social mobility

The Stepford Daughters of Brexit and Slavery and the Emergence of Capitalism

Yesterday for our amusement the awesome Kerry Anne Mendoza posted a video on twitter made by two very definitely overprivileged girls talking about the evils of socialism. The two young ladies were Alice and Beatrice Grant, the privately educated granddaughters of the late industrialist and former governor of the Bank of England, Sir Alistair Grant. With their cut-glass accents and glazed, robotic delivery of their lines, they seemed to fit the stereotype of the idiotic Sloane perfectly, right down to the ‘Okay, yah’, pronunciation. Mendoza commented ‘I don’t think this was meant to be a parody, but it’s the perfect roast of the “yah-yah” anti-left.’

Absolutely. In fact, what the girls were describing as socialism was really Communism, completely ignoring democratic socialism, or social democracy – the form of socialism that demands a mixed economy, with a strong welfare state and trade unions, progressive taxation and social mobility. It also ignored anti-authoritarian forms of socialism, like syndicalism, guild socialism or anarcho-Communism. They were also unaware that Marx himself had said that, regarding the interpretations of his views promoted by some of his followers, he wouldn’t be a Marxist.

But it would obviously be too much to expect such extremely rich, public school girls to know any of this. They clearly believed, and had been brought up to believe, the Andrew Roberts line about capitalism being the most wonderful thing every invented, a mechanism that has lifted millions around the world out of poverty. Etc. Except, as Trev, one of the great commenters on Mike’s and this blog, said

If “Capitalism works” why are there a million people using foodbanks in Britain today? Not working that well is it? Why did the Government bail out the Banks using our money? Why did the Banking system collapse in the first place, was it because of Socialism? I don’t find these idiotic spoilt brats in the least bit funny, I feel bloody angry. When was the last time they ate food they found in the street? Bring back the Guillotine!


The two girls were passionate supporters of the Fuhrage and his wretched party, and were really looking forward to a no-deal Brexit. It shows how out of touch these girls are, as Brexit is already wrecking the British economy, and a no-deal Brexit and subsequent deal with a predatory America would just wipe it out completely. Along with everything that has made post-war Britain great – the NHS and welfare state. But these girls obviously have no connection with working people or, I guess, the many businesses that actually depend on manufacturing and exports. I think the girls’ family is part of financial sector, who stand to make big profits from Brexit, or at least are insulated from its effects because they can move their capital around the globe.

The girls’ views on the EU was similarly moronic. They really do seem to believe that the EU is somehow an oppressive, communistic superstate like the USSR. It wasn’t. And the reason anti-EU socialists, like the late, great Tony Benn distrusted it was partly because in their view it stood for capital and free trade against the interests of the nation state and its working people.

And they also have weird views on slavery and the EU’s attitude to the world’s indigenous peoples. To the comment by David Lammy, the Black Labour politico, who dared to correct Anne Widdecombe for comparing Brexit to the great slave revolts, they tweeted

“Lammy being pathetic as usual. The chains of slavery can be intangible, as amply shown in China, the Soviet Union and the EU; to deny that just shows your ignorance and petty hatred for the truth”.

To which Zelo Street commented that there two things there. First of all, it’s best not to tell a Black man he doesn’t understand slavery. And second, the EU isn’t the USSR.

They were also against the Mercosur deal the EU wishes to sign with the South American nations, because these would lead to environmental destruction and the dispossession and exploitation of the indigenous peoples.

“As usual the GREED and selfishness of the EU imposes itself using their trade ‘deals’ in the name of cooperation and fake prosperity. The indigenous tribes of the Amazon need our protection not deforestation”.

To which Zelo Street responded with incredulity about how they could claim environmental concern for a party headed by Nigel Farage.

And they went on. And on, going on about how the EU was a threat to civil liberties. And there was more than a touch of racism in their statement that Sadiq Khan should be more concerned to make all Londoners feel safe, not just EU migrants. They also ranted about how Labour had sold out the working class over Brexit in favour of the ‘immoral, money hungry London elite’. Which shows that these ladies have absolutely no sense of irony or any self-awareness whatsoever.

In fact, Zelo Street found them so moronic and robotic, that it dubbed them the Brexit party’s Stepford Daughters, referring to the 70s SF film, the Stepford Wives. Based on the novel by Ira Levin, the films about a community where the men have killed their wives and replaced them with robots.


There’s a lot to take apart with their tweets. And perhaps we shouldn’t be two hard on the girls. They’re only 15 and 17. A lot of young people at that age have stupid views, which they grow out of. But there is one issue that really needs to be challenged.

It’s their assumptions about slavery and the genocide of indigenous peoples. Because this is one massive problem to any assumption that capitalism is automatically good and beneficial.

There’s a very large amount of scholarship, much of it by Black activists and researchers, about slavery and the emergence of European capitalism and the conquest of the Americas. They have argued that European capitalism was greatly assisted by the profits from New World slavery. Caribbean historians like Dr Richard Hart, in his Blacks in Bondage, have shown that transatlantic slavery was a capitalist industry. For the enslaved indigenous peoples and the African men and women, who replaced them when they died out, capitalism certainly did not raise them out of poverty. Rather it has done the opposite – it enslaved them, and kept them in chains until they were able to overthrow it successfully with assistance of European and American abolitionists in the 19th century.

And among some left-wing West Indians, there’s still bitterness towards America for its constant interference in the Caribbean and Central and South America. America did overthrow liberal and progressive regimes across the world, and especially in the New World, when these dared to challenge the domination of American corporations. The overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz’s democratic socialist regime in Guatemala is a case in point. Arbenz was overthrown because he dared to nationalise the banana plantations. Which upset the American United Fruit Company, who got their government to overthrow him in coup. He was replaced by a brutal Fascistic dictatorship that kept the plantation workers as virtual slaves. And the Americans also interfered in Jamaican politics. They were absolutely opposed to the Jamaican Labour party politician, Michael Manley, becoming his nation’s Prime Minister, and so did everything they could to stop him. Including cutting trade.

And then there’s the enslavement and genocide of the indigenous peoples.

