How does your social class background, your gender and your ethnicity influence your chances of getting into university?
There are still huge variations in the types of student who make it to university, if we analyse the Department for Education’s Higher Education data by ‘Free School Meals’ (a proxy for social class), gender and ethnicity. This update should be of clear relevant to the education module within A-level sociology.
We can see from the table above that there are stark differences by pupil characteristics.
82% of non Free School Meal Chinese girls make it to university, compared to only 2% of girls of Free-School Meal Traveler of Irish Heritage background.
The above chart is very effective in showing the ethnic differences in university students, and with some interesting variations by FSM status – Black African FSM girls seem to do particular well, for example.
It’s also interesting to note that ‘White British’ students come very near the bottom of the table, with figures of around 40% HE participation for non FSM students, but only around 20 average for FSM White British pupils. The reason for singling out White students here is that the majority of pupils are white, so these figures are going to have most impact on the national average statistics.
The University FSM gap
There is still an 18.6% gap in Higher Education participation by Free School Meal status, this has decline by almost 1.5% points in the last decade, but this is slow progress!
The University Gender Gap
TBH I’m somewhat surprised to see the gender gap continuing apace, and it seems to be a steady increase year on year!
Other Higher Education inequalities
The latest report (see link below) also highlights inequalities by region (the biggest gap is in the South East, the smallest in London) and by Special Educational Need. See below for more details!
It also looks at the differences for ‘high tariff’ universities (the ones which ask for higher grades) which show starker differences.
Widening Participation Targets
The Office for Students has been campaigning to get universities to widen participation by reducing the above gaps. Most universities have in fact pledged to try and half some of these gaps by 2025 for example – if they succeed this would mean only a 10% gap between FSM and non FSM pupils.
However, this would mean fewer middle class students getting into university, assuming that more places are not created.
What are the patterns of new-media usage in the UK by age, social class, gender. Is there still a digital divide?
In 2019, almost nine in ten (87%) UK households had internet access, and adults who use the internet spent, on average, 3 hours 15 minutes a day online (in September 2018) (1)
Around 70% of UK adults have a social media account and about one in every five minutes spent online is on social media (1)
The number of households connected to the internet and the use of New Media has increased rapidly in the last decade, but statistics from OFCOM clearly show that there are still differences in new media usage by age, social class and gender.
For an overview of what the New Media are, please see these two posts:
This is especially clear if we contrast the youngest age groups (as classified by OFCOM) of 16-24 year olds with the oldest of 74+
The differences are less marked, but still clear if we look at a wider variety of age groups. I’ve deliberately selected two consecutive age groups below (45-54 and 55-64) because there appears to be quite a significant drop off in new media usage between these two age categories.
· 99% use a mobile phone
· 79% watch on-demand or streamed content
· 93% have a social media profile
· 1% do not use the internet (2)
· 47% play games online (4)
· 98% use a mobile phone
· 69% watch on-demand or streamed content
· 76% have a social media profile
· 7% do not use the internet (2)
· 10% play online games (4)
· 96% use a mobile phone
· 43% watch on-demand or streamed content
· 58% have a social media profile
· 19% do not use the internet (2)
· 5% play online games (4)
· 81% use a mobile phone
· 22% watch on-demand or streamed content
· 20% have a social media profile
· 48% do not use the internet (2)
· 5% play games online (4)
The social class digital divide
Working-age adults in DE socio-economic group1 households are more than three times as likely as those in non-DE households to be non-users of the internet (14% vs. 4%). (1)
The contrast is best shown by comparing the highest socio-economic group (AB) with the lowest socio-economic group (DE):
Socio-Economic Group AB:
97% use a mobile phone
73% watch on-demand or streamed content
74% have a social media profile
57% correctly identify advertising on Google
6% do not use the internet (2)
Socioeconomic Group DE:
93% use a mobile phone
46% watch on-demand or streamed content
56% have a social media profile
37% correctly identify advertising on Google
23% do not use the internet (2)
The digital gender divide
In 2017, women (81%) continue to be more likely to have a profile/ account, compared to men (74%). (4)
Women are more likely than men to say they have ever seen content that upset or offended them in social media over the past year (58% vs. 51%). (4)
(50%) of men say they are ‘very’ interested in the news (50%) compared to only a third (34%) of women. Twice as many women (15%) as men (8%) are not interested. (4)
A quarter of men (24%) play games online, compared to 9% of women. (4)
Conclusions – is there a significant new media digital divide in the UK in 2019?
