READING GUIDE TO: Payne, G.  And Abbott, P.  (eds) (1990) The Social Mobility of Women: Beyond Male Mobility Models, London: The Falmer Press.


Even if Goldthorpe is right that the class position of women is still closely linked to that of men, we still need to understand why.  The Scottish Mobility Study identified competition for jobs as an aspect of relations between the classes, but women increasingly act as players in the job market, and it is clear that the labour market is segregated according to gender.

This book includes work that draws on a variety of data which are not primarily focused on class mobility, as was the Nuffield study.  The focus is really on occupational mobility, and occupational classes need not be social classes.  There are data on individuals rather than households, and the personal occupations of women in households, although households are still common when talking about origins.  The notion of a head of household referred to men, although recent studies ask for the ‘chief childhood supporter’.  The influence of mothers is still a relatively neglected issue, although it is known to be important, especially for the destinations of daughters.

Markers of mobility for women are still largely unknown.  It is common to look at lifecourse data, which include matters such as marriage and re-entry to labour markets.  Together, these provide distinctive employment patterns for women.  These can act as ‘a bridge to class experiences’ (6).  [This discussion reminds me of work on the mediate and proximate factors that structurate classes in the work of Giddens --
Giddens, A. (1973) The Class Structure of the Advanced Societies, London: Hutchinson.]  The themes of individual chapters are then summarised.  The general result is that new patterns and implications, many of them critical for traditional mobility research, have arisen.

The more substantial work on women include issues such as the influence of mothers and daughters.  This influence seems to operate both directly and through the educational level of the mother.  Daughters still under achieved relative to sons, however because of current gender effects.  The data here is drawn from the Northern Ireland Mobility study, which generally showed that there are separate effects for mothers.  Intragenerational mobility is also different, in that women are often downwardly mobile before regaining their positions.  In fact they seemed three times more likely than men in the service class, and four times more likely than men in the intermediate class to have experienced some initial downward mobility.  There is a slight effect of age here.

Women are concentrated in the  ‘less attractive sub sectors of the larger classes’ (8).  However, there is a recent trend in women gaining qualifications, although they still do not seem to lead to linear careers, but to the old patterns of more career breaks and flexibility.  Again, there is some notion of a separate labour market for women [clear hints here of the ‘dual labour market theory’ to explain the characteristics of women’s work -- see for example Beechey in Kuhn, A. and Wolpe, A-M (eds) (1978) Feminism and Materialism, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul].

Cross-class families seem to have effects for both men and women.  Overall, the choice of a marriage partner seems to ‘confirm other aspects of the class process’ (9).  Many women still married men in the same social class, but some might marry into their class of destination [‘upward’, especially if they have high levels of education], while other women married partners who are also undergoing social mobility.

Women seem to undergo initial downward mobility followed by upward mobility.  There seem to be many other factors at work here apart from their class of origin, including the deliberate choice of nonlinear careers.

These examples show a clear need for a rethink of ‘class trajectories’.  Women classically combine work and domestic commitments, so their occupation at any one time might reflect both their social class and  their level of non work commitments.  Despite the flexibility of women’s work, they tend to cluster in ‘the primary non manual sector… [such as] teaching…  The women’s primary sector…  nursing, clerical, intermediate, even skilled factory work…[and]...the women’s secondary sector [which may be] semi skilled work, often part-time' (10), the last sector is sometimes a temporary location following re-entry to the labour market after a break.

It is important to study household dynamics apart from social class, such as the effects of divorce.  Households also have careers, as family members age and change.  Subjective experiences of mobility are also important—for example feeling downwardly mobile can affect voting behaviour, which is ‘traditionally one of the key tests of class behaviour’ (11).  Of course, members of households do not benefit equally from occupational mobility: for example women classically have lower pension rights.

Overall, we need new models of mobility itself.  The differences between men and women probably do not converge as effects of class similarities.

[Out of the quite detailed and interesting range of studies in the book, I have chosen two which seem to me to be particularly significant]

Chapter four.  Abbot, P.  ‘A Reexamination of “Three Theses Reexamined”’

The three theses which were to be critically examined by Goldthorpe (and rejected) need to be retested using data on women.  The three theses were the closure, buffer zone, and counterbalance models of mobility, all of which predicted limited mobility.  Abbott proposes to use data from recent studies to review this classic work.

