What sort of policies might be able to improve mobility?

As regards policies that might increase mobility, the distinction between absolute and relative rates is crucial. In increasing absolute mobility and giving it an upward bias, economic policies must be accorded greatest importance. For example, policies encouraging investment in advanced technology and the ‘knowledge economy’ in general and also in high-grade public and social services could promote the progressive upgrading of the occupational and class structures – recently much slowed – and thus create ‘more room at the top’. However, what can be achieved in this respect through purely supply-side policies grounded in human capital theory, to which governments have been chiefly attached, seems much exaggerated.

Increasing relative mobility – i.e. weakening the association between the positions of children and their parents considered net of structural change – is more difficult. This is because the inequalities of opportunity that relative rates reflect are to an important degree grounded in prevailing inequalities of condition. Thus, policies aimed at reducing inequalities of opportunity – for example, at raising the levels of educational attainment of children from disadvantaged class backgrounds – are likely to be offset in their effects on mobility (whatever their other merits) by more advantaged parents drawing on their greater resources in order to maintain their children’s competitive edge. In short, more equal mobility chances are unlikely to be achieved without having a generally more equal society.”


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