policy, mobility, and Occupational attainment


equality of opportunity and policy

My current book project asks how social scientists should best tackle poverty and inequality. The book makes a scientific case for considering large-scale institutional reform, and draws upon examples from countries across the world to demonstrate that reforms that have been unthinkable in the United States are considered to be quite unproblematic in other contexts. A shorter piece on this theme was published in Pathways magazine.

social mobility

I study social mobility with respect to social class and income. Recent work includes a crossnational comparison of mobility patterns in Central and Eastern Europe pre- and post-market transition, and a post-liberal theory of stratification in late-industrial societies.


Jackson, M. and Grusky, D.B.  (2018).  “A Post‐Liberal Theory of Stratification,” British Journal of Sociology.

Abstract: “The iconic ‘liberal theory’ of stratification fails to attend to the many types of downward mobility and wage loss generated by late‐industrial stratification systems. Although the liberal theory and its close cousins assume that loss and failure will be interpreted in individualistic terms, recent developments suggest instead that they are generating solidary groups that are increasingly locked into zero‐sum contest and successfully mobilized by politicians and other norm entrepreneurs. These developments imply a Marxisant future for late‐industrial inequality that bears scant resemblance to the highly individualized, unstructured, and non‐conflictual stratification system envisaged by the liberal theory. We outline a new post‐liberal theory of stratification that better captures the forces making for change and resistance in late‐industrial societies.”


Jackson, M. and Evans, G.  (2017).  “Rebuilding Walls. Market Transition and Social Mobility in the Post-Socialist Societies of Europe,” Sociological Science.

Abstract: "We ask whether the transition from socialism to the market is consequential for social mobility, and, by implication, the permeability of class structures. While the short-term effects of market transition on patterns of social mobility have been documented for a small number of countries, we are able to examine the long-term effects of market transition for a group of 13 central and eastern European (CEE) countries. Only in the longer term can we properly appreciate the settled effects of transition on the distribution of resources, the organization of class and economic structures, and the transmission of inequalities across generations. We use data drawn from nationally representative cross-national surveys of CEE countries to compare patterns of social mobility in the early 1990s with those in the late 2000s. We find a significant decline in relative social mobility between the two periods and show that this decline is a consistent feature of mobility patterns across the region. We argue that changes in the institutions that regulate the transfer of capital across generations are likely to explain why the move from socialism to the market is associated with declining levels of social fluidity."


Cox, D.R., Jackson, M. and Lu, S. (2009) “On Square Ordinal Contingency Tables: A Comparison of Social Class and Income Mobility for the Same Individuals,” Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series A (Statistics in Society), 172, 2, 483-493.

Abstract: “Square contingency tables with matching ordinal rows and columns arise in particular as empirical transition matrices and the paper considers these in the context of social class and income mobility tables. Such tables relate the socio‐economic position of parents to the socio‐economic position of their child in adulthood. The level of association between parental and child socio‐economic position is taken as a measure of mobility. Several approaches to analysis are described and illustrated by UK data in which interest focuses on comparisons of social class and income mobility tables that are derived from the same individuals. Account is taken of the use of the same individuals in the two tables. Additionally comparisons over time are considered.”


Goldthorpe, J.H. and Jackson, M.  (2007)  “Intergenerational Class Mobility in Contemporary Britain: Political Concerns and Empirical Findings,” British Journal of Sociology, 58, 4, 525-546.

Abstract: “In Britain in recent years social mobility has become a topic of central political concern, primarily as a result of the effort made by New Labour to make equality of opportunity rather than equality of condition a focus of policy. Questions of the level, pattern and trend of mobility thus bear directly on the relevance of New Labour's policy analysis, and in turn are likely be crucial to the evaluation of its performance in government. However, politically motivated discussion of social mobility often reveals an inadequate grasp of both empirical and analytical issues. We provide new evidence relevant to the assessment of social mobility – in particular, intergenerational class mobility – in contemporary Britain through cross‐cohort analyses based on the NCDS and BCS datasets which we can relate to earlier cross‐sectional analyses based on the GHS. We find that, contrary to what seems now widely supposed, there is no evidence that absolute mobility rates are falling; but, for men, the balance of upward and downward movement is becoming less favourable. This is overwhelmingly the result of class structural change. Relative mobility rates, for both men and women, remain essentially constant, although there are possible indications of a declining propensity for long‐range mobility. We conclude that under present day structural conditions there can be no return to the generally rising rates of upward mobility that characterized the middle decades of the twentieth century – unless this is achieved through changing relative rates in the direction of greater equality or, that is, of greater fluidity. But this would then produce rising rates of downward mobility to exactly the same extent – an outcome apparently unappreciated by, and unlikely to be congenial to, politicians preoccupied with winning the electoral ‘middle ground’.”