The general finding was that women were more likely to be downwardly mobile.  The data used was from an Open University longitudinal survey—the People in Society Survey—which was based on a national quota sample, and has been running since 1979.  Data from the Scottish Mobility Survey, and the Essex Class Survey provide confirmation.  These surveys enable a calculation of the mobility rates for women, compared to both the occupational class of their fathers (inflow), and how their occupational class affects the destination occupational class for their daughters (outflow).

On social closure, Goldthorpe and Llewelyn found no evidence for members of the service class being able to close entry to men from other social classes, in order to protect their own sons.  Members of the service class came from a large variety of social class backgrounds. However, the female data is rather different: only 8% of the daughters of service class parents were still in the service class themselves, and only 1% of female service class members had fathers from manual working class backgrounds.  For that matter, there were few women from any kind of social background in the service class—only eight per cent of women as opposed to 21% of males in employment had service class occupations.  The evidence seems to suggest there has been a real closure strategy by men against women, far more so than when we just consider social class.

On the buffer zone [the idea that there is a special group of intermediate occupations to absorb social mobility and prevent real social mobility],  daughters from service class families who were downwardly mobile ended up in the routine non-manual occupational sector.  Daughters of upwardly mobile working-class fathers also ended up in that sector.  So the routine non-manual occupational sector does seem to be a buffer zone for women.

On countermobility, the Nuffield study found that half the men in the service class had worked their way into that class after some initial downward mobility.  It was also the case that of those working class men who began their own career with working-class jobs, only half of them ended with a working-class job [so there is a great deal of mobility available to those who work their way up the occupational system, showing  there has been no decline in such mobility as credentialism develops].  For women, however, educational qualifications seemed to be very important, both practically, and as being responsible for women leading working class occupations (although there is some considerable upward mobility into non manual jobs as well).  Staying on at school seems to be the key factor, and the ‘vast majority of women in semi or unskilled jobs were early leavers’ (42), although there are problems with the data here. Further, women do not recover in terms of entry to the class of their fathers, as well as men do.  Early mobility seems the most common [showing the results of education?].  Childless women tend to do better than married women with children, but still not as well as men.

So, overall, there is considerable fluidity, movement both up and down, for women.  But there is a definite tendency for downward mobility, more so than for men, and less upward mobility than for men.  Even service class fathers seem less able to protect their daughters than to protect their sons.  There does seem to be some kind of buffer zone.  Domestic arrangements increase fluidity, especially the demands of child rearing, and decrease subsequent chances of mobility.  As a result, all three theses predicting limited mobility seem to be back on the cards for women.  Overall, there is some long range mobility for women but not as much as for men, and some clear evidence of closure by gender.

Crompton, R.& Sanderson, K.  ‘Credentials and Careers’

This chapter presents complex results from the Women and Employment Survey, undertaken in 1980, drawing on data about the return to work for women.  Generally, women’s work is concentrated into specific occupations, or into the lower levels of jobs in the same hierarchy.  There is more part-time women’s work to suit their family requirements, and there may be a secondary market, focusing on part time work, largely occupied by women.  For these reasons, it might seem that women are less likely to be interested in getting relevant qualifications, since they seemed destined to enter a secondary labour market or some reserve army, as patriarchy intends. The debate about whether women’s position is determined by the class position of their partners has been advanced by Goldthorpe, and challenged by Heath and Britten (1984).

Overall, from the supply side, there has been the considerable increase in mobility and an expansion of the service class, together with the recruitment of women to fill lower levels of the service occupations.  Such women met with poor work conditions, and this was justified on the grounds that they were early leavers and had typically broken work records.  One implication is that if women improve their qualifications, they might reduce the career prospects of men.

The desire to gain qualifications is likely to affect only a minority of women, and they might be expected to focus on the most obviously vocational qualifications.  The authors are aware there are no simple matches between occupations and qualifications, and raise the possibility that some women will be substantially over qualified.  They are also aware that many female qualifications are clearly linked to gendered occupations, such as secretarial, nursing, taking Arts A levels and so on.  Nevertheless, there has been a considerable increase in women wanting to take qualifications.

