Understanding the Mobility Chances of Children from Working-Class Backgrounds in Britain: How Important Are Cognitive Ability and Locus of Control?

Wednesday, 18 July 2018
Bastian BETTHAEUSER, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Mollie BOURNE, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Research in social stratification has shown that children from working-class backgrounds tend to obtain substantially lower levels of educational attainment and lower labour market positions than children from higher social class backgrounds. However, we still know relatively little about the micro-level processes that account for this empirical regularity. Our study examines the roles of two individual-level characteristics – cognitive ability and locus of control – in mediating the effect of individuals’ parental class background on their educational attainment and social class position in Britain. Contrary to recent claims that differences in cognitive ability account for most of the educational and labour market inequalities between individuals from working-class backgrounds and individuals from higher social class backgrounds, we find that cognitive ability mediates less than 40 percent of the parental class effect on individuals’ educational attainment and social class position. Moreover, our results show that, while individuals’ locus of control also plays a role in mediating the parental class, this role is substantially smaller than that of cognitive ability. Contrasting with previous studies on the subject, we measure individuals’ social class positions at two crucial points in their careers: labour market entry and occupational maturity. We find that the mediating roles of cognitive ability and locus of control remain stable across individuals’ working lives.