Inter-cohort trends in intergenerational mobility in England and Wales: income, status, and class (InTIME)

Franz Buscha, University of Westminster and Patrick Sturgis, University of Southampton

(Project no. 04010047, previously 401004)

The level of intergenerational mobility in a society is widely taken as a key barometer of its fairness and equality, outwardly signalling whether citizens achieve social and economic status through hard work and ability, or as a result of advantages bestowed upon them by their parents. As a concept social mobility has become one of the key motifs of our political epoch, with politicians of both left and right now championing it as a core policy objective (Saunders 2010). In 2011, for example, the coalition government announced its ‘social mobility strategy’ in which improving relative intergenerational mobility was specified as the government’s most important social policy objective for the parliament (Cabinet Office, 2011).

However, in contrast to the near universal consensus amongst politicians and social commentators that social mobility in Britain is waning, academic research on the question presents a far less united front. Within the past ten years, leading academic researchers have concluded that social mobility in the UK has declined (Blanden et al 2004; Nicoletti and Ermisch, 2007), increased (Lambert et al 2007; Li and Devine 2011) and remained static (Goldthorpe and Jackson 2007; Goldthorpe and Mills 2008). Logically, of course, it is difficult to envisage the circumstances in which all these authors can be correct.

In this project we propose to use the Office for National Statistics Longitudinal Study (LS) to shed further light into the changing nature of social and intergenerational mobility in the UK since the 1970s. The LS currently provides representative cross-sectional and longitudinal information about the population of England and Wales for the years 1971, 1981, 1991, 2001; and as part of the LS Beta test we will also make use of the 2011 data. Key advantages of the LS for social mobility research are that:

1. The occupation of sample members’ parents is observed when they are children which eliminates recall bias.

2. It is possible to estimate intergenerational correlations at different points in an individual’s life-course

3. The LS has excellent coverage of the population of England and Wales due to the census’ low rates of non-compliance and high linkage rates (>95%)

Taken together, these features mean that it will be possible to produce robust, fine-grained estimates of intergenerational associations, with cohorts by year of birth. The estimates of mobility rates in our study will be based on these three different measures of socio-economic position. For our measure of social class, we will use the seven category version of the National Statistics Socio-economic classification (NS-SEC) (Rose, et al 2005), which will be available for most of the census years. For social status, we will use the Cambridge Social Interaction and Stratification Scale (CAMSIS) (Prandy and Lambert, 2003) which is a measure representing occupational prestige. Finally, we aim to impute measures of income using the approach set out by Ermisch and Nicoletti (2007). This approach involves using a ‘donor’ data set which contains a measure of income in addition to a set of predictor variables which are common to the donor and recipient data sets.


Blanden, J., Goodman, A., Gregg, P. and Machin, S. (2004), ‘‘Changes in intergenerational mobility in Britain’’, in Corak, M. (ed.), Generational Income Mobility in North America and Europe, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Cabinet Office (2011) Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers: A Strategy for Social Mobility, HM Government, April 2011

Goldthorpe, J. H. and Jackson, M (2007) “Intergenerational class mobility in contemporary Britain” British Journal of Sociology, vol. 58, pp. 525-46.

Goldthorpe, J. H.  and Mills, C.  (2008) “Trends in Intergenerational Class Mobility in Modern Britain: Evidence from national Surveys, 1972-2005”', National Institute Economic Review, Vol. 5, pp. 83-100.

Lambert Paul, Prandy Ken and Bottero Wendy, 2007 ‘By slow degrees: Two centuries of social reproduction and mobility in Britain’ Sociological research Online, vol. 12,.

Li, Y. and Devine, F. (2011) “Is Social Mobility Really Declining? Intergenerational Class Mobility in Britain in the 1990s and the 2000s”, Sociological Research Online, Vol. 16, No. 3.

Nicoletti C., and Ermisch J. (2007) Intergenerational earnings mobility: Changes across cohorts in Britain, B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, Contributions, 7, 2, 1-36.

Prandy, K. and Lambert, P. (2003) “Marriage, social distance and the social space: an alternative derivation and validation of the Cambridge Scale”, Sociology, Vol. 37, pp. 397-41

Saunders, P. (2011) Social Mobility Myths, London: Civitas

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