The employment careers of women, in terms of their waged work, are quite unlike the pure ‘linear’ career, with no breaks, which is usually used to explain the role of qualifications.  The same goes for the implicit notions of rational career planning and choice.  Women are far more likely to find an occupation according to the local labour markets.  However, they still had to have some room to choose, and their motivations are therefore an important issue for research.  It should be said that their motivations can lead to a variety of careers, including no career at all.  Typical female patterns include phased careers, and unexpected careers, showing the influence of life events.  While higher proportions of women are entering higher education, the rest trained for gendered vocations—classically those which permit a combination with domestic routines.

Qualifications themselves are rather complex , with some related to specific organisations, and others offering more national and portable qualification.  They also vary in terms of how tightly they are related to a specific vocation.  They seem to have different importance for different employers and different occupations—sometimes they are seen as a genuine licence to practice, really important to the vocation, while at other times they are used simply to screen applicants.  In some cases, qualifications are necessary to practice at all, while in others, they appear as essential steps in a linear career.  [Lots of specific examples of qualifications and occupations are given].  Generally, women tend to find themselves gaining employment as ‘practitioners’ rather than linear ‘careerists’ (91).

The increase in qualified women entering the labour market may mean that there will be fewer recruits in the future for the reserve army.  It could mean that women will enjoy more upward mobility if they re-enter the labour market.  It will depend what sort of qualifications women are interested in, however, since some will be specific to organisations and/or to continuous bureaucratic careers, while others will be more portable.  There is also the issue of whether credentialism is on the increase, so that all young people will soon need them.

There are considerable differences between vocational graduate occupations, such as those in medicine, which tend to have numbers regulated by the government rather than by employers.  In those circumstances, there are signs of real opportunities for women, and a subsequent real gender shift.  Medicine, accountancy and chartered insurance seem to reveal such gender shifts.  Is still likely, however, that female graduates here will still end up as practitioners rather than careerists, since these occupations also offer the opportunity for acceptable part-time work (less so for accountants).  Further, despite being all graduate professions, these occupations can still provide gendered niches.  In teaching, the concentration of women as certificate level teachers is an example.  For pharmacists, there are further complications.  The seemed to be three main kinds of pharmacist—hospital, retail and community—with different implications.  Thus men tend to occupy the retail niche,[which apparently requires some sort of long term careerism] but increasing community pharmacy allows part time work, which means more female opportunities.  These patterns are changing, although in general, males are still able to take the most advantage of occupational change.  Other factors include the effects of conglomeration of retail pharmacists, equal opportunities legislation, the general ease of employing part-time or career break employees as opposed to bureaucratic rigidity, and the degree of segregation of practitioners as opposed to careerists.

The increased demand by women for qualifications could therefore end in women being particularly well placed to become a qualified and flexible reserve, which could be what technological advance actually will require in the future.  There seems to be a likelihood that this will reduce the availability of male fulltime permanent careers.  However, we can also predict an increasing convergence between male and female career paths [as men also realise what technological change will imply an compete in that labour market too?].

Payne  G. & Abbot, P.  ‘Beyond male mobility models’

[This is the concluding section.  It does tend to rather repeat the introductory section, but it is good for revision].

There are still lots of questions to resolve about social mobility.  There is no clear large picture.  It seems, however that mobility itself needs to be explained, and not as just the process involving class formation, including its objective and subjective dimensions and issues such as the supply vs. the demand sides of the labour market.

It is clear that the old model is inadequate though, and it is wrong to take male versions as typical patterns.  Households in terms of origins for mobility are complex, and the usual picture, taking a snapshot when the man was aged 14, is inadequate, since female members of the household could easily renew their career afterwards.  There have been considerable changes in female employment.  Reliable data on female careers, however, is ‘almost impossible to collect by the conventional retrospective survey methods’ (161) [which takes snapshots and relies on standard definition of occupations] . 

There is no doubt that mothers do influence the ‘mobility potential’ of children, however, and that female occupation is a useful way to index possible influencing factors such as standard of living and attitudes and values—but so is the level of maternal education.  Female employment modifies families, improving health and providing cultural enrichment, although these effects are still not well researched.  The Irish mobility data do show the general effects of female social class on daughter’s educational attainments, and thus on their occupational attainments subsequently.  The labour market is changing rapidly though.  However the concentration of women’s labour makes it hard to disentangle the effects of parental social class [as compared to the flexibility of the occupational system itself].

Careers obviously depends on employment structures, such as the size and scope of routine non-manual occupations.  Males seem to get a higher return to their qualifications.  Females in the service class are better qualified, however.  Qualifications are a complex matter, as the chapter by Crompton shows.  Breaks in career following childbirth are also important.  Overall, however, downward mobility is ‘the most widely shared experience of women’s lives’ (163).

