House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
TAKEN BEFORE THE
CHILDREN, SCHOOLS AND FAMILIES COMMITTEE
Wednesday 23 January 2008
DR JOHN GOLDTHORPE, PROFESSOR STEPHEN MACHIN and DR JO BLANDEN
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Children, Schools and Families Committee
on Wednesday 23 January 2008
Mr. Barry Sheerman, in the Chair
Ms Dawn Butler
Mr. Douglas Carswell
Mr. David Chaytor
Mr. John Heppell
Mr. Andy Slaughter
Mr. Graham Stuart
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Dr. John Goldthorpe, Emeritus Fellow, Sociology, Nuffield College, Oxford University, and Professor Stephen Machin, Professor of Economics, University College London and Research Director, Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics and Dr. Jo Blanden, Lecturer in Economics, University of Surrey and Research Associate, Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics, gave evidence.
Q1 <Chairman:> I welcome Dr. John Goldthorpe, Professor Stephen Machin and Dr. Jo Blanden to our proceedings. It is a pleasure to have you here. You will know why you are here. We committed ourselves to having a look at social mobility, and this is by way of a taster to see whether we need to take further evidence. It seemed sensible, given that the work conducted by the London School of Economics, particularly for the Sutton Trust, has opened up an interesting debate about investment in education and whether it is responsible for social mobility. It raised some interesting questions that all of us involved in education would like answered. I declare an interest. I am a governor of the London School of Economics, which probably means that I shall ask harder questions rather than easier ones. John Goldthorpe, I have read much of your work over the years, and I am somewhat of an admirer of your work-let us get that out in the open. Again, I shall not ask you any kinder questions. Do any of you want to say anything briefly to open our discussion, perhaps about your work and where we are with social mobility and how it affects education? We always give people a chance to say something if they want to.
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> I would be ready to join you in discussion.
Q2 <Chairman:> You want to go straight into the cut and thrust?
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> Yes.
<Professor Machin:> We could give a little overview of the research we have done, if that would be helpful.
<Chairman:> Yes, if it is not long.
<Professor Machin:> No, it will not be long.
<Chairman:> Let us get started then.
<Professor Machin:> We have been involved in three strands of research in this area. One is the often-cited work in which we compared what had happened to social mobility across two birth cohorts. We have extremely rich birth cohort data in Britain, where people are followed from when they are born through their lives at various stages. One of the birth cohorts was just under 20,000 people born in 1958; the other was about the same size but of people born in 1970. That is where we have the first finding. We related people's earnings to their parents' across these cohorts, and this relationship strengthened over time. That is when we inferred that social mobility had been falling in Britain, because people's earnings were more strongly associated with their parents' income. That was for the more recent cohort rather than the first cohort. That was a comparison between the 1958 and 1970 cohorts. The second strand of work was to look at more recent changes. We were not able to undertake the same exercise of relating people's labour market earnings to their parents' income, because the people involved were yet not old enough to be in the labour market. But we can look at the relationship between a number of intervening factors, like education attainment and early-age test scores, and how they are related to family income. We found much more constancy in our recent work. The third area of research was done by Jo and other colleagues. They have been comparing what happens if you look at income mobility-looking at how strongly income is correlated across generations as compared to social class mobility. John has done a lot of work on that in the past. There are two papers out there-one by Robert Erikson and John Goldthorpe, the other by Jo Blanden, Paul Gregg and Lindsey Macmillan-that compare what has happened through changes over time, when you use income or when you use social class. That is the kind of research, with three strands, that we have been involved with.
Q3 <Chairman:> Can I ask you, Steve Machin, why did you do this research?
<Professor Machin:> Why did we start doing this research? One of my long-term interests is in labour market inequality and how it has moved over time. A lot of that looks within generations, to say how wide the income distribution or the earnings distribution is for the population in a given year. One key feature that underpins that is people's family background and whether it maintains any qualities or generates any qualities across generations as well. My overall interest is in terms of labour market inequality and how the income distribution is evolving over time.
Q4 <Chairman:> But you have been commissioned to do some of this research, have you not?
<Professor Machin:> For the first strand, we were funded partly by the Sutton Trust. We started that work well before then, because we thought it was of significant academic interest. Of course, it fed into the policy process subsequently, but we were interested in it from a purely academic point of view to start with.
<Dr. Blanden:> It followed on from previous work that Steve had done looking at the level of intergenerational income mobility in the UK.
<Professor Machin:> The key innovation we made, from the academic perspective, was to start looking at changes over time. There is a lot of work out there that measures how strongly correlated people's earnings or income is with their parents' earnings or income or how their social class is correlated with their parents' social class at a point in time. The main innovation in the newer work that we have done was to start looking at trends or changes over time.
Q5 <Chairman:> How did you and the Sutton Trust get together?
<Professor Machin:> There are many sources of funding for academic research. In relation to the Sutton Trust, I cannot quite remember the details, but in the same way as we get funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Economic and Social Research Council, it was an opportunity to get funded.
<Dr. Blanden:> I think you met Peter at some point, didn't you?
<Professor Machin:> Yes, I met Peter Lampl somewhere, but that is back in history, I am afraid.
Q6 <Chairman:> The reason why I am probing is this. The Sutton Trust is a very respected education think tank and I know that it commissions quite a lot of research. Indeed, Sir Peter Lampl is a good friend, but he does have a particular view, which I imagine he had before he came to you for the research, that there is a lack of social mobility. Did he hear that you were doing research that would back up his ideas?
<Professor Machin:> Yes. We must have been at a meeting somewhere where we spoke about common interests. I probably told him that we were very interested not just in looking at a snapshot or point in time, which is how this work currently tends to be done, but in trying to say something about how social mobility has changed over time. Of course, you can see why that would interest Peter.
Q7 <Chairman:> Yes. If you had got your money from Coca-Cola or any other commercial organisation, I would probably probe you on this even harder. What was the research brief that Sir Peter Lampl or the Sutton Trust gave you?
<Professor Machin:> We wrote the research brief. We said we are interested in doing research on changes over time in intergenerational mobility.
<Dr. Blanden:> And we did have some preliminary results.
<Professor Machin:> We had some preliminary results; that is right. We made the case that this would be-and it has subsequently turned out to be-original research. I think that is partly why it has received so much attention-because people just had not done much on changes over time before.
Q8 <Chairman:> Why do you think that is? It is a rather important issue, isn't it?
<Dr. Blanden:> It was about data.
<Professor Machin:> It was about at least two things, one of which was data availability. In terms of a consistent comparison over time, the data have not been available until relatively recently to enable us to do that, in a very representative way. The other point is that the natural thing to do in the earlier work was to look at a point in time and just say: how much or how little social mobility is there?
Q9 <Chairman:> Right. So, you completed the research. It has obviously become quite controversial, but certainly it has been used, by politicians of all kinds and by groups. When you are reflecting on the impact of your research, what do you think about it?
<Professor Machin:> It has been used by different people in different ways. It has sometimes been used well; it has sometimes been misquoted badly. Sometimes people have pushed it much further than you might want to push it. If we are talking just about the first strand of work, it is a comparison just across two cohorts, born in 1958 and born in 1970-a 12-year period-so it is rather specific in that sense. Some people have made a lot more of it than perhaps we would have made of it-certainly than we have made of it.
