A Comparative Analysis of the Transmission of Socio-Economic Inequalities
Edited by Fabrizio Bernardi and Gabrielle Ballarino
Chapter 14: Social origin, education and socio-economic inequalities: trends in the United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom, the public and academic debate has paid close attention to social mobility. The ideal of a meritocratic society, in which achievement and effort are the cornerstones of occupational status and economic success, has traditionally been strong in British society. The very term ‘meritocracy’ originated in post-war Britain (Young 1958), and after the Second World War several policy measures were introduced with the purpose of creating more equal opportunities for educational and occupational success. Secondary education was made free by the Education Act of 1944, and with further reforms higher education also became more accessible. During the 1990s, New Labour made greater equality of opportunity a central policy concern, and also the subsequent governments claimed that social mobility enabling people to climb the social ladder was a core aim of their social policies (Cabinet Office 2011). Since the Second World War, social science researchers have examined the evidence for signs of the onset of a more meritocratic society. However, despite the substantial policy attention to social mobility, the research evidence to date does not seem to suggest a major leap towards more fluidity and social mobility.
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