Female mobility patterns are different.  They do actually move class when they change employment, unless we are really to treat female routine non manual labour as working class [I think Stanworth was proposing this in fact].  Marriage crosses classes in about half of all marriages, and often provides an upward mobility option for women.  As a result, it is possible to sketch a typical career for women (diagram on page 165) which might feature: some downward mobility when they start work, some upward mobility as they work their way up and/or get married, downward mobility again after having children and reentering the labour market, and a final period of upward mobility as they work their way up in the job again.  Around this typical pattern, a number of common variants can be found.  Nevertheless, women’s mobility seems to offer a profile rather than a straightforward progression from origin to destination, as with males, and lots of fluidity is normal.

What this sort of pattern implies for feelings, both personal and in terms of images of society, needs to be researched.  Goldthorpe was able to ignore feelings, since he was interested in the objective position of the relation of classes, but feelings are relevant here because experiences are interpreted differently—for example, when do women actually experience an occupational position as their own?

Marriage mobility is another interesting case.  It is not just a matter of class mobility, but also a status transition towards independent adulthood, and commonly it implies a financial improvement and a chance to leave the class of origin family [at times, it looks like this was building towards some sort of ‘affluent worker’ thesis, where skilled working class families moved location towards the new industries and higher wages, and left their family of origins behind, including their leisure pursuits and political allegiance, but dfod not simply embrace bourgeois ones].  A lot of behaviour seems to be modified by both partners in the marriage, except in the single case of the vote, which still seems to be explained best by the occupation of the man alone.  Why should this be?  It might even be simply the result of some other factors, perhaps the influence of the family of origin; it might be the effects of different layers in occupations; it might be a sign that when people get married they tend to confirm the values of their partner; or it might be a confirmation of the residual importance of male occupation.

What are the implications for class analysis and formation?  It looks as if female occupational experiences are quite different from men as in Abbot’s article.  It is still unknown whether this experience has an effect on its own or whether it is somehow overwhelmed by the experience of the male partner [in terms of things like images of the class system, perceptions of openness and so on?] Overall, there does seem to be some zero sum involved—male opportunities are increased because women are doing lower level jobs.

There is no evidence as such of complete independence of female experience, but there are certainly problems for the conventional model.  For example, female participation in employment clearly does affect male employment as well.  Thus gender is clearly related to social class. [actually marriage and gender?] One thing that women seem able to do is to permit or ease the intragenerational mobility of men, enabling them to cope with lifestyle changes, for example.  [Or sometimes acting as a career handicap, especially if they have come from a lower class?]

It is necessary to study female mobility—after all, they do make up half of the population!  Studies of female mobility have raised questions for mobility in general – how fluid is the occupational system?  What is the status of occupations like non-manual clerical work?  What segments are developing inside occupational classes?  What is it about some occupations that do permit fathers to promote their daughters, while other occupations do not?  On the latter, the families of the ‘intelligentsia’ (both parents are in professional employment and the woman is established in a career) seem to be most successful in protecting their daughters.

There are questions about ‘career’ as a concept. The traditional pattern, based on male experience, assumed that the career would be stable and thus it would have a strong effect on class attitudes and beliefs.  However we know that women’s careers are far more fluid and likely to be effected by domestic circumstances as well [so what are the effects likely to be here?].

There are even considerable measurement problems following the study of female mobility.  How should we measure the main occupation for women, for example—the highest one attained?  The current one?

To what extent is occupation still a useful index of the meaning of mobility for individuals?  When do people feel as if they’ve been mobile?  What do they measure their mobility against—class of origin, partners occupation?  [or what about the possibilities introduced by Hopper—reference groups?].  The same goes for the issue of credentials: not only do they seemed to offer a lower return for women, they might have a different meaning [certainly confirmed by early studies of female Open University graduates who classically mentioned ‘personal’ reasons for wanting an OU degree, which sometimes turned out to be some kind of belated recognition of their own views of their own intelligence—see Harris 1987].

At the very least, studies of women’s social mobility might help us clarify the issue of residuals in social mobility research, after class and education have been taken into account [!].  The study of women’s mobility has shown new light on to the general problems faced by social mobility researchers on men as well.  Eventually, researchers will need to study men and women together, especially in terms of the effects on their social class.