While there does seem to be a very significant generation divide between the very youngest and oldest, the differences between young adults and those in their early 50s is relatively small.
There does appear to be some evidence that those in class DE are less well connected than those in class DE with nearly a quarter of adults in class DE not being connected to the internet.
There also appear to be quite significant differences by gender: women are more likely to have social media profiles while men are much more likely to take an interest in the news.
Compensatory Education aims to tackle cultural deprivation by providing extra funds and resources – examples include Operation Head Start, Education Action Zones and Sure Start
Compensatory Education aims to tackle cultural deprivation by providing extra funds and resources to schools and communities in deprived areas.
Three examples of Compensatory Education are:
Operation Head Start
Education Action Zones
Operation Head Start
Operation Head Start was a multi-billion-dollar scheme of pre-school education which took place in America in the 1960s.
It was a programme of ‘planned enrichment’ for children from deprived areas and consisted of the following:
Improving parenting skills
Setting up nursery classes
Home visits by educational psychologists.
Using mainstream media to promote the importance of values such as punctuality, numeracy and literacy.
Education Action Zones
Education action Zones set up in in 1997. These programmes directed resources to low-income, inner city areas in an attempt to raise educational attainment.
Sure Start was one of the main policies New Labour introduced to tackle poverty and social exclusion.
The aim of Sure Start was to work with parents to promote the physical, intellectual and social development of babies and young children.
The aim of Sure Start was to create high quality learning environments to improve children’s ability to learn and help parents with supporting their children in this process. The idea was to intervene early and break the cycle of disadvantage
The main specific outcome of Sure Start was the establishment of 3500 Sure Start Centres, initially established in low-income areas. These centres provided ‘integrated’ family, parenting, education, and health care support. Parents could attend Sure Start centres with their pre-school children for up to 12 hours a week.
Criticisms of Compensatory education
Critics have argued that by placing the blame on the child and his/her background, it diverts attention from the deficiencies of the educational system.
Compensatory education policies are likely to only have limited success in raising achievement because they involve quite a modest redistribution of resources to poor areas. They are unlikely to do much for the inequalities in the wider society which lead to poor achievement
Early intervention may be intrusive – it involves monitoring the poor more than the rich.
Compensatory Education is the solution to cultural deprivation, so any of the criticisms of cultural deprivation theory can also be applied to Compensatory Education.
Trades Unions membership is in decline in the UK, but why is this, and what is the social significance of this seemingly depressing social trend?
The Trades Unions Congress celebrated its 150th anniversary recently, but it seems there is little to celebrate: Frances O’Grady, the TUC’s general secretary has admitted that the union movement needs to ‘change or die’ in the context of declining membership and action.
Membership levels among the under 30s fell to 15.7% last yea, down from 20.1% in 2001, and industrial action is also declining: last year there wre only 79 stoppages, the lowest figure since records began.
According to Zoe Williams in the Guardian, the reason for the declining membership among the young is because they are increasingly employed in low-wage sectors where unions are not recognised: and when people are on zero-hours contracts, working in the gig-economy, or trying to get on the first step of the career ladder by doing an unpaid internship, it is difficult to find the support, time or energy to get organised.
As a result, Kenan Malik, writing in the observer, has suggested that unions are increasingly becoming clubs for professionals – as people with degrees are twice as likely to be part of a union than those who have no qualifications.
However, there are also deeper reasons for the decline in industrial action including the following: there are new laws restricting trade union power; technological advances which facilitate more home-working and flexible working hours mean that day strikes and picket lines less effective.
