Class, Mobility and Merit - the Experience of Two British Birth Cohorts
Title: Class, Mobility and Merit - the Experience of Two British Birth Cohorts
Citation: European Sociological Review, 2001, 17, 2, 81-101
The controversial issue of 'meritocracy' can be most productively addressed if it is treated as one of direction of change over time: i.e. whether individual merit, understood in terms of ability, effort, or educational attainment, is growing in importance in processes of social selection. To test the thesis of 'increasing merit selection, we analyse data from two British cohort studies relating to children born in 1958 and 1970 respectively. We find that, from the later to the earlier cohort, the pattern of relative rates of class mobility changed little; and that individual merit, as we are able to measure it, did not play a greater part in mediating the association between class origins and destinations. In fact, the effects of ability and educational attainment on individuals' relative mobility chances diminished somewhat. These findings, we argue, are less surprising than they may at first appear if viewed in the context of the problematic relationship between the idea of meritocracy and the operation of a free-market economy.
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