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In the inaugural British Academy sociology lecture on 15 March, Oxford sociologist Dr John Goldthorpe will outline why having more educational qualifications than your parents and grandparents has not translated into better social mobility chances for those from less well-off families.

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He will show that more advantaged families now use their economic, cultural, and social edge to ensure their children stay at the top of the social class ladder. The findings show that what matters is not how much education someone has, but how they compare with others competing for the same jobs. For example, in 1972, half of those men found in managerial positions in the UK had no formal academic qualifications at all.

Dr Goldthorpe will say that 'parents and children are more concerned with avoiding downward mobility than they are with achieving upward mobility. And the resources of those families with most to lose through downward mobility will, in the nature of the case, tend to be greater than the resources of families with the most to gain through upward mobility'.

The lecture is based on findings of a new research programme led by Professor Erzsébet Bukodi of the Department of Social Policy and Intervention at Oxford University. Researchers analysed social origins, education, and work histories and destinations of around 30,000 men and women in the British birth cohort studies of 1946, 1958 and 1970; and a further cohort of men and women born in Britain between 1980 and 1984 constructed from data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study.

Read more on the University website (opens new window)