higher in industrial societies as compared to pre-industrial societies. Industrial societies are now often described as open, as having a relatively low degree of closure (http://ppoint.future.easyspace.com/pcsocmob.htm). The consequences of industrial revolution paved a way for the bright and hardworking people have historically found it easier to succeed in Britain than elsewhere. Restrictions imposed by medieval association and centralising monarchies disappeared in Britain long before they did in continental Europe (http://elt.britcoun.org.pl/v_brclass.htm). Playwrights from Ben Johnson onwards wrote comedies of social climbing and slippage, many of which would never have been allowed on the Continent. In France Beaumarchais's play The Marriage or Figaro, written in 1784, was blocked by censors because it seemed to suggest that a valet could hope to be on a par with his master. As David Landes argues in his recent book, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, the very fluidity of British society helps explain why the Industrial Revolution happened here first.
Third, education: there seems to be lesser class barrier regarding education qualifications as a result of industrial change. This can be seen by the study conducted by Philip Stanworth and Anthony Giddens of 460 leading company chairmen holding office between 1900-1972, found that 80% of the merchant banking and clearing banking chairmen, even those born in the earliest cohort in their study, 1820-1839, were educated at the public schools (Rubinstein, 1994: 114). During industrial revolution efforts were also made to improve the provision of educational training courses agriculture. The spread of education and gradual expansion of wealth to greater numbers of people in the twentieth century allowed greater social mobility. The working class was more upwardly mobile and, because of the loss of aristocratic privilege, the upper class merged more with the middle class. This process furthered disintegration between skilled and unskilled workers, and between the upper-lower middle class (Oakland, 1995:192). During the pre war period ambitious people might have relied upon marriage to the boss’s daughter, connections, working one’s way up from the shop floor, or sheer luck. These ladders are still available but education is becoming increasingly recognized as the most important step to obtain a good career. Surely, middle class people still incline to be more successful in gaining educational qualifications. But the emphasis on qualifications is probably more “meritocratic” than a system where people are appointed simply because of their class origins (http://www.ppoint.future.easyspace.com). Around a quarter of all children growing up in the late nineties came from families in which no adult is in employment. Under global capitalism the gap between the richest and the poorest is getting wider and Britain tends to interpret. Such tendencies, however, are not unusual to Britain. Britain tends to interpret them as evidence of a broadening class division. (http://www.elt.britcoun.org.pl). The British public seems to have obsession with class that tends to reinforce low expectations. For example, university graduates who went to state schools tend to be less ambitious than their privately educated peers, according to a survey by High Fliers Research. While the latter group tends to choose the most competitive, highly paid careers - such as law, investment banking and the media - those from state schools plump for steadier, more middle-of-the road jobs. Of those who hope to work in the public sector, 71 % attended state school. Only a quarter of those who want to go into teaching come from private schools.
These negative public attitudes seem to imply to us that education system in the post war year is problematic. Gordon Brown suggested that the reason of such oppression might be rooted from because Oxford university teachers discriminate against state-school pupils. The real issue lies in the gap between Britain's private schools, regarded as the best in the world, and state schools, where educational achievement - based on the proportion of A to C grades at GCSE or its equivalent - stands at about half the level of Germany or France. The most significant change came with the abolition of the most grammar and direct grant schools in the late Sixties. In 1969 two thirds of those admitted to Oxbridge came from state schools. Now it is barely more than 50% (http://elt.britcoun.org.). According to David Cannadine, author of Class in Britain, it is because unlike other countries Britain never experienced a revolutionary assault on traditional notions of hierarchy. In 18th century America, the Founding Fathers consciously rejected the idea of hierarchy by declaring titles illegal: this didn't, of course, abolish inequality but it did diminish the use of class as a social description. Something similar was achieved in Europe through ~ revolution and social upheaval. But since the 18th century, no social group in Britain has had their privileges forcefully overturned. So although society has been transformed, the way we look at it has not. Hence the iconography and trappings of class in Britain remain and popular drama, from Brideshead Revisited to Brookside, continues to reinforce class stereotypes (http://elt.britcoun.org.pl/v_brclass.htm.).
To conclude, it seems that the social and educational provisions of the welfare state have not led to substantially greater equality of opportunity and achievement, not to the absolute decline of the class system. But there has clearly been some upward mobility in Britain in the twentieth century, with more people advancing socially and changes in the employment and occupational structures (Oakland, 1995:192). Britain to some extent has experienced as much upward mobility as other European nations and has experienced an upward mobility rather than downward. It is true that survey would determine the extent of how mobile society is, we should also note that the study done by different people are inclined to use different, or slightly different which may alter the closure, studying methods. On top of that studies were done in different time sorting with different people and thus may alter the conclusion. But the upward mobility of the post war period is an outcome of occupational changes, industrial changes, and education in addition to Social system, which allows people to achieve success proportionate to their talents and abilities, as opposed to one in which social class or wealth is the controlling factor people get better opportunities to climb up the social ladder by their own effort at most (http://www.quinion.com). I used to think that Britain is still a rigid class society basing on class systems and therefore I would rather go to the US for further education than to go to Britain, as it seems to me that the society is less mobile when compared to the United States. But niw I thin ki should give it a try and not to look at Britain the way I used to think.Maybe what Joong-Seop Kim, Professor, Dept. of Sociology, College of Social Sciences said is true:
While staying in Britain, I gradually changed my concepts of Britain. One of my astonishing recognitions about Britain was the fact that British citizens enjoyed their life and attempted to keep their dignity in everyday life. Regardless of sex, race, religion, age, or social background, they seem to believe that all people must be fairly treated as being equal and have equal opportunities in life. , Because of a well organised welfare system concerning health care, education, housing, employment, and so on. There are no worries about bad luck at birth…. There is lots of community care for the disabled, the unemployed, and the elderly. Everyone seemed to enjoy equal rights concerning their dignity and the pursuit of their fortune.
Obviously, how one addresses these equalities or inequalities depends on one's view of their causes.
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