Britain the land of least opportunity

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The Independent Online

Britain is ranked bottom of an international league table of social mobility, scotching claims that successive governments have created a more classless society.

Britain is ranked bottom of an international league table of social mobility, scotching claims that successive governments have created a more classless society.

A study of eight industrialised nations, produced by the London School of Economics on behalf of the educational charity the Sutton Trust, shows that Britons find it harder than other nationalities to earn more money and get better jobs than their parents.

With Labour's election-co-ordinator Alan Milburn insisting social mobility would be at the centre of Labour's third term and more than 15 years after John Major promised to create a classless society, the researchers paint a depressing picture of Britain.

They found Norway, followed by Denmark, Sweden and Finland to be the most socially mobile. They were followed by Germany, Canada, Britain and the US.

The findings were based on studies of two cohorts of children born in the 1950s and 1970s. While 17 per cent of those born in the UK in 1958 made it from the bottom quarter income group to the top, only 11 per cent born in 1970 did so. Mobility in the Nordic countries was twice that of the UK. While the prospect of improving life chances was higher in the US than in the UK, in Britain the divide between rich and poor was getting deeper. In the US the situation was static.

The findings challenged the idea that America was a "land of opportunity". Despite getting more than 60 per cent of people into college education for many years, the upper reaches of US society had been in effect cut off to most of the worse off since the 1960s.

In Britain, graduation rates in the richest fifth, born in the 1980s, have risen from 20 per cent to 47 per cent. Only 9 per cent of children from the poorest fifth of families now get degrees. - up just three per cent

The report's authors saidthe increasingly rigid society was due to growing income inequality as the rich got richer and the poor struggled to break the cycle of poverty. There was a link between family income and educational achievement.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, described the findings as "truly shocking". He said: "Social mobility in Britain is much lower than in other advanced countries and is declining - those from less privileged backgrounds are more likely to face disadvantage into adulthood, and the affluent continue to benefit disproportionately from educational opportunities."

He said it was vital young people were given more help to take advantage of better quality education.

Social mobility by nation

1st Norway
2nd = Denmark
Sweden
Canada
5th Finland
6th Germany
7th UK
8th US

How the eight countries in the study ranked

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