Skip to content

Journal Article

By slow degrees: two centuries of social reproduction and mobility in Britain


Publication date



This paper discusses long term trends in patterns of intergenerational social mobility in Britain. We argue that there is convincing empirical evidence of a small but steady linear trend towards increasing social mobility throughout the period 1800-2004. Our conclusions are based upon the construction and analysis of an extended micro-social dataset, which combines records from an historical genealogical study, with responses from 31 sample surveys conducted over the period 1963-2004. There has been much previous study of trends in social mobility, and little consensus on their nature. We argue that this dissension partly results from the very slow pace of change in mobility rates, which makes the time-frame of any comparison crucial, and raises important methodological questions about how long-term change in mobility is best measured. We highlight three methodological difficulties which arise when trying to draw conclusions over mobility trends - concerning the extent of controls for life course effects; the quality of data resources; and the measurement of stratification positions. After constructing a longitudinal dataset which attempts to confront these difficulties, our analyses provide robust evidence which challenges hitherto more popular, politicised claims of declining or unchanging mobility. By contrast, our findings suggest that Britain has moved, and continues to move, steadily towards increasing equality in the relationship between occupational attainment and parental background.

Published in

Sociological Research Online


12 (1)


Social Stratification and Social Mobility



Albert Sloman Library Periodicals *restricted to Univ. Essex registered users*


Research home

Research home


Latest findings, new research

Publications search

Search all research by subject and author


Researchers discuss their findings and what they mean for society


Background and context, methods and data, aims and outputs


Conferences, seminars and workshops

Survey methodology

Specialist research, practice and study

Taking the long view

ISER's annual report


Key research themes and areas of interest