February 15, 2013  

“Downton and Downward” - Social Mobility in the US and UK

Timothy Egan’s Opinionator article “Downton and Downward” in the February 14 edition of the New York Times challenges America’s core, motivational narrative—that anyone with “gumption and good luck can rise to a comfortable tier.”  In Britain, Egan writes, there is no “British Dream.”

"A raft of recent studies has found the United States to be a less upwardly mobile society than many comparable nations, particularly for men," writes Egan. One such study, Social Mobility and Education in the Four Major Anglophone Countries published by the Sutton Trust and funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York, suggests that in both the US and the UK there is little intergenerational income mobility, especially when compared to Canada or Australia.

Australia and Canada are around twice as mobile as the UK and US, according to an analysis in the report by Professor Miles Corak from the University of Ottawa, one of the world’s leading experts on mobility.

Other evidence finds stark educational differences between the two pairs of countries at different stages of the educational process.

At the age of 4-5 children from the poorest fifth of homes are already 21.6 months behind children from the richest homes in the US and 19 months behind in the UK. The equivalent gaps for the other two countries are 14.5 months in Australia and 10.6 months in Canada, two countries where children are much less likely to be living in single parent households.

Education gaps between poorer children and their richer peers widen in the UK and the US as they grow older. In the UK this widening accelerates at age 11 at the start of secondary school.

Read Social Mobility and Education in the Four Major Anglophone Countries