Book review: The Class Ceiling: Why it Pays to be Privileged

Sam Friedman and Daniel Laurison 2019, Policy Press (Bristol University Press)

The Class Ceiling by Sam Friedman and Daniel Laurison
The Class Ceiling by Sam Friedman and Daniel Laurison

Friedman and Laurison shift the debate from ‘getting in’ to ‘getting on’. They show that our class origins don’t just disappear the minute we enter the workplace. Class origins are ‘sticky’, and the playing field never really levels. There is a 16% class pay gap in the UK’s elite occupations that cannot be explained by educational background or conventional indicators of ‘merit’. Even when people from working-class backgrounds enter those occupations, they earn, on average, £6,400 less than their colleagues from the middle classes. And the gap widens for women, people with disabilities, and ethnic minorities. 

The authors begin to identify factors that create the class ceiling. There are the privileges and advantages the middle classes have, such as financial patronage or the ‘bank of mum and dad’; sponsor relationships forged through class-cultural affinity; helping hands that people downplay in their career narratives. There is the issue of ‘fit’: the lingering anxiety caused by a failure to mimic dominant behavioural norms; the emotional labour of so-called social mobility. And the upwardly mobile tend to self-eliminate, whether by shying away from opportunities, or by allowing a subtle risk aversion to lead them into less prestigious career tracks, or simply by refusing the play by the rules of the game. 

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