True in the UK. True in the US, too. John Lennon said it all in “Working class Hero”.
There was a brief period that pretty much ended with Reagan and Thatcher when there was more social mobility, when there was a lull in the constant class war waged by the rich to keep working people in their places.
Tuesday 28 December 2010
Forget social mobility. Education and hard graft will only get you so far while jobs are insecure and the middle class looks after its own
On going to university in the mid-1990s I was exposed for the first time to the iron law of being middle class: once you’re in there, it’s almost impossible to fall out. Observing the people around me, and how their lives panned out, it appeared that you could do a huge amount of arsing around and still land on your feet: at school, on your gap year, at university, and for much of your 20s – until you finally decided, at the age of about 27, that it was time to shape up. You’d still be on £30,000 by the time you were 30.
Until then I’d only really known the iron law of being working class, which is that once you’re in there, it’s almost impossible to get out. You can arse around as much you like, but it’s not going to make much difference to your prospects if those are limited in the first place. You have to believe the future is worth working for, which is why, for most people, social mobility takes place in a context of relative security.
It’s virtually impossible to work your way “from the very bottom to the very top”, as David Cameron put it, in a single generation; that journey takes two or three generations, if it happens at all. One reason why the generation born around 1958 is the most socially mobile to date is that their parents had, for the first time in history, a work background of full employment, reasonable job security, and comparably high wages.
Yet those working-class 18-year-olds – and mature students in full- or part-time work – who are taking degrees are likely to be doing so at a new university or at a local college, where the connections that lead to secure middle-class jobs are fewer and more distant-seeming. What we have seen over the past 40 years is the concentration of privilege within an enlarged middle class. Most of the existing middle class had working-class grandparents; many had working- or lower-middle-class parents. You didn’t always need a degree to “get on”. A majority of those attending university now, and who are therefore more likely to get middle-class jobs, will already come from middle-class backgrounds.