Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)
23 JANUARY 2008
Q20 Mr Slaughter: In relation to
that, have you drawn any conclusion as to whether it is consumer
or producer pressure? Is it the way that the education system
has changed that has given more advantage to people who are already
advantaged, or is it down to people who have more ability and
resources? I was reading The Times lead story on my way
here. The Leader of the Opposition is advocating that feigning
religious conviction is an acceptable way for active citizens,
as he put it, to find their way into voluntary aided schools.
That is a populist view of the situation, but which side has the
pressure come from?
Professor Machin: It is very clear
that people from richer backgrounds took advantage of the expansion
of HE. However, the problem is not HE per seyou must track
such things back to earlier in the schooling system and, indeed,
to the early years pre-school. That is where the inequalities
are set in the first instance. You see the outcome in HE, but
clearly what happens before matters. Lots of things that are happening
in schoolsprimary and secondaryand pre-school matter.
Dr Goldthorpe: Could I add something
else that is relevant to the question? We have been doing research
on what happens at around age 16. I entirely agree with Stephen
that what happens before that is extremely important. However,
age 16 is important as well. As you realise, children at that
stage face rather crucial educational decisions. Do you leave
school or stay on? What do you do in the educational system if
you stay on? Do you go on to do A-levels with a view to university
entry, or do you take more vocational courses? We have found that
social class background plays an important part in making those
educational decisions. If you take children who perform equally
well in GCSEs, you find that, holding constant their demonstrated
level of academic ability, children from more advantaged class
backgrounds, such as those from professional and managerial families,
are clearly more likely to go on to take A-levels than children
from working-class families. That is most marked in children at
around an average or somewhat above average level of performance.
Obviously, the real high fliers tend to go on, and the people
who do very poorly tend not to go on, more or less regardless
of class background. For the swathe of people in the middle or
just above the middle, however, educational choice is very much
influenced by class background. There is obviously a very serious
wastage of talent, human potential and human resources, and we
need to know more about it.
Q21 Mr Slaughter: I have just two
questions about that. I could not agree more that it is a problem,
but do you think that the situation has materially changed? A
generation or so ago, when less post-16 education was available,
by quantity, quality and variety, you would find that the problem
was much more identifiablea relatively small cohort went
to university, in particular. That has definitely changed. Are
you saying that it has had little effect on people's choices?
If that is right to some extent, do you think that the Government
have been wrong to focus a lot of their attention on the pre-school
ageI am thinking of SureStart and other such programmesrather
than on the key decisions that people take in their later careers?
Dr Goldthorpe: I agree with what
Stephen said. Educational expansion per se is neutral, as it were,
in its impact on greater equality of educational opportunity or
attainmentit depends who takes up the greater opportunities.
My own interpretationI have reported such findingsis
that material constraints are very important. If you are a young
person who has done reasonably but not outstandingly well at GCSE
level, and you think that you have a good chance of getting A-levels
and a degree, but you are not absolutely sure, you face a risky
situation. You would have to decide what to do. If your parents
are professional managerial people, you can look forward to a
certain amount of financial support as you go through. Even if
you do not make it, there could be some continuing support. Professional
and managerial incomes tend to rise with age up to about the 50s,
so professional and managerial parents can often support their
children in higher education without any reduction in their own
standard of living. Compare that with a child who comes from a
manual, wage-earning background. The risks of going on are much
greater. They might go on and incur a certain amount of debt.
Their parents are less able to help them, and when they are at
university they may be torn between accumulating more debt and
taking paid work. We know that students who take paid work while
at university are more likely to fail or drop out. The whole decision
is much riskier for children from less advantaged backgrounds,
so I do not find it altogether surprising that even when you hold
demonstrated academic ability constant, there are differences
in the choices that people make. From that point of view, I very
much welcome the introduction of education maintenance allowances.
