social mobility

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Book Review: What Do We Know and What Should We Do About Social Mobility? by Lee Elliott Major and Stephen Machin

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 26/06/2021 - 7:00pm in

In What Do We Know and What Should We Do About Social Mobility? Lee Elliott Major and Stephen Machin give an account of the long experience of social mobility in the UK, its barriers and a possible way out. Offering a strong base for those who are new to the subject and fresh viewpoints to those more well-versed in the … Continued

Book Review: What Do We Know and What Should We Do About Social Mobility? by Lee Elliott Major and Stephen Machin

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 10/06/2021 - 9:20pm in

In What Do We Know and What Should We Do About Social Mobility? Lee Elliott Major and Stephen Machin give an account of the long experience of social mobility in the UK, its barriers and a possible way out. Offering a strong base for those who are new to the subject and fresh viewpoints to those more well-versed in the topic, this is a timely read for all, especially those in the social sciences and policymakers, writes Kishor K. Podh

What Do We Know and What Should We Do About Social Mobility? Lee Elliott Major and Stephen Machin. SAGE. 2020.

Find this book (affiliate link): amazon-logo

Access to success and social mobility in contemporary Britain is disproportionately advantageous to upper-class, privately educated, (mostly) urban elites who pursue higher education at select universities. UK society is increasingly facing downward mobility and rising wealth inequality. It has one of the lowest international standings on social mobility, ranked eighteenth out of 23 developed countries in the 2018 estimate of the OECD. The income gap between the richest and the poorest is further widening and deepening divides. Although sharing a similar social, cultural and historical background, Canada and Australia supersede the UK’s income mobility. Comparative accounts show that British society is rigid and has less social fluidity than the US, where family backgrounds continue to play a significant role in determining future prospects. Children born into the highest-earning families are most likely to find themselves among the highest earners, and their lowest-earning counterparts are more likely to mirror their forebearers by remaining in the same low-earning class.

What Do We Know and What Should We Do About Social Mobility? gives a profound account of this long experience of social mobility in the UK, its barriers and a possible way out. Authors Lee Elliott Major and Stephen Machin meticulously define the 70-year journey of the UK’s social mobility from the 1950s into the present, using a diagram divided into four ages (14).

Image Credit: Figure 2.1 from Major, L.E. and Machin, S. What Do We Know and What Should We Do About…? Social Mobility. SAGE Publications, 2020, page 14. The figure is kindly provided by SAGE and should not be reproduced without the permission of the copyright holder.

First, we witness the golden age of absolute mobility (1950-70), fuelled by a boom in professional jobs in the post-war economy. There was a widespread belief that a growing economy would improve the lives of everyone — a rising tide would lift all boats.

Second, the decade of economic decline (1970-80), triggered by a global recession, coupled with rising inflation (up to 25 per cent) and unemployment. Public expenditure on education significantly reduced, and the standard of education increasingly fell. While the participation of young people in university declined significantly during this period, private schools saw a marked improvement in academic performance.

Third, the era of rising inequality (1980-2008), characterised by increasing joblessness and a widening gap between the richest and poorest in UK society as those on the upper rungs of the social ladder became increasingly detached from the majority below. Those with less education increasingly lost out (18) as technological changes and the weakening of collective bargaining yielded labour market gains to more educated workers.

Finally, the era of falling absolute mobility (2008-20): coupled with the global financial crisis and austerity, this period experienced further shrinkage of opportunities and increased the divides in society. Again, along with previous downturns, in 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world, triggering a global recession, with the most vulnerable workers — those on short-term contracts with low pay and minimal benefits — standing to suffer the most.

Improving social mobility is much more than capturing a few deserving individuals into the elites — it is about creating decent lives for all and ensuring that everyone can realise their potential whatever they choose to pursue (94). Globalisation and rapid technological changes have created bigger gaps between society’s logical winners and losers. Widening inequalities in the workplace and the classroom are a toxic mix because they create even deeper societal divides for future generations (93). Therefore, social mobility is necessary to ensure equal opportunities, provide decent jobs and dignified life chances for all and to empower local communities.

