Our focus on social mobility stacks the cards against working-class graduatesby Nathalie Olah / August 8, 2019 / Leave a comment
Last Monday, BBC 2 broadcast How to Break into the Elite, a documentary hosted by journalist Amol Rajan that follows five young people in the early stages of their career. Two working-class students, Amaan from Birmingham and Elvis from Dagenham, aspire to work in finance. Dominique and Jack, a couple studying media at Leeds University, both dream of working in media. The only privately-educated of the show’s participants is Ben, a student of ancient history from south London. By the show’s end, only he and Dominique had secured meaningful work experience, showcasing the stranglehold still faced by working-class graduates irrespective of their education or ambition.
Their stories are part of a broader phenomenon. Research by sociologists Sam Friedman and Daniel Laurison shows that working-class graduates holding a first-class degree are still less likely to be hired than middle-class candidates with a 2:2; they also found that middle-class graduates will earn on average £7,000 more than their counterparts from low-income backgrounds.
In the documentary, Rajan explores the various inequalities and class-based prejudices that give rise to these statistics, looking not only at the hard economic issues of unpaid internships, but also the cultural bigotry that still exists towards any kind of accent, dress-sense and mannerism indicative of a working-class background. This compounds what millions of people from low-income backgrounds already know to be true: that the road to financial prosperity requires far more than a university degree and a can-do attitude.
How to Break into the Elite was urgently needed, creating a mainstream conversation around one of the most pervasive and unchecked forms of bigotry in our society. As one of the few landmark investigations on social mobility, it reminds us that the issue is still woefully underreported. But far from offering a wholesale endorsement for the need for greater social mobility, the documentary rather shows the limits of its logic.
The “con” in “confidence”
One issue that afflicted all four candidates from low-income backgrounds was a lack of confidence in handling job interviews. Jack found it hard to decipher the dress code, and Amaan struggled to manage his nerves and calmly articulate himself during interview training. Their nerves speak to how working-class candidates are constantly forced to decipher and decode unspoken rules.