Social Mobility

Aha! Something of a gotcha moment here I think.

Men\’s chances of rising up the social scale in Britain have stalled because of greater competition from women and a slower rate of growth for top jobs, a study published yesterday reported.

The studies from which comparisons of social mobility (when in fact they mean economic mobility for they measure wages but that\’s another story) specifically and deliberately exclude women.

We focus here on sons so that results are less directly influenced by women’s labour market participation decisions

Now, take a step back and think about what is the largest change in the labour market of the past three or four decades? It\’s the entry of women into it on equal (or very nearly equal, as compared to the past) terms. The majority of undergraduates, the majority of trainee lawyers, the majority of trainee doctors, are now women. That\’s a vastly larger change, I would submit, than the decline of unions or whatever else one might use to explain social mobility.

So these studies which show a decline in social mobility are not really very accurate. They\’re measuring a decline in social mobility for men, yes. But that is then being interpreted as a decline in total social mobility, which isn\’t actually what is being measured at all. And the decline in male social mobility is being described, but without reference to the largest change in the labour market, the rise to equality of women.

Soi perhaps the next time someone starts to whiffle on about the decline in social mobility, perhaps the appropriate response should be that they\’re talking bollocks? For they\’re not taking account of the huge rise in womens\’* social mobility?

 

* To a large extent, before these labour market changes of recent decades, women\’s social mobility was promoted by marriage. No, I\’ve no figures, but I would guess that this has decreased as the potential for doing it under their own steam has risen. Certainly there are those who insist that the rise in income inequality at the household level has to do with assortative mating, professionals marrying professionals, to a larger extent than in the past.

7 comments on “Social Mobility

  1. That’s a very good point Tim – and one I haven’t seen elsewhere.

    ***

    BTW I think that IQ research suggests that under modern conditions IQ may be a major driver of social mobility – high IQ people born into low class backgrounds move up and vice versa.

    But there is also an IQ gradient across social classes (it looks asif social class 1 is about 1 SD average IQ above social class 5) and IQ is mostly hereditary (although with about 1 SD scatter among siblings – who are socially mobile upward and downward in consequence)

    So there is in the end a fairly modest degree of social mobility due to IQ. Nonetheless IQ-caused social mobility is both significant in magnitude and important in effect.

  2. It is a good point, but didn’t you make it last time and someone from a research group popped up and explained why it wasn’t the case?

  3. Oh yeah, I remember the point. The surveys look at a man’s position in the male income distribution. Hence even if all men had declined in income, the relative mobilty remains lower.

    Tim adds: Not wholly sure that that answers the question. The Sutton Trust report states that there’s been a decline in male economic mobility. Has there been a rise in womens’ economic mobility (I’d say that the surge of women into the labour force over the period means yes, clearly and obviously)?

    Excellent. Now, what has the change in total social mobility been? From the figures we have we don’t actually know. But that doesn’t stop people telling us that it has declined, does it?

  4. “The majority of undergraduates, the majority of trainee lawyers, the majority of trainee doctors, are now women.”

    Tim, doesn’t that statistic indicate something of an anti-male bias in the education system?

    “That’s a vastly larger change, I would submit, than the decline of unions or whatever else one might use to explain social mobility.”

    Not really, because it doesn’t factor in the impacts of educational bias and immigration. It’s impossible to generalise about.

    “And the decline in male social mobility is being described, but without reference to the largest change in the labour market, the rise to equality of women”

    Which an educational bias would engineer; mind you, my late and much beloved maiden great aunt, God rest her soul, graduated from Glasgow University in the 1920’s on a Carnegie scholarship, so opportunities for gifted women to “rise to equality” have existed for the better part of a century – meaning that if female social mobility has increased at rate faster than male social mobility, then it is very likely to be a synthetic mobility achieved at men’s expense.

  5. No, the report covers men and women, ie everyone:

    Three quarters ended up in a different social class to their parents 30 years later, but only 45 per cent of the 1958 group were “upwardly mobile” by 1988, falling to 42 per cent of the 1970 group in 2000

    On the other hand a difference between 45% and 42% strikes me as (given the measurement problems) not much of a difference.

  6. Martin, what Tim doesn’t mention is the continued domination of the physical sciences and computer science, and engineering, by men. So perhaps the different genders are strong in different technical specialities?

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