The absence of adequate social mobility is not good for any society: it results in missing a sizeable talent pool in the country’s leadership who could potentially contribute to society and the economy. Therefore, the movement of those from diverse backgrounds into the higher echelons would give the benefit of better leadership and decision-making abilities. Cognitive diversities, such as those relating to gender, ethnicity or economic and social class, could also potentially improve decision-making (3).

Photo by Max Ostrozhinskiy on Unsplash

Despite the vast knowledge base on social mobility in the UK, it has made meagre progress in stopping the situation whereby a person’s family background is predictive of their outcomes. The experience of the last 70 years (if not longer) of social mobility in the UK teaches us that the journey of access to education and success is not the same for all: for example, access to and participation in higher education is disproportionately disadvantageous to the poor, marginalised, BAME and geographically remote regions within the UK. Major and Machin highlight the importance of research and the accumulation of data to understand the status of social mobility and the role of government in funding such research. They rightly point out that ‘data are the lifeblood of social science’ (6) and highlight the importance of data-driven evidence-based policy frameworks. Further, they express concern about the government’s funding cuts to social science research, which led to an absence of quality data for British cohort studies during the 1980s and 1990s.

Major and Machin assess possible general principles that can lead to greater equality of opportunity and make society more open through credible policy. But they also observe the predominance of piecemeal policy approaches when it comes to dealing with social mobility in the UK. Therefore, they press the need for a long-term holistic approach through the involvement of all stakeholders to ensure social mobility.

They highlight spatial differentiation and the ‘geography of social mobility’: for example, ‘London’s doughnut problem’, whereby the most high-value jobs and opportunities are in the capital’s core districts. At the same time, its outer boroughs face higher levels of poverty, unemployment and crime. In addition, upward occupational mobility in England and Wales is considerably high in London and the South-East than the rest of the country (44).

Another reason for social immobility in Britain is the concentration of opportunities among a small number of households, who are traditionally elite, wealthy families, privately educated, capable and powerful enough to maintain their presence at select universities like Oxford and Cambridge. These people subsequently end up having greater life chances with high-paid respectable positions: ‘children born into the highest-earning families are most likely themselves in later life to be among the highest earners’ (51).

It is therefore crucial to establish a mechanism where access to education would be fair and equitable. The decentralisation and democratisation of education through community participation must be the priority. There is a need to reframe the goal of education from being a quest to identifying the best academic minds (important as this is) towards being the enabler of all talents. It is time to consider a genuine dual vocational and academic approach in upper secondary education, which will improve future prospects. Major and Machin also highlight the need for paid apprenticeships which help students from the lowest social and economic echelons to earn while learning: one of many recommendations that the authors give for improving equality and social mobility for all.

Although it addresses social mobility in the UK, this study primarily focuses on London; while it analyses the capital in great detail, it does not deal with the rest of the country with that same rigour. The situation in the UK’s remote hinterlands may present different sets of challenges and require different solutions than big cities like London.  However, aside from this limitation, this book accomplishes a lot in a short space. It offers a strong base for those who are new to the subject and provides plenty of fresh viewpoints for those who are well-versed in the topic. With the educational system’s priorities constantly framed around social mobility, and the younger generation’s potential opportunities looking bleaker than they have in decades, it is unquestionably a timely read for all, especially those in the social sciences and policymakers.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books.

 


Book Review: Accidental Feminism: Gender Parity and Selective Mobility Among India’s Professional Elite by Swethaa S. Ballakrishnen

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 28/04/2021 - 9:11pm in

In Accidental Feminism: Gender Parity and Selective Mobility Among India’s Professional EliteSwethaa S. Ballakrishnen explores the fact that elite law firms in India display unexpected levels of gender parity, showing this to be the result of an ‘accidental feminism’ that has produced seemingly egalitarian outcomes without systematically dismantling oppressive structures. Revealing the infrastructural scaffolding and affective registers through which the accidental works its power, this book is an important contribution to expanding legal and organisational sociology beyond Euro-American contexts in deepening readers’ understanding of professional women’s entry into the workforce in India, writes Hemangini Gupta

Accidental Feminism: Gender Parity and Selective Mobility Among Indias Professional Elite. Swethaa S. Ballakrishnen. Princeton University Press. 2021.