They were a move in the right direction, but I would like them
to be rather more focused than they are at the moment. I have
to say that I had doubts about the Government's policy on tuition
fees. I would have much preferred a graduate tax.
Q22 Mr Heppell: I am not quite sure
that I am getting my head around this; I think I was confused
when we started. You seem to be saying that there is no difference
between the outcomes of your research and that they are very close
to each other, but my reading is that they are very different.
Professor Machin and Dr Blanden, you seem to be saying that the
implication of your research is that there should be more interventions
at an early age, in terms of educational attainment, with programmes
such as SureStart to help deprived children. However, you say
in your paper, Dr Goldthorpe, that that sort of policy is almost
negative. I may have misinterpreted what you said, but you make
the point that Labour's objectives on patterns of social mobility
cannot be achieved through education.
Dr Goldthorpe: Oh no, not at all.
Q23 Mr Heppell: Okay, perhaps I have
misinterpreted you. You have said that there is a pronounced similarity
between your work. In your 2007 paper, you said that the similarity
was related to longer-term patterns in mobility and that further
work needed to be done on that. Can you explain what you mean?
Dr Goldthorpe: I am not sure exactly
to which statement you are referring. In my latest paper, the
main point I was concerned to make was that we are in a far less
benign structural environment than we were in the middle decades
of the 20th century when we had steadily growing room at the top.
Now, we cannot rely on that kind of structural change to carry
through steadily rising rates of upward mobility. If we want to
keep rates of upward social mobility rising, we will have to do
that by reducing what I call the inherent stickiness between the
class positions of parents and their children. One way of doing
that is through educational policies, but the point I was making
was that if you increase upward mobility by reducing that inherent
stickiness, you will increase downward mobility by exactly the
same extent. Politicians have to face that fact.
Q24 Chairman: Is that not also happening
with women against men?
Dr Goldthorpe: That is a complicating
factor. Yes, even if we increase opportunities for women, as I
believe we should, there is only a fixed amount of higher-level
positions. In the past, you could say women were not punching
their weight in this regard; now increasingly they are, so there
are greater problems for men. The point is this. In a lot of political
discussion, increasing social mobilityusually, implicitly,
increasing upward mobilityand increasing equality of opportunity
are very attractive ideas to politicians. They are rather like
motherhood and apple pie; it is difficult to be against them.
However, there will be a downside, which will have to be taken
on board. If you increase upward mobility, such as through education
measures, and weaken the inherent stickiness between parental
class position and children's class position, by the same token
you must increase downward mobility.
Dr Blanden: I just want to help
to clarify a few of the things that you were talking about a few
moments ago. You seemed to be raising two issues. One was that
Stephen had said that we should be focusing on early years, whereas
John was developing the idea that there were two groups of individuals
with the same achievement at school and they were taking different
decisions. The point that Stephen was making was feeding into
the difference in achievement at the end of school, so there are
two things going on here. If you come out of school with the same
qualifications, income at 16 or social class at 16 would matter.
