Skip to main content
  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: September 2009

14 - Social mobility of ethnic minorities



There has been remarkably little research on the social mobility of ethnic minorities in Britain. This contrasts with the huge amount of research on intergenerational social mobility among the native population of Britain (and of other Western societies), focusing in particular on the extent of social reproduction – that is, on the extent to which sons (and more rarely daughters) are able to secure similar positions in the class structure to those held by their fathers. The nature of these intergenerational processes of social mobility and stability are now reasonably well understood. Some of the major findings are that there has been substantial intergenerational continuity, particularly among the petty bourgeoisie and the more privileged groups in the salariat; but that at the same time there have been substantial opportunities for upward mobilility from the working class as a result of increasing “room at the top” (see, for example, Goldthorpe 1987, Heath and Payne 2000).

In an early study, based on data from 1972, Heath and Ridge (1983) looked at the social mobility of the first generation of ethnic minority men who had migrated to Britain in the 1950s and 1960s. They suggested that migration broke the close link that usually obtains between father's and son's class position, and they found that nonwhite migrants and white migrants from the Republic of Ireland were less likely to have been intergenerationally stable, and were more likely to have been downwardly mobile, than the British-born white men.

Recommend this book

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this book to your organisation's collection.

Ethnicity, Social Mobility, and Public Policy
  • Online ISBN: 9780511489228
  • Book DOI:
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to *
Berthoud, R., 2000, “Ethnic Employment Penalties in Britain,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 26: 389–416
Castles, S. and G. Kosack, 1973, Immigrant Workers and Class Structures in Western Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Daniel, W. W., 1968, Racial Discrimination in England, London: Penguin
Fielding, A. J., 1995, “Migration and Social Change: A Longitudinal Study of the Social Mobility of Immigrants in England and Wales,” European Journal of Population 11: 107–21
Goldthorpe, J. H., 1987, Social Mobility and Class Structure in Modern Britain, 2nd edn. Oxford: Clarendon Press
Heath, A. F., 1981, Social Mobility, Glasgow: Fontana
Heath, A. F. and C. Payne, 2000, “Social Mobility,” in A. H. Halsey with J. Webb (eds.), Twentieth-Century British Social Trends, Basingstoke: Macmillan, pp. 254–78
Heath, A., McMahon, D., and Roberts, J., 2000, “Ethnic Differences in the Labour Market: A Comparison of the SARs and LFS,” Journal of the Royal Statistical Society 163: 341–61
Heath, A. F. and Ridge, J. M., 1983, “Social mobility of ethnic minorities,” Journal of Biosocial Science, supplement no. 8: 169–84
Holdsworth, C. and Dale, A., 1997, “Ethnic Differences in Women's Employment,” Work, Employment and Society 11: 435–57
Iganski, P. and Payne, G., 1996, “Declining Racial Disadvantage in the British Labour Market,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 19: 113–34
Leslie, D., Drinkwater, S., and O'Leary, N., 1998, “Unemployment and Earnings among Britain's Ethnic Minorities: Some Signs for Optimism,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 24: 489–506
Model, Suzanne, 1999, “Ethnic Inequality in England: An Analysis Based on the 1991 Census,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 22: 966–90
Modood, T., R. Berthoud, J. Lakey, J. Nazroo, P. Smith, S. Virdee, and S. Beishon, 1997, Ethnic Minorities in Britain: Diversity and Disadvantage, London: Policy Studies Institute
Platt, Lucinda, 2003, “The Intergenerational Social Mobility of Minority Ethnic Groups,” ISER Working Papers, 2003–24
Robinson, Vaughan, 1990, “Roots to Mobility: The Social Mobility of Britain's Black Population, 1971–1987,” Ethnic and Recial Studies 13: 274–86