chapter  1
8 Pages


There is a widely held set of inter-related views – among professional social scientists, journalists, policymakers, bureaucrats, social commentators and other educated publics – that socioeconomic background largely determines educational and subsequent occupational and economic outcomes in contemporary Western societies. Differences between students or schools in test scores, overall student performance, early school leaving, entry to university or college and overall educational attainment are mainly due to socioeconomic background. This explains why there is so little intergenerational mobility in Western countries. Relatedly, the status or socioeconomic level of people’s occupations has a close association with that of their father or family of origin. Similarly, inequalities in earnings, income and wealth mainly reflect economic and social inequalities in the parental generation. These understandings feed into political debates about what policies should be implemented to create a fairer society.