Dr Sam Friedman

Dr Sam Friedman

Associate Professor

Department of Sociology

020 7955 6969
Room No
STC S216
Connect with me

Key Expertise
Social Mobility, Social Class, Elites, Taste, Cultural Distinction

About me

I am a sociologist of class and inequality, and my research focuses in particular on the cultural dimensions of contemporary class division. I have recently completed a book entitled The Class Ceiling: Why it Pays to be Privileged (with Daniel Laurison), which examines social mobility into Britain’s higher professional and managerial occupations. The hidden barriers, or ‘glass ceiling’, preventing women and ethnic minorities from getting to the top are well documented. But as our book documents, the upwardly mobile also face a powerful and previously unrecognised ‘class pay gap’ within Britain’s elite occupations. Drawing on four in-depth case studies – acting, accountancy, architecture and television – the book goes on to explore how  this ‘class ceiling’ can only be partially attributed to conventional measures of ‘merit’. Instead, we show that more powerful drivers are rooted in the misrecognition of classed self-presentation as ‘talent’, work cultures historically shaped by the privileged, the affordances of the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’, and sponsored mobility premised on class-cultural homophily. You can read more about the research here

I am currently working on a new project (with Aaron Reeves) analysing the entire 120-year historical database of Who’s Who – a unique catalogue of the British elite. In our most recent paper, published in the American Sociological Review, we draw on this biographical data to examine the changing relationship between Britain’s most elite private schools  – the nine ‘Clarendon Schools’ (including Eton, Harrow, Westminster etc) -  and recruitment into the elite. We find that the propulsive power of these elite schools has both diminished significantly over time and yet remains doggedly persistent. You can read more about the research here. Most recently we have begun to examine the ‘recreations’ of Who’s Who entrants to explore the shifting role of culture and taste in the way elites represent themselves in public.

Outside of academia I also work as a Commissioner for the UK Government’s Social Mobility Commission.

My full CV is available here

Selected Publications


Friedman, S., Laurison, D. (2019) The Class Ceiling: why it pays to be privileged. Policy/University of Chicago

Savage, M., Friedman, S. et al (2015) Social Class in the 21st Century. Penguin: London

Friedman, S. (2014) Comedy and Distinction. Routledge: London

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Journal Articles

2017. 'The Decline and Persistence of the Old Boy: private schools and elite recruitment 1897-2016', American Sociological Review (with Aaron Reeves et al)
Winner of the 2018 European Academy of Sociology Best Article Award

2017. ‘Mind The Gap: financial London and the regional class pay gap’, British Journal of Sociology (with Daniel Laurison)

2017. ‘I’m not a snob but…: class boundaries and the downplaying of difference’, Poetics, 61 (2) 14-25 (with Vegard Jarness)

2017. ‘Is London really the engine room? Migration, opportunity hoarding and regional social mobility in the UK’ National Institute Economic Review  240: 58-72 (with Lindsey Macmillan)

2017. ‘Resistance and Resignation: Responses to Typecasting in British Acting’ Cultural Sociology 11 (3) 359-377  (with Dave O’Brien – available here )

2017. ‘Cultural capital. Arts graduates, spatial inequality and London’s impact on cultural labour markets’ American Behavioural Scientist. (with Kate Oakley et al – available here)

2016. ‘The Class Pay Gap in Britain’s Higher Professional and Managerial Occupations’. American Sociological Review 81 (4) 668-695 (with Daniel Laurison – available here) – Winner of the 2017 ASA IPM Outstanding Article Award

2016. ‘Like skydiving without a parachute’: How Class Origin Shapes Occupational Trajectories in British Acting, Sociology (with Dave O’Brien and Daniel Laurison - available here)

2016. ‘Are the Creative Industries Meritocratic? An Analysis of the 2014 UK Labour Force Survey’ Cultural Trends, 25 (2) (with Dave O’Brien et al - available here)

2016. ‘Habitus Clivé and the Emotional Imprint of Social Mobility’, Sociological Review, 64 (1) 129-147  

2015. ‘Editors Introduction: Cultural Sociology and New Forms of Distinction’, Poetics, 53: 1-8 (with Hanquinet, Miles and Savage)

2015. ‘Breaking the ‘Class’ Ceiling? Social Mobility into Britain’s Elite Occupations’, Sociological Review, 63 (2) 259-290 (with Daniel Laurison and Andy Miles)

2014. ‘On Social Class, Anno 2014’ Sociology (Special Issue on British Social Class Debate) 48 (3) 1-20 (with Mike Savage et al)

2014. ‘The Hidden Tastemakers: Comedy Scouts as Cultural Brokers at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe’, Poetics, 42 (2) 22-41

2013. ‘The Price of the Ticket: Rethinking the Experience of Social Mobility’ Sociology  48 (2) 352-368

2013 ‘A new model of social class: findings from the BBC’s Great British Class Survey experiment’, Sociology, 47 (2) (with Mike Savage et al) 219-250

2013 ‘There’s something fundamental about what makes you laugh’: Comedy Taste and Symbolic Boundaries’, Cultural Sociology (Special Issue on Field Analysis), 7 (2) 179-195 (with Giselinde Kuipers)

2012. ‘Cultural Omnivores or Culturally Homeless? Exploring the Shifting Cultural Identities of the Socially Mobile’, Poetics, 40 (3) 467-489

2011. ‘The Cultural Currency of a ‘Good’ Sense of Humour: British Comedy and New Forms of Distinction’, British Journal of Sociology, 62 (2) 347-370

Expertise Details

Social Mobility; Social Class; Elites; Taste; Cultural Distinction