It might also be that working conditions have generally improved: last decade saw the introduction of the minimum wage and then the national living wage, and there have been new laws to tackle discrimination and improved health and safety legislation.
It could just be that unions in general and strikes in particular have had their day
Relevance to A-level sociology
Probably the most obvious application is that this is one of the dimensions in the shift towards post-modernity – maybe unions, with their mass membership and place-based day-strikes were more relevant to the modernist era, while in a postmodern age of flexibalised working they are just not the appropriate vehicle to effectively improve the working conditions of the precariat?
It also serves as a reminder of the class and age divide around unions – generally older more educated people are in them (the established and technical middle class?) while the younger and less educated are not (the precariat especially)
More than 80% of offers go to the top two social class, the children of barristers, doctors and CEOS, many of whom are privately educated and from the South East.
In 2015, one in five colleges at Cambridge and one in five at Oxford failed to admit a single black A-level student.
Writing in The Independent, Tom Rasmussen suggested that this was because people who work in admissions in Oxford and Cambridge are disproportionately from privileged white backgrounds, and so fail to grasp the challenges that people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds face.
A second possible reason, according to The Observer, is that the independent schools themselves are institutions of white privilege.
Cambridge and Oxford respond to the above by saying that they’re not institutionally racist, pointing out that they recruit plenty of Indian, Pakistani and Chinese A-level students, and that the simple truth of the matter is that only a few hundred black Britons achieve the required 3 As at A-level.
Given the above – do you think that Oxford and Cambridge should practice ‘positive discrimination’ and recruit more black A-level students?
The research which tracked more than 10,000 teenagers found widespread emotional problems among today’s youth, with misery, loneliness and self-hate rife.
24 per cent of 14-year-old girls and 9% of 17-year-old boys reported high levels of depressive symptoms compared to only 9% of boys.
However, when parents were asked about their perceptions of mental-health problems in their children, only 9% of parents reported that their 14 year old girls had any mental health issue, compared to 12% of boys. (Possibly because boys manifest in more overt ways, or because boys are simply under-reporting)
Anna Feuchtwang, NCB chief executive said: “This study of thousands of children gives us the most compelling evidence available about the extent of mental ill health among children in the UK, and Lead author of the study Dr Praveetha Patalay said the mental health difficulties faced by girls had reached “worryingly high” proportions.
Ms Feuchtwang said: “Worryingly there is evidence that parents may be underestimating their daughters’ mental health needs.
Dr Marc Bush, chief policy adviser at the charity YoungMinds, said: “We know that teenage girls face a huge range of pressures, including stress at school, body image issues, bullying and the pressure created by social media.
The above data is based on more than 10,000 children born in 2000/01 who are taking part in the Millennium Cohort Study.
Parents were questioned about their children’s mental health when their youngsters were aged three, five, seven, 11 and 14. When the participants were 14, the children were themselves asked questions about mental health difficulties.
The research showed that girls and boys had similar levels of mental ill-health throughout childhood, but stark differences were seen between gender by adolescence, when problems became more prevalent in girls.
Variations by class and ethnicity
Among 14-year-old girls, those from mixed race (28.6%) and white (25.2%) backgrounds were most likely to be depressed, with those from black African (9.7%) and Bangladeshi (15.4%) families the least likely to suffer from it.
Girls that age from the second lowest fifth of the population, based on family income, were most likely to be depressed (29.4%), while those from the highest quintile were the least likely (19.8%).
The research also showed that children from richer families were less likely to report depression compared to poorer peers.
Links to Sociology
What you make of this data very much depends on how much you trust it – if you take it at face value, then it seems that poor white girls are suffering a real crisis in mental health, which suggests we need urgent research into why this is… and possibly some extra cash to help deal with it.
Again, if you accept the data, possibly the most interesting question here is why do black African girls have such low rates of depression compared to white girls?
Of course you also need to be skeptical about this data – it’s possible that boys are under-reporting, given the whole ‘masculinity thing’.
On the question of what we do about all of this, many of the articles point to guess what sector….. the education sector to sort out the differences. So once again, it’s down to schools to sort out the mess caused by living in a frantic post-modern society, on top of, oh yeah, educating!
