Social Mobility in Europe

Social Mobility in Europe

Social Mobility in Europe

Social Mobility in Europe


Social Mobility in Europeis the most comprehensive study to date of trends in intergenerational social mobility. It uses data from 11 European countries covering the last 30 years of the twentieth century to analyze differences between countries and changes through time.

The findings call into question several long-standing views about social mobility. We find a growing similarity between countries in their class structures and rates of absolute mobility: in other words, the countries of Europe are now more alike in their flows between class origins and destinations than they were thirty years ago. However, differences between countries in social fluidity (that is, the relative chances, between people of different class origins, of being found in given class destinations) show no reduction and so there is no evidence supporting theories of modernization which predict such convergence. Our results also contradict the long-standing Featherman Jones Hauser hypothesis of a basic similarity in social fluidity in all industrial societies 'with a market economy and a nuclear family system'. There are considerable differences between countries like Israel and Sweden, where societal openness is very marked, and Italy, France, and Germany, where social fluidity rates are low. Similarly, there is a substantial difference between, for example, the Netherlands in the 1970s (which was quite closed) and in the 1990s, when it ranks among the most open societies.

Mobility tables reflect many underlying processes and this makes it difficult to explain mobility and fluidity or to provide policy prescriptions. Nevertheless, those countries in which fluidity increased over the last decades of the twentieth century had not only succeeded in reducing class inequalities in educational attainment but had also restricted the degree to which, among people with the same level of education, class background affected their chances of gaining access to better class destinations.


Work on this volume began when I held the chair of Social Inequality in the Department of Political and Social Sciences of the European University Institute, Florence, and I would like to record my thanks to that institution, and particularly the Research Council of the eui, for its support. the book was concluded after I moved to Nuffield College, Oxford, and it would be hard, not to say impossible, to imagine a setting more conducive to academic research.

Over the course of many years' work on social mobility I have benefited greatly from conversations and discussions with a large number of people, including the contributors to this book, but three of my collaborators should be singled out. Chris Whelan introduced me to the study of social mobility when we were colleagues at the esri, Dublin, and together we have written more on the topic than I can easily call to mind. Janne Jonsson and I have passed many enjoyable hours working on social mobility and related topics, many of them spent in the Swedish Institute for Social Research, an institution for whose continuing hospitality I am extremely grateful. Ruud Luijkx is also the co-author of three chapters in this volume, two of them written with me. the analyses reported in our chapters are, indeed, the tip of the proverbial iceberg. in trying to make sense of 30 years' mobility data from 11 countries many wild geese were chased and many alleys were found to be blind, but it was a hugely enjoyable undertaking (at least in retrospect) which, as I hope the reader will discover, produced a few unexpected and interesting results.

I owe a particular debt to John Goldthorpe - as, indeed, must anyone who has an interest in social mobility. His work with Robert Erikson was the starting point for this book and, beyond that, in conversations and collaborations over the ten years of our acquaintance (latterly as colleagues), I have learned a great deal - not only about social mobility - and profited enormously. Many other people have contributed to this book in ways both direct and indirect but I should particularly like to thank Lin Sorrell at Nuffield and Liz Webb at the eui for all their help, Robert Erikson, David Firth and Adam Swift for their comments and assistance, and my colleagues and friends in Nuffield College, in Research Committee 28 of the International Sociological Association, and in the European Consortium for Sociological Research.

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