Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics
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Swedish Institute for Social Research, Stockholm University Working Paper Series, Swedish Institute for Social Research, Stockholm University

No 4/2009:
Income and Class Mobility Between Generations in Great Britain: The Problem of Divergent Findings from the Data-sets of Birth Cohort Studies

Robert Erikson () and John H. Goldthorpe

Abstract: Analyses based on the data-sets of British birth cohort studies have produced differing findings on trends in intergenerational income and intergenerational class mobility. As between a cohort born in 1958 and one born in 1970, income mobility appears to show a sharp decline, while class mobility remains essentially constant. We investigate how this divergence might be explained. We find no evidence that it results from the differing subsets of data that have been used. However, we show that for both birth cohorts a stronger association exists between fatherís class and childís class than between family income and childís earnings (and likewise between fatherís class and childís educational qualifications than between family income and childís qualifications) - and that these differences are especially marked in the case of the 1958 cohort. We therefore argue that it is the surprisingly weak influence exerted by the family income variable for this cohort in these - and other - respects that must be seen as crucial in accounting for the inter-cohort decrease in income mobility that shows up. We point to evidence that as between 1974 and 1986, the years when the family incomes of children in the two cohorts were determined, the transitory component of earnings fell, so that the one-shot measure of such income made at the earlier date will be a less good measure of permanent income than that made at the later date. We therefore suggest that, at least to some extent, the apparent decrease in income mobility may come about in this way. But even if the finding is taken at face value, it would still appear the case that the class mobility regime, as well as having greater temporal stability than the income mobility regime, tends also to be stricter in the sense of entailing a stronger intergenerational association between origins and destinations and one that thus more fully captures continuities in economic advantage and disadvantage.

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43 pages, March 16, 2009

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This paper is published as:
Erikson, Robert and John H. Goldthorpe, (2010), 'Has social mobility in Britain decreased? Reconciling divergent findings on income and class mobility', British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 61, pages 211-230

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