Centre for the Analysis of Social Policy

Lifetime economic mobility: Understanding mobility within and across generations


Principle Investigator: Paul Gregg

Research Team: Lindsey Macmillan (Institute of Education, University of London) and Claudia Vittori (University of Rome La Sapienza)

Funder: ESRC

Duration: June 2013 - June 2015

Project rationale and aims

Find out more about this project

Name: Prof Paul Gregg
Title: Professor
Department: Dept of Social and Policy Sciences
Location: 3 East 3.36
E-mail: pg344@bath.ac.uk
Phone: work+44 (0) 1225 384055
Departmental themes

Intergenerational socio-economic mobility has re-emerged as one of the key issues in academic, media and political discourse over the last decade, following from academic research that showed how socio-economic mobility had decline in the UK. This research documented how the persistence of inequality in incomes across generations was rising just as inequality itself was increasing in British society. Educational inequalities have been shown to be at the heart of this trend (Blanden, Goodman, Gregg and Machin, 2004, Corak, 2004, Ermisch and Nicolleti, 2005, Blanden, Gregg and Macmillan, 2007). This emerging evidence and the debates that it has stimulated has led the UK government to place intergenerational socio-economic mobility, often in public discourse referred to as social mobility, at the heart of its social policy agenda as indicated in the quote from the deputy prime minister above. The Government has also commissioned a number of reviews into policy reform to impact on mobility (Cabinet Office Report 2010, Field Review 2010, Alan Milburn MP, 2009). The ESRC, which can claim credit for funding much of this new research, has also placed this issue at the heart of one of its key strategic priorities focusing on ‘A Fair and Vibrant Society’, with the specific question of ‘How mobile is our society?’.

Despite this rise to prominence, intergenerational socio-economic mobility research is still in its infancy. This proposal aims to add to this emerging evidence base and to bring in new methodological approaches from the related field of intra-generational earnings mobility. The proposed project intends to make three significant contributions to the current literature on mobility. Our main aims are to:

  • To develop a picture of lifetime economic mobility in the UK and to document the extent of biases that arise from estimates of mobility driven by using data at a single age, noted in the international intergenerational literature.

  • Apply recent advances in the methodology from research on intra-generational earnings mobility to the intergenerational literature to explore the role of multiple domains of intergenerational transmissions in an integrated framework.

  • Unite the intergenerational and intra-generational literatures to reconcile contrasting findings that have emerged recently.

This research intends to bring significant new insights to measuring how mobile our society actually is and to substantively advance our understanding of how multiple domains of mobility such as education, occupation, health and well-being relate to economic mobility. Drawing together the currently distinct literatures on mobility within and across generations, it will also apply methodological advancements made in one literature to the other and seek to expand on these advancements.

This step advance in our understanding of intergenerational economic mobility will be of substantial benefit to policy makers as it seeks to improve equality of opportunity in Britain.


We will produce a minimum of three academic papers from this research project with the intention of publishing these in top economic or statistical journals such as the Economic Journal and the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. We have past experience in publishing with these journals and understand the quality of research that is required to achieve this standard. As part of the process we will publish draft working papers in the research series for the University of Bath, University of Rome and CMPO at the University of Bristol, with which the team members are all affiliated.