Find this book (affiliate link): amazon-logo

Swethaa Ballakrishnen’s book, Accidental Feminism, begins with an apparent paradox. How do we explain the fact that elite law firms in India show unexpected levels of gender parity? Are they feminist? They certainly don’t intend to be: there are no explicitly feminist rules in place and the entry of women into senior levels hasn’t rearranged class or caste dynamics. In other words, the entry of women into senior positions has not worked to systematically dismantle oppressive structures but served to include women in senior management. Right at the beginning of the book (xiii) we are offered this key provocation: what can we do with the accidental, the unintentional, when it produces seemingly ‘good’ or visibly egalitarian outcomes? With this question, Ballakrishnen invites us to consider the relationship between identity and politics and the unintended consequences of specific alignments of care work, education and organisational culture that prove beneficial to some women lawyers.

The book is solid in its research. To build their argument, Ballakrishnen conducted 130 interviews with elite professionals in transactional law firms, in traditional litigation practice and in management consulting firms. This kind of comparative rubric enables us to understand what is new about professional work environments (via a comparison with more traditional litigation work) and what is specific about the work of transnational law firms (via a comparison with consulting firms). The result is a book that offers four novel ways of understanding how and why women in elite Indian law firms experience gender parity in their workplaces: frames; firms; facings; and families. Together these foci offer the backdrop with which we can think about the feminist futures of new organisational culture.

The immediate context for the book is India’s move toward market liberalisation in the 1990s. As the country’s markets opened to foreign direct investment, there was a need for new kinds of transactional professionals to service the influx of foreign investment and capital as well as new kinds of work and workplaces (13). More women entered professional workforces, but sociologists note that this entry was conditional on women conforming to (upper) caste and class expectations around their respectability. Professional women’s mobility in the transnational workspaces of Information Technology, for instance, were mediated by expectations that they tend to their families, temper their work ambitions and mobility and orient their consumption toward family and the national good. In general, in India, there is a steady decline in women’s labour force participation. Yet in Ballakrishnen’s study, a first generation of professional women in elite transactional law manages to rise to partner position, achieve financial independence and be especially valued by their clients. How come? Ballakrishnen offers four explanations.

1. Gender Frames

A gender frame, Ballakrishnen writes, helps us understand how ‘gender becomes an all-pervasive and inescapable frame of reference with embedded beliefs about status and difference’ (46). For newly emerged law firms — set up after India’s Liberalisation in the 1990s — there is no persistent blueprint that enforces strong gender stereotypes. There is no ‘ideal type’ of global corporate lawyer. Some of the persistent and pervasive expectations around male-typed jobs (such as technology work) are restricted by the gender frame they operate within even in innovative contexts (such as with start-ups). Women lawyers thus have a feeling of democratised access in new transactional law firms.

2. New Law Firms

The ambiguity around what it means to be a good consultant or lawyer in domestic firms allowed women to flourish in law firms. This is a form of what Ballakrishnen understands as ‘speculative isomorphism’ — Indian firms desire to be ‘just like an international law firm’ without actually having a formal relationship with them. This feeling is translated into efforts to simulate or replicate what are considered markers of modernity in postcolonial contexts like India: women in leadership positions, glass-walled offices, fine stationery. This is a significant commentary on how assumptions around what it means to be global translate into specific sites. In global contexts women do not, in fact, enjoy gender parity in elite law firms. Yet in Indian firms, ‘accidental assumptions about modernity and meritocracy’ produce gender as a marker of modernity (92).

3. Client Facings

If ‘feminised work’ describes the condition of post-Fordist economies in which traditional forms of women’s work emphasising emotional, caring and communicative capacities are now coming to define all forms of waged work, then women in elite law firms too are performing feminised work. They are invited back in repeat transactions and clients desire the feeling they get when working with women lawyers that their work will be ‘taken care of’ and diligently handled. Here, feminised work is prized and valued, unlike some of its other forms in which it is precaritised, devalued and contingent. Such client facings enable women to be valued employees.