Before Columbus landed in the New World, South America had a population of about seven million. There were one million people in the Caribbean. I think there were similar numbers in North America. But the indigenous peoples were enslaved and worked to death. They were also decimated through diseases carried by Europeans, to which they had no immunity. The Taino people were driven to extinction. The Caribs, from whom the region takes its name, were able to survive on a reservation granted to them in the 18th century by the British after centuries of determined resistance. The conquest of the New World was a real horror story.

And Britain also profited from the enslavement of indigenous peoples. I doubt the girls have heard of it, but one of the scandals that rocked British imperialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was that of the Putomayo Indians of South America. They had been enslaved by British rubber corporations. It was this abuse of a subject people that turned the Irish patriot, Roger Casement, from a British civil servant to an ardent Nationalist.

On the other side of the world, in the Pacific, British imperialism also managed to dispossess an entire Polynesian people and trash their island. This was in the 1920s. The island was rich in mineral deposits, and so moved the indigenous people out, ultimately relocating them to Fiji. Their island was then strip-mined, leaving it a barren, uninhabitable rock. In the 1980s the survivors were trying to sue the government over their maltreatment, but with no success.

This is what unfettered British imperialism and capitalism did. And what I’ve no doubt Farage and other far right British politicians would like to do again without the restraints of international law. It’s why I believe that, whatever the demerits of the Mercosur agreement are, it’s probably better than what individual nations would do without the restraint of the EU.

The girls are right to be concerned about the fate of indigenous peoples. But they are profoundly wrong in their absolute, uninformed belief that unregulated capitalism will benefit them.

It doesn’t. It enslaves, dehumanises and dispossesses. Which is why we need international organisations like the EU, and why the Brexit party isn’t just a danger to Britain, but to the world’s weaker, developing nations and their indigenous peoples.

Labour to Help Working Poor in First Term

On a more optimist note, yesterday’s I also carried a report on page 8 by Harriet Line, ‘Labour ‘would end in-work poverty by end of first term’. This ran

Labour will eliminate the “modern-day scourge” of in-work poverty by the end of the party’s first full term back  in office, John McDonnell is to promise. 

The shadow Chancellor will pledge to make structural changes to the economy, ensure public services are free at the point of use and provide a strong social safety net to tackle the issue if his party enters government.

Mr McDonnell is to set out his party’s plans in a speech at the launch of the Resolution Foundation’s Living Standards Audit this morning.

He will say:”Behind the concept of social mobility is the belief that poverty is OK as long as some people are given the opportunity to climb out of it, leaving the others behind.

“I reject that completely, and want to see a society with higher living standards for everyone as well as one in which nobody lacks the means to survive or has to choose between life’s essentials.”

“Without any one of these three elements, we will not be able to achieve the sustained eradication of poverty, the dramatic narrowing of inequality, and the transformation of people’s lives that will be the central purpose of the next Labour government.

“The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said last year that ‘in-work poverty is the problem of our times’.

“I am committing today to ending this modern-day scourge, to eliminating in-work poverty by the end of Labour’s first full parliamentary term.”

The JRF executive director, Claire Ainsley, commended Labour’s “significant ambition” as being “the right thing to do”.

She added: “Delivering this commitment should be the No 1 focus for political leaders after Brexit.”

Now expect this to be attacked by the Tories, Lib Dems and Blairites. And I don’t doubt that they’re playing up about anti-Semitism in the Labour party again to try to drown out this message. It’s the precise thing they, and their masters in business, really don’t want people to hear.

All of these groups are Thatcherites to the core, and Thatcherism accepted the Neoliberal doctrine, derived from 19th century laissez-faire economics, that wages should be as low as possible. She also believed in making life harder for the unemployed in order to force them to take care of themselves, and this has been extended to other groups, like the working poor. Their poverty and poor conditions are supposed to be justified by lowering labour expenses in business, thus allowing them to become more profitable and enriching managers, proprietors and shareholders. And the constant refrain of Tories in response to complaints about low wages is that if you don’t like it, you can get another, better job elsewhere. Because the free market will supposedly also act to make employers try to remain competitive by offering the best terms and conditions to their workers. Even when the same market forces are expected to act against that very thing.

It’s Labour’s determination under Corbyn to end in-work poverty, to empower workers, giving them proper wages and restoring the welfare state after its decimation by forty years of Thatcherism, that the Tories, Lib Dems and Blairites find so threatening. And Margaret Hodge let this hidden agenda behind her faction’s attack on Corbyn and his supporters out the bag a few weeks ago.

She condemned Corbyn and his supporters for offering the working class ‘bribes’, like the above, which they could never fulfill.

Which shows that Hodge and her fellows are simply died in the wool Thatcherite entryists, who have no place in a genuinely socialist, Labour party.

As for the ability of Labour to bring this about, it reminds me of a story about a young American farm boy and the Progressive Party back in the 1920 and ’30s. The Progressive Party aimed at improving conditions in rural America, where there was and is much massive poverty. Among their policies, the Party promised to build roads to every farm. The story goes that a group out in the American countryside was discussing this. They turned to a local farm boy, whom they knew was a supporter of the Progressives, and asked him if he really believed the Progressives could actually do it. The lad replied, ‘If my dog can tree it, I’ll have it’.

And Labour can end in-work poverty, despite the threats and screams from the right. 

Book Review: Posh Boys: How the English Public Schools Ruin Britain by Robert Verkaik

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 03/06/2019 - 8:49pm in

In Posh Boys: How the English Public Schools Ruin BritainRobert Verkaik explores the role that public schooling plays in reproducing inequality in Britain, showing how public schools enable wealthy families to pass down their privilege to their children who subsequently have greater access to the most lucrative and powerful areas of British society. Grounded in statistical evidence, this is a valuable contribution to debates surrounding social mobility in the UK, writes Ross Goldstone

Posh Boys: How the English Public Schools Ruin Britain. Robert Verkaik. Oneworld. 2018.

