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Social Mobility Truths

Peter Saunders, November 2019

Politicians of all parties repeatedly tell us that Britain’s social mobility rate is very low, much worse than in other advanced western countries, and that very few children from working class backgrounds succeed in landing good jobs.  They claim the professions and our top universities are largely closed to people from humble origins, that opportunities for bright working class children are even worse today than they were in the past, and that very little has been achieved over the years to remove the obstacles that stand in the way of children from lower class origins succeeding at school and getting good jobs.

In this book, sociologist Peter Saunders reviews the evidence on social mobility in modern Britain and shows that none of these claims are true.  Writing in a simple, accessible style ‘that even politicians should be able to understand’, he shows that movement up and down the social class ladder is widespread, and that the main influences on where people end up in life are talent and hard work, not the class they were born into.

The failure of our politicians to grasp the truth about social mobility is resulting in damaging policies designed to rectify problems we do not have.  Our top universities are not biased against working class applicants, for example; nor do they unfairly favour those educated at private schools.  Imposition of targets and quotas is undermining what is currently a meritocratic system.

The repeated false claims of politicians threaten to demotivate youngsters by convincing them the opportunities are all closed off, when in fact, for those who are bright and motivated, there is little to hold them back.  This is the message our political leaders should be sharing with young people.

In the Media

The Daily TelegraphSocial mobility is the norm, with two-thirds of working class upwardly mobile, study reveals

About the Author

Peter Saunders is a sociologist who has written extensively on social class and inequality, poverty and welfare reform, and housing.  He is a former Professor of Sociology at the University of Sussex (where he remains Professor Emeritus) and has held visiting positions at universities in the USA, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.  He worked for ten years in Australia, first as Research Manager at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, and then as Research Director at the Sydney-based think tank, the Centre for Independent Studies, where he is a Distinguished Fellow.  He is a Professorial Research Fellow at Civitas, with whom he has published reports on equalities policies, welfare reform and support for home ownership, as well as a series of reports on social mobility.

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