Finally, there’s an obvious critical link to Toxic Childhood – this shows you that the elements of toxic childhood are not evenly distributed – poor white girls get it much worse than rich white girls, African British girls, and boys.
Sources and a note on media bias
You might want to read through the two articles below – note how the stats on class and ethnicity feature much more prominently in the left wing Guardian and yet how the right wing Telegraph doesn’t even mention ethnicity and drops in one sentence about class at the the end of the article without mentioning the stats.
The issue of why differences in life chances by class, gender and ethnic differences exist forms a major part of any A level sociology syllabus, and I would say the analysis of the reasons behind these social differences is fundamental to sociology’s very self-identity.
Within A level sociology, students need to be able to a very general ‘macro’ analysis the ‘general reasons’ behind differences in life-chances by class gender and ethnicity, and they need to be able to focus in and analyse more specifically the reasons why there are specific variations. For example, across the A level syllabus you might reasonably ask students to do any of the following:
Analyse the reasons for gender differences in the division of labour (families and households)
Analyse the reasons for differences in educational achievement by social class(education)
Analyse two reasons for differences in conviction rates between ethnic minorities (crime and deviance, AND this was an actual question in the AQA’s 2017 paper 3.
The point of this post is to provide a general framework to help students analyse why there are variations in class, gender and ethnicity in so many areas of social life.
A framework for analysing in A level sociology
To analyse the any social difference by class, gender or ethnicity I’d recommend simply looking at the following:
(Functionalism) Socialisation (@home) differences – material versus cultural
(Labelling Theory) Micro processes, especially labelling.
(Postmodernism) – Individual Freedom….
The picture below shows the prompts I use to get students to analyse the reasons for gender differences in child care….
The above is a ‘BIG VERSION’ so it shows up here, I actually provide my students with the following blank A3 grid (prompts are the same as on the big version)
And I Include the following instructions either on the back of the A3 ‘grid’ or on a PPT…
Developing Analysis Skills in Sociology—Instructions
Write in/ place the cards/ discuss the concepts and research evidence you could include in each bubble.
Try to be logical— demonstrate how each ’broken down’ concept forms a ’causal chain’ to answer the question.
You COULD add in evaluation outside each bubble.
If you like ‘subvert the bubbles’ by analysing differently (see below)
Alternative ways of doing it!
Analysing this question from four broad perspectives is only one way of doing it—you could adopt a purely Marxist/ Feminist analysis and analyse using Marxist. Liberal, Radical and Difference Feminism.
You could also analyse this by using different institutions… focus on the family, education, work and the media.
And you could even analyse by research methods—simply macro versus micro….
The idea is that students can develop analysis within each bubble, but also across each bubble, the bubbles on the left and right (as you go down the template) should be especially easy to link together.
Essentially, students need to be able to analyse the reasons for any difference (within education/ families/ crime/ religion/ work, depending on options chose) by any of class/gender/ ethnicity (or two or three of these). This means there are a lot of possible combinations – in other words, there is a limitless amount of fun to be had with developing analysis skills.
Analysis questions in the A level sociology exams
All three of the A level sociology exam papers will have one 10 mark ‘analyse two reasons why’ questions. For example:
Analyse two reasons for gender differences in the division of labour (families and households)
Analyse two reasons for differences in educational achievement by ethnicity (education and research methods
These questions will have an item which will fundamentally limit what reasons students can choose. I’d recommend a different template for specific exam preparation.
More of that later, personally I think it’s better to encourage ‘open analysis’ early on, as this also helps with the ‘outline and explain’ questions as well as any of the essay questions.
Ironically (not surprising for the AQA) the above template is probably better preparation for the 10 mark ‘outline and explain questions’, because good explanation also requires analysis!
As far as I see it, the above structure works for any combination of class/ gender/ ethnicity for any topic within A level sociology, although it doesn’t apply as well to Global Development.
Of course you might disagree, if so, do lemme know, and keep analysing!
