More go ‘down the social ladder than up’

More people in Britain are moving down the “social ladder” rather than up it, a study has revealed.

Ricky Tomlinson played the archetypal, downwardly-mobile working class dad in the BBC comedy The Royle Family.

Researchers at Oxford University found that while there has been no decline in social mobility over recent decades, there has been a marked change in the direction of social movement.

The shift is due to changes in class structure, the study found. It said that between the 1950s and 1980s there was a major expansion of professional and managerial-level employment, with ever more “room at the top”.

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But this expansion has now slowed, and the children of those who benefited from it through upward mobility now have less favourable prospects than their parents did when they were young.

The second feature was “the continuing decline of the wage-earning working class.”

Associate Professor Erzsebet Bukodi, the study’s lead author from the university’s Department of Social Policy and Intervention, said: “There is a clear change in the direction of mobility.

“Over the past four decades the experience of upward mobility has become less common, and going down the social ladder has become more common.”

The study, published today in the online issue of the British Journal of Sociology, looked at more than 20,000 British men and women born in four cohorts, 1946, 1958, 1970 and 1980 to 84.

It found that while men in the 1946 cohort were at age 27 about twice as likely, and at age 38, almost three times more likely to have experienced upward rather than downward mobility “these differences narrow considerably in later cohorts.”

It said: “Our inclusion of more recent birth cohorts brings out the fact that the balance of men’s upward and downward mobility is now tending to move in quite the opposite direction to that which prevailed in what has become known as the “Golden Age” of mobility in which social advancement predominated.”

The study also pointed to a “less favourable” situation for women than other studies have suggested. It said: “Our focus on the experience of more recent birth cohorts enables us to a point to a newly emergent trend: that is for the composition of women’s total mobility rates, as regards upwards and especially downward mobility, to be coming closer to that which now prevails among men.”

Comparing the social class of each individual when in their late 20s or 30s with the class of their fathers, they found that around three-quarters of men and women alike ended up in a different class to the one they were born into, and that this proportion was more or less constant across the four cohorts.

Co-author and Oxford sociologist Dr John Goldthorpe said: “Politicians are saying that a new generation of young people don’t have the same opportunities for social advancement as their parents, and these results seem to bear that out.

“The trend shows that while social mobility has not stalled, more mobility is going in a downward direction than in the past. The emerging situation is one for which there is little historical precedent and that carries potentially far-reaching political and wider social implications.”