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The Class Ceiling

Drawing on data from Britain’s largest employment survey, The Labour Force Survey, our initial work has demonstrated that a powerful “class pay gap” exists in both Britain’s elite occupations and in ‘the professions’ more broadly. In higher managerial and professional occupations, for example, those from working-class backgrounds earn on average 16% less than those from privileged backgrounds. Significantly, this gap persists even when we compare individuals who have the same education, occupation and level of experience. Our work has gone on to show how this earnings inequality is concentrated in certain occupations - such as finance and accountancy - in certain places - such as Central London - and how it is particularly acute among the most senior tiers of management. We also show how the class ceiling intersects with the glass ceiling; women and ethnic minorities from working-class backgrounds face a clear ‘double disadvantage’ in terms of earnings. 
 
The second, ongoing, part of the project switches focus to ask why this class pay gap exists. Specifically, we draw on four occupational case studies – television, accountancy, architecture, and acting. In each case we go beyond the closed doors of an elite firm to probe how class background affects career progression in a specific organisation.  Do the socially mobile tend to enter less lucrative specialisms, are they less likely to benefit from the help of mentors or sponsors, are they more reluctant to ask for pay rises, and are embodied markers of class background – like accent, pronunciation and self-presentation – unfairly misrecognised as markers of talent or ability? We combine analysis of staff data with an extensive programme of 200 in-depth interviews to answer these questions. 
 
The Class Ceiling advances a fundamentally new way of conducting social mobility research. While ‘fair access’ to elite occupations is invariably presented as the most important indicator of a just society, this masks a much longer shadow that class origins cast on occupational trajectories. By uncovering and exploring these hidden barriers, The Class Ceiling project not only aids our understanding of how class inequalities are reproduced but also aims to inform policy initiatives aimed at breaking down elitism and encouraging true equality of opportunity.   

More information can found on our LSE Blog page: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/introducing-the-class-ceiling/