The study looked at a total of more than 20,000 British men and women in four birth cohorts from 1946, 1958, 1970 and 1980-84. The researchers worked with the 7-class version of the official National Statistics Socio-Economic Classification (NS-SEC), in which individuals are given social classes on the basis of their employment status and occupation. They compared the class of each individual when in their late-20s or 30s with the class of their fathers, and found that around three-quarters of men and women alike ended up in a different class to the one they were born into, and that this proportion was more or less constant across the four cohorts.
But, as lead author Associate Professor Erzsébet Bukodi, from the Department of Social Policy and Intervention at the University of Oxford, stresses: ‘There is a clear change in the direction of mobility. Over the past four decades, the experience of upward mobility has become less common, and going down the social ladder has become more common.’
The study explains that this is due to the changing class structure. From the 1950s to the1980s there was a major expansion of professional and managerial employment – ever more ‘room at the top’. But this expansion has now slowed down, and the children of those who benefited from it through upward mobility now have less favourable prospects than their parents had when they were young.
Bukodi explains: ‘It is not that there has been an increase in the risk of downward mobility but rather an increase in the numbers “at risk”, or the proportion of children starting off in professional and managerial families.’