Professor Sam Friedman

Professor Sam Friedman

Professor of Sociology

Department of Sociology

Room No
STC S102
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Key Expertise
Social Mobility, Social Class, Elites, Taste, Cultural Distinction

About me

Sam Friedman is a sociologist of class and inequality, and his research focuses in particular on the cultural dimensions of contemporary class division. He has recently finished a new book with Aaron Reeves entitled Born To Rule (out in September 2024 with Harvard University Press) exploring how the British elite has changed over the last 120 years. Here they build on their recent work – examining the propulsive power of top private schools, the changing nature of elite culture and the meaning of merit – to provide a new understanding of the British elite. At the heart of this is a historical database created by extracting biographies from Who’s Who, mining genealogical records, combing through probate data, and interviewing over 200 prominent people, to uncover who runs Britain, how they think, and what they want.

The story they uncover looks notably different to prevailing narratives. Certainly, Britain’s upper echelons are no longer a closed shop. But those born into the top 1% are just as likely to get into the elite today as they were 125 years ago. What has changed is how elites present themselves. Today’s elite are determined to appear ordinary. And when this ordinariness lands the implications are powerful. Elites who successfully convince the public that they have risen from humble origins or have mainstream cultural tastes are more likely to be viewed sympathetically – as more relatable, intelligent, hard-working, even competent. 

Why should we care? Because elites affect the politics we get. What sociologists call ‘Elite reproduction’—the matter of who gets in and why—is key to the character of the nation. Born to Rule shows that the family you were born into, the school you attended, the university you went to all leave their mark on what you value and the kind of society you want to live in. While scholars have long proposed a link between social composition and the exercise of power, the empirical evidence has been thin—until now.

Alongside this project Sam continues to research social mobility into higher professional and managerial occupations, building on his book (with Daniel Laurison) The Class Ceiling: Why it Pays to be Privileged. Recently he has extended this work to look at the class-origin pay gap in the US as well as exploring how progression is shaped by class background within the UK Civil Service. This project has also involved looking more closely at the double disadvantage women face in such elite occupations. Specifically, he finds that men from working-class backgrounds are more likely (than women) to identify as coming from a working-class background, to talk openly about their background, and to feel comfortable displaying embodied markers of their origin. In contrast, women from working-class backgrounds overwhelmingly choose to conceal their backgrounds in the Civil Service, presuming that such disclosures will only leave them vulnerable to negative judgment. Continuing this focus on intersections between class and gender, he has also recently asked - with Aaron Reeves and Eve Worth – Is there an Old Girls Network in the UK? They find that over the last 120 years alumni of the most elite girls private schools have been around 20 times more likely than other women to reach elite positions. Yet such schools have also been consistently less propulsive than their male-only counterparts. They argue this is rooted in the ambivalent aims of girls elite education, where there has been a longstanding tension between promoting academic achievement and upholding traditional processes of gendered social reproduction. 

Sam is also co-editor of The British Journal of Sociology and Director of the MSc in Inequalities and Social Science at LSE's International Inequalities Institute

You can access his full CV here.

Selected Publications


Reeves, A.and Friedman, S (2024) Born to Rule Harvard University Press

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

Born to  Friedman Glass Ceiling crop  Friedman1

Journal Articles

Laurison, D. and Friedman, S. (2024) The Class Ceiling in the United States: Class-Origin Pay Penalties in Higher Professional and Managerial Occupations’ Social Forces

Friedman, S., Ellersgaard, C., Reeves, A., Larsen, A. (2023) ‘The Meaning of Merit: Talent versus Hard work Legitimacy’, Social Forces

Friedman, S. (2022) Climbing the Velvet Drainpipe Class Background and Career Progression within the UK Civil ServiceJournal of Public Administration Research and Theory

Worth, E., Reeves, A., Friedman, S. (2022) Is there an old girls’ network? Girls’ schools and recruitment to the British elite, British Journal of Sociology of Education

Ashley, L. Boussebaa, M., Friedman, S., Harrington, B., Heusinkveld, S., Gustafsson, S., Muzio, D. (2022) Professions and inequality: challenges, controversies, and opportunitiesJournal of Professions and Organization

