Scottish Longitudinal Study
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Current Projects

Project Title:

A Study of Intergenerational Social Class Mobility in Scotland: Messages from the Census about Social Fluidity and its implications for Scottish education policy and practice

Project Number:



Chris Holligan (University of the West of Scotland)
Michael Wilson (University of Leeds)
Matthew Homer (University of Leeds)

Start Date:

16 October 2014



Anderson and Hansen (2012) study of Norwegian school leavers concluded that class disparities intensify over an educational career, a conclusion which the Demos research mentioned below captures during the teenage years. Based on Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital where the school system is seen to reproduce the power of existing class structural inequalities those from working-class origins were found to be at a disadvantage and that restricted mobility. The authors refer to studies (p. 608) suggesting that in especially Scandinavian countries where equalitarian values are apparently strong the status of high-brow cultural capital may be weaker and so undermining school effects may be attenuated there. Becker and Hecken (2009) also found that in Germany working-class children participate less in higher education than higher social classes despite a similar policy of expansion of higher education, while Schindler & Lörz (2012) attribute this inequality to what Boudon has described as ‘secondary’, as opposed to ‘primary’, effects. Becker and Hecken (2009) draw upon RAT to explain this disparity by class in terms of a class-based cost-benefit analysis and its impact on educational and future career trajectories. Bernadie and Boado (2013) found such seemingly secondary effects in the French school system concluding that class difference and social background impacted upon subsequent educational decision-making despite members of different classes having similar academic performances. Relative Risk Aversion theory provides an explanation of these contrasting educational transitions according to class. Consistent with this literature are the findings from Pfeffer’s (2008) comparative study cited in this application to the SLS addressing the issue of intergenerational mobility over 20 industrialised nations using log-linear and log-multiplicative models. As is the case with most studies in this field, educational inequality was defined as the association between an individuals’ and parents’ highest educational level of educational attainment. It was concluded that in the second half of the 20th century in “virtually all countries” educational mobility has remained stable by class. This author acknowledged that Scotland would have been an interesting case to have used because of its distinctive egalitarian features, but the availability of appropriate data was at the time inadequate to make possible its inclusion. Comparisons can be made to similar social mobility studies using LS data in England & Wales (Buscha and Stugis), and against studies of mobility in relation to minority ethnic groups in England and Wales based on ONS data (Platt, 2003).

Data Analysis

We want to carry out a repeated measure analysis on the family (parent/child) with social class as the variable of interest. Hence we need a cross-tab of family (parent/child) against social class, ideally using the same classification method across the time points (1991 and 2011). We would need to identify father, mother, son and daughter, using available relationship indicators. We will use these descriptive data to inform the task of comparing the distributions of social class over time, and to measure the association between these two variables, probably using chi-square tests (e.g. McNemar-Bowker test of symmetry). The same procedures will be applied to determining whether deprivation contributes to putative class effects. Consideration will also be given to variables of educational qualifications as these are associated with class mobility. As deprivation is located within council areas it would be illuminating to identify relative difference, if any, in class mobility by council area. Log linear models will form part of the data analysis.


The study’s hypothesis is that patterns of intergenerational social class mobility in Scotland are similar to those found elsewhere. It is necessary to examine the relationship between the class origins of parents and class destinations of their children over the available two decades afforded by the SLS. Several class indicators will be incorporated in the study. Difference between the children and the parents’ social class (and possibly class status), as judged through occupational indicators of class is a key indicator of class (and status) fluidity. Goldthorpe and others (see below) discovered that class inequalities continue to “display marked temporal stability” (p. 48). By including deprivation variables in our study we may disentangle class effects from poverty. Goldthorpe and Erikson (2010) reiterated temporal stability (see Nash, 2005 also) and attempts to change it (p. 212) have altered little in terms of macro-social relative class rates for men or women as reflected in two British cohort studies where the class position of children aged 10/11 was compared at ages 30/33 to their fathers’ class.


Anderson, and Hansen (2012) Class and Cultural Capital: The Case of Class Inequality in Educational Performance, European Sociological Review, 28 (5), 607-621

Becker, R and Hecken, A. E. (2009) Why are working-class children diverted from universities? – An Empirical Assessment of the Diversion Thesis, European Sociological Review, 25 (2), 233-250

Bernadie, F. and Boado, H.C. (2013) Previous School Results and Social Background: Compensation and Imperfect Information in Educational Transitions, European Sociological Review, 1-11

Buscha and Stugis - Project no. 401004. University of Westminster

Erikson, R and Goldthorpe, J. (2010) Has social mobility in Britain decreased? Reconciling divergent findings in income and class mobility, British Journal of Sociology, 61 (2), 212-230

Goldthorpe, J. (1996) Class Analysis and the Reorientation of Class Theory: The Case of Persisting Differentials on Educational Attainment, British Journal of Sociology, 47 (3), 481-505

Nash, R. (2005) Boudon, Realism and the Cognitive Habitus: Why an Explanation of Inequality/Difference cannot be limited to a Model of Secondary Effects, Interchange, 36/3, 275-293

Pfeffer, F. T. (2008) Persistent Inequality in Educational Attainment and Its Institutional Context, European Sociological Review, 24 (5), 543-565

Platt, L. (2003) The Intergenerational Social Mobility of Minority Ethnic Groups. Working Papers of the Institute for Social and Economic Research, paper 2003-24. Colchester: University of Essex

Schindler, S. and Lörz, M. (2012) Mechanisms of Social Inequality Development: Primary and Secondary Effects in the Transition to Tertiary Education between 1976 and 2005, European Sociological Review, 28 (5), 647-660

Watt, N. (2014) Pupil premium fails to close rich-poor performance gap, The Guardian newspaper. 28th January

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