<Dr. Blanden:> Can I follow that up? For example, there has been the idea that social mobility-we should really call it income mobility, particularly when John is here. "Income mobility is falling" is often a headline you will see or a quote from a commentator or politician. Based on these two snapshots, we would never say that. That is one of the reasons why we have gone on to look at what has happened more recently-so that we can find out whether it is true, because certainly our earlier research did not actually tell us that.
<Professor Machin:> I think we would say that in that particular period there was a fall in social mobility, intergenerational mobility, income mobility. If you look at our paper, that is what it says. It does not say anything about what is going on today. It does not say what was going on before that either, although there are other pieces of research out there where you can start to pull together the pieces of a jigsaw, if you think about the long time period as well.
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> The research that my colleagues and I have been doing is concerned with social mobility in terms of social class rather than income. We are interested in the relationship between children's social class and their parents' social class. For that purpose, we treat class on the basis of the National Statistics socio-economic classification, which has been widely used in official statistics since 2001. That is one difference from the work that Stephen and Jo have been doing.
The second difference is that we try to work, as far as possible, using representative samples of the entire active population. We also use the birth cohort studies that Stephen has described, but only for want of better data. The position is that between 1972 and 1992, the general household survey collected data that could be used for social mobility analysis in terms of class. We have analysed that run of data quite extensively. Unfortunately, for reasons that have never been clear to me GHS ceased to collect the relevant data in 1993. So, we have the rather ironic situation that at a time when social mobility has become much more important as a political issue than previously, we do not have good data-at least, not as good as that from between 1972 and 1992.
In order to get information, we have resorted to the birth cohort studies. As Stephen has explained, there were two birth cohorts only 12 years apart. So far, we can compare their members only up to their early 30s, which is not entirely satisfactory. I am currently working on extending the nationally based analyses through to 2005, when GHS was required to include an EU module on standards of living. In that module, there is information that is relevant to social mobility. Unfortunately, it is not strictly comparable with the data that we had for the period between 1972 and 1992, but we are working hard to make it as comparable as possible. We have had some preliminary results from that work.
Taking the whole set of analyses together, the main findings are as follows. First, in the period between 1972 and the present, we have found no change in the total mobility rate. That is to say that we find no change in the proportion of children in different class positions from their parents. Neither have we found any weakening during that period, in the net association, or net stickiness, between parents' class position and children's class position. That might seem to be a more optimistic conclusion than the one that Stephen outlined on declining income mobility, but in another sense, it is more pessimistic, because we find that, throughout, class mobility seems to have been at a lower level than income mobility. We can use the birth cohort studies for that. We think that looking at mobility in terms of social class captures more of the intergenerational continuity in economic circumstances.
Finally, we have found one change. Although the total mobility rate is unchanged, the composition of the rate is changing. In the middle decades of the last century-from about 1940 to the 1980s-we saw steadily rising rates of upward mobility and steadily falling rates of downward mobility. From about the 1990s, those trends tended to level out. Now, especially with men, we find that if anything, rates of upward mobility have flattened out and may even be declining a little, while rates of downward mobility are no longer decreasing and may even be increasing a little. For women, the situation is not quite so bad. For us, that is the important change. If you wish, I can try to explain why I think that change came about.
<Chairman:> I had better not ask you that, because my colleague is going to drill down on that in a moment.
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> I am sorry?
Q10 <Chairman:> I had better leave that to some of my colleagues. We will drill down on that in a moment. I have one more question for the moment. We have seen great change in the social class composition of our country have we not? Most of us believe that the number of people describing themselves as being in the middle classes and living a middle-class lifestyle has grown.
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> Yes.
Q11 <Chairman:> How does that impact on the very small numbers of people who would now be classified as unskilled workers? I think that the Leitch report said 3.2 million, and that the number is going to down to 600,000 by 2020. Something fundamental is happening in our class structure while you are researching it. Is that all taken into account?
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> Oh yes. You have put your finger exactly on the explanation for the change that I referred to. During the middle decades of the 20th century, there was very steady growth in the proportion of the active population in professional and managerial employment, and a contraction in the proportion in wage-earning, mainly manual employment. You could say that there was simply growing room at the top. That drove the steady increase in rates of upward social mobility over that period.
From the 1990s, that growth in the proportionate size of the professional and managerial salariat, as one might call it, has slowed down. It is still going on, but it has clearly slowed down, especially insofar as higher-level managerial and professional positions are concerned. That is really behind the tailing off of the increase in upward mobility. That is especially marked in the case of men, because they are facing greater competition from women for professional and managerial positions. The change in the shape of the class structure is absolutely crucial to the changing patterns of upward and downward mobility.
One point I would add is that over that whole period of major changes in the shape of the class structure and corresponding differences in patterns of upward and downward mobility, what is constant is the inherent what I call stickiness of the relationship between parental class position and children's class position. Once you net out, as we can, statistically, all the effects of the structural change, that inherent, underlying stickiness shows a remarkable constancy.
Q12 <Chairman:> What do you say, Stephen, to people such as Stephen Gorard who really criticises your methodology and conclusions? From my reading of the literature, I take it that he is your fiercest critic?
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> I do not think that Stephen has criticised my-
Q13 <Chairman:> No, sorry, Dr. Goldthorpe, I have moved on. Professor Gorard has fundamentally criticised the work of Stephen Machin and Jo Blanden. I was asking them. He is your most consistent critic is he not, Jo?
<Dr. Blanden:> Yes. I can say something about that.
Q14 <Chairman:> Has he got it right or is he wrong?
<Dr. Blanden:> Well, we obviously think he is wrong.
<Professor Machin:> With very good reason.
<Dr. Blanden:> With some quite good reason.
He took a summary paper that we wrote in 2005 for the trust, which was a simplification of our work. Perhaps we did not present things in the first version as clearly as we should, because we were talking about two different things: changes over time, and differences across countries. We did not lay it out clearly enough, in essence, and we responded to his comments and tried to be clearer, but the thing is that the Sutton Trust report in 2005 was a summary of a wealth of papers that we have written, and we also summarised other people's work to give that picture to the trust.
However, Professor Gorard seems to refuse to look at any of our other papers, or any other work that is behind this, and he sticks to what was said in the 2005 paper. He also criticises us for using a small sample of the cohort studies, because we have to look at only a situation involving income and earnings, and he is absolutely right that that is a concern. It is one that I looked into during my PhD. When you restrict the sample that you look at, you always have an element of doubt about whether you are misrepresenting the overall picture. One good thing that has come about from our work, looking at the issues in tandem with John Goldthorpe and Robert Erikson, is that they use a much larger sample, and when they restrict their larger sample of social class to that which we used for income, the patterns do not change, so it seems unlikely that our results are driven firmly by the restriction in sample. So, although that is a reasonable point, we do not think that it applies in this case.
Q15 <Chairman:> But the data are patchy, are they not? You are not comparing like with like on data sets and the different countries that you take. Some of the countries are a bit strange, are they not? You say in one passage of your work, "major industrial countries", but many of them are Nordic countries and Canada. In this Committee, I am always happy and safer when comparing Great Britain as a 60-million population country with Germany, France, Italy and Spain. But that is not who you compare with, is it? You have the US, but many of them are quite small countries.
