Not available in 2022/23
SO4C3      Half Unit
Social Mobility, Politics and Meritocracy

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Michael Savage STC S210 and Prof Sam Friedman STC S216


This course is available on the MSc in Inequalities and Social Science. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

This course has a limited number of places (it is controlled access). Places are allocated based on a written statement. Priority will be given to students on the MSc in Inequalities and Social Science. This may mean that not all students who apply will be able to get a place on this course.

Course content

The sociological analysis of social mobility is vital to understand how far inequality of outcome may be related to inequality of opportunity. It raises fundamental questions about inequality among numerous dimensions, notably class, gender, race & ethnicity, nationality. This course will introduce students to theoretical and methodological issues in the study of social mobility, including both structural analyses of frequency and propensity and qualitative studies which bear on the experience of mobility and immobility. The course will consider exemplars of cutting edge studies featuring a range of geographical contexts. Students will be introduced to the best exemplars of social mobility research to inform them in their own studies.


This course is delivered through a combination of lectures, seminars and online materials totalling a minimum of 20 hours in the MT.

Reading Weeks: Students on this course will have a reading week in MT Week 6, in line with departmental policy.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce a 1000 word book review in week 6 of MT.

Students will sit a test on interpretation of quantitative analyses of social mobility in week 4 of MT.

Indicative reading

Mike Savage, The Return of Inequality: Social Change and the Weight of History, Harvard University Press, 2021.

Shamus Khan, Privilege, Princeton UP, 2010

Sam Friedman and Daniel Laurison, The Class Ceiling, Bristol University Press, 2018

Lauren Rivera, Pedigree. Princeton UP, 2015

Lee Eliot Major and Stephen Machin, Social Mobility and its Enemies, Penguin, 2019

Major readings include:

Erikson, R. and Goldthorpe, J.H., 1992. The constant flux: A study of class mobility in industrial societies. Oxford University Press.

Breen, R. eds., 2004. Social mobility in Europe. Oxford University Press

Bukodi, E. and Goldthorpe, J.H., 2018. Social mobility and education in Britain: Research, politics and policy. Cambridge University Press.

Khan, S.R., 2012. Privilege: The making of an adolescent elite at St. Paul's School (Vol. 56). Princeton University Press.

Rivera, L.A., 2015. Pedigree: How elite students get elite jobs. Princeton University Press.

Friedman, S. and Laurison, D., 2020. The class ceiling: Why it pays to be privileged.

Wilson, W.J., 2012. The truly disadvantaged: The inner city, the underclass, and public policy. University of Chicago Press.

Reay, Diane, 2018, Miseducation: Inequality, Education and the Working Classes, Polity


Essay (100%, 5000 words) in the LT.

An electronic copy of the assessed essay, to be uploaded to Moodle, no later than 4.00pm on the first Thursday of Lent Term.

Attendance at all seminars and submission of all set coursework is required.

Key facts

Department: Sociology

Total students 2021/22: 26

Average class size 2021/22: 13

Controlled access 2021/22: Yes

Lecture capture used 2021/22: Yes (MT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Specialist skills