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Factors Influencing Social Mobility and Inequality

Social mobility and social inequality among minority groups in the UK appear to be affected by a wide array of issues. It suffices that education, race or ethnicity, gender and social class are contributors to the trends in social inequality and mobility. Each category appears to have diverse repercussions or implications on the social status of various minority groups but a combination of several factors lead to enormous differences in equality and social mobility.

Education appears to have diverse effects across different modalities in the UK. Generally, minority groups cherish education as a major determinant of social mobility. As minority groups are more likely to give weight to education to increase their chances of success, the white majority seems less concerned as background plays a key determinant on their success (Wakeling and Laurison, 2017). Unfortunately, the level of education for minorities seems not to translate to actual change in social mobility as that does not necessarily lead to increased income or securing better jobs unlike their white counterparts.

Whereas it may appear that attaining higher education including post graduate education changes the livelihoods of minorities, this appears not to necessarily reduce social inequality between white majority and several groups of ethnic minority (Wakeling and Laurison, 2017, p.23). As Tablante and Fiske (2015, p.187) suggest, higher education does not necessarily equalize social classes but appears to be a form of social reproduction of existing differences, Essentially this may be true as most people from minority groups that have postgraduate education do not end up in managerial positions but rather remain to be experts and consultants hence unable to grow in the ladder of wealth. This is particularly the case for black people in the UK and less of minorities of Asian and Chinese descent.


Whereas gender plays a role in denying women chances to get education especially among Muslim minorities and Indians due to cultural barriers, black women have even a higher rate of attaining post graduate education than their male counterparts. The disparity is further expressed within the labour market where women from culturally paternal minorities are paid less than their male counterparts

Education as a social reproduction activity than a social mobility activity is further evidenced among immigrant minorities. Whereas immigrants are more likely to be employed than even white counterparts, the children of those immigrants end up in less paying jobs even when their level and quality of education is higher than those of their parents. This analysis thus calls into question the reason behind this inverse relationship between education and income growth among certain minority groups.

Whereas the desire for minorities to pursue education to bridge the gap of inequality exists, the social class affects the inspiration of the child from the family. As most minority parents are working class, the lack of time spent with their children leaves no room for monitoring educational progress or offering guidance especially during critical decision making periods where children choose their career path (Collins, Collins & Butt, 2014, p.8). This may serve to explain the low education levels among black, Carribean and Pakistani minorities in comparison with Chinese, Indian or white counterparts.

Children born of highly educated parents experience higher social and emotional skills that make them want to pursue education inspired by those around them so as not to disappoint but also because they are made to believe that they can achieve anything as evidenced by those around them (Feinstein, 2015, p.7).

Most of the scholars seem to suggest, and correctly so, that the biggest cause of social inequality and reduced social mobility is social class and race which then lead to dismal access to education and gender disparity resulting to social inequality. Whereas there may be systemic disparity between white people and people of colour; social class seems to be the backstop when questions of inequality and achieving social mobility arise across all racial groups.

Whereas social class is mainly measured by level of household income, it incorporates other factors which include parental education, occupation among others (Tablante and Fiske, 2015, p.185). The social class in which one is born has a significant impact on even the survival of the new born. Teenage pregnancies and high birth mortality rate in the UK is largely associated with low income areas which incorporate people of low social class (Weightman et al., 2012, p.11).

The idea of Peacock et al. (2013, p.10) that certain collective imaginaries within a group of people which makes them believe that theirs is a narrative of doom, is indeed a representation of mentalities associated with people of low social class. This then means that achieving social mobility and reducing inequality becomes farfetched as minority groups are then held in perpetual economic woes and lack of social development. These collective imaginaries will then be translated in schools where evidence suggests that those from low social class are less likely to perform well than their counterparts from high social class.

As people of similar social class will be geographically localised, their relationship with those from other social classes, will not be based on personal experience but rather stereotypical assumptions. Even when institutions of higher learning admit those from low social classes, little is achieved in bringing integration and understanding, hence the argument that higher education is more of a social reproduction system than a bridge for social classes Tablante and Fiske, 2015, p.185). Thus minority groups especially black minority may continue facing low social mobility due to systemic stereotypical assumptions by those in high social class who are largely white majority. This also translates to the effect on education levels and quality among ethnic minorities who are mostly in the low social class.

Thus to ensure that education plays a vital transformational role in enhancing social mobility and equality, scholars recommend institutionalised actions to ensure access of education. The suggestion that schools should take a more personalised approach to support vulnerable minorities and monitoring to remedy the background barriers that limiting their potential such as long trips to and fro school and unconducive environment for education should be put into use. Whereas this may give opportunity to a few families, scarcity of resources and lack of motivation may render such activities futile.

In a bid to encourage and realise social class bridging and removing stereotypes, Stephens, Hamedani, & Destin (2014) tested the impact of matching culturally diverse students in one group during orientation and found that those students performed better academically as a whole than those who were placed without regard to background. Indeed, this may help especially in higher education as a deliberate attempt to place together students from various cultural backgrounds may help in eliminating stereotypes just like the abolishment of racially segregated schools worked around the world.

Moreover, attempt to reduce social inequality caused by social classism must not only be done at high education level but also in secondary and primary education. The realisation that children born of educated families have feelings of higher esteem of success means that more must be done for those in vulnerable communities to build their confidence in achieving social mobility for their families and communities. School-based projects such as mentorship and developing problem-solving skills will improve the self-esteem of those children to aspire achieving greater academic heights. This means that the trajectory of minority groups declining social classes over generations, as Li (2018, p.10) suggests, is reversed.

But for this educational reforms to bear any meaningful fruits in terms of reducing social inequality and increased social mobility, there must a direct positive relationship between attaining high educational standards and securing better jobs. As earlier highlighted the job market is such that whereas minority groups may attain high levels of education, white people are more likely to secure better jobs. This creates a disconnect between efforts of education and increased household income.

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Minority groups themselves must also resolve to discourage cultural activities that derail the gains of increased social mobility. This is particularly in relation to empowerment of women through equal pay and equal education opportunities especially within the Indian and Muslim communities.

Over time it appears that social inequality has developed even among post graduate holders for reasons which include the fact that most post graduate holders from minority groups are professionals and not managers in occupation hence there is no significant change in social class. This furthers the argument that job market policies ought to change to give return for resources already put into use by families in paying for higher education.

Thus this research paints a grim picture of attempts made to increase social mobility. That schools are doing less to eliminate social inequality means that educational performance difference between ethnic minority groups and white majority must be reduced. This will require schools to give specialised attention to vulnerable but promising children. Moreover, institutions must endeavour to deliberately match diversity within their institutions to remove social class stereotypes among people of diverse cultural backgrounds. This would then help to build the self-esteem of those in low social class to believe in succeeding. But for these educational reforms to reduce social inequality, the labour market must be willing to accommodate non-white professionals in the top most managerial positions and business structures.


Stephens, N.M., Hamedani, M.G. and Destin, M., (2014). Closing the social-class achievement gap: A difference-education intervention improves first-generation students’ academic

performance and all students’ college transition. Psychological Science, 25, pp.943–953.

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