Inequality is more important than education in determining mobility
In most countries, education has done little to improve social mobility, which is low in the UK for both high and low earners. The home environment that children grow up in and their work situation are at least as important in determining future prospects. The likelihood of climbing the ladder in terms of income or class is heavily influenced by family background. Home ownership rates are increasingly immobile across generations. The pandemic has also reduced social mobility because children from disadvantaged backgrounds lost more learning hours when schools were closed.
Income inequality reduces social mobility
Opportunities have got worse rather than better for recent generations. One in three sons born in poverty in 1970 were still among the lowest earners as adults. Young people today are facing larger income divides, wider gaps in terms of home ownership, lower relative wages and fewer opportunities for advancement. The ‘Great Gatsby curve’ shows a strong inverse link between income inequality and social mobility; wider gaps between rich and poor lead to more rigid societies. Countries like the UK and US suffer from both high inequality and low social mobility.
Ethnic minorities face disadvantage in the labour market
Although second-generation ethnic minority groups in the UK are generally doing well at school and university (despite the fact that they are more likely than white children to have been disadvantaged as children), they still have lower employment rates than their white majority peers. This gap persists even when disadvantaged family origins are taken into account, suggesting that some disadvantages in the labour market are reduced but not completely eliminated by educational success.