Education and social mobility across cohorts

Intergenerational social mobility has become an issue of central policy concern in Britain and there is a large degree of political consensus on the need to create a more mobile and ‘open’ society.

This project seeks to answer key questions on the role of education in increasing social mobility:

  • How great an effect can educational expansion and reform have on rates of social mobility?
  • Does the importance of education vary with different mobility transitions, for example upward and downward, or with characteristics of individuals?
  • What are the causal mechanisms through which education determines mobility chances?
  • What other factors determine mobility, and is the importance of education relative to these factors increasing or decreasing over time?

The research involves analysis of the 1946, 1958 and 1970 British birth cohort studies, and the UK Household Longitudinal Study, which together cover over half a century of major changes in the social stratification of British society and the educational system.

The rich data of these studies allow researchers to address a number of so far relatively neglected issues relating to mobility, including the importance of individuals’ cognitive abilities and the impact of education and qualifications gained after entry into the labour market.

The project aims to provide a new empirical basis for the evaluation of policies, both within and beyond the field of education, and contribute significantly to academic debates on social mobility.

The project is funded by Economic and Social Research Council from March 2012 to 30 November 2015, and is largely based at the Department of Social Policy and Intervention at the University of Oxford.



Bukodi, Erzsébet, Goldthorpe, John, Waller, Lorraine & Kuha, Jouni (forthcoming) The role of absolute versus relative education in inter-generational mobility in Britain, Research in Social Stratification and Mobility.

Bukodi, Erzsébet, Goldthorpe, John H., Waller, Lorraine and Kuha, Jouni (2014) "The mobility problem in Britain: new findings from the analysis of birth cohort data", The British Journal of Sociology.

Joshi, H. (2014) ‘Non-cognitive’ skills: What are they and how can they be measured in the British cohort studies? : A literature review, CLS working paper 2014/6, September 2014, London: UCL Institute of Education, University of London.

Bukodi, Erzsebet and Goldthorpe, John (2013) "Decomposing ‘social origins’: The effects of parents’ class, status and education on the educational attainment of their children", European Sociological Review 29: 5 1024-1039.

Bukodi, Erzsébet, Erikson, Robert & Goldthorpe, John (2013) The effects of social origins and cognitive ability on educational attainment: Evidence from Britain and Sweden, Barnett Papers in Social Research, No 13-04.

Goldthorpe, John and Bukodi, Erzsebet (2013) "Institutional change and social class inequalities in educational attainment: the British experience since 1945", Deissner, D. ed.,Chancen bilden: Wege zu einer gerechteren Bildung – ein internationaler Erfahrungsaustausch. Frankfurt: Springer.

Goldthorpe, John (2013) The Role of Education in intergenerational Social Mobility: Problems from Empirical Research in Sociology and some Theoretical Pointers from Economics, Barnett Papers in Social Research, No 13-02; Forthcoming in Rationality and Society.

Goldthorpe, John (2013) Understanding – and Misunderstanding – Social Mobility in Britain: The Entry of the Economists, the Confusion of Politicians and the Limits of Educational Policy, Journal of Social Policy, Vol. 42: 431-450.

Joshi, Heather (2012) From Cradle to Career: Evidence from the British Birth Cohort Studies on the Family, Education and Employment, National  Institute Economic Review, October 222(1),  R1-R6.

CLS contact

Heather Joshi,

Emeritus Professor

Heather is an Emeritus Professor of Economic and Developmental Demography at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies. Her research interests include family, the labour market, gender, child development and spatial issues. Email Heather

Project team:

Erzsebet Bukodi, PI, University of Oxford
Heather Joshi, CLS
John Goldthorpe, University of Oxford
Lorraine Waller, University of Oxford
Jouni Kuha, London School of Economics and Political Science