Sociology Article of the Week:
John H. Goldthorpe, Michelle Jackson, The British Journal of Sociology 58 (2007) (4), 525–546
“Intergenerational class mobility in contemporary Britain: political concerns and empirical findings”
Couched in pseudo-rationalist arms-length language, this paper reads as a protracted sociological concern-troll tantrum about social mobility in a zero-sum game.
Lessening gender and class inequality due to better opportunities for traditionally oppressed groups means that some men and upper-class people might lose aspects of their prodigious and traditionally enshrined privilege? Posh but slack Eton boys might no longer be a shoo-in for that cushy job at Pomtootler & Sons?
Someone call me a wahhhmbulance.
Excerpts: [emphases are mine]:
In other words, if grounds for political concern do at this level exist, they are not those that have been generally invoked. The possible cause for concern is not a decline in the total mobility rate but rather the fact that, for men, the composition of this rate is tending to change and in an uncongenial direction: that is, so as to give a less favourable balance of upward and downward movement. Moreover, as we have sought to show, it is structural effects that are in this regard of overwhelming importance. The expansion of professional and managerial employment that led to men’s rates of upward mobility into the salariat rising steadily throughout the middle decades of the twentieth century (cf. Goldthorpe 1987: ch. 3) appears now to be slackening off, at least so far as higher-level positions are concerned; and the increased competition that men now face from women for positions within the salariat is a further relevant factor. At the same time, opportunities for shorter-range upward mobility within the working class, from which men chiefly benefited, have been restricted by the sharp decline in skilled manual employment that can be seen largely as a consequence of late twentieth-century de-industrialization (Gallie 2000).
How serious is the situation thus created and whether it calls for a major policy response are issues on which views may well diverge. A complicating consideration is that of the extent to which the more difficult conditions facing men can be seen as offset by the seemingly more sustained improvement in women’s mobility chances. However, if achieving a more favourable level and pattern of mobility is as important as is assumed in much present-day political discussion, and especially on the part of New Labour, then the difficulties involved need to be fully appreciated.
It could of course be argued that, given the deteriorating features of the structural context of mobility that we have noted, at least for men, even evidence of an unchanging level of social fluidity is still a matter of proper concern for a New Labour government, and serves to underline the importance of policy initiatives that are aimed at increasing equality of opportunity in the sense of reducing the effects of parental background on individuals’ own life-chances.
Thus, the goal that Tony Blair would wish to pursue of getting back to the level and pattern of social mobility that characterized the postwar decades and of doing this through primarily educational and other policies that will increase social fluidity is simply not attainable. This earlier level and pattern of mobility did not itself reflect any significant increase in fluidity over that which prevailed earlier in the twentieth century, and education played little part in its creation. It was, to repeat, structurally induced or, in other words, essentially ‘demand driven’ by the rapid growth of the salariat. And in so far then as class structural change today creates a less favourable context for mobility – that is, one in which upward mobility is generated to a lesser extent and downward mobility to a greater extent than before – then sustaining rising rates of upward mobility through greater fluidity must mean creating a society in which downward mobility likewise becomes a more common experience, far more so in fact than in the postwar decades.
Now there may be much to be said for such an outcome, from the standpoints of social justice and of social efficiency alike. But the question that has then to be asked is that of whether this is actually what New Labour politicians would wish to be understood as envisaging and underwriting in their reiterations of the need to ‘boost’ mobility. Are they ready – openly – to welcome rising rates of downward mobility as also, to revert to Tony Blair’s phrase, ‘a dominant feature of British life’? Would mobility targets, if established, include targets for successful déclassement?
Categories: gender & feminism, Politics, social justice
I don’t think this is even vaguely fair.
Reporting that fewer avenues exist for upward mobility through the decline in traditional working class jobs for males, and comparing social mobility across gender, is neither some sort of defence of privilege or for that matter a defence of male privilege. It’s very clear that the article is looking at evidence which contradicts the Labour government’s claim to be providing equality of opportunity, and frankly, I am astonished by your (mis)reading of it and the author’s intentions.
Mark Bahnisch’s last blog post..O tempora! O mores!
Mark, I totally agree with you that the data, the meat of the paper, contains some issues well worth looking at – particularly in terms of opportunities for the lowest social stratum.
What I found objectionable (and I didn’t make this clear in my post, and may well not manage here – school holidays and I’m blogging in the interstices) is that this is not what the authors chose to focus on. They make their focus explicit here (I won’t pull out all of it, just enough to point you to the location in the paper):
They’re explicitly pushing those data about lowest class mobility aside, in order to focus on the fear of downward mobility for the upper classes/more privileged. The paper goes on:
And this (and what follows) is what sets off the concern-troll alarm bells for me. This way of summarising throws a bone to social-justice advocates – why? If what is going on is _beneficial_ from a social justice point of view (partly arguable, given the actual data), what motivation do the authors have for their concerns? This seems to be it:
This particular concern is aimed square at the higher classes, not the lowest – the authors are anticipating their concern at the prospect of not automatically retaining their birth privilege throughout life, and the way in which this might affect their vote. There’s nothing in the conclusion actually talking with any concern about lack of opportunities for the lowest class.
The gender side of things is even stranger, to me. Women are only mentioned in the discussion in terms of being a “complicating factor” or as causing problems for men – posing “increased competition” for men in the salaried classes. The language in the paper, if not read closely, also implies that women are experiencing favourable economic conditions; when, in fact, all they found is that women are experiencing less horrendous economic conditions than women experienced in the mid (ish) twentieth century.
So it’s about focus and framing. The paper presents data that seem to be of most concern for the lowest strata, then discusses it in terms of concern for the upper strata and their concern for their own life chances. You don’t find that odd?
“Odd” is the wrong word, here. It’s not particularly odd, really. Ermm…. “Comment-worthy?”
Love the title.
blue milk’s last blog post..Co-sleeping, breastfeeding, and losing your mind
Fair enough, Lauredhel. I only had time to skim the excerpts you posted. When I read these sort of articles, I tend to ignore the authors’ spin and just focus on the data, if that makes sense.
Mark Bahnisch’s last blog post..Deep North
No worries. I do tend to focus more on the spin than the data, here – and I didn’t make that clear, at all.
The next layer will be the media spin; I wonder whether the Daily Mail will get their snotty little teeth into it?
[“their”? “its”? I’ve never been sure of this one. Linguists?]
I heard tell on RN today of a new study in the US which has concluded that how well your family has done is still the main predictor of how well you will do, how high your imcome will go etc.
I didn’t catch who did the study, though.
Helen’s last blog post..Another dog update
I saw this report in the news today about a paper released by the ANU.
[“their”? “its”? I’ve never been sure of this one. Linguists?]
In Australian, British, and Canadian spoken English, “their” and other plural pronouns and verb constructions refer to collective nouns, such as Daily Mail and bands’ names. The US generally refers (see that?) to newspapers and bands and other groups of individuals as singular nouns (e.g., “The Coloradoan has published an article on the Roe v. Wade decision this week.”). So, “their” works in your dialect for that construction, but would sound weird in mine.
L’s last blog post..How not to be a feminist ally: A list
I would say their, because it is the journalists who have teeth and can be described as performing actions, not the newspaper itself, which is only a thing.
Helen’s last blog post..While I?m out walking the dogs
Lauredhel, I am just now catching this, but this is appalling. Sociologists baffle me sometimes, and I’m a sociologist. Equal rights does mean a reduction for in privilege for the privileged…is that not a logical conclusion that most people can follow?
And as far as an interesting paper goes, it seems like they could have crafted a much more interesting and worthwhile “spin” or narrative than that.