Sociology Article of the Week:
John H. Goldthorpe, Michelle Jackson, The British Journal of Sociology 58 (2007) (4), 525–546
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?