Breaking the ‘Class Ceiling’? Social Mobility into Britaiin’s Elite Occupations

S. Friedman, D. Laurison, A. Miles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper we use the unusually large sample size of the Great British Class Survey to compare rates of social mobility into different elite occupations. We find a distinction between ‘traditional’ professions, such as law, medicine and finance, which are dominated by the children of higher managers and professionals, and technical or emerging high-status occupations, particularly those related to IT, that appear to recruit more widely. Second, we find that even when the upwardly mobile are successful in entering elite occupations they invariably fail to accumulate the same economic, cultural and social capital as those from privileged backgrounds. While many such differences may be explained by inheritance, we also find that the mobile tend to have considerably lower incomes. Investigating this further we demonstrate that even when controlling for important variables such as schooling, education, location, age, and cultural and social capital, the upwardly mobile in eight occupations – located largely in the business sector – have considerably lower incomes than their higher-origin colleagues. These findings underline the value of analyses of mobility into specific high-status occupations as well as illustrating how, beyond entry, the mobile often face considerable disadvantage within occupations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)259-289
Number of pages30
JournalThe Sociological Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2015


  • social mobility;elite;professions;income;cultural capital


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