Friedman, S. (2022) (Not) bringing your whole self to work: The gendered experience of upward mobility in the UK Civil Service, Gender, Work and Organisation

Moor, L. and Friedman, S. (2021)Justifying inherited wealth: Between ‘the bank of mum and dad’ and the meritocratic ideal, Economy and Society

Friedman, S., O’Brien, D., McDonald, I. (2021) ‘Deflecting Privilege: Class Identity and the Intergenerational Self’ Sociology

Friedman, S. and Reeves, A. (2020) ‘From Aristocratic to Ordinary: Shifting Modes of Elite Distinction’ American Sociological Review

Toft, M. and Friedman, S. (2020) ‘Family Wealth and The Class Ceiling: The Propulsive Power of The Bank of Mum and Dad’ Sociology

Reeves, A., Friedman, S., Rahal, C., Flemmen, (2017) 'The Decline and Persistence of the Old Boy: Private Schools and Elite Recruitment 1897-2016', American Sociological Review 82 (6) 1139-1167

Winner of 2018 European Academy of Sociology Best Article Award

Friedman, S., O’Brien, D. (2017) ‘Resistance and resignation: responses to typecasting in British acting’ Cultural Sociology, 11 (3) 359-376.

Oakley, K. O’Brien, D., Friedman, S., Laurison, D. (2017) ‘Cultural Capital: arts graduates, spatial inequality, and the London effect on cultural labour markets’ American Behavioural Scientist 61 (12) 1510-1531

Friedman, S. and Laurison, D. (2017) ‘Mind the Gap: Financial London and Regional Class Pay Gap, British Journal of Sociology 68 (3) 474-511

O’Brien, D., Allen, K., Friedman, S., Saha, A. (2017) ‘Producing and consuming inequality: a cultural sociology of the cultural industries’. Cultural Sociology, 11 (3) 271-282.

Friedman, S., and Macmillan, L. (2017) Is London really the engine-room? Migration, opportunity hoarding and regional social mobility in the UK National Institute Economic Review, 240 (1). R58-R72

Laurison, D. and Friedman, S. (2016) The Class Pay Gap in Higher Professional and Managerial Occupations’ American Sociological Review, 81 (4) 668-695

Winner of 2016 ASA Inequality, Poverty and Mobility Section Best Article Award

Jarness, V. and Friedman, S. (2016) ‘‘I’m not a snob but…’ Class Boundaries and the Downplaying of Difference’, Poetics  61 14-25

Friedman, S., O’Brien, D., Laursion, D. (2016) ‘‘Like skydiving without a parachute’: How Class Origin Shapes Occupational Trajectories in British Acting’, Sociology 51 (5) 992-1010

Friedman, S. (2016) ‘Habitus Clivé and the Emotional Imprint of Social Mobility’, Sociological Review, 64 (1) 129-148   

O’Brien, D., Laurison, D., Miles, A., Friedman, S. (2016) ‘Are the Creative Industries Meritocratic? An Analysis of the 2014 UK Labour Force Survey’ Cultural Trends, 25 (2)

Friedman, S. Savage, M. Hanquinet, L., Miles, A. (2015) ‘Cultural Sociology and New Forms of Distinction’, Poetics, 49 (4) 1-22

Friedman, S., Laurison, D., Miles, A. (2015) ‘Breaking the ‘Class’ Ceiling? Upward Mobility into British Elite Occupations’,  Sociological Review  63 (2)259-90 

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

Savage, M., Devine, F. Cunningham, N., Friedman, S. Laurison, D. Miles, A. Snee, H., Taylor, M. (2014) ‘On Social Class, Anno 2014’ Sociology (Special Issue on British Social Class Debate) 48 (3) 1-20

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

Friedman, S. and Kuipers, G. (2013) The Divisive Power of Humour: Comedy, Taste and Symbolic Boundaries’, Cultural Sociology (Special Issue on Field Analysis), 7 (2) 179-195

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

Friedman, S. (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