Report Overview

Social mobility in the UK remains at the low level it was for those born in 1970, with recent generations of children’s educational outcomes still overwhelmingly tied to their parents’ income, according to the latest Sutton Trust research written by Jo Blanden, Stephen Machin and partner universities.

Key Findings

  • Recent changes in social mobility are studied by considering relationships between intermediate outcomes (degree attainment, test scores and non-cognitive abilities) and parental income for cohorts born between 1970 and 2000. There is no evidence that these relationships have changed over this period.
  • This is in stark contrast with the strengthening relationship between intermediate outcomes and parental income that accompanied the previously well documented decline in social mobility that occurred for birth cohorts from 1958 and 1970.
  • The decline in intergenerational mobility that occurred between these 1958 and 1970 cohorts is not ongoing, but neither has there been any significant improvement.
  • Parental background continues to exert a very significant influence on the academic progress of children:
    o Those from the poorest fifth of households but in the brightest group at age three drop from the 88th percentile on cognitive tests at age three to the 65th percentile at age five. Those from the richest households who are least able at age three move up from the 15th percentile to the 45th percentile by age five.
    o If this trend were to continue, the children from affluent backgrounds who are doing poorly at age three would be likely to overtake the poorer but initially bright children in test scores by age seven.
    o Inequalities in degree acquisition meanwhile persist across different income groups. While 44 per cent of young people from the richest 20 per cent of households acquired a degree in 2002, only 10 per cent from the poorest 20 per cent of households did so.
  • The UK remains low in the international rankings of social mobility when compared with other advanced nations.