However, you are not that likely to come out of school, if you
are from different income or social class backgrounds, with the
same qualifications, because of the inequalities that are occurring
in the school system and even before that. There is a debate going
on in economics, social policy and sociology about where the best
place to intervene is: on balance, which of those two issues is
the larger? Is this about what happens before you leave school,
or is it about the decisions you take afterwards? That is where
the EMA fits in and the debate about the best way to fund higher
education. I think that both are important. If you neglect the
earlier one, you will have much larger problems at 16, whereas
if you do not even consider the fact that people respond differently
even if they have the same attainment at 16, you will see the
problem that John is talking about manifested. You were also saying
that you saw fundamental differences in our results on the trend
in mobility. That is probably correct in some ways. I would like
to say a couple of things about that. Say we were talking about
some measure of underlying permanent income that governs all the
investments that parents are able to make when children are growing
up. For social class and our income measures of mobility to move
in the same way, you would have to believe that they were equally
correlated with this underlying thing, which was what you thought
was very important. One of the reasons we believe these two results
are different is that we thinkin fact, John and I both
think thisthat the relationship between the concept that
we have chosen, or the concept that the other person has chosen,
and the underlying thing that governs investments and all these
things has changed. We would argue that John's focus on looking
at fathers' social class in childhood has perhaps a changing relationship
with these permanent characteristics, partly because of the fact
that mothers' interventions will be more importantwhat
mother does, whether she works and what her occupation is. The
relationship between that and permanent income will change, and
that is not taken into account by John's work. Also, over a period
when inequality is increasing both between and within social classes
in terms of permanent income, we think that that will affect the
differences in our results as well. John thinks that perhaps the
measure of current income that we use because we do not have a
good measure of permanent income has a different correlation with
permanent income in the two periods that we choose. There are
differences, but John is saying that whether things are constant
or have changed, we still have a problem on our hands. There has
been other work by sociologists in a new book, to which John has
contributed, by Richard Breen. I was having a read of it, and
he identifies the fact that, in recent years, relative class mobilitythe
stickiness that John talks aboutseems to have improved
in a lot of other European countries, whereas in the UK it is
pretty constant. Relative to other countries, even if nothing
much has changed in social class in the UK, that may indicate
that we still have an issue to consider.
Professor Machin: This is the
critical thing, I think, in comparing the two sets of findings.
As economists, we say that a pound today is the same as a pound
was 30 years ago, even though it does not buy you as much. Income
is comparable over time. Social class of father's occupation is
less comparable over time, so you are not quite comparing like
with like, for the reasons that Jo has given. Mothers are much
more important these days. The male breadwinner model that might
be used to justify fathers' occupations is much less credible
than it used to be. So you can reconcile why the results are giving
you different findings in short-run comparisons. The other point
is that, even just considering fathers' occupations, the labour
market treats those occupations very differently now from 30 years
ago. Income or earnings within almost all the social class, father's
occupation groups has widened. You are not comparing the same
things over time if you examine father's occupation social class,
whereas income is at least broadly comparable over time. On the
other hand, we do not have the measure of permanent income and
lifetime income that we would like; we have snapshot measures
of income, which we hope are strongly correlated to permanent
income, but for some people they might not be. We may be catching
some people, at the point when they respond to a survey, in a
low-income period even though they are high-income people. That
causes a little bias in the results that we get.
Dr Blanden: I think
Chairman: Sorry, we are going to move
on, because everyone likes to get their questions in.
Mr Heppell: I wish to ask a question
that leads on from that subject.
Chairman: A very quick one, John.
Q25 Mr Heppell: It will be quick.
You seem to be giving us a lot of reasons
why the two sets of figures do not completely stack together.
From our point of view as policy makers, which should we give
more credence tothe economic analysis, with its bumps,
or the social analysis?
Dr Goldthorpe: It depends, I think,
on what you are ultimately interested in. If you are interested
in things like consumption patterns, you should look at income.
You can spend income, you cannot spend social class. I would argue
that, if you are interested in a range of life chances, class
is generally more consequential than income. A report by the Office
for National Statistics came out a few weeks ago, on social inequalities
in adult male mortality, using the same class schema that we use.
It showed massive differences. Class is making a difference to
life chances in a quite literal sense. I also argue, although
Stephen and Jo might not agree, that the link between parental
class and children's educational attainment is stronger than the
link between family income and children's educational attainment.
I think that I will be able to show that within a few months.
So it depends what you want.
Chairman: This is developing into a really
high-class and very interesting meeting. In passing, I noticed
something that you said and I thought I ought to put on the record
that I thought the Jackson and Marsden research many years agoin
the early 1960s?showed that the relationship between mothers
and the educational attainment of children was vital; much more
important than the men. It is an old piece of research, but it
made me think that people had discovered this point an awfully
long time ago. The research was carried out in Huddersfield, incidentally.