<Dr. Blanden:> I have written a chapter for a book that some colleagues at the LSE are putting together on education and income inequality. In it, I try to look more widely at where the UK fits on intergenerational income mobility, and to link it with the role of education. I do not know whether Steve would necessarily agree with me, but if we look only at the countries from which we can get really good data, we are possibly picking countries where the UK and the US are often at the low end of mobility. For the UK and the US, that is probably broadly true, but there are probably many other countries down there, too. I would argue that France, Italy and Spain are, but that Germany is a little bit unclear.
Q16 <Chairman:> Because most of your data are from West Germany, are they not?
<Dr. Blanden:> Yes, which does not help.
If you try to look around for as much data as you can, even if they are not completely comparable, I would say that several large European countries are equally as immobile as the UK. But then there is other evidence from other sources, such as the PISA study, which show that educational opportunities in the UK are very strongly related to family background, so there is evidence on either side. We have some holes in our evidence; that is completely the case. In that particular Sutton Trust study, we picked only the countries where we had data that were quite similar, so we compared with the UK and the US, Nordic countries, which are probably fairly extreme cases.
<Professor Machin:> I would add that Stephen Gorard is out on a limb in what he says, if you compare what we say with other leading experts in the area. Gary Solon is the leading US economist on intergenerational income mobility. He has written a survey piece bringing together the international evidence and he reaches very much the same conclusions as we do, by drawing on studies from different countries. However, the US and the UK are towards the bottom of the international league table for intergenerational earnings or income mobility. If you take Stephen Gorard's criticism literally, because he thinks that he has this methodological point, which is not correct, about the way in which we presented the evidence, he is actually saying that he thinks that the extent of intergenerational mobility is rather like that in Norway, and I do not think that anybody would think that that was the case.
Q17 <Chairman:> Is the heart of the problem that he is attacking your truncated paper, or perhaps even the gloss that the Sutton Trust put on your research, because in a sense it did not do the research, but was making a case for other purposes?
<Professor Machin:> To be fair on him, I think his observation is that the findings have been misused in certain quarters and he, therefore, is commenting on it because it is a piece of research that has received so much attention that he thinks that he should be saying something about what his position on it would be.
<Chairman:> Okay. That has been some very good interpreting.
<Mr Carswell:> I have three questions, if I may?
<Chairman:> On something that has come up already? We are going through the questions in sections.
<Mr. Carswell:> Can I ask three questions at some stage?
<Chairman:> If you do not repeat the questions that people have already bid to ask, yes.
<Mr. Carswell:> Sorry. You have been asking questions, do you want me to ask questions now?
<Chairman:> Could you hold back for a moment? Let me give the people who asked to do the opening session a chance first.
Q18 <Mr. Slaughter:> That was a very interesting introduction. When we were talking in private before you came in, I sensed a slight frustration among some of my colleagues that some of us, like me, are statistically challenged, but probably what we are more interested in are the more political questions about whether social mobility is a good thing, and the role of education within that. In order to get to that stage, it is always useful to have a coherent and consistent statistical base. Although there appears to be some level of agreement between the various studies, that may be an unfair question. How would you reach a consensus between your views, or what points would you pick out from the studies that we have had, which would give us that clear base from which to go forward to the next stage? In other words, can you summarise what consistent findings you believe there are between the various studies that you have done? Or indeed, more controversially, do you think we should disregard points that have been made?
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> The first thing to say is that Steve and Jo are looking, as we have established, at mobility in terms of income. In effect, they are comparing the earnings of children with the incomes of the families from which they came. My colleagues and I are looking at mobility in terms of social class. Those are different phenomena; there is no reason in principle why they should give exactly the same results, although of course it is interesting if results differ to try to ask why that is so. We have had a long series of exchanges, trying to work out why this is so and these occasions get rather technical-we could go into that. My own reading is that intergenerational income mobility is more subject to short-term social change than intergenerational class mobility. In the case of income mobility you can get relatively short-term changes of some magnitude, and that is related to the fact that changes in the structure of incomes, in income equality, can occur rather more quickly than changes in the shape of the class structure. However, as far as the political and policy implications of our research go, the differences are not that great.
<Professor Machin:> I would tend to agree with much of what John has said. Both the social class findings and the income findings suggest that social mobility is a problem in Britain. It should therefore, have a high priority in policy debates and the fact that debates about the research are giving it a higher profile is both good and important. In response to the question about why I was interested in intergenerational mobility, I stated at the start that my interest is in labour market inequalities, income disparities across the population, and trying to ascertain whether they are too big or too small. We know that in Britain over the last 25 to 30 years, the gap between the highest and the lowest paid has widened massively, with a particularly big increase during the 1980s. The findings on social mobility suggest that this opening up of income disparities is not just restricted to people's own generation but can be tracked back to where they were born and the incomes of their parents at that point in time. That suggests that this work is even more important, as growing inequality at a point in time is reinforced across generations. When we have looked at education, we have looked at it as a transmission mechanism underpinning the extent of intergenerational social mobility. As we saw this episode of falling income mobility, we discovered that one of the key factors underpinning it was an increased sensitivity of education to family income. Basically, the expansion of education, particularly higher education, that took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s, disproportionately benefited people from richer families. That is one of the reasons why social mobility has fallen. In terms of a policy discussion and the political debate, these issues are becoming more important than they were in the past.
Q19 <Mr. Slaughter:> Yes. From your comments so far it appears that there is a greater degree of consensus that I had first thought. That is good. However the findings are rather concerning in the way that you have just indicated. In relation to the educational side of your last point, obviously one of the things that we will be concerned with is the chicken and egg aspect of education. In your view, is access to education based on social class or income a barrier, perhaps to increased social mobility, or is the way that the education system is used widening that gap? If I understood your point correctly, are you saying that what could be perceived as a widening of educational opportunity, or something that in a simplistic way may increase opportunities within income and wealth bands, may actually have had the opposite effect?
<Professor Machin:> Yes, it can go either way. One easy way to think about it is that if people who benefit from the expansion of education systems come from above average income families, it reinforces the inequalities that are already there. If they come from below average income families, it will narrow the inequality that was there. It appears that the expansion of HE disproportionately benefited people from above average income families, and that has been one of the mechanisms as to why inter-generational income mobility has fallen during this period.
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 se-you 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 schools-primary and secondary-and 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 identifiable-a 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 age-I am thinking of Sure Start and other such programmes-rather 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 attainment-it depends who takes up the greater opportunities.
My own interpretation-I have reported such findings-is 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 Sure Start 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 mobility-usually, implicitly, increasing upward mobility-and 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 Steve 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 Steve 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 think-in fact, John and I both think this-that 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 important-what 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 mobility-the stickiness that John talks about-seems 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 to-the 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 Steve 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 seminar. 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 ago-in 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 unsurprised-as you can tell, he is a pretty permanent critic of yours-to 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 it.
<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 judgment 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 judgment call ourselves?
<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 are right.
<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 countries-especially Finland.
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> Funny little countries can, in some ways, set us some examples. Down at the bottom would be places like Germany-still-and 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 wasted.
<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 example-it 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 employers-national 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 throw 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 and mathematically.
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 have?
<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 catchment area.
<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 means-here is another interesting finding about education and social mobility that we have come up with-that 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 way-often 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 disagree-what 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.
Q40 <Mr. Carswell:> Thank you; it is very generous of you, Chairman.
