The Class Ceiling: Why it Pays to be Privileged

Please note: this is a change to the scheduled speaker

The hidden barriers or ‘glass ceilings’, preventing women and minority ethnic groups from getting to the top are well documented. Yet questions of social class – and specifically class origin – have been curiously absent from these debates. In this talk I begin by drawing on new data from Britain’s largest employment survey, The Labour Force Survey, to demonstrate that a powerful and previously unrecognised “class pay gap” exists in Britain’s higher professional and managerial occupations. I then switch focus to ask why this pay gap exists. Specifically, I draw on 175 interviews across four occupational case studies – television, accountancy, architecture, and acting. This demonstrates that the class ceiling can only be partially attributed to conventional measures of ‘merit’. Instead, 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.