Patterns of work-life mobility in Britain: bridging gaps between intra and intergenerational mobility research

Publication type

Conference Paper


BHPS-2009 Conference: the 2009 British Household Panel Survey Research Conference, 9-11 July 2009, Colchester, UK


Publication date

June 1, 2009


Class analysis in the UK has largely been dominated by the so-called third generation of
stratification research, which is characterized by a narrow interest in social fluidity
measured in terms of relative intergenerational mobility rates. Especially throughout the
1980s and 1990s, relative mobility chances (net of mobility due to changes in the
occupational structure) have constituted the primary research object. Thereby the main
focus has been on intergenerational transmission of advantage, with male mobility
receiving far more attention than the social mobility of women.
Absolute mobility rates and work-life mobility, i.e. actual mobility experiences of
individuals, have largely been considered as epiphenomena unnecessary for
investigating social fluidity. However, recently there have been calls for a renewed
interest in career trajectories to improve our understanding of mobility regimes.
This paper therefore takes a different approach by focusing on absolute rates and
patterns of work-life mobility. By incorporating the longitudinal character of social
class, it moves beyond snapshots of class structures in standard mobility tables.
Examining work-life histories from the British Household Panel Survey holistically, the
paper investigates patterns of class careers by means of sequence analysis. A typology
of career patterns is generated and subsequently linked to socio-economic variables. The
paper thus provides a detailed description of work-life mobility from 1991 to 2005 and
uses multinomial logit models to explore associations between age, class of origin,
education and career type.
The paper demonstrates the unique characteristics of an expanding middle class and
relative homogeneity of the working class. Results also indicate the importance of
education relative to social background. While education generally seems to be the
more influential factor, findings also suggest that class background has considerable
impact in specific locations, e.g. protecting service class offspring from working class
Besides these substantive interests in patterns of social mobility and factors involved in
processes of social reproduction in Britain, the paper also seeks to explore innovative
methods. It combines optimal matching as a rather descriptive pattern-search technique
with regression analysis and thereby offers new methodological approaches to social
mobility research.






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