Prospects for improving social mobility for future generations remain bleak ten years after a ground-breaking report showed how mobility had declined for those educated in the seventies and eighties, and if they do not improve many young people will remain stuck where their parents were, limiting the country’s future economic growth and prosperity.

This stark warning will be made by Professor Stephen Machin, Professor of Economics and Research Director of the Centre for Economic Performance, one of the authors of the seminal 2005 study, at a seminar on social mobility hosted by LSE this evening.

In particular, Prof Machin will highlight evidence that in some respects mobility is falling back as it has become increasingly difficult for young people whose parents were not homeowners to gain a foot on the housing ladder, with soaring deposits and house prices. Reflecting on the UK’s low levels of social mobility, he will say that despite an overall improvement in educational opportunities for those from low-income homes, an ‘ever-escalating educational arms race’ has meant the middle classes have continually found new ways to retain their upper-hand.

In a panel discussion with Sutton Trust chairman, Sir Peter Lampl, he will explore how wealthier parents are able to retain an advantage for their children by investing in more and more resources, such as private tuition, houses near to top-performing schools and cultural enrichment activities.

Tonight’s seminar comes a decade after the Sutton Trust published the seminal study by the Centre for Economic Performance at LSE that concluded that social mobility in Britain alongside the United States was lower than for any other developed country. It has been called the most influential study on public policy in the last 20 years and the reverberations from its striking findings can still be seen widely today.

Sir Peter and Professor Machin will critically review what has been done by Government and others to address the problem of low social mobility over the past decade and assess the social mobility prospects for future generations. They will be joined in the panel discussion by Jo Blanden, Senior Lecturer in Economics, University of Surrey and co-author of the 2005 study, and Dr Lee Elliot Major, Chief Executive of the Sutton Trust.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, said:

“We need to think radically about how to break the UK’s cycle of low social mobility. We need to find ways to attract and develop the best teachers to help those pupils most in need of support and look at ways to ensure that admissions to the best schools aren’t limited to those who can afford to live close by. We must build better access to our top universities and ensure internships are paid and advertised. Otherwise the prospects for improved social mobility will remain bleak for future generations.”

Stephen Machin, Professor of Economics and Research Director of the Centre for Economic Performance, said:

The UK’s low level of social mobility is not just a problem for those from poor families; it’s a problem for the economy too. The large number of young people who are not able to reach their full potential is a tragic waste of talent with a significant economic cost that will have implications for the future. These days young people today are particularly finding it so difficult to get into house ownership,  and some of our recent findings show this has becoming increasingly difficult for people whose parents were not house owners as they were growing up.”

For further information, if you would like to attend the event or to arrange an interview, please contact: Hilary Cornwell or Conor Ryan on 0207 802 1660.


  1. The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 160 research studies and funded and evaluated programmes that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to access to the professions.

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