meritocracy and discrimination

What do employers look for in potential employees?  And do the characteristics that employers desire give those of high socioeconomic background an advantage in the recruitment process?  Using data from a content analysis of job advertisements, I examined the extent of employer demand for meritocratic and non-meritocratic characteristics.  Using an audit experiment, I tested for evidence of class discrimination in the UK labor market.


Jackson, M. (2009). “Disadvantaged through Discrimination. The Role of Employers in Social Stratification,” British Journal of Sociology, 60, 4, 669-692.

Abstract: “Sociologists have consistently demonstrated that a rather strong association exists between an individual's social class origin and their social class destination, even after controlling for educational attainment. One explanation for this persisting association which is rarely addressed in research in social stratification and mobility is the extent to which class inequalities in access to advantaged class positions are due to discrimination by employers. I set up a field experiment to test whether employers discriminate on the basis of class origin characteristics. I sent letters of job application for professional and managerial occupations to 2560 large UK companies, so as to compare the prospects of equally matched potential employees differing on a range of characteristics, some related to class of origin. The six treatment conditions in the experiment were: the name of the candidate, the type of school attended, the candidate's interests outside work, their sex, the university that they attended and their achieved degree class. Results suggest that employers do pay attention to the class origin characteristics tested here, and that candidates with a name, school type and interests associated with the social elite are more likely to receive a reply to their application than candidates with the equivalent non‐elite characteristics. However, the treatment conditions do not, on the whole, have significant effects on the employers' responses in and of themselves. Instead, employers appear to favour particular combinations of characteristics while penalising others.”


Jackson, M.  (2007)  “How Far Merit Selection?  Social Stratification and the Labour Market,” British Journal of Sociology, 58, 3, pp. 367-390.

Abstract: “The question of how societies allocate occupational positions and subsequent rewards has long been of interest to sociologists. According to one influential theory, the needs of modern industrial societies and economies demand that high‐level and functionally important occupational positions are allocated according to meritocratic principles. I argue that, ultimately, employers get the final say about which characteristics are rewarded in the labour market. In order to examine which skills and attributes are required by employers for particular occupations I analyse data drawn from a content analysis of c.5000 British newspaper job advertisements. The results show that both merit and non‐merit characteristics are requested by employers in job advertisements, even for occupations falling within the higher classes. I also find evidence that employers have similar requirements for similar occupations, cross‐cutting class boundaries.”


Jackson, M.  (2006)  “Personality Traits and Occupational Attainment,” European Sociological Review, 22, 2, 187-199.

Abstract: “Historically, sociologists have paid little attention to the role of non-cognitive characteristics in occupational attainment. This is in sharp contrast to the relatively large amount of research highlighting the importance of cognitive traits, such as IQ and educational qualifications, or characteristics related to social background, such as social class origin, sex or ethnicity. In this paper, I analyse data drawn from the British National Child Development Study (NCDS), and show that personality traits measured at childhood are a significant determinant of an individual’s class destination (measured at age 42). I move on to provide a possible micro-level explanation for why personality traits should have an impact in processes of occupational and class attainment.”


Jackson, M., Goldthorpe, J.H. and Mills, C. (2005) “Education, Employers, and Class Mobility,” Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 23, 3-34.

Abstract: “In this paper, we start from certain propositions central to the liberal (or functionalist) theory of industrialism, which represent education as playing a crucial, and increasing, role in the mediation of intergenerational class mobility. We then note recent British findings that call the liberal theory into question: i.e. findings that indicate that the importance of education in mediating mobility is tending, if anything, to decline. We go on to suggest a possible explanation for this tendency in which employers are the central actors. More specifically, we suggest grounds for supposing that, under prevailing conditions of the demand for and supply of education, employers may find educational qualifications of decreasing value to them in making their personnel decisions, both as certifying relevant competencies and as signalling unobservable but desirable attributes on the part of potential employees. We then turn to empirical evidence and present, first, a detailed analysis of newspaper job advertisements, and second, relatively disaggregated analyses of the effects of education on intergenerational mobility. In both respects, the evidence from these sources is generally consistent with the theoretical arguments previously outlined.”