I am looking at your 2005 and 2007 papers. You note a sharp rise in the correlation between family and common educational attainment.
<Dr. Blanden:> Yes.
Q41 <Mr. Carswell:> That suggests that more of those who are able to afford it, by buying it either directly or indirectly through buying a house in a nice catchment area, are able to buy a better education. There is less scope now than there was for bright kids from low-income backgrounds to do well in education and to be socially mobile. Does that not suggest that the comprehensive education system itself has diminished social mobility, and that the apartheid system of education in this country where 90-plus per cent. go to state schools, a tiny percentage go to independent schools, and a tiny number of children within the state system are able to go to selective schools-that the status quo itself-is diminishing social mobility?
<Dr. Blanden:> First, I shall say something about the grammar schools question. When we initially found the results, it was speculated that there could be a contribution from comprehensivisation, so it is a difficult question to consider. However, an interesting finding from a colleague of ours, Dr. Sandra McNally, indicates that what happened over that period with grammar schools could not explain the fall in inter-generational income mobility that we find, because it exists at age 11-before grammar schools come into the picture.
Q42 <Mr. Carswell:> I did not actually mention grammar schools. That is a bit of a cul-de-sac of an argument, in which I have little interest. The centrally driven state-run system of education has diminished social mobility, as you say, pre-11. Do you agree?
<Dr. Blanden:> Diminished mobility? Steve, do you want to come in?
<Professor Machin:> It is hard to think about that, but some inequalities have arisen over time. If you look at the labour market outcomes, one feature of rising income inequality and widening income distribution has been the increasing labour market returns to education. Given a higher educational level now, people get paid more, relative to a lower educational level, than they did 25 years ago. You can break that down across different groups, but it is talking about an average return to education going up over time, so education on average is becoming more valuable in the labour market.
You can break it up into different groups. One group that has done better is people who are educated in independent schools. The labour market returns to an independent, private-school, education have gone up more than they have to a state school education, so that is kind of in line with your argument. The long-term implications may well be something to do with the structural nature of the education system.
Q43 <Mr. Carswell:> I am interested in whether there is a relationship between diminishing social mobility and the centralisation of big Government involvement in education.
My second question is that if one wants and believes that upward social mobility is good, you presumably need to try to unhook-if that is the right word-educational attainment from family income, and you therefore need as a public policy maker a mechanism to allow people from low-income backgrounds the choices that currently only those with money can buy. You need a mechanism whereby, rather than creating social equality by restricting choice for everyone, you allow everyone the choices that currently only the rich people have. Do you agree?
<Professor Machin:> I feel that there are various dimensions to that, and various policies have been introduced to try to do precisely that: the educational maintenance allowance tries to get children who would not otherwise have stayed on at school to do so; and Sure Start is trying to level the playing field before children enter the primary school system. So, if you believe that education is a key driver of social mobility, such policies are targeted at people from lower-than-average-income backgrounds.
Q44 <Mr. Carswell:> Do you think that the Government's two recent announcements, including raising the school leaving age, will help?
<Chairman:> The Government have not mentioned any such thing.
<Mr. Carswell:> Okay. Do you think that using a lottery to allocate places as one-
<Chairman:> You can ask the first question, but do phrase it in terms of the fact that it is not raising the school leaving age, but raising the level until you leave education and training.
<Mr. Carswell:> Do you want to ask my questions for me?
<Chairman:> No, but if you ask them in such a loaded way you make it difficult for the professor to answer.
<Mr. Carswell:> Can I ask my question?
Q45 <Mr. Carswell:> Thank you.
Do you think that if the Government used or encouraged the use of a lottery to allocate places, as an official suggested to the Committee the other week, that would enhance or reduce social mobility?
<Professor Machin:> The lottery system for school admissions is presumably to try and take away the criteria of distance in terms of that being important for school admissions. We know that one aspect of inequality that has arisen in response to distance being the main criterion for getting to school has been the selection by mortgage issue, about people buying properties at higher house prices in places where there is a better school nearby; so if you wanted to unlock that aspect of distortion in the housing market, presumably relaxing the distance criterion-one way to do which is through a lottery; it is not the only way to do it-would have the desired impact in terms of weakening the link between house prices and perceived school quality.
Whether people think that is a good thing or a bad thing I do not know, but that is the key outcome that would arise. Of course, it would be going away from the traditional community school idea and you would probably be making children travel further to school, if there was a lottery to go anywhere. That might not necessarily be a good thing. There are pros and cons, I think. The key thing, in terms of reforming school admissions in that way, would be the impact on local housing markets. Of course that is an aspect of inequality that we might be interested in. It is probably something that is related to the extent of social mobility.
On the first question, do you want me to answer about raising the age?
Q46 <Mr. Carswell:> I would like you to, if that is allowed. Would raising the age at which people leave education have an impact?
<Professor Machin:> To 18? Most of the evidence from across the world suggests that when you increase compulsory school-leaving levels the level of education goes up, so that people who are compelled to stay on clearly raise their educational levels, and most of the evidence seems to suggest that that yields a labour market return to education, so making them get an extra year's education has a pay-off in the labour market. On productivity grounds, from a purely economic viewpoint, that seems to be a good thing.
<Dr. Blanden:> Given that those people are likely to be from poor backgrounds, you could see a knock-on impact on social mobility, because those people are getting an earnings gain relative to what they would have had before, because they are from the bottom, perhaps, of the income distribution; but I would imagine it is not going to be huge.
<Professor Machin:> There is a lot of evidence from different places, so when different states in the US have raised their compulsory school-leaving ages you can compare what happens in those states with what happens in other states that do not raise their compulsory school-leaving age. In different countries the raising of the school-leaving age has been sequential, so in the Scandinavian countries, for example, different municipalities raised the age at different times, and it seems to yield labour market returns to the people who are treated, if you like, by the increased compulsory school-leaving age. You can make a productivity argument for it on those grounds.
Q47 <Mr. Carswell:> Thank you. I have two further questions for John, if I may. On the point that Dawn seemed to touch on, you seemed to suggest that social mobility was a zero sum game-that one person's gain necessarily means someone else's loss. Indeed, I think you said in the context of women getting highly paid jobs that men must do worse, as there are only a limited number of jobs. A number of economists have disagreed with that view since the 1770s, but do you really think that social mobility is a zero sum game? Can we not all be better off socio-economically?
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> Certainly we can all be socio-economically better off. I do not say that social mobility is necessarily a zero sum game. As I tried to explain, in the middle decades of the last century it was clearly a positive sum game, because as one aspect of general economic growth and development you have this expansion of professional and managerial positions growing room at the top, so you could in that case have steadily rising rates of upward mobility and, at the same time, rising rates of immobility within the more advantaged strata.
What I am saying now is that we cannot expect anything like a repeat of that mid-20th century experience. That was an historical one-off that had to do with the massive growth in Government and with the massive development of health, education, social welfare. Also, in the private sector, large business firms created great administrative and managerial bureaucracies. We are not going to get back to that kind of rapid and sustained growth at the top. Under such structural conditions, social mobility becomes more of a zero sum game. If you have a more or less fixed structure, there must be balance between the number upwardly mobile people and how far they go, and the number who are downwardly mobile, and how far they go. That is a kind of demographic-cum-mathematical fact.
<Chairman:> Last question.
