How is socio-economic advantage and disadvantage passed down from parent to child? This is a central question for sociologists and policymakers alike. No one denies the vital role that education plays in this process. However, sociologists have long argued that there is a persistent ‘direct effect of social origins’ on occupational attainment which cannot be accounted for by education. This residual direct effect of social origins on occupational destinations has acquired the status of a stylized fact within sociology, sometimes simply referred to as ‘DESO’.
Our recent study challenges the consensus on this issue. We ask, could the direct effect of social origins be an artefact of using overly crude measures of education?
If you want to get a top social class position, it certainly helps to be a university graduate. But simply having a degree may not be enough. It may also matter what subject your degree is in, and whether you attended a prestigious university. Yet most studies of social mobility have not accounted for these educational distinctions, which are likely to matter for access to top jobs nowadays.
We set out to provide a refined account of the educational pathways from origins to destinations, using data from a nationally representative sample of over 17,000 people born in Britain in 1970, using the 1970 British Cohort Study. The BCS70 is longitudinal, meaning that the same group of people have been followed up over time. The BCS70 study members have been followed from birth, when their parents were interviewed, to mid-life. The study is ongoing, and the cohort members are interviewed every few years.