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British Report Discovers “Glass Floor” For Children From Rich Families

Research finds that social mobility is inhibited for children from lower-income homes in the U.K.

Image of British schoolchildren via Wikimedia Commons

In what may come as an obvious conclusion to most people, researchers in Britain have found that children born into “well-off” families benefit from a “glass floor” that allows them to monopolize opportunities and facilitate their social mobility. The “glass floor” is comprised of what many people on the internet may refer to as “privilege.” In a report released by the U.K.’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, it was found that even when they exhibited lower learning capabilities, children from higher income households still grew up to become higher earners than their counterparts from lower income households—in fact, they were 35 percent more likely to become high income earners. The report, called “Downward mobility, opportunity hoarding and the ‘glass floor’,” surveyed over 17,000 people born in the same week of 1971 for its research data.


“It’s a social scandal that all too often demography is still destiny in Britain,” said commission chairman Alan Milburn in the press release. “The government should make its core mission the levelling of the playing field so that every child in the country has an equal opportunity to go as far as their abilities can take them.”

The report pinpoints two “pillars” that support the glass floor—access to educational opportunities and access to labor opportunities. In each case, parents with higher incomes were able to leverage their social position to acquire better access to these opportunities for their children. This means they were able to get their children in better schools, and use their own “informal social networks” to get them better internship and job opportunities. Children who came from higher-income households were able to take unpaid internships with their parents’ support.

Among their policy suggestions, the authors of the report recommend reducing the availability of unpaid internships and “tackling material deprivation,” which is policy-speak for combating poverty. They also recommend improving the quality of educational institutions in impoverished areas.

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