Family Fortunes: Wealth and elite recruitment, 1890-1990ISER External Seminars

What is the relationship between family wealth and recruitment to Britain’s most powerful and influential positions, and how has it changed over time? In this paper we address these questions by combining 120 years of data from the UK Who’s Who (a unique catalogue of the British elite) with 140 years of probate records. Our results reveal three key findings. First, parental wealth has remained extraordinarily propulsive in terms of elite recruitment. On average approximately 40% of entrants to Who’s Who have been born into the top 10% of the wealth distribution (calculated by examining the relative wealth of an individual’s parents at the time of their death). Second, hailing from extreme wealth is associated with particular advantages. On average, those born into the top 1% of the wealth income distribution have been over 15 times more likely to reach the British elite. Third, despite the fall of the aristocracy, the expansion of education and the decline of deference, the relationship between parental wealth and elite recruitment has stayed consistent over this 100 year period.  Finally, we go on to examine other specificities in the trajectories of elites who come from very wealthy backgrounds; whether they are more likely to pass through elite private schools and Oxford and Cambridge universities, whether they are more likely to go into certain occupational fields, and how women’s growing recruitment to elite positions has affected returns to parental wealth.

Presented by:

Professor Aaron Reeves (University of Oxford)

Date & time:

June 21, 2023 12:30 pm



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