Find this book: amazon-logo

The publication of Posh Boys: How the English Public Schools Ruin Britain comes at a time of growing social and economic inequality, where the foundations of British society are being fundamentally questioned. A key way through which this inequality is reproduced is education, with public schooling providing a glaring case-in-point. Here, public schooling is defined as fee-paying schools operating independently from the state system of education. As Robert Verkaik articulates in his book, these schools allow the wealthy to pass down their privilege, enabling children from very privileged backgrounds to subsequently access the most lucrative and powerful areas of British society. They are then able to use these instruments of power to exacerbate their privilege. Verkaik effectively portrays this process in his book.

Posh Boys is foregrounded by an appreciation of the statistical evidence on the current state of public-school privilege today. Approximately 7% of children are privately educated, but more than 40% of the 500 most powerful people in the UK were privately educated (289), including 74% of UK senior judges, 74% of senior officers in the British Armed Forces, 55% of permanent secretaries in Whitehall, 50% of government Cabinet ministers and members of the House of Lords and a third of Russell Group university vice-chancellors (4). Thus, power is concentrated disproportionately amongst and in favour of those from a privately-educated background.

It is in this context that Verkaik delivers his critical exploration of English public schools and how, through their unrelenting success in securing advantages for their alumni, they have fundamentally contributed to many of the problems confronting contemporary British society. In this provocative book, Verkaik shows how the deeply embedded networks linking the highest echelons of British society with public schools, and specifically a small group of ‘elite’ public schools, has been and is preserved. This is done firstly by charting the development of English public schools from genuine charity to prep schools for the ruling class, and thereafter articulating how the education provided in such schools has fundamentally damaged, and continues to ruin, British society.

Image Credit: Eton, Berkshire, UK (Josh Hallett CC BY SA 2.0)

Though the book is far-reaching and touches upon a number of topics, including Brexit and child abuse scandals, in this review I will focus on two key arguments that run throughout the book. These are: (1) how the public-school sector in Britain has been politically protected, preventing reform; and (2) how social capital is central to both entry into and the outcomes of public schooling.

After introducing the origins of public schools as providers of education to ‘the community’s poorest and most needy children’ (16), Verkaik documents how these schools quickly turned into ‘Nurseries of Aristocracy’ (25), wherein fees sky-rocketed so that only those with high levels of disposable income could even consider applying. This meant that by the fifteenth century, fee-paying scholars outnumbered free scholars. Fast-forward to today: public schools still maintain their oxymoronic name but are composed of very few, if any, genuinely disadvantaged students (232-33). Instead, only 1% of all Independent Schools Council (ISC) pupils are free scholars, and many of these are questionably from socially disadvantaged backgrounds (224). Even if they are, as one public school headmaster stated: ‘You do not deal with a famine by sending a few lucky children to lunch at the Ritz’ (101).

Now, in normal circumstances, such a system of engrained privilege and inequality in access would not be sustainable in a modern democracy self-described as a ‘meritocracy’. This is particularly the case when repeated financial and academic scandals, alongside the questionable origin of fees paid, are considered. Throughout the book, Verkaik reveals how the independent, fee-paying school sector has been able to operate largely unchecked. This lack of reform is despite its modern manifestation as ‘bastions of privilege’ and exclusivity (192). The reason for the lack of government action, for Verkaik, is due to the vested interests of those tasked at reforming the public-school system, most particularly the fact that these very politicians are typically beneficiaries of that very system and/or choose to enter their children into it. Thus, a conflict of interest emerges at the heart of the policy process.

A range of evidence is given to support this claim, such as the fact that every elected prime minister since 1806, excluding Edward Heath, has had ties to the system, either through their own education or that of their family (287). Verkaik also alludes to the current political landscape being dominated by public school students, where even an opposition with socialist ideals is fronted by public schoolboys and fails to go beyond discussing the tax status of public schools. But the most effective illustrations given are how those very individuals tasked with reforming the sector were products of it. For instance, Anthony Crosland, who was oversaw the reform of public schooling in the 1960s, was privately educated himself. What Verkaik highlights is a system governed by a disproportionate number of privately-educated politicians, and importantly leaders, who then fail to fundamentally change the very system that propelled them into their privileged position.

Now, not everybody can access this exclusive system (192), especially the ‘magic circle of top schools’ (191). Verkaik unearths for the reader how a greater number of those attending these schools do so through the mobilisation of familial networks. This can manifest via the names of newly-born children being put on the ‘Eton list’ (190), calling upon government ministers to position a child’s admission as in the ‘national interest’ (199) or simply possessing the tacit understanding of the system to maximise opportunity for one’s child. Though it isn’t just in admissions where the role of social networks is illustrated. Verkaik shows how parents pay for much more than an education. Part of the service is granting entry into Oxbridge, which disproportionately recruits from fee-paying schools. In addition, ‘public schools breed networks’ (290), giving an already privileged child additional advantages and resources they can cash-in on later. It is this self-serving nature of public schools, putting school and fellow student above everything else, including nation, which Verkaik attributes to the decaying of public trust and the ‘ruining’ of British society.

However, one cautionary note is that there seems to be insufficient differentiation between the ‘top’ public schools and those less prestigious ones. Whilst they all likely enjoy advantages over most state schools, Verkaik tends to overlook how much of his evidence demonstrates how a small number of ISC schools dominate British society.

Posh Boys presents a valuable non-academic contribution to debates surrounding social mobility in Britain. It can be understood in relation to other recent publications discussing education and social (im-)mobility, including Miseducation by Diane Reay, The Class Ceiling by Sam Friedman and Daniel Laurison and Engines of Privilege by David Kynaston and Francis Green. Posh Boys will have an appeal for academics, policymakers, educationalists and those interested in making Britain a more equitable country. It also has international resonance, given the recent trend of exporting British public-school provision around the world. It was only by reading this book that I truly understood the deeply engrained nature of the ‘privilege’ that is public schooling. With the two recent governments remaining dominated by the privately-educated, Her Majesty’s opposition increasing its proportion of privately-educated representatives (185) and the increasing global demand for a British public-school education, this book is ever so timely.

Ross Goldstone is an ESRC-funded PhD candidate at the School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, where he is studying the relationship between social class and further education participation and experience. His current interests are in educational inequality and the sociology of education, in addition to wider debates around social class, and the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu and their application in educational research. He tweets at @GoldstoneRoss.

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. 