Q48 <Mr. Carswell:> I have just been reading a book called "The Long Tail" by a guy called Anderson, and I imagine that he would disagree with what you said.
Finally, you said something about how the United States lacks social mobility. I respect your esteemed academic research and I am sure that you have interviewed and studied lots of Americans, but do you think the fact that tens of millions of people vote with their feet and go to America because it is an aspirational country means that at least some people disagree with you? They believe that there is some sort of upward mobility in the States.
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> In the period of mass emigration to the United States from Europe, America had higher rates of social mobility but they have subsequently declined. A recent large-scale study by two American economic historians brings that out. I was talking about the period from the 1950s or 1960s to the present, when American mobility came much closer to the European pattern.
Q49 <Stephen Williams:> Thank you. I need to ask one question on fluidity between groups to Dr. Goldthorpe. In your paper, you say that that might lead to uncomfortable policy choices or discussions for politicians say, for example, on participation in higher education. It is not in any of the papers that you have written that we have read before this sitting, but I have read elsewhere that the child of a family in the highest social class by income-broadly, the professional and managerial class, of whom many will have been to university-has an 85% chance of participating in higher education. People at the other end of the income distribution have a 13% to 15% chance, which is broadly unchanged in the past 20 years. Therefore, there is a saturation at one end, and, arguably, massive untapped potential at the other. Is your argument that politicians ought to be thinking that fewer people from the higher backgrounds should go to university so that more people from the lower background can go? Is that the sort of uncomfortable discussion that we should be having?
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> No, I would not want to restrict opportunity.
Q50 <Stephen Williams:> You said that if some people go up, some people have to come down.
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> I am sorry, there is a difference. If you are talking about inequalities in educational attainment, you would not be constrained in that way. You can expand the room at the top in tertiary education. Indeed, that has been done-massively.
Q51 <Stephen Williams:> But the expanded space has been filled up by people at the top of the social scale, who have benefited. Is it an inverse pyramid?
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> That may be something that one must live with. I do not believe that everybody will want to go into tertiary education. I am not too happy with targets such as 50% of people going into higher education. The important thing ought to be that any young person, or even older person, who wants to go into higher education, and who has the minimum capacity to benefit from it, should have the opportunity to do so. We should let the numbers be what they are, rather than setting targets. There is an important difference between social class and education and class mobility. I do not think that reducing class differentials in educational attainment can be thought of as a zero sum game. I see it more as creating a level playing field.
Q52 <Annette Brooke:> May I backtrack to ensure that I am clear in my mind about some of the things that you are saying?
First of all, I think I have got this bit clear, in terms of the fall in intergenerational mobility between the 1958 and 1970 cohorts, Dr. Goldthorpe, you said fairly clearly that a lot of that was structural because occupations have changed?
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> Yes.
Q53 <Annette Brooke:> Professor Machin, in one of your conclusions you say that that fall was an episode caused by particular circumstances of the time. Do you identify the same circumstances as Dr. Goldthorpe, or are they different circumstances and time periods? I apologise if this is me not reading the material thoroughly.
<Professor Machin:> No, we are clearly studying the same time period and thinking about the same structural changes. The one that I would tend to emphasise would be the fact that income inequality rose a lot in Britain since the late 1970s. One way of thinking about that is that if you are going to move up the income distribution in your own generation, or indeed move down the income distribution in your own generation, you have further to travel. If the distribution is wider, to move up the distribution you have further to travel in income terms. One of the key structural changes that has occurred is that the distribution of income has got wider and the other one that we talk about in our work as a key factor is the link between education and family income. That seemed to have strengthened at the same time as we saw the fall in social mobility.
Q54 <Annette Brooke:> Good, that follows on, so everybody is actually agreeing that early education is quite important in terms of final outcomes, am I correct? Dr. Goldthorpe is nodding. Looking at actual policy implications, now that I have got all of that clear in my head, there are lots of statistics knocking around about children from disadvantaged backgrounds who have a fraction of the vocabulary of somebody from a more middle-class background-or a higher-income background, probably-at age three, and that is incredibly pronounced by the age of five, when the child starts school. We are clearly identifying that early years education is important. We have had massive investment since 1997 in this area. These are very early days, in terms of you making any firm conclusions about it, but I would like to ask you individually whether you have any comments on the effectiveness of the big investment in Sure Start and early learning that we have had over the last 11 years?
<Professor Machin:> I have already said this once, but most people tend to think that you are likely to get a bigger return on educational investments that take place early on in childhood. That is not to say that later investments do not yield a return at all, in fact quite the opposite.
Q55 <Annette Brooke:> Can we home in on the effectiveness, rather than this large global sum of money? I am saying, have we spent it wisely?
<Professor Machin:> It is still too early days to properly evaluate the impact of Sure Start, and indeed it will be many years away before we can really do that, because we want to see whether it has long-standing effects on children when they become adults, so we want to know how important that will be. One can certainly make the argument, and it is an argument that I agree with, that the returns to early years investment are probably going to be higher than the returns to later years investment in education. Notwithstanding that, you have still got to carry on investing, because there is certainly some evidence from the US to say that some pre-school investments do have an impact on children's outcomes, although they tend to decay as children enter their schooling years and particularly their teenage years. Some of them are actually not that long-standing, so that still suggests that you have to be doing things later on.
In terms of Sure Start itself and the logic for it, you can compare it with what has happened in the comparable policy in the US that was introduced many years before-Head Start. Head Start seems to have had some long-standing effects, particularly on outcomes like crime. Individuals who received benefits from Head Start seem to be much less likely to participate in crime than people who did not receive it, as teenagers and as young adults. It is too early days, but I would argue that it is probably the right logic to think about intervening early because many of the inequalities you see by age 16, when people are deciding whether to stay on at school or not, or even by five when they enter school, many of the inequalities are already in place there. Many of them widen out during the school years, but the foundations of them are set in place early on, I think.
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> I agree with Stephen that it is too early to make any definitive assessment. My reading of the evidence on pre-school programmes generally is that they work if they are high value, and that means if they are fairly expensive. You have to make a big investment. If they are not high value and high quality, there is evidence of wash-out effects. They have an initial impact but it is not sustained.
Sure Start was a very good idea in principle. I have some worries, and I know that they are shared by quite a few people, about the way in which it is developing. It was developing primarily into a kind of child care programme. If that is so, it worries me that one is not getting the targeting on those children who have the greatest need for it, those children whose parents are perhaps not as educationally aware and supportive as they might be. I see the difficulty here in that there was a concern not to stigmatise these families by focusing Sure Start too sharply on them, but it would be a danger if the families who benefited most from Sure Start were not those in greatest need of the kind of support that it can give. I hope that that can be looked at.
My general position on this is that I would agree with what Jo and Stephen said: fundamentally the most effective interventions are those in the pre-school and early primary school years, but to be successful they have to be high quality and therefore expensive. The kind of intervention that I am thinking about at 16 plus could be rather more cost-effective because EMAs are not all that expensive compared with the cost of Sure Start programmes. I would like to see more research being done on why there is this loss of talent aged 16, and whether EMAs could be developed and sharpened up somewhat to try to remedy that. There is real potential here that could be achieved at a relatively low cost.
Q56 <Annette Brooke:> I have one brief question. I know that this is strictly speaking out of your particular fields, but if any of this is going to mean anything we need evaluation of all these different policies. In your general reading across all this-
<Chairman:> Who is this directed at?
