Scotland's social stickiness

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Doctors have often had doctor parents. Lawyers likewise. If you've got money, the odds are you've come from money.

It's obvious that the chances of becoming a high-status professional from humble origins are much poorer.

But we haven't known how much poorer. Until now.

Newly-published research shows that the chances of moving up the social scale in Scotland are lower than those in the rest of the UK - but only slightly.

The social mobility to move into higher-status work than your parents appears to be stickier for those born after 1975.

In addition, Scots doing the same higher-status professional work, while coming from a lower social status childhood, were found to be 35% less likely to own their own homes.

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This research, carried out at the Fraser of Allander Institute, is the first attempt to interpret new data linked to the regular Labour Market Survey.

The questionnaire first included a section about parental occupation only five years ago. It asks the type of job the respondent's main breadwinning parent was doing, if any, when the respondent was aged 14.

And through the wonders of crunching data, it is possible see how that correlates to occupational status now.

Stay classy

David Eiser, at the Strathclyde University unit, studied the number of people who have moved between broad categories of work, when compared with their parents.

It's here that the terminology of upper, middle and lower class begins to sound like a satire of 1950s sociology, with bowler hats and cloth caps - but that's how it continues in 2018.

The survey classifies 90 different occupations, and these are then stratified as "low occupational class", including sales and customer services, process and machine-based jobs, and other elementary occupations.

The medium occupational class includes administrative and secretarial work, skilled trades, caring and other service occupations.

The high occupational class covers managers, directors, professionals and technical staff.

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In absolute terms, there has been a lot of mobility. "Just over one third of the population has experienced upward mobility," writes Mr Eiser.

"In other words they are working in a higher occupational group relative to that of their parents, while 23% have experienced downward mobility and 43% are working in the same broad group of occupations as their parents."

However, that measurement reflects the growth of jobs in the higher rated occupations and decline in the number of less-skilled roles.

Odds and ends

The chances of moving from one group to another require more complicated calculations, which compare the odds of moving up social classes with the odds of maintaining one's parents' place in the top stratum.

It is from this calculation that Scotland looks less socially mobile than the UK, but by a small margin.

By Mr Eiser's calculations, the odds of having a top-tier job, just as a parent did, compared with moving up to a professional or managerial job when no parent was doing so in your childhood, are 2.21 in Scotland and 2.17 in the UK as a whole.

That means the odds of a Scot being in a top-tier job, when her or his parents were also in such a job, are 2.21 times higher than for others.

If the measure were 1, that would mean that your parents' job status makes no difference to your job status.

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The same method can be applied to downward mobility. The chances of sticking in the same occupational bracket as your parents, if that was the lowest of the three categories, is 2.53 times greater than others moving into that bracket.

In Scotland, that is higher, or less socially mobile, than 2.44 odds for the UK as a whole. But, again, it is a small difference.

It is impossible, from such newly-collected data, to tell how much this is changing over time. But the Fraser of Allander work has sought to compare four different age groups.

They show a gradual slowing of social mobility, depending on one's year of birth. That is, mobility into higher occupational groups has been slightly higher for those born between 1954 and 1964 than for those born up to 1974, and it slowed again for those born between 1975 and 1984.

Social mobility is significantly lower for those born between 1985 and 1993, though that may reflect the career pattern that means younger people are yet to reach that higher occupational category.

The published research paper concludes that the outcome of those calculations is less clear.


The research goes on to look at the problem of families which are seen to be blighted by worklessness. This is based on those who responded to the Labour Market Survey saying that no-one in their household had a job when they were aged 14.

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What this shows is that those from workless households - at least at that age - are only around half as likely to have a degree as those from working households, and are twice as likely to have no qualifications.

However, health was found to be a bigger contributor to unemployment for this group than educational achievements. That is, the figures imply that the chances of coming from a workless household, and of being out of work due to ill-health, are higher than the chances of being out of work due to a lack of education or skills.

What Mr Eiser found is that the "penalty" of coming from a workless household in your childhood is higher in Scotland than it is in the UK as a whole.

The employment rates for both men and women from workless homes when they were in their teens are five percentage points lower than those for the UK.

Home ownership

On home ownership, the research has the unsurprising finding that those both in and from higher earning backgrounds are more likely to own their own homes.

The new element is the measurement of this effect. So comparing two people in a similar job in the top tier of employment, the one who has got there from the third tier is 35% less likely to own a home.

When the data is refined to two people of the same sex, age, occupation and qualification level, that gap falls to 21%.

Mr Eiser concludes: "The occupation of one's parents does play a significant role in influencing the labour market and housing market opportunities one has as an adult in Scotland. And the significance of inter-generational transfer of opportunity appears at least as great in Scotland as in the UK.

"Low levels of social mobility are objectionable on moral grounds in the context of what might be perceived as fair.

"But low levels of social mobility may also have wider economic implications if this limits the extent to which talent individuals are able to fulfil their potential with the economy."

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