Education, Occupation and Social Origin
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Education, Occupation and Social Origin

A Comparative Analysis of the Transmission of Socio-Economic Inequalities

Edited by Fabrizio Bernardi and Gabrielle Ballarino

This innovative book takes a comparative approach to the social origin–education–destination triangle (OED), looking at the intergenerational transmission of advantage in 14 countries. The intention is to debate the claim that education is the ‘great social equalizer’. The contributors examine the relation between family background, education and occupational achievement over time and across educational levels, focusing on the relationship between individuals’ social origins and their income and occupational outcomes. It will be of interest to academics and students of social policy and those interested in social inequalities and their reproduction over time.
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Chapter 14: Social origin, education and socio-economic inequalities: trends in the United Kingdom

Leen Vandecasteele


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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