<Annette Brooke:> Both. One at a time. In your view is there sufficient evaluation going on out there, albeit at Government or university level, on these programmes?
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> No.
<Professor Machin:> It is getting better, but it is still not enough. There are more serious evaluations of lots of the initiatives that have been introduced more recently, particularly education initiatives. But we could do with more and we could do with some better designed experiments to try to evaluate certain educational initiatives as well.
<Chairman:> Jo Blanden?
<Dr. Blanden:> I agree with Stephen. The Centre for the Economics of Education, which we are both members of, has been involved in evaluating a number of these policy interventions, like Excellence in Cities, the literacy hour and EMAs. We are building up a larger base of knowledge of how to go about evaluating policies. That has been greatly helped by the fact that we have been given more data in recent years to do that. We certainly would not want to go backwards at all.
Q57 <Chairman:> Have you seen some of the early research on Sure Start? One of the problems was that it was left to local communities to design their own. Some of them did not hit the proper targets because so much emphasis was placed on local design.
<Professor Machin:> Some of the initial evidence that I have seen was that in places where it worked well it tended to be hijacked by the middle classes who used all the facilities, and in places where it was not designed so well and was left to local decision making and stuff, people did not really take advantage of it.
<Chairman:> Does that not put a big question mark over the local example? I am not getting any response at all. Annette, I am moving on to David.
Q58 <Mr. Chaytor:> I want to ask Professor Machin and Dr. Blanden about the way in which their initial report was picked up by a wide range of people. To what extent do you think that your evidence or conclusions were hijacked and distorted by this interest?
<Professor Machin:> I do not think that "hijacked" is quite right.
<Dr. Blanden:> No, I don't think so.
<Professor Machin:> We wrote a report for the Sutton Trust summarising our findings. Part of the misuse of our work was because we had to write a very short summary, rather than a long academic paper that covered every possible caveat, robustness checks and so on. The summary piece was very short and it was then used by people in different ways who gave it different interpretations. One of the key things about the work is that it has received so much attention that it must be something that people find very interesting, relevant and innovative. In some senses, we did the research, and then it has gone to a secondary stage where people use the research. Unlike a lot of academic research, this has been used by many different people-practitioners, policy makers and so on. In some senses, however, it is true of all research that people will still put their own interpretation on the findings that emerge.
Q59 <Mr. Chaytor:> But when you became aware that politicians and other public commentators were giving it a specific interpretation, and actually making no reference to the issue of the structural change in the economy between the early '50s and perhaps up to the 1974 oil price crisis, did you make any effort to challenge the interpretations that were made?
<Professor Machin:> We have written a series of papers on the issue that look at different but related questions, and we clarify what we have done in those papers. We have written some survey pieces: we have a survey chapter in a book that I edited, where we discuss more generally what the findings suggest and place them in a much wider context. The research is still ongoing for us because we are still very interested. One of the things that I said on the three pieces of work we have done thus far, was that we are very interested in trying to learn what we can say about more recent patterns of change in intergenerational mobility. That is what concerns us from a policy perspective: the children currently going through the education system, and what social mobility will be like for them when they become adults. We are trying to think about ways in which the academic work could be developed in that direction.
<Dr. Blanden:> One of the reasons we have done a more recent report-although we are a bit limited in what we know because the children are still in school-is to find out what has happened for cohorts post 1970. We were interested in doing that so that people were not using older results to extrapolate in a way that was not justified. You cannot prevent people from doing that, you can say it is wrong but they will carry on until you give them something new to say. That is something that we were very conscious of. The debate that we have had with John, and the way that we have thought about the interactions between income mobility and social class mobility is, to my mind, a good example of how academic debate can move things forward and help us to understand how different perspectives can give slightly different findings. We have been very open to that.
Q60 <Mr. Chaytor:> Could I ask all of you, from your distinct academic perspectives, what conclusions about educational policy we can draw from this? We have talked about Sure Start, we have talked about EMAs and the expansion of higher education, but what conclusions do you draw in terms of the structure of schooling, both primary and secondary-the relative merits of hierarchical structures as against flatter structures?
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> Hierarchical or flatter in terms of educational systems?
Q61 <Mr. Chaytor:> In terms of the schooling system. You commented on diversity and expressed some scepticism about that with regard to an increase in social mobility.
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> Yes.
Q62 <Mr. Chaytor:> I am interested in the issue of hierarchy, of a system of primary schools and secondary schools that are structured in a hierarchical and highly selective way. What conclusions do you draw from that? Secondly, do you think there is any relevance to the issue of social mobility in the system of testing and assessment we have? That is the subject of another inquiry that the Committee is involved in at the moment. Do you think that an intensive testing system in which certain groups of children are repeatedly failed has any relationship to the level of social mobility or not? That question is for Dr. Goldthorpe, to start with.
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> On testing, I have to say that I have not done research in this area and I am not very expert about consequences of it. My gut feeling, for what it is worth, is that testing has become overdone, and there is evidence that exposing children to the possibility of repeated failure is not good for their academic confidence and performance.
On school systems, I generally favour comprehensive systems. If we go back to considering the Nordic countries, accepting that they are quite small and perhaps peculiar countries, they do have fairly well developed comprehensive systems and there is some evidence that that has played a part in the fact that they have lower class differentials in educational attainment than we have in this country. That is comprehensive education combined with what in British parlance we would call fairly extensive setting at older ages. That seems to me the best way of avoiding the essential arbitrariness of earlier selection, while still making adequate provision for children of differing aptitudes in different directions. In general, I am in favour of what you call flatter rather than more hierarchical educational systems.
<Professor Machin:> On one aspect of the hierarchy, there is some evidence that countries that have earlier tracking in the education system have higher educational inequalities. Germany is a very clear example. They track at age 11 into the three-
Q63 <Mr. Chaytor:> Earlier tracking-earlier selection?
<Dr. Blanden:> Yes. Selection.
<Professor Machin:> Yes. Putting people on a track at an earlier age. There is evidence that that leads to educational inequalities, largely because people are not able to move across tracks very much, so that is having some impact on mobility in the early years and then subsequently-
Q64 <Chairman:> Decreasing or increasing?
<Professor Machin:> It increases inequalities, because it restricts people to being on a particular track.
On the testing regimes, I do not know of any evidence that particularly links the presence of a national testing regime to aspects of social mobility. You could make theoretical arguments either way, I would have thought. If everybody takes the same national tests, that is at least levelling the playing field so that everybody has the potential to do quite well, rather than selecting people according to certain examinations that they may or may not take, which was the old system, certainly for O-levels rather than GCSEs. If we want to make the talent argument and if people are not constrained by other things, presumably letting everybody have a go is quite a good thing.
Whether that is placing much more stress on people from different social backgrounds is an open question. Again, I do not know. I do not know of any research that has looked at that in any detail and I cannot quite work out how you would be able to do very good research on that question, notwithstanding the fact that it is an important question. It is not one I know much about myself.
<Dr. Blanden:> I just wanted to follow on from the testing point. High-stakes testing throughout the schooling system may encourage parents to exercise their choices more at an earlier age. To that extent, it could be associated with selection by postcode. It could be promoting that to a certain extent, but that is only a theoretical thought that I had just as Steve was speaking.
