The Class Ceiling
Why it Pays to be Privileged
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Politicians continually tell us that anyone can get ahead. But is that really true? This important book takes readers behind the closed doors of elite employers to reveal how class affects who gets to the top. Friedman and Laurison show that a powerful ‘class pay gap’ exists in Britain’s elite occupations. Even when those from working-class backgrounds make it into prestigious jobs, they earn, on average, 16% less than colleagues from privileged backgrounds. But why is this the case? . Drawing on 175 interviews across four case studies - television, accountancy, architecture, and acting – they explore the complex barriers facing the upwardly mobile. This is a rich, ambitious book that demands we take seriously not just the glass but also the class ceiling.
Praise For The Class Ceiling: Why it Pays to be Privileged…
“Reading The Class Ceiling hit home in so many places I felt bruised by the end.”
— The Guardian
“One of the most insightful works on the dynamics of inequality since Pickett and Wilkinson’s The Spirit Level a decade ago.”
— Herald Scotland
“The Class Ceiling is full of interesting angles. . . Friedman and Laurison’s most valuable contribution is the light they shed on the more insidious forms of advantage that those from privileged backgrounds bring to the world of work”
— London Review of Books
“The Class Ceiling blows apart the myth of our supposed meritocracy.”
— The National
"The Class Ceiling marshals a wide range of data, analysis and experience in an accessible and readable manner. . . Rather than merely confirming suspicions, this book makes the continued existence of class bias in occupational and public life more difficult for cheerleaders of meritocracy to deny, and–crucially–offers ways to end it.”
— New Humanist
‘’An important book which sets out a new model for the discussion of social mobility both methodologically and theoretically. The stories of the working-class people the authors interviewed make powerful reading illustrating the emotional costs of aspiration.’’
— Cambridge Journal of Social Policy
“This compelling book offers a fresh approach to understanding how social class matters. Easy to read, highly recommended!”
— Annette Lareau, University of Pennsylvania
“Friedman and Laurison show how it can possibly be that upwardly mobile executives and professionals earn less than those raised in the upper classes. Everybody in The Class Ceiling has a desirable job, but even in the upper reaches of British society, class roots matter.”
— Mike Hout, New York University
“This stunning book provides a panoramic overview of class inequality in the UK labour market with a forensic scrutiny of the ways in which privilege works to keep the class ceiling firmly in place."
— Diane Reay, University of Cambridge
"A well-conceived and important study which makes a significant contribution to knowledge about social mobility, and an important intervention into broader political debates.”
— Selina Todd, University of Oxford
"Without question this is the most outstanding study of social mobility in the UK to have appeared in the past 20 years. Using a brilliant mixed method design, Friedman and Laurison trace the long shadow of class privilege in driving career prospects even in the supposedly dynamic sectors of today’s knowledge economy. Anyone who thinks Britain is a meritocracy needs to ponder the lessons of this wonderful book."
— Mike Savage, LSE
‘’The book provides compelling reading concerning the ways in which a modern country sorts its privileged children into career tracks that matter hugely for the welfare of society.’’
— Administration Science Quarterly
‘’Friedman and Laurison have made an important contribution to contemporary debates about social rise and equal opportunities. . . The book shows the added value of combining qualitative (interviews) and quantitative (large-scale surveys) data.’’
— Beleid en Maatschappij
‘’[The authors] shed light on what they call a class ceiling based on a meticulous investigation into the cultural professions of London…social mobility, its determinants, its consequences and its developments.’’
— La Vie des Idees
“Friedman and Laurison’s empirical study combines economic statistics with in-depth interviews [and] provides an exquisite insight into the existence of class society.”
— Marx and Philosophy Review of Books
Policy Press, 9781447336105, 384pp.
Publication Date: January 24, 2020
About the Author
Sam Friedman is associate professor of sociology at the London School of Economics and a commissioner at the Social Mobility Commission. He is cofounder of the Stratification and Culture Research Network. Daniel Laurison is assistant professor at Swarthmore College. Previously he was at the London School of Economics and Political Science.