Book Review: The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students by Anthony Abraham Jack

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/05/2019 - 11:35pm in

In The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students, Anthony Abraham Jack seeks to better comprehend the unnoticed heterogeneous experiences of first-generation, low-income students navigating campus life at elite universities in the United States. This is a significant contribution to debates on class and mobility, writes Malik Fercovic, that compels us to think carefully about the responsibilities of elite institutions when it comes to inequalities within their student bodies. 

The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students. Anthony Abraham Jack. Harvard University Press. 2019.

Find this book: amazon-logo

The field of social mobility studies lives through vibrant times. Against the backdrop of the dominant Nuffield ‘paradigm’ led by John Goldthorpe and primarily dedicated to measuring intergenerational mobility patterns at the national level, a plethora of recent work has uncovered the diversity of social mobility across class, gender and race, and both between and within national contexts. Though not entirely new, this concern in addressing diversity among the socially mobile appears to have taken on a heightened intensity. A cursory tour of fresh examples of this trend include Paul Pasquali’s Passer les Frontières Sociales, Diane Reay’s Miseducation (2017), Jules Naudet’s Stepping into the Elite and Sam Friedman and Daniel Laurison’s The Class Ceiling. Significantly, the interest in social class and mobility has not been confined to narrow academic circles, but has also reached larger audiences via Didier Eribon’s penetrating 2009 essay Returning to Reims and Édouard Louis’s resounding novels.

Anthony Abraham Jack’s The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students is part of this growing stream of scholarship and sensibility. Jack’s specific focus is to better comprehend the unnoticed heterogeneous experiences of first-generation, low-income students who have landed through perseverance and good fortune at an elite university in the United States – an institution referred to as ‘Renowned’. Based on extensive qualitative research, this book’s central message is as plain as it is substantial: access is not the same as inclusion. Increasing the number of low-income students in higher education is only the start of a university’s obligations. At least equally relevant is how disadvantaged students integrate themselves once inside elite universities. Attending an elite university for first-generation students is often accompanied by a painful and isolating dislocation between their class of origins and their current location at an Ivy League institution. With clear and vivid prose, Jack uncovers this lingering yet differentiated influence of class in shaping the lives of disadvantaged students in a wider context of escalating inequalities – racial, geographic and residential – in the US.

The Privileged Poor aims to provide a solid answer to the following question: how can students from similarly disadvantaged social backgrounds navigate the same elite university so differently? In order to better understand the lives of low-income students at Renowned, Jack’s main conceptual contribution is to distinguish between the ‘privileged poor’ and the ‘doubly disadvantaged’. The privileged poor refers to poor students educated at preparatory or boarding secondary schools in which they interacted with wealthy peers, immersing themselves earlier in the cultural norms and social rules that dominate privileged environments. The doubly disadvantaged, by contrast, designates those students who enter university from segregated and underfunded state schools, without any significant interactions with well-off students or teachers prior to higher education. In addition to addressing the unobserved diversity within low-income students, this typology brings to the fore the role of secondary schools in moulding the trajectories of disadvantaged student before and during higher education. This conceptual distinction sheds light not only on how but also when social class shapes inequality processes at Renowned.

The Privileged Poor is based on 103 interviews and two years of participant observation at Renowned. As both a first-generation African-American student from an underprivileged background and a researcher working at this prestigious academic institution, Jack is well placed to give a plural voice to the experiences of low-income students at elite universities. Jack’s methods and data-collecting techniques not only registered disadvantaged students’ narratives about their own experiences at university but also observed their daily practices on campus. This allowed him to uncover how disparate pre-university experiences affect the cultural and social resources economically disadvantaged students bring to elite universities, and how they use these resources when navigating campus life. But Jack also offers highly valuable, if initial, reflections on the heavy emotional burden involved in giving a voice to the painful experiences disadvantaged students face at elite universities. Jack’s fieldwork lessons suggest that a thoughtful and skilful researcher needs to know how to deal with this both intellectually and emotionally.

Image Credit: Flags of the Ivy League fly at Columbia’s Wien Stadium (Kenneth C. Zirkel CC BY SA 4.0)

The Privileged Poor puts forward revealing findings about the different experiences of first-generation students at Renowned. Jack shows that the encounters between disadvantaged students and their privileged peers are powerfully shaped by both a different sense of belonging and displays of wealth saturating university life. But the privileged poor and the doubly disadvantaged face these challenges differently. In the narratives of the privileged poor, there is a clear sense of continuity between secondary school and university in terms of socialising practices and cultural norms. This previous socialisation and early exposure to privilege help them to effectively smooth their transition to campus life. For the doubly disadvantaged, however, their encounters with wealthy peers are experienced as ‘colliding worlds’ or an intense ‘cultural shock’. The everyday exhibitions of wealth among their privileged peers – in the form of expensive clothing or lavish holidays abroad – only serves to remind them that, even though they have managed to gain admission to Renowned, elite universities are not their place.

But the privileged poor and the doubly disadvantaged not only differ in their sense of belonging at Renowned. They also diverge in taking advantage of all the resources available for them at university. Given their familiarity with elite spaces from an earlier age, the privileged poor actively consult their professors to help them when they were struggling in class, and equally devote time to join social clubs and network with people who could be vital connections in the future. The doubly disadvantaged, by contrast, consider these attitudes as ‘sucking up’, as one of the interviewees tellingly puts it.  Many of them exclusively focus on studying and obtaining good marks, but are inhibited from attending office hours or reaching out for help when needed. The different support strategies that low-income student undertake, Jack suggests, are not only significant for the transition to university but are also very likely to be consequential in shaping unequal trajectories after university is finished.

And yet, despite all their differences in their adaptation to Renowned, the privileged poor and the doubly disadvantaged also share similar experiences. Here the focus turns to how material hardships prevent both the privileged poor and the doubly disadvantaged from fully integrating to university life, and the role university policies play in exacerbating this. Jack draws our attention to the unintended consequences of policies aggravating the distress or exclusion of disadvantaged students. These policies include a job programme offering poor students to clean their wealthy peers’ bathrooms, an ‘inclusion’ initiative oriented to help poor students afford social events but making them picking up the subsidised tickets in a separate line from well-off students and the closure of dining halls during spring breaks, leaving low-income students hungry. In all three cases, Jack shows, pre-existing structural inequalities are reinforced by reckless policies not only harming disadvantaged students’ sense of dignity, but also effectively increasing their lack of integration at elite universities.