Q65 <Mr. Chaytor:> May I ask one other question? It relates to your conclusion about the impact of access to the expanded higher education system being disproportionately monopolised by young people from middle-class families. Surely the real test of the value of an expanded HE sector will come only when we see the entry into the job market of a broader base of HE entrants.
Inevitably, when the system expanded from the mid-'80s, it was the group of middle-class young people who had done quite well at school but had not previously gone into HE who gobbled up the opportunities, because they were best placed to do so. Surely we will have to wait until the post-'97 cohort, which is a much wider social base of graduates, enters the labour market to see whether the expansion has had any significant effect on social mobility. Is it not too early to say whether there is an effect?
<Professor Machin:> I would mostly agree. Some of the cohorts who benefited from it in the early stages entered the labour market, but to evaluate the whole expansion, yes, we probably need to wait a while.
Q66 <Mr. Chaytor:> So when do you think we will have reliable data about the real effect on social mobility of a significantly expanded HE system?
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> The next cohort after the 1970 one is the 2000 one, so we will be in the 2020s before we can see that. But something could be done if those running the general lifestyle module, formerly the general household survey, could be persuaded to reintroduce questions that would help us with social mobility. They would not have to do it every year, just once every three or five years.
Another thing that is very important in Government statistics generally is that we need to break down the unitary category of tertiary education or degree. I know that would be invidious and create problems, but we have to recognise that as tertiary education has expanded it has become increasingly stratified. We need to make some distinction between different levels of university, however controversial that might be-say, Oxbridge, Russell group and then so-called modern universities, with whatever is in between. One could discuss that. We also need to collect information on the subject areas in which people get degrees, because it is clear that returns to higher education, whether in earnings or social class, will become increasingly variable. If we want to evaluate the outcome of the expansion of tertiary education, we must treat it in a far more differentiated way than hitherto.
Q67 <Mr. Chaytor:> So in respect of the changes necessary to the GLM to provide the kind of evidence that you need to draw significant conclusions, is there an agreed set of questions that you or other academics have argued for? One of the most saddening things about the background papers was the change in 1993, which took out the question of social background. Should that be restored?
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> There is a big difference. With the birth cohort studies, there are standing committees of academics to discuss the questions. With the GLM, we have little input-at least, as far as I know, not of any formalised kind.
Q68 <Mr. Chaytor:> Who determines the questions that go into it?
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> The Office for National Statistics, and various Government Departments can-
Q69 <Mr. Chaytor:> This is a highly politically charged issue, is it not? The questions that are being asked are not delivering the relevant answers that academics need to assess the impact of Government policy.
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> I tried very hard to find out why they stopped collecting the relevant data in 1993, and I have never been able to get a satisfactory answer. It may just have been an accident.
Q70 <Chairman:> So would you academics like it reinstituted? Would you like this Committee to recommend that that kind of data be reinstituted?
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> Yes please.
<Professor Machin:> That is of direct relevance to John's work, and I concur-it would be a good thing. It would be of high practical relevance to John's work on social class.
Q71 <Fiona Mactaggart:> I have found the papers that we have looked at very hard, which is relevant to the discussion. The things that I know about statistics I mostly read in a book published in 1954 that has been read by 1.5 million other people, by Darrell Huff, called "How to Lie With Statistics". His first chapter relates to the built-in bias in a sample. He refers to the 1924 class of Yale graduates who earned $25,111 a year. He pointed out that in that group of people, those who earned the least had fallen out so that the stayers were likely to be higher earners. He pointed out that it was not clear from the way the questions were asked what the difference was between salary and other income. He also suggested, with some evidence, that you cannot trust people when they report income. Every single point seems to be relevant to your work, but is not addressed in it.
<Professor Machin:> All the things you said are part of our day-to-day research. We have to face all such questions when we analyse survey data and look at who responded to the survey-whether they are people in the labour market, employers or consumers. Those are the kinds of things that we have to look at when we do quantitative statistical research. We are very aware of all of those points. We spend a lot of time in our research papers concentrating on whether our samples are representative, whether there is a measurement error in people's responses to the survey, what the framing of the questions is and whether the questions are framed in the same way across cohorts or whether there are discrepancies in the way questions are asked. We look at all that and many other minute details when we do research.
Things have moved on since the 1950s. We have various statistical techniques for dealing with issues such as measurement error.
Q72 <Fiona Mactaggart:> But these are very specific measurement errors. They are not classic measurement error. Such errors will produce bias in your results.
<Professor Machin:> They may produce bias.
Q73 <Fiona Mactaggart:> They will, because we know that the people who fall out of these long cohort studies are absolutely most likely to be the least prosperous. The 2,000 missing people from the figures in 1958 are likely to be the poorest. The odds on that are massive.
<Professor Machin:> Yes, we know that. I would not have said that the odds were massive. We have various tables in various papers that we have written in which we start with a full sample. We work down on the sample restrictions that we make to end up with the sample that we look at. Inevitably, people are lost. Even when people respond to a survey, some do not answer all the questions. If we use a sample of x thousand people out of an initial sample of y thousand, it is very important to say how we have got from the representative sample of y thousand down to x thousand. We spend a lot of time in our research being very careful about that. It is true that it is more of an issue in some data sets than other data sets. In certain papers, we write with different data sets and we have to look at that. That is something that we are very aware of in our research and we have to very rigorous about it. We have to assess the robustness of our results. Sure, people can lie with statistics. They can also tell very representative stories about what is going on as well.
Q74 <Fiona Mactaggart:> Do not think that I am accusing you of intending to lie. What I am concerned about is this whole business of the conversation between politicians and researchers. The conversation is, in my view, a pathetic one. The only politician who is cited in any of this work-apart from quoting politicians who quote you-is Dr. Goldthorpe's reference to Ed Miliband looking at some of his data. It seems to me that there is a failure to converse and a failure to understand, which leads politicians sometimes to lay greater weight on some of your conclusions than perhaps even you would. Of course, you want people to use your conclusions. That is quite important if you are going out looking for research grants from elsewhere. Partly because of this conversation failure, we can be wrong about what the data show. I heard David Cameron cite your work to imply that, under the Labour Government, social mobility had massively reduced, which nobody who has read it carefully would claim. Am I right?
<Dr. Blanden:> Yes. In fact, I was involved with the Channel 4 spotting of mistakes-I am not sure what it is called-and picking up on Cameron's exact quote and trying to set it right. We do try-that is the best we can say. That is why we have tried to follow it up. In terms of attrition and measurement error, we are okay if neither of those things change substantially between the two cohorts. To a certain extent, we can never know absolutely if those things have not changed.
Q75 <Fiona Mactaggart:> Exactly; you have to guess. There is no magic way.
<Dr. Blanden:> It is not guessing.
<Professor Machin:> Indeed. We have to be as scientific as we can from a research perspective. That is not guessing. Guessing would be someone just saying "Oh yeah, it looks representative," or "No, it doesn't." That is not what we do; we spend an enormous amount of time trying to be as scientific as we can in doing the research, otherwise there would be no point in doing it.
Q76 <Fiona Mactaggart:> I understand that. I am trying to point out that one consequence of that kind of research is that people put weight on some examples that they do not bear out-I have cited one such example with which Dr. Blanden agreed-and that, because you cannot know certain things, you have to extrapolate using the best evidence that you can in the circumstances. I called it guessing, and I might have been exaggerating, but I did that for effect.