Q26 Mr Stuart: I am finding this
fascinating, but difficult to get my head round. To return briefly
to the Gorard attack, or critique, of your findings, you mentioned
table 1 in your 2005 paper. After his criticisms, you cited other
broader evidence to back your point; in particular you cited Jantti
et al. When Gorard checked that evidence, he said that
he was unsurprisedas you can tell, he is a pretty permanent
critic of yoursto find that Jantti did not say the same
as you, but concluded that the United Kingdom bears a closer resemblance
to the Nordic countries than to the United States. I do not want
to carry on this academic war for too long.
Chairman: I think that we should enunciate
Mr Stuart: Do you think that it has been
done to death?
Chairman: No. Do you want to come back
on that point?
Professor Machin: We can. To move
away from our findings, I tend to be in line with Gary Solon's
interpretation of international evidence. You have got to ask
whether Britain looks like the Nordic countries in terms of income
inequality, how egalitarian the education systems are and so on.
You have to make a judgement call yourselves on that matter. I
think that it is simply not right that they are similar.
Q27 Fiona Mactaggart: So are you
saying that we do not need your work, if we have to make a judgement
Professor Machin: No, I was trying
to move the discussion away from our work and say that there is
independent evidence from elsewhere that is very much in line
with our findings. I stand by our findings. I think that they
Dr Goldthorpe: If you look at
cross-national comparisons of class mobility, Britain is not bottom,
but in a mediocre position. We are not Derby County, but are more
like Southampton. The Chelseas, Arsenals and Manchester Uniteds
that are right up at the top, with the greatest class mobility,
are undoubtedly the Nordic countries.
Q28 Chairman: But they are funny
little countriesespecially Finland.
Dr Goldthorpe: Funny little countries
can, in some ways, set us some examples. Down at the bottom would
be places like Germanystilland Italy. France is
quite interesting. It was pretty low down, but is one of the countries
where fluidity within the class structure has clearly been increasing.
It is something of a mystery as to why that is. Broadly, our findings
on this matter are in line with that assessment. I would not put
Britain at the bottom, but in a low to middling position. Incidentally,
the idea that the United States is the great land of opportunity
is a complete myth.
Q29 Mr Stuart: Yes. Following on
from that, basically you are saying that the social mobility of
the late-20th century was due, essentially, to structural change
and an increase in opportunities higher up the ladder, rather
than to any great increase in social fluidity. There has been
a closing of those opportunities since the great post-war surge.
Your evidence, disputed though it is, would suggest that we have
stayed fairly static in terms of social mobility and social fluidity,
which is about the symmetrical up and down movement between classes.
There is some suggestion that there are higher rates in other
countries. Is that a fair summary? Some questions that we, as
policy makers, need to ask are whether that matters and whether
we should be focusing less on social mobility and fluidity and
more on educational attainment. The Government's main focus, to
be fair to them, is on getting people up to certain grades at
certain levels so that everybody gets a decent education and the
opportunities that come with that. In a sense, it is up to them
whether their social and cultural environment and upbringing drives
them to be more or less ambitious in terms of class or income.
Dr Goldthorpe: I would agree with
you. I think that it is a mistake to review education and educational
policy purely on instrumental terms. It should not rely solely
on what it will contribute to people getting ahead and getting
on, and being socially mobile. There are two strong arguments
for why I would like to see greater social mobility and fluidity.
One argument is from the standpoint of social justice. It is important
that every child should have as good an opportunity as he or she
possibly can to develop their potentialities to the fullest extent.
Q30 Mr Stuart: If you look at it
from the traditional left-wing perspective of a working-class
party such as Labour has been, why should you dictate, from your
middle-class academic eyrie, what the aspirations and outcomes
should be for children, as long as the state ensures that they
get a decent education as of right, and that they and their families
make choices about where they want to go? Why should everyone
go into higher education because you say so, if they and their
families do not want them to?