The Privileged Poor thus persuasively shows the complex and multidimensional influence of class inequality at Renowned. Elite universities in the US have increased the diversity of their student body over the past decade. But, as Jack painstakingly reminds us, this is not equivalent to inclusion for many low-income, first-generation students. Unlike the bulk of the existing research insisting on family backgrounds to account for the struggles of low-income students at selective universities, Jack’s distinctive contribution is to signal the role secondary schools play in these processes. As ‘immensely powerful socializing forces’, these institutions differently mould the lives of those poor students who graduated from resource-rich private schools and those from distressed public secondary schools at Renowned. As a skilful interviewer and insightful observer, Jack reveals deep-seated class disparities that manifest themselves not just in the clothes students wear and the holidays they take, but in what they expect of their professors and envisage for themselves while in university and beyond. In so doing, Jack opens up new ground to interrogate the ‘long shadow’ of class inequality throughout the educational system. For all these reasons, this book is a considerable achievement.

Still, notwithstanding its many qualities, The Privileged Poor comes with some limitations. Firstly, Jack’s findings concerning the role of secondary schools need to be considered within the wider sociological literature. As sociologists have long conceptually recognised and empirically documented the significance of socialisation processes outside the family, Jack’s contribution in this respect is somewhat overstated. Here, among other references, Jack could have very well consulted Bernard Lahire’s The Plural Actor – an important book similarly concerned with class and the plurality of socialisation experiences shaping individual lives over their life-course.

Secondly, for all its insistence on class, the book lacks an explicit approach to this key concept. Within sociology there is no consensus on how to define class – the discussion still being highly disputed between the perspectives developed by Erik Olin Wright, Goldthorpe and Pierre Bourdieu. Judging by the literature on which Jack relies, he seems to make his own the Bourdieusian framework – the idea that class is the resulting process of economic, cultural and social resources, allowing some people to accumulate advantages over time relative to others. But why exactly is the Bourdieusian approach the best way to make sense to Jack’s findings? Curiously enough, this mostly remains backstage in the analysis. Although the lack of a formal definition of class does not considerably hinder our understanding of his findings, I believe a clearer conceptual approach on class could have enhanced Jack’s overall argument.

Thirdly, considering the expanding amount of high-quality research on social mobility produced outside the US, Jack’s book is surprisingly unconcerned by it. Indeed, Jack neglects the rich literature cited at the outset of this review, which is directly relevant to the topic at hand and would allow him to place and interrogate his findings within a wider perspective. Why does Jack overlook, like so many sociologists in the US, the work of his non-US-based peers on social class and mobility? Without excusing Jack’s omissions, I think this is related to broader trends concerning the politics of citation and the disparities of academic recognition in the sociological field at the international level, which can limit the advancement of sociology as a whole.

Despite all this, The Privileged Poor remains a significant contribution to the debate on class and mobility as well as a timely provocation to further analysis. As Jack compels us to think carefully both about the campus lives of poor students and the responsibility elite institutions have in this, it is hard to read his book without wondering what LSE is doing to face these challenges. Although previous research has addressed some of the difficulties low-income student face at selective academic institutions in the UK, several points raised by Jack remain underexplored (for example, the role of office hours and employment opportunities, food (in)security for students, undetected stigmatising practices), particularly those related to policies implemented at elite universities. The extent to which universities can effectively contribute to integrate their diverse but highly unequal communities still remains to be seen.

Malik Fercovic is a MPhil/PhD student in the LSE Department of Sociology. He is also part of the Leverhulme Programme (2016/2017 cohort) at the LSE International Inequalities Institute and the NYLON project. His research investigates the experience of upward social mobility in contemporary Chilean society. Malik holds a MSc in Governance of Risks and Resources from Heidelberg University, and a BA in Sociology from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Malik’s wider academic interests are in interdisciplinary approaches to social mobility and inequality and cultural sociology.

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. 

Intergenerational mobility between and within Canada and the United States

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 15/04/2019 - 11:49pm in

Intergenerational mobility is lower in the United States than in Canada, but the border only partially distinguishes the two countries with mobility varying significantly within each. The within-country differences and similarities hint at some of the reasons why the United States has lower social mobility than many other rich countries.

This is the main theme of a study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, based upon Canadian data my co-authors and I constructed with the cooperation of Statistics Canada. Our research offers a more accurate comparison between these two countries than any cross-country comparisons made in the literature to date: tax-based administrative data, used to define similar measures of income, and coming close to covering the total population of similarly aged young people and their parents.

We cluster more than 1,000 communities in these two countries—709 American Commuting Zones and 288 Canadian Census Divisions—into four broad regions according to their similarity across a comprehensive set of five different measures of intergenerational income mobility, all referring to the strength of the tie between parent incomes and child adult incomes.

Source: Connolly, Corak, Haeck (2019, Figure 7). Click on image to enlarge.

The data and methods are meant to conform to the design of research published in 2014 by Harvard University’s Raj Chetty, Nathan Hendren and their co-authors, who focus on the adult attainments of Americans born between 1980 and 1982 using income tax data from the Internal Revenue Service.

A growing consensus in the academic literature suggests that social mobility is twice as great in Canada than in the United States, a finding our study confirms by showing that the middle class is within easier reach of Canadian children raised in low income families than for Americans.

At the same time our within and between country analysis does not naturally support the conclusion that a simple between country comparison is the most accurate way to view social mobility. The regions of highest and lowest mobility span the border, one running through the mid west of the United States into adjacent Canadian regions, and another grouping the southern United States with northern parts of Canada.

But another relatively low mobility cluster of communities is almost exclusively American, and includes large parts of the northeastern seaboard. This group of commuting zones represents almost 60 percent of the children we study, covering some of the most populous regions on both the east and west coasts.