4. Family support

Employees in elite law firms are often trained in the new law colleges and universities in India. These educational institutions pride themselves on their egalitarianism and graduates tend to move into the same kinds of law firms where classmates are now peers and seniors are now partners. Thus, equitable peer relationships translate into professional contexts. Employed through campus interviews, women typically rise (with their male counterparts) to partner position by their mid-twenties. By the time they begin to negotiate parental leave, they have more power within the firm to leverage. They also rely on intergenerational family support and draw on their resources to employ domestic labour.

While the book begins with the provocation of an apparent paradox — how to make sense of the professional mobility of women in elite law firms — it shows us how this paradox can, in fact, be systematically and sociologically assessed. Second, it locates its analysis in India, contributing to comparative legal sociology and organisational sociology to show how structures of labour, education and the new economy lead to very different outcomes for women lawyers than their counterparts in Euro-American contexts. Third, it offers a significant contribution to how we understand professional women’s entry into the workforce. While earlier studies largely suggested that caste and class advantages translated into women’s limited mobility in professional work, Ballakrishnen’s research finds quite the opposite. Inadvertently, women in elite transactional law firms seem to enjoy more gender parity than both those in other kinds of legal work and those in similar kinds of elite firms in the new economy.

Is this outcome a sign of accidental feminism? Some might argue that in fact women’s experiences in these law firms build on intentional organising and hard-won movement goals — there is nothing accidental about that. Yet those gains were not felt by other women in a similar field (litigation) or a comparable context (consulting). There is something unpredictable about these findings: they challenge other research on professional women in India and offer Indian law firms as an example of gender parity, both of which challenge the epistemological position that Indian women have come to inhabit in research on middle-class, professional labour. Might this book suggest the postcolonial South ‘as a space of experimentation that prefigures the near future of the West?’ That is an exciting and provocative thought that troubles the linear temporalities of projects of Western modernity. But in addition to the provocations of what the ‘accidental’ might herald, the book offers us detailed analysis of the infrastructural scaffolding and affective registers through which the accidental works its power. Without family care work, caste labour, educational credentials, gender frames, client interactions and a desire for modernity, the accidental would hold no meaning.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books.

Banner Image Credit: Photo by Alex Rodríguez Santibáñez on Unsplash.

In-text Image Credit: Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash.

 


Diversity troubles – comprehensive solutions to HE’s racial segregation

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/08/2017 - 9:01am in

Sol Gamsu and Michael Donnelly examine the geography of ethnicity and higher education in the UK and argue that a comprehensive university system may hold some of the answers.

The post Diversity troubles – comprehensive solutions to HE’s racial segregation appeared first on Wonkhe.

A real step change for fair access

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 10/08/2017 - 9:01am in

As the work of the Office for Fair Access begins to transfer to the new Office for Students, Les Ebdon offers his perspective on the way the new body will need to approach this vitally important issue.

The post A real step change for fair access appeared first on Wonkhe.

The case for intersectionality in TEF

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 25/07/2017 - 9:01am in

The split metrics in TEF allow us to see potential issues with diverse groups, but do they go far enough? Catherine Boyd and David Kernohan consider how intersectional groups could be represented.

The post The case for intersectionality in TEF appeared first on Wonkhe.

Social mobility can be much more than just widening HE access

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/07/2017 - 9:01am in

Mary Stuart reflects on the diverse ways in which universities can and do work with local schools and businesses to kickstart social mobility and address economic disadvantage and inequality.

The post Social mobility can be much more than just widening HE access appeared first on Wonkhe.

POLAR opposites – LEO and the class effect on graduate earnings

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/06/2017 - 12:45am in

We already know that a graduates' social class origins have a big impact on their graduate earnings potential. This week's LEO release gives us the opportunity to test this for different subject areas.

The post POLAR opposites – LEO and the class effect on graduate earnings appeared first on Wonkhe.

Looking fair and wide on university access

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 27/03/2017 - 10:01am in

What if access to higher education was entirely 'fair', and more evenly split across social classes? David Morris has made a rough model of a 'fair' system to uniquely illustrate some of the challenges for fairer and wider access to university.

The post Looking fair and wide on university access appeared first on Wonkhe.