Here a few visual updates and links which highlight the extent of class inequality in the UK today…
1.In Education… 3 year olds from the richest fifth of households are twice as likely to be ‘school ready’ than 3 year olds from the poorest fifth of households
2, by health – This is a nice, if dated article which reminds us that Based on 2007-2009 mortality rates, a man aged 65 could expect to live another 17.6 years and a woman aged 65 another 20.2 years. This graphic demonstrates that men and women from routine manual backgrounds are twice as likely to die before the age of 64 than those from professional backgrounds(my title is clearer than that in the picture!)
4. Births outside of wedlock (not that I think the decline in marriage is a bad thing!, unlike the author of the post where I got the info!
The chart below shows the proportion of kids who are born outside marriage by social class in Britain. Its quite a short period of time, but you get the general idea. At the top, things haven’t changed much. At the bottom, having children inside marriage is not the norm, and increasingly rare.
One way of introducing sociology is to introduce some the ‘big questions’ that sociologists asks. Here are just a few of them…
To what extent is the individual shaped by society?
Is there such a thing as a social structure that constrains individual action, or is society nothing more than a figment of our imaginations?
To what extent does our social class background affect our life chances?
To what extent does our gender affect our life chances?
To what extent does our ethnicity affect our life chances?
What is the role of institutions in society – do they perform positive functions, or simply work in the interests of the powerful and against the powerless? (a related question here is why do our life chances vary by class, gender and ethnicity)
How and why has British society changed over the last 50 years?
What are the strengths and Limitations of macro-scale research in helping us to understand human action?
What are the strengths and limitations of micro-scale research in helping us to understand human action?
Is it possible to do value free social research and find out the ‘objective’ knowledge about society and the motives that lie behind social action?
Is British Society today better than it was 400 years ago?
these questions run all the way through the AS and A-level sociology syllabuses – the idea of sociology is to develop a position on each of these questions, using a range of research-evidence, and be able to critically evaluate the validity etc. of the research evidence you have used to support your ‘position.
Social Class refers to divisions in society based on economic and social status. People in the same social class typically share a similar level of wealth, educational achievement, type of job and income.
Social Class is one of the most important concepts within AS and A Level Sociology because of the relationship between social class background and life chances (or lack of them) and the debate over the extent to which social class background determines an individual’s life chances.
Many people in the United Kingdom have an idea of what social class is, but Sociologists define the concept in more precise terms. Below I look at ‘common conceptions’ of social class before moving on to look at two ways of measuring social class – The Registrar General’s Social Class Scale and The New British Class Survey
Common Conceptions of Social Class
The classic formulation of social class in Britain is to see Britain as being divided into three classes: working, middle and upper class. Social Class, is however, open to change, and most agree that the last two decades have seen the emergence of an underclass, with little prospect of full time employment. These four terms are in common usage and we have to start somewhere, so here are some starting definitions which you should aim to move beyond.
Definition/ Defining Features
Those individuals engaged in manual work, often having low levels of educational achievement. The classic, traditional working class jobs include heavy labouring and factory based work.
Those individuals engaged in non-manual work, often having higher levels of educational achievement. Classic middle class jobs include everything from doctors and lawyers to clerical workers.
The elite class that controls the majority of wealth and power in British society.
The disadvantages of common conceptions of social class is that they lack clarity – although most of us have heard of social class and have some idea of what it means to be a member of a social class, exactly what constitutes middle or working class, for example, is subjective and varies from person to person.
This is precisely why socologists have striven to develop more objective classifications of social class – and below I look at two of these – The registrar General’s Social Class Scale and the New British Class Survey
The Registrar General’s Social Class Scale (1911)
Sociologists use more nuanced categories of social class, than the common sense conceptions above. The way in which sociologists group people into social classes has changed considerably over time, mainly because of the changing occupational structure. To illustrate this just two examples are provided below.
For most of the 20th Century social class was measured using the Registrar General’s Scale. When this was originally conceived in 1911 it was based on the alleged standing in the community of the different occupational groups.
Occupations were