Consequently this American region is one of the drivers of the overall cross-country differences, with a distinct cross-border effect along the Great Lakes that extends through the northeastern United States and the Atlantic provinces. This US area is both more affluent and more unequal than the adjacent Canadian areas, with higher inequality being associated with lower mobility.

The negative relationship between inequality and mobility is now well established  across countries, as summarized by The Great Gatsby Curve, and our analysis shows that this is also the case within the United States and Canada.

Source: Connolly, Corak, Haeck (2019, Figure 9). Click on image to enlarge.

Another important reason explaining lower intergenerational mobility in the United States has to do with the very low levels of mobility in the American south. While some parts of northern Canada share these challenges, they represent a much smaller fraction of the Canadian population.

This is the elephant in the room to which simple cross-country comparisons do not draw enough attention: the US mobility challenge may have to do with the longstanding issue of fully integrating the black population in the economic mainstream of cities and regions that have a long history of exclusion.

The Canadian challenges may be just as important but different in nature, more likely being associated with the indigenous populations in some geographically more isolated areas of the country. There is no parallel in Canada for the magnitude of the experience in the American south.

Americans and Canadians have similar views on the factors determining upward mobility, whether these deal with causes beyond an individual’s choice or responsibility—like race, gender, and luck—or to others like hard work, and having ambition. In both countries, factors associated with individual choice and responsibility are viewed as the prime drivers of economic mobility, and ironically only very small minorities in both countries cite race or luck as being important.


[ This post is based upon my co-authored research paper with Marie Connolly and Catherine Haeck released by the National Bureau of Economic Research on April 15th, 2019 called “Intergenerational Mobility Between and Within Canada and the United States.” The paper is forthcoming in the Journal of Labor Economics, and the working paper version can be downloaded the from the NBER website, or downloaded as the ungated version here. ]

Read the other posts in this series:

If there is such a thing as the “Canadian Dream,” it would look very much like what Americans say is the “American Dream”

The “middle class” is within easier reach for low income Canadian children, than it is for low income Americans

Equality of opportunity is a choice

The “middle class” is within easier reach for low income Canadian children, than it is for low income Americans

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 15/04/2019 - 11:47pm in

Upward mobility is more likely in Canada than in the United States, with the middle class within easier reach for Canadian children raised in low income families than for low income American children.

Canadian children raised by parents with incomes at the bottom 10 percent can expect to be earning enough as a young adults to place them much higher, above the 40th rung of a 100 rung income ladder, and significantly higher than their American counterparts. To reach a similar point on the income ladder an American child would have to have parents who ranked as high as the 39th percentile.

Source: Connolly, Corak, Haeck (2019, Figure 3). Click on image to enlarge.

This is one important finding in a study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, based upon Canadian data my co-authors and I constructed with the cooperation of Statistics Canada. Our research offers a more accurate comparison between these two countries than any cross-country comparisons made in the literature to date: tax-based administrative data, used to define similar measures of income, and coming close to covering the total population of similarly aged young people and their parents.

The study is meant to conform to the design of research published in 2014 by Harvard University’s Raj Chetty, Nathan Hendren and their co-authors, who focus on the adult attainments of Americans born between 1980 and 1982 using income tax data from the Internal Revenue Service.

There is a good deal of intergenerational income mobility for a large segment of the population in both of these countries, for children raised in families above the bottom fifth and below the top fifth. Family income in this broad middle seems rather loosely related to child outcomes, children having roughly the same chances of moving up as they have of moving down. In this sense, intergenerational mobilty may actually contribute to middle class anxiety, parents not being able to greatly influence their child’s station in life.

Source: Connolly, Corak, Haeck (2019, Table 3). Click on image to enlarge.

But the children of top 20 percent parents in the United States have an almost 37 percent chance of staying in the top fifth as adults, and face about one-in-ten chance of falling to the bottom fifth. This tilt is also present in Canada, but not as extreme with only 25 out of every 100 children raised in the top experiencing an intergenerational cycle of privilege.

A similar pattern exists at the other end of the income distribution, intergenerational cycles of bottom income being more likely in the United States. Rags to riches movement are similar in both countries, but Canadian children from bottom income families have a greater chance of rising at least into the top half of the income distribution.

All of these cross-country comparisons, but in particular this last result related to the prospects of low income children, put the “American Dream” in sharp relief, and support the growing evidence that this Dream—if it is defined in terms of income mobility and the opportunity to succeed regardless of family background—is more of a reality in Canada than in the United States.

These differences are not simply a question of different values being reflected in different social choices, public opinion polls showing that Americans and Canadians having a common perception the good life .

The research documented by the Chetty-Hendren team suggests that the degree of mobility varies significantly within the United States, with some regions showing much more mobility than that recorded even for the most  mobile countries. Between country comparisons have more relevance when they are also accompanied by within country comparisons, and our study pursues a between and within country comparison to help understand these national patterns.

[ This post is based upon my co-authored research paper with Marie Connolly and Catherine Haeck released by the National Bureau of Economic Research on April 15th, 2019 called “Intergenerational Mobility Between and Within Canada and the United States.” The paper is forthcoming in the Journal of Labor Economics, and the working paper version can be downloaded the from the NBER website, or downloaded as the ungated version here. ]

Read the other posts in this series:

If there is such a thing as the “Canadian Dream,” it would look very much like what Americans say is the “American Dream”

Intergenerational mobility between and within Canada and the United States

Equality of opportunity is a choice

If there is such a thing as the “Canadian Dream,” it would look very much like what Americans say is the “American Dream”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 15/04/2019 - 11:45pm in

Public opinion polls suggest that Canadians and Americans share basic attitudes toward inequality and opportunity, and toward the underlying drivers of upward mobility. If there is such a thing as the “Canadian Dream,” it would look very much like what Americans say is the “American Dream.”

The Pew Charitable Trusts conducted a number of public opinion polls asking Americans what meaning they attach to the phrase “The American Dream,” and these have been adapted and conducted in Canada with remarkably similar responses.

In these polls respondents were asked to indicate the degree to which they agreed with a series of possible definitions of the American Dream. Sixty percent of American respondents ranked “being able to succeed regardless of family background” eight or higher on a ten point scale, while 59 percent of Canadians did so. The percentage indicating that the statement “Your children being financially better off financially than you” represents the American Dream was 64 percent in the United States, and 57 percent in Canada.

