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England's social classes slow to evolve

New research from the London School of Economics and Political Science shows that the class structure in England is evolving far more slowly than previously believed.

A study of surname distributions over the past 800 years reveals it takes at least half a millennium for the UK’s elite class to shake off their lineage and converge with the average members of society – at least 400 years slower than economists had earlier predicted.

Dr Neil Cummins, an economic historian from LSE, says that despite significant political, industrial, social and economic changes over the past eight centuries, social mobility in England has been much slower.

Baskerville-original“Just take the names of the Normans who conquered England nearly 1000 years ago. Surnames such as Baskerville, Darcy, Mandeville and Montgomery are still over-represented at Oxbridge and also among elite occupations such as medicine, law and politics,” Dr Cummins says.

Research by Dr Cummins and Professor Gregory Clark from UC-Davis reveals that even mass publicly funded education and universal voting rights have not improved social mobility in England.

Through the study of the genealogical history of English families with rare surnames, using data provided by Ancestry.com, wealth, education and occupational status was highly heritable.

“What is surprising is that between 1800 and 2011 there have been substantial institutional changes in England but no gain in rates of social mobility for society as a whole.”

Their study also revealed that underlying social status, as revealed by education, is more strongly inherited than height.

Their findings will be published in a book, The Son Also Rises, in early 2014 by Princeton University Press.

Additional notes for editors

Dr Cummins is available for interview on 0745 589 8542 or n.j.cummins@lse.ac.uk or by contacting Candy Gibson, LSE Press Office, 020 7849 4624 or c.gibson@lse.ac.uk

Dr Cummins is an Assistant Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His research interests cover economic and demographic history and social mobility over the long run. He obtained his PhD at LSE in 2009.

For more details about his research, go to: http://neilcummins.com/ .

The two papers related to social mobility are available at:



29 October 2013