Is social mobility an echo of educational mobility? Parents’ educations and occupations and their children’s occupational attainment

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

June 1, 2007


Quantitative studies of occupational attainment and intergenerational social mobility have often devoted little attention to the roles of parental education and educational inheritance. Informed by the ideas of authors who see class reproduction as reflecting more than occupations and economic resources (including Devine, Savage and Crompton), this paper assesses the importance of parents' educations, and considers the relevance of education to class analysis and class reproduction processes.

Logistic regressions using British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) data establish the relative importance of parents' educations and parents' occupational classes as determinants of children's attainment of service class occupations. These multivariate analyses reiterate the salience of mother's class, but also show that mother's education has an independent impact. However, this is more limited if both parents can be assigned to classes. The only difference between daughters and sons that is found in the impact of parental characteristics is a weaker impact of father's class on daughter's occupational attainment than on son's occupational attainment. For both daughters and sons, mother's education and mother's class have an impact.

The relationship between parents' and children's educations accounts for relatively little of the relationship between parents' and children's occupational classes. Hence intergenerational class mobility patterns do not simply echo intergenerational educational mobility patterns. However, an examination of the direct and indirect effects of parents' educations and classes on children's occupational attainment shows parental education to play a substantial role in the intergenerational transmission of advantage, and indicates that part (but not all) of the relationship between class origin and occupational attainment can be explained in terms of the intergenerational transmission of cultural capital. In contrast, a substantial part of the indirect effect of parental class via children's qualifications does not reflect parental education. Hence the conversion of parental economic resources into children's educational credentials also appears important.

Published in

Sociological Research Online


Volume: 12 (5)



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