These two options relate most directly to social mobility as measured by social scientists, and the country differences in responses to them are not statistically significant. In fact, this was the case for the ratings given to all but one of the other ten options presented to these representative samples, Americans ranking “Owning your own business” more highly.

Source: Connolly, Corak, Haeck (2019) using data from Corak (2010).

Americans and Canadians also have similar views on the factors determining upward mobility, whether these deal with causes beyond an individual’s choice or responsibility—like race, gender, and luck—or to others under a person’s control. In both countries, factors associated with individual choice are viewed as the prime drivers of economic mobility.

Ninety-two percent of Americans and 88 percent of Canadians report that “hard work” was either essential or very important in determining upward mobility, and 89 percent in both countries felt this way about “having ambition.”

Source: Connolly, Corak, Haeck (2019) using data from Corak (2010).

On the other hand, small minorities in both countries cited race, gender, or luck as being essential or very important, “luck” being the most cited with 21 percent of Americans and 22 percent of Canadians thinking of it in these terms. Indeed, the responses along a whole host of possible causes are very similar, if not identical.

But if Americans and Canadians hold a similar meaning of the good life, and similar views on how to obtain it, they have significantly different views on the role of collective action through public policy.

Other surveys show that while 35 percent of Americans “strongly agree” or “agree” with the statement “Government’s responsibility is to reduce the gap between high and low incomes,” a significantly larger proportion (47 percent) of Canadians have this view. This said, attitudes in these two countries are much more similar than in European countries, where the majority and often the strong majority feel redistribution is an important government responsibility.

The Pew-based research also suggests that Americans and Canadians share a preference for equality of opportunities over equality of outcomes: 71 percent of Americans and 68 percent of Canadians feel it was more important “to ensure everyone has a fair chance of improving their economic standing” than “to reduce inequality.” But the biggest difference in attitudes between citizens of these countries is that Canadians are much more likely to offer a more “activist” role for their governments.

When asked if government does more to help or more to hurt people trying to move up the economic ladder, respondents in both countries lacked strong proclivities. However, 46 percent of Canadians feel that government does more to help than to hurt, compared to 36 percent of Americans. … The difference in the responses to this question was among the largest of all questions asked. [ Corak (2010), page 17. ]

Cross-country differences in social mobility may be the result of a whole host of factors associated with public policies, and also with labor market inequality, and the structure and strength of families, but they also may simply reflect different social choices reflecting different values among the electorate. Since Canadians and Americans seem to define and value mobility in the same way, comparing them may help place a sharper focus on things that can be changed.

In other words, a Canada-US comparison might open up a wider menu of choices in American public debate than if the comparison was just over time within the country, or for that matter to European countries, which can be more easily dismissed as not relevant to American values.

[ This post is based upon my co-authored research paper with Marie Connolly and Catherine Haeck released by the National Bureau of Economic Research on April 15th, 2019 called “Intergenerational Mobility Between and Within Canada and the United States.” The paper is forthcoming in the Journal of Labor Economics, and the working paper version can be downloaded the from the NBER website, or downloaded as the ungated version here. ]

Read the other posts in this series:

The “middle class” is within easier reach for low income Canadian children, than it is for low income Americans

Intergenerational mobility between and within Canada and the United States

Equality of opportunity is a choice

Equality of opportunity is a choice

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 15/04/2019 - 11:43pm in

Tony Atkinson, the great British economist, encourages us to think of inequality as a choice, something that can be influenced by public policy.

If this is the case for equality of outcomes, then it is surely also so for equality of opportunity; the significant differences in social mobility between the rich countries hinting at the role governments play in determining the degree to which family background is destiny, the rich raising the next generation of rich adults, the poor seeing their children face low chances of upward mobility.

Some of these differences may simply reflect different social priorities, but others may teach us about the power of different policies.

The United States, where roughly one-half or even more of inequality between parents is passed on to children, is often compared with Denmark, where less than one-fifth of income inequality is transmitted between generations. But these countries differ in all kinds of ways that may cloud the degree to which policy makers in one country can adopt lessons learned in another.

After all, Denmark could easily fit into South Carolina, with enough spare room to almost fit in another Denmark, and this says nothing about the Danes being a much smaller and less ethnically diverse population, nor about attitudes toward the meaning of the good life. Maybe Danes just prefer a different type of society, and therefore their policy choices are not relevant for Americans?

A comparison between Canada and the United States is not as easily dismissed. The Canadian rate of social mobility is roughly twice as great as the American, but the starting point of a study I co-authored with Marie Connolly and Catherine Haeck is that this may be particularly relevant to understanding the influence of public policy because the citizens of these two countries share common values when it comes to the meaning of the “American Dream” and how to achieve it.

So maybe the fact that social mobility is greater in Canada has less to do with different social choices based on different values, and something to do with how inequality, which is greater in the United States, influences public policy?

Click on image to enlarge.

A whole host of factors associated with the family and the labour market determine social mobility, but in some measure, the major differences we document between these countries reflects skewed investments in quality education as American communities have historically relied on narrower tax bases to finance primary and secondary schools, with the rich increasingly opting out of the public system.

This gives children growing up in rich communities a leg up; those in less rich communities a handicap. Barbara Biasi of Yale University examines the important impact that school financing can have on intergenerational mobility in a paper called “School Finance Equalization Increases Intergenerational Mobility.”

But this in turn is related to another important pattern in our study of Canada-US differences, the fact that the only parallel in Canada for the very low mobility rates of children from the American south is the experience of some indigenous communities, a group that represents a much smaller fraction of the Canadian population.

Source: Connolly, Corak, Haeck (2019, Figure 7). Click on image to enlarge.

In a paper called “Can you move to opportunity? Evidence from the Great Migration” that is part of her PhD thesis, Ellora Derenoncourt examines the hypothesis that lower end inequality may also be related to race, suggesting that cities and neighbourhoods changed in ways that discriminated against blacks who moved northward during the Great Migration. Her results suggest that access to public goods and schooling became more restrictive, “white flight” depriving these migrants and their children of public investments that in turn had long-term negative consequences across generations.

