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Sunday Times letter 4 November 2012

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Conor Ryan of the Sutton Trust claims (Letters, 28 October) that ‘social mobility is lower in Britain than in most other countries.’

A 2007 review by the OECD measured movement between occupational classes in different countries and found the UK was about average. Sweden, Canada and Norway do a bit better than us; Germany, Ireland, Italy and France do a bit worse.

Another OECD report in 2010 looked at how far children’s educational achievements are independent of their parents’ socio-economic status. Britain ranked 9th out of 30 on this measure.

The Sutton Trust rests its claim about low British mobility rates on its analysis of income mobility. But many observers warn of serious problems in the international income statistics, and the Trust itself admitted in 2009, ‘There is a great deal of uncertainty about comparisons made on the basis of income mobility.’

So the Sutton Trust is not only wrong to claim that social mobility in Britain has declined; it is also almost certainly wrong when it says we are at the bottom of the international mobility rankings.

Professor Peter Saunders

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