Case study

British social mobility trends

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Author: Anna Klimova, Institute of Science and Technology, Austria, in collaboration with Tamas Rudas of Eotvos Lorand University, Hungary

Date: 28 February 2013

Type of case study: Research

About the research

This study aims to make a contribution to the ongoing debate about declining social mobility in Great Britain. It analyses mobility tables based on data from two large government datasets on the assumption that if the mobility effects estimated from a statistical model are found to be significant, they may be used as evidence of direction and magnitude of change in social mobility.

The authors inferred changes in both downward and upward mobility from social mobility tables by using a model-based approach. The proposed models  take into account three factors: the effect of the father's position for the given year; the effect of the son's position for the given year; and the mobility effect related to the difference between the father’s and the son's positions.

The results indicate opposing trends of mobility between 1991 and 2005. Fewer steps up or down in society became less likely by 1991, while more steps became somewhat more likely by 2005.

About the data

This research draws on data from the General Lifestyle Survey (formerly the General Household Survey) and the British Household Panel Survey. The General Lifestyle Survey, which ran from 1971 to 2012, was a multipurpose continuous survey carried out by the Office for National Statistics, collecting information on a range of topics from people living in private households in Great Britain.

The British Household Panel Survey offers a further understanding of social and economic change at the individual and household level in Britain (and, starting with Wave 11, the wider UK) to identify, model and forecast such changes, their causes and consequences in relation to a range of socioeconomic variables. It also provides information on household organisation, employment, accommodation, tenancy, income and wealth, housing, health, socioeconomic values, residential mobility, marital and relationship history, social support, and individual and household demographics.


The analysis is based on the use of social mobility tables that cross-classified occupational status of male respondents aged 25 to 59 and the occupational status of their fathers. These statuses were derived from the corresponding variables included in both surveys.  

The authors estimate mobility effects using two relational models. Under both models each cell count in the mobility table is equal to the product of the effects associated with father’s status, with son’s status and with the distance between these statuses. One of the models assumes that the mobility effects are equal for the two given years, and the other model assumes that the mobility effects are different for these years.

The model effects are estimated using a generalisation, proposed by the authors, of the iterative proportional fitting algorithm that is conventionally used for log-linear models for contingency tables.

Publications and outputs

This research was featured in the following academic journal:

Klimova, A. and Rudas, T. (2012) ‘Coordinate-free analysis of trends in British social mobility’, Journal of Applied Statistics 39(8), pp. 1681-1691. doi:10.1080/02664763.2012.663348

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