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. So far this has generated two papers. In the first we 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. ‘Old Boys’ who attended Clarendon schools, for example, are still 94 times more likely to enter Who’s Who than those attending any other school. You can read more about the research here.

Our most recent paper examines how the British elite signals its status through the consumption of culture. Drawing on the ‘recreations’ listed by Who’s Who entrants, our results reveal three distinct stages of elite culture. First, a dominant mode of aristocratic practice forged around the leisure possibilities afforded by landed estates which waned significantly in the late 19th century. Second, a highbrow mode dominated by the fine arts which increased sharply in the early 20th century; and, third, a contemporary mode characterised by the blending of highbrow pursuits with more everyday cultural participation. These shifts, we argue, not only reveal changes in the contents of elite culture but also chart the emergence of a distinct contemporary mode of ‘ordinary’ elite distinction that publicly emphasises everyday cultural practice (to accentuate authenticity and cultural connection) while at the same time retaining many tastes that continue to be misrecognised as legitimate. You can read more about the research here.

I am on the editorial board of the American Sociological Review and Cultural Sociology and outside of academia I work as a Commissioner for the UK Government’s Social Mobility Commission.

I am also Director of the MSc in Inequalities and Social Science at the LSE International Inequalities Institute.

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

2020. From Aristocratic to Ordinary: Shifting Modes of Elite Distinction. American Sociological Review (with Aaron Reeves)

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 Acadademy 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)

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

2016. The Class Pay Gap in Britain’s Higher Professional and Managerial Occupations. American Sociological Review 81 (4) 668-695 (with Daniel Laurison) 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) 

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)

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