You cited some other work about the impact of Head Start and early years work. Some of the work that you cited was presumably based on a quite controlled experiment with many fewer people than the big panels that you used-the High/Scope Perry research for example. In such experiments, the same individuals, not one panel in 1958 and another in 1970, are tracked over time and the differences between the different groups are analysed. Is that a better way of studying these issues?
<Professor Machin:> There are two points that I should like to make in response to that. First, returning to your point about dialogue between policy makers and researchers, there is a potential conflict of interest, because policy makers have different questions from academic researchers. Sometimes they coincide, and sometimes they do not. That is why people might have different incentives for interpreting results in different ways. Closer consultation on that is a good thing in order to minimise that conflict of interest.
On the second point about experimental versus non-experimental data, that is something that we face a lot in the social sciences. We do not often have experiments that we can run in the same way as those in the medical sciences. However, we try to approximate them to the best of our ability, using non-experimental data to evaluate particular questions of interest. There are no experiments out there on social mobility. We cannot randomise somebody into a particular family as they are growing up and compare them to a family in which someone is not randomised into a higher or lower-income or higher or lower social-class family. So we must do what we can with non-experimental data.
There are many studies out there comparing experimental outcomes with non-experimental outcomes in particular areas to see whether that matters and how you might develop methodologies to get closer to the experimental kind of studies. I would argue that we should still look at aspects of social mobility, whether income mobility or social-class mobility, even in the absence of experimental data. We should be doing that and trying to do the best job that we can with non-experimental data.
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> I think that you put your finger on a very serious matter-communication between politicians and social scientists. I would hope that thought could be given to that. However, on a more positive note, it is natural that politicians should, from time to time, try to make a political point from a piece of research that appears. That is their job. It is important, however, that they do not necessarily always believe their own propaganda. They should be ready to talk to researchers about this in a different mode. I think that a fair bit of that does, in fact, go on. I have discussed our research with Ed Miliband and other people in the Government, but I have also had several long conversations with David Willetts about it. At that level, communication is better.
Q77 <Chairman:> To build on Fiona's point, is not there a problem in the way that your research has been picked up? As I have said, I admire the work of the Sutton Trust, particularly the work that it has done on the concentration of independently educated people in the BBC, major corporations, journalism and in almost every walk of life. That complements the work that you have done on social mobility, which is very thought-provoking and important for politicians to know about. We will pick up on the bits we like: if I raised the concentration of independently educated people at the BBC, I would immediately be hounded by the press unless I pointed to that piece of Sutton Trust work.
There are interesting points for us because we spend our time in this Committee trying to scrutinise the work of Government and whether the spending of taxpayers' money is good value. One of the things that we have asked over a number of years is whether something is evidence-based policy. For that, we very much rely on you people.
Coming out of your work on social mobility, there is one strand that says, "Oh, all that Sure Start stuff, free nursery care and all that has all been a failure and has not worked", as Fiona would say. Some policy makers have then said, "Well, it's not worth doing anything because you cannot make any difference through educational policy to social mobility." Others, such as the Sutton Trust, have said, "You have got to renew and be more vigorous in the way that you give more kids the opportunity for a broader and better education." Therefore, the policy implications of your work are quite diverse, are they not?
<Professor Machin:> Yes. As academic researchers, I think that we can take two positions on that, one of which is fairly productive and one of which is less so. We could say that we have done the research and whoever wants to use it can. On the other hand, we could engage in dialogue with people who are interested in it and perhaps go into much more detail on that in the way that we are doing in this Committee, which I think is very useful, so that we can actually come to a closer agreement on what the research findings mean and what their relevance is for policy.
Many people take that first view: the research is done in an academic ivory tower and then if anyone wants to pick up on it, that is fine, but it has been done and published in a leading academic journal and is over and done with. I would prefer to think of the second position as being much more useful with regard to the impact that academic research can have in the policy arena.
Q78 <Chairman:> I think that most people in this Committee think that your research has been very useful. Given you responses today, I would like to mention the importance of setting research in context. I know that I was nasty about some Nordic countries, but I have a thing about Finland. However, we were comparing the UK, like with like, with big, mature, industrial democracies. I got the feeling that, in one of your answers, there were slight throw away: you said France is different.
My intuition about the history of France is that it becomes a free-market, industrial, mature democracy much later than the UK, and the UK comes much later than the United States. If you are going to put your research into context, is there a sense that some of those societies mature in a different way? In a sense, the context is lost when you look only at that snapshot piece of research.
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> I have done quite a lot of comparative work with various colleagues on social mobility and think that you are absolutely right. Different countries follow different historical trajectories of development and have very different institutional forms. France is an interesting case in that regard, because it used to have a fairly rigid society, in terms of both class differences in education and social mobility. As I mentioned, it is one of the societies that has most clearly become more fluid, having starting off from a low base. One possible explanation that my French colleagues are working on is that that comes from the decline of the agricultural sector, which was particularly rigid and continued to be quite a sizeable sector in France until much later than it did in this country. It may well be that that is the source. Also, France has a highly centralised education system. When French Governments want to change educational policy, say in the interests of reducing class differentials, they have more powerful levers than exist in this country.
<Chairman:> Graham, as usual, wants the last word.
Q79 <Mr. Stuart:> You have looked at the combination of class mobility and income mobility. If you look at it in terms of educational outcomes at certain key stages, how strong is the link between educational outcome and changes in either class or income mobility over time?
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> In my experience there is not a perfect but a clear association. Those countries that have been most successful in reducing class differences in educational attainment most often show an increase in fluidity.
Q80 <Mr. Stuart:> When we had our great time of change in the post-war world, was there a transformation in educational attainment among lower social classes?
<Dr. Goldthorpe:> No. In Britain, the evidence on the relationship between class and educational attainment is remarkably constant. Of course, more children from all class backgrounds have gone on to higher secondary and tertiary education, but the differentials have remained remarkably constant. We do not find any widening in class differentials in the way that Stephen and Jo do in relation to family income. We find just a constancy and that is rather disturbing.
<Professor Machin:> We do find evidence that the relationship between educational attainment and family income has strengthened in terms of attainment at higher education and family income and in terms of early age test scores and family income. One of the nice things about the cohort data is that the children were tested in maths and reading as they were growing up. We find a stronger relationship for the second cohort than the first.
Q81 <Mr. Stuart:> So a system of early intervention to help lift up those who are falling behind, however it is done, will be effective.
<Professor Machin:> Yes. If you look at the latest cohort study, the MCS and the relationship between age five test scores and family income, there is a very strong gradient between the two. That was in 2005.
<Chairman:> A last word from Jo Blanden.
<Dr. Blanden:> It is not a very good last word.
<Chairman:> That is all right.
<Dr. Blanden:> One thing that I have noticed from looking at a lot of the sociological work in the run-up to this is something that appears in John's work-I think he would agree-in that the relationship between educational background and social class seems to be falling. However, we do not find that there is any fall in the relationship between education and earnings at all. That might be another component of why we find this slightly differing picture. That was a bad last word.
<Chairman:> No, it was not. This has been more of a seminar than a regular question and answer session. You have educated us wonderfully. We have enjoyed the experience and will use your words today as we look further at social mobility. We would be grateful if we could keep in touch with you. Thank you very much for your time.