Public policy is an important driver of social mobility, and well-designed policies that are of relatively more advantage to the relatively disadvantaged promote upward mobility and equality of opportunity. Greater inequality, whether it is related to residential segregation or outright discrimination, may move public investments in a regressive direction.

These investments certainly include policies like health care and schooling that enhance the capabilities of children, but they also include income support and insurance policies that buffer families from market volatility and give young people a boast as they try to establish a foothold in the labour market and find a partner.

Another bottom line of our research is that social mobility can be enhanced by not letting poverty and inequality in the lower half of the income distribution get out of hand.

Source: Corak, Curtis, Phipps (2011, figure 8). Click on image to enlarge.

In a related study published by the Russell Sage Foundation in 2011, my co-authors and I showed that if Canadian children who were being raised during the 1990s were placed in the American income distribution, they would be much less likely to land on the lowest rungs of the US income ladder, but also less likely to rank in the top. Children in the United States experience much greater income inequality and higher risks of poverty, and this contributes to lower social mobility.

In a paper called “How do the U.S. and Canadian Social Safety Nets Compare for Women and Children?“, Hilary Hoynes of the University of California, Berkeley and Mark Stabile of INSEAD chart the evolution of income support programs in the two countries from the early 1990s to about 2015, documenting significant changes in generosity and delivery.

They note that work requirements are a more important objective in the evolution of the US safety net, and that when all programs are taken into account—including state/provincial programs—Canada offers considerably more support to low income families and those living on their own.

Source: Hoynes and Stabile (2017, figure 2). Click on image to enlarge.

Source: Hoynes and Stabile (2017, figure 3). Click on image to enlarge.

But much has changed since 2015, and we have witnessed a continued, and even stronger, divergence in the social policies of these two countries.

The Canadian federal government is about to pass a “Poverty Reduction Strategy” into law, defining an official poverty rate, clarifying in what ways progress will be measured and monitored, and using it to set challenging yet feasible targets. In fact, the overall poverty rate and the child poverty rate have experienced an unprecedented fall since 2015, likely as a result of a series of federal government initiatives.

Source: using Statistics Canada data. Click on image to enlarge.

The United States federal government has declared past goals associated with an overly ambitious target to have been accomplished and only of historical interest, while at the same time not clarifying the way to measure poverty and not articulating any clear targets.

Source: Economic Report of the President 2019, Figure 9-4. Click on image to enlarge.

Canada has significantly expanded income support to low income households, supporting families with children through newly designed and enhanced refundable tax credits, the Canada Child Benefit reforming previous programs to be more effectively targeted, more generous, and indexed to inflation.

The Canada Child Benefit and what it replaced. Click on image to enlarge.

The United States also offers income tax support to families with children but in a way that is much less targeted and not more generous to lower income families.

Source: Economic Report of the President 2019, Figure 9-12. Click on image to enlarge.

A study by Arloc Sherman of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities suggests that a Canadian design applied in the United States would cut the child poverty rate by more than half.

The Canadian federal government has reformed and enhanced wage supplements to low paid workers, including a renaming of the Working Income Tax Benefit to what is now called the Canada Workers Benefit.

These payments will also be delivered automatically through the income tax system, not requiring special schedules and applications to be completed. This support includes not just individuals living in couples, but amounts to a maximum of almost $1,400 per year for those living on their own.

Source: using data from Canada, Budget 2018. Click on image to enlarge.

The maximum benefit for couples and single parents is $2,335, which phases out completely at earnings above about $36,500.

This program was inspired by the Earned Income Tax Credit, the EITC, a longstanding American program that was expanded as a part of welfare reform during the 1990s, a reform that downplayed unconditional income support and introduced work requirements to promote labour force attachment.

This is one of the main vehicles delivering income support to families with children and has maximum benefits higher than the Canadian counterpart, but much lower support for singles or couples without children. The administration has no plans to enhance in work income support for these households, which amounts to only about $500.

Source: Economic Report of the President 2019, Figure 9-11. Click on image to enlarge.

The Canadian federal government has enhanced parental leave through the unemployment insurance program, leaned toward reducing gender inequities in care-giving, enhanced access to higher education along with more income contingent support in the repayment of student loans, and moved toward expanding the health care system through a national pharma care program.

It is not a simple task to determine the extent to which all these initiatives will influence poverty and inequality in the bottom half because provincial/state and municipal governments also play a role. (Hoynes and Stabile offer an assessment based on information up to about 2012.) But it is clear the Canadian and American federal governments are leaning in very different directions.

This is also clear in policies that impact inequality at the top. The Canadian federal government has raised the marginal tax rate on the rich, introducing an extra tax bracket for the top 1 percent, and more recently closed some loopholes associated the the preferential tax treatment of stock options and capital income. The US federal administration has cut taxes through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in a way that some estimate will be of disproportionate benefit to the richest Americans, and likely to increase federal deficits and limit future spending.

Blue line represents United States; red line, Canada. Click on image to enlarge.

Top end inequality has grown in both countries, but more so in the United States with the top one percent taking home about one-fifth of total market income in the United States, significantly more than in Canada.

Other studies of social mobility show that there is only a weak—if any—correlation in top income inequality and upward mobility both within Canada and within the United States. But what this misses is the potential influence the top one percent has on the conduct of government, implying that the impact of their preferences on public policy may be much greater in the United States.

Inequality is a choice, and as a result so is equality of opportunity.


[ This post is meant to complement my co-authored research paper with Marie Connolly and Catherine Haeck released by the National Bureau of Economic Research on April 15th, 2019 called “Intergenerational Mobility Between and Within Canada and the United States.” The paper is forthcoming in the Journal of Labor Economics, and the working paper version can be downloaded the from the NBER website, or downloaded as the ungated version here. ]

Read the other posts in this series:

If there is such a thing as the “Canadian Dream,” it would look very much like what Americans say is the “American Dream”

The “middle class” is within easier reach for low income Canadian children, than it is for low income Americans

Intergenerational mobility between and within Canada and the United States

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.