Patterns of absolute and relative social mobility: a comparative study of England, Wales and Scotland

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

June 1, 2007


We use the British Household Panel Study to analyse change over birth cohorts in patterns of social mobility in England, Scotland and Wales. In several respects, our conclusions are similar to those reached by other authors on the basis of wider comparisons. There has been a large growth in non-manual employment since the middle of the twentieth century. This led first to a rise in upward mobility, but, as parents of younger people have now themselves benefited from that, has more recently forced people downward from their middle-class origins. These changes have largely not been a growth in relative social mobility: it is change induced by the occupational structure. The conclusions apply both to current class and to the class which people entered when they first entered the labour market. The patterns of relative mobility could not be explained statistically by measures of the respondents' educational attainment. The conclusions were broadly the same for the three countries, but there was some evidence that in the youngest cohort (people born between 1967 and 1976) experience of people from Wales was diverging from that of people from England and Scotland, with rather greater amounts of downward mobility. There were two methodological conclusions. Out-migration from country of birth within the UK did not seem to make any important difference to our results. That is encouraging for analysis of surveys confined to one of the three countries, because it suggests that losing track of out-migrants would not distort the results. The second methodological conclusion is that the comparative study of social mobility can find interesting topics to investigate at social levels lower than that of the state, here the comparison of the three countries which make up Britain.

Published in

Sociological Research Online


Volume: 12 (6)



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