Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission finds that less able children from more affluent families are more 35% likely to become higher earners

Recent research commissioned by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission and undertaken by the London School of Economics has identified a “glass floor” in British society that effectively protects better off but less able children from downward social mobility as they become adults.

This “glass floor” has been identified as being as much of a restriction on social mobility as the “glass ceiling” which hinders upward mobility.

The research found that children from more advantaged backgrounds that were, at the age of 5, found to have low cognitive ability remain 35% more likely to earn well as they become adults than those who were identified as having high academic ability but who were from less well off backgrounds.  It was also found that factors such as the level of education achieved by parents and attendance at an independent or grammar school have a much greater impact on future earnings than simply their impact on academic attainment.

The research identified two crucial factors which support and maintain the “glass floor”:

  • More advantaged parents are more able to help their children overcome their lack of ability through investing in educational resources, tutors and support to help their children achieve good qualifications or enter higher education. Better educated parents are more able to provide better careers advice or guidance and are more likely to prioritise school choice. Well off families are also more likely to be able to move to desirable catchment areas for schools, pay for 11+ tuition or pay for private education.
  • More advantaged parents possess social advantages and networks which can be utilised to secure internships and work experience opportunities for their children or are more likely to be able to help their children find good employment through their social networks.

The research also made a number of policy implications and recommendations, including:

  • The importance of improving parental education, given its clear correlation with the success and achievements of their children.
  • Ensure that young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds have access to the same support and opportunities available to their peers. This includes access to careers advice and guidance, as well as mentoring opportunities to help young people better understand the world of work.
  • Address the financial pressure on parents that may prevent them being able to give their children the best possible start in life.
  • Address ‘institutional barriers to deprivation’, such as improving access to high-quality education, improving the access to schools in deprived areas and tackling financial barriers preventing young people from entering higher education.
  • Address “opportunity hoarding” amongst better off families, such as challenging unpaid internships, removing barriers which prevent able youngsters from becoming successful and ensuring that school selections processes are not skewed towards better off families.
Helen Robinson