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Social Mobility

Social Mobility is an issue that comes up time and again in the comments section of Atlantic Review and other blogs. Why? Because fairness and equal opportunities are so important to the US and European self-image. Or in the words of the researcher of the London School of Economics: "The level of intergenerational mobility in society is seen by many as a measure of the extent of equality of economic and social opportunity."

In 2005 they published these "disturbing findings" (HT: Influx):

A careful comparison reveals that the USA and Britain are at the bottom with the lowest social mobility. Norway has the greatest social mobility, followed by Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Germany is around the middle of the two extremes, and Canada was found to be much more mobile than the UK. Comparing surveys of children born in the 1950s and the 1970s, the researchers went on to examine the reason for Britain's low, and declining, mobility. They found that it is in part due to the strong and increasing relationship between family income and educational attainment.

My guess is social mobility declined in many countries in the five years since the publication of the survey. Fortunately, the situation is still better than in North Africa. The lack of social mobility was the key factor in the protests/revolution.


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Joe Noory on :

Funny, you don't seem to normally be disturbed by caracterizations of this type. Me, I don't find it the least bit disturbing. The study did a great job of not mentioning the social mobility of the PARENTS of the "sons born 1970" set that they looked at. The study also is confusing income disparity with upward mobilty: two data sets which should be trend opposite one another. The study then links the phenomenon, with no causal construction other than "some people connect..." , to higher education in order to make a tacit argument about expanding higher education - which is exactly what higher ed types would be expected to say. What the author doesn't grasp therein is the author's own observation: "Their education participation in the 1990s was characterized by a narrowing in the gap between the staying on rates at 16 between rich and poor children, but a further widening in the inequality of access to higher education." The kabuki of being "disturbed by income disparity" is an old red herring: improvements can be demostrated by impoverishing the middle income, or everyone for that matter, so long as the proportions of capital destruction weight more heavily on the top of the scale than the bottom. If you're a misanthrope or suffer from class envy, this is a "win-win", and might even make one look smart when trying to comandeer the fealty of the equally failed. It is akin to the "compliant" that Bush did not create any "net number of jobs", ignoring the near full employment of most of his term in office. The same could be said of the Clinton years, but that sort of fact-presentation is deemed inappropriate because it isn't politically useful to whoever is trying to berate the common sense out of people. The purpose of is stated in his conclusions: "International comparisons of intergenerational mobility show that Britain, like the United States, is at the lower end of international comparisons of mobility. Also intergenerational mobility has declined in Britain at a time of rising income inequality. The strength of the relationship between educational attainment and family income, especially for access to higher education, is at the heart of Britain’s low mobility culture. If improving intergenerational mobility is viewed as desirable, this clearly suggests that from early ages, including prior to school entry, Britain needs to adopt a strategy to equalize opportunities." Which is BS. The metrics are an OBSERVATION of social phenomenon, not necessarily CAUSALLY related to one another, because OVERALL RATES of higher educational attainment are up across the board. If education is the issue, why is that fact ignored in favor of a class income disparity argument? It's fairly simple: the work available for recent univeriity grads is not growing as quickly as the numbers of graduates in many of those fields of study. This means that students should reconsider what they are studying, and that we need more growth, not more costly college grads with fewer years of productive participation in the workforce.

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