Letter: Do we live in a meritocracy?

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The Independent Online
Sir: Yvette Cooper (report, 18 July) seeks to undermine my argument by pointing to the privileged backgrounds of Cabinet Ministers and Law Lords, yet I state explicitly that "my focus is on the 99 per cent of jobs below the elite stratum rather than on the one per cent which constitute it."

She claims that the test results of children at 11 are, "as every parent knows", strongly influenced by parental encouragement and stimulation. But in the book I show that these test scores are by far the strongest predictor of job status later in life, even when we control for parental influences. I also show that, while parental encouragement can raise a child's motivation, it has little effect on ability test scores.

She dismisses my findings as "nonsense" because she thinks the middle- classes can still pass on their privileges to their children. Why, then, do 40 per cent of children born to middle class parents slide out of the middle class? The answer has more to do with ability and motivation than anything else.

Finally, she would have your readers believe that I argue that "the class system has collapsed" and that "the playing field is level". In fact, my book states quite clearly: "I do not claim that Britain is a perfect meritocracy. The various advantages and disadvantages associated with different social class origins do play some part in influencing people's occupational chances. The point is, however, that Britain is much more meritocratic than is generally believed."

Professor PETER SAUNDERS

University of Sussex

Brighton

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