Dr Goldthorpe: You mistake me.
I am not trying to dictate to them at all. I am simply concerned
that they should have the widest possible range of choice. It
is then, of course, up to them what choices they make. The second
argument for more social mobility is from the standpoint of social
efficiency. It is important that any country makes the fullest
possible use of its human resources. If you have a society in
which there are rather arbitrary limits on what people can achieve,
simply as a result of the accident of their birth, that is not
a good situation for economic success or the success of society
more generally. It worries me how much talent we see simply being
Professor Machin: I was going
to use similar logic, and talk about the waste-of-talent argument.
I would make that argument on the basis of economic efficiency.
If some talented people would be far more productive in the labour
market if they were given the opportunity to get through to higher
levels of education, for exampleit does not necessarily
have to be education, it could also be working in the job market,
in terms of who is hired by particular kinds of employersnational
productivity could rise because those people with high levels
of ability and talent are able to fulfil those levels. If we think
that we have low levels of social mobility which is stopping people
moving up the ladder as much as they could or should do, you can
make an argument for economic efficiency.
Q31 Mr Stuart: I suppose I was trying
to identify the fact that it is about educational outcomes, so
the Government need to deliver the groundings in a way that they
have not done so far. We know that at six-years-old, or at very
early ages, you can determine the educational outcomes of a child
if they do not make early progress. So, targeting additional resources,
skills, or any structural change necessary, in order to ensure
that children from the poorest, least advantaged backgrounds get
a decent basic education, is what you can do materially to provide
them with that opportunity.
Professor Machin: We are not necessarily
talking about people with higher or frustrated levels of talent
because they do not get to realise their potential. We are still
talking about people who could even just stay on after the compulsory
school leaving age, who do not these days, for reasons that are
set in place earlier on in the system. It does not apply only
to people going to university or FE colleges. It applies to people
who are even leaving school and getting Level 2 vocational qualifications,
for which they do not seem to receive a return from employers.
Those kind of investments need to be sharpened so that the potential
of those people with talent, who are not currently allowed to
go through, can be realised.
Q32 Ms Butler: My word, this throws
up so many questions. I am not sure that I agree with Dr Goldthorpe
that upward mobility also increases downward mobility. If there
are more jobs at the top, as Leitch says there will be, how would
that be the case? I do not want you to get into that matter though,
I simply wanted to make that statement.
Mr Stuart: You have to let him answer.
Ms Butler: As Professor Machin
just touched on this, if we are to compete on the global market,
as we know that we must, do you think that the Government's direction
with regard to the Children's Plan, the Education Bill and Diplomas
will help to resolve this stickiness that you have talked about
and the social inequalities? Do you think that those measures
are part of a solution to the problem?
Dr Goldthorpe: Your first point
is really a logical issue. If you reduce the stickiness between
parents' and children's class position, it must mean that you
increase mobility in every direction. That follows on logically
Q33 Chairman: But Dawn was saying
that they might be getting jobs in New York or Paris. This is
not a UK-bound economy.
Dr Goldthorpe: They could indeed
be moving elsewhere, and we know that that is increasingly happening.
In modern economies it is important to ensure that we have an
adequately trained and skilled work force if we are going to compete
globally. Ed Miliband put it to me that something like Say's law,
which is known by economists, may operate here. Supply may create
its own demand. If we have a very highly qualified work force,
that may, in the global context, attract higher-level professional
and managerial positions to this country. That is a valid point.
The operation of that process may just help us to keep the existing
proportion of higher-level positions rather than leading to any
substantial increase in it. On the question of government policy
on qualifications and schools, I am rather sceptical about how
far diversifying school types is likely to help with the problem
of social mobility. It may have advantages in other respects.
