On social mobility

Sir Jasper Hollom, who has died aged 96, was the deputy governor of the Bank of England and chairman of its “Lifeboat” committee which successfully steered the City through the secondary banking crisis of 1973 to 1975.

Like his mentor Leslie O’Brien (later Lord O’Brien of Lothbury), Jasper Hollom was unusual in his generation for having risen from the lowest to the highest ranks of the Bank, which he joined as a teenage clerk in 1936.

Two in that generation might have been unusual. But in this it would be entirely unthinkable. Meaning that it’s not entirely obvious that social mobility has improved given that we’ve abolished the even possibility of those with ability working their way up in this manner.

Got to have a degree these days, just as one example.

11 comments on “On social mobility

  1. One has to wonder whether the universitification of education and careers has not been engineered by the middle classes as a way of keeping the oiks down. Your smart kid from the wrong side of the tracks probably isn’t going to make it to uni for all manner of reasons not related to scholastic ability, thus reducing the competition in the work place for averagely dim middle class kids. Having destroyed the grammar school ladder of social mobility, they made sure by destroying the ‘working your way up from the shop floor’ one too.

  2. Most of my generation started at the bottom and worked our way up. We made sure our offspring obtained good degrees so they could begin their careers mid-way up the ladder – travel even further that we did. What do you want us to do, hamstring our children in favour of someone else’s kids? Social mobility doesn’t stop after one generation.

  3. for all that he started at the bottom, he did so with the advantages afforded by parents who could send him to the King’s School, Bruton, which is an independent boarding school; solidly upper middle-class at the very least

  4. Back in “old days” unless you had a specific graduate profession you wanted to follow then university was often just an enjoyable way of filling up 3 years.

    Those who wanted to earn a living in commerce would go straight from school to accountancy or banking and start at the bottom and learn on the job.

    But the guys starting as clerks at Bank of England would have been very different socially from those starting as clerks at a department store.

  5. It’s an interesting contention, Tim. I started in the City in those days & a university degree was a rarity. It was generally accepted, the way to learn to do a job was to do it. So three years at uni would have been regarded as a three year waste of learning opportunity & put the time waster three years lower on the ladder.
    But it hardly made the City a hotbed of equality. Nepotism was a very powerful recruiter. However I can think of several people who went from office post boy, with the humblest of beginnings, to the heights. A relative was the son of a docker, educated at an E.End grammar, started as an insurance clerk & went on to create one of the larger & more successful players in the savings market. Chances of doing that now approach zero, I’d imagine.

  6. “Your smart kid from the wrong side of the tracks probably isn’t going to make it to uni for all manner of reasons”: he did in my day. But that was before the Forces of Progress had fucked up the state schools.

  7. Curiously enough, Shinsie, the sister of a schoolfriend started as a BoE clerk. We were both grammar but she went to the other thing – between us & secondary mod. Can’t remember what it was called. I gather she scaled some considerable heights before she retired. Certainly better than either of us.

  8. Got to go to a decent school too.

    Which in those days was entirely possible, given a brain and a modicum of parental support.

    Nowadays less so, of course.

    Thanks to the bog-standard comp.

  9. BniS

    Where I grew up, ooop north, they were called technical colleges and had ver god reputations.

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