I do not see it contributing very much to social mobility. For
example, I remain sceptical about what can be achieved in this
direction by Academies and specialist or faith schools. We need
much more research on the effects of such schools. In the case
of Academies, it is too limited to look at only whether Academies
are improving the performance of the children within them. You
have to look at what is happening to other schools in the Academy's
catchment area. That is absolutely crucial. David Blunkett had
some very good observations on that point in the report that he
has just produced.
Q34 Chairman: John, is your view
on diversity based on research, or is it just a view that you
Dr Goldthorpe: It is based not
on my research, but on research that other people have carried
out. The research looks at those areas of the country in which
grammar schools exist alongside comprehensives. If you look at
the overall performance of those areas, you focus not just on
the grammar schools, but on the whole school system in that area.
Generally, the overall level of performance is not as good as
it is in areas in which there are no selective schools. Although
the Academies are still in the very early stages, my worry is
that something of the same kind could happen. If you put a lot
of resources into one school in an area and make it a better school,
parents in that area will want to get their children into that
school. The more educationally aware and ambitious parents succeed
in that, which then increases the performance of that school.
However, I want to know what happens to other schools in the same
Chairman: May we come back to Dawn's
second question or she will blame me for diverting you?
Q35 Ms Butler: I have forgotten what
my second question was. I will ask a completely different question.
In your 2007 paper, you talked about non-cognitive factors and
how they may be becoming more determinant in people's employment
prospects Can you explain that?
Dr Goldthorpe: Yes. We hear a
lot of talk about a knowledge-based economy. In one sense that
is true and we certainly need a cadre of highly qualified professional
and technical personnel to service that economy, but if you look
at the statistics of where the real growth in employment is, it
tends to be in the services sector, especially in sales and personal
services. In that area, many positions even at a high level do
not make enormous demands on cognitive ability. Obviously, they
require a basic level of literacy and numeracy, but in personal
services and sales a whole range of non-cognitive attributes become
important, such as social and communication skills and even personal
and lifestyle characteristics.
Q36 Ms Butler: But does not that
mean that non-cognitive behaviour can get you through the door,
but for progression up the career ladder, non-cognitive behaviour
will only take you so far? You would need to back it up by being
able to do the job.
Dr Goldthorpe: It does mean that.
It also meanshere is another interesting finding about
education and social mobility that we have come up withthat
high levels of education are crucial for working-class children
who want to make it into the professional and managerial salariat.
If you look at children who were born into the professional and
managerial salariat who do not do all that well educationally,
they often do not come down to any great extent, because they
have other resources. They exploit the kind of soft skills and
personal characteristics that they acquired not through schools
and colleges but from being socialised in their families and communities
to make their wayoften in managerial positions in the services
sector. If, for example, you are selling high-value real estate,
cars of marque or high-value fashion, you do not need a PhD in
chemical engineering. It is much more important that you are on
the same wavelength as your clients and customers. The whole notion
of meritocracy becomes very problematic here.
Q37 Chairman: You mean that you have
to be as crass as your customers?
Dr Goldthorpe: Those soft skills
and personal characteristics have real productive value, and employers
in that field realise that.
Q38 Ms Butler: So, you agree that
Diplomas in non-cognitive skills would be useful?
Dr Goldthorpe: This is a very
interesting question. Can one really train people in those soft
skills and lifestyle characteristics in the same way that one
can train people in cognitive or technical skills? The jury is
still out on that. The point that I am really making is that many
children from more advantaged backgrounds just have those skills
through their socialisation. It is more of a problem for other
children, I agree.
Q39 Ms Butler: I disagreewhat
you have just touched on is individual. An individual from a more
advantaged background would not necessarily have better cognitive
skills than someone from a less-advantaged background, because
people from less-advantaged backgrounds have to be more inventive
to survive in life. Anyway, I wanted to end by telling the African
proverb that if you teach a woman, you educate a village. That
probably came way before any academic economist.
Mr Carswell: I have four questions for
Stephen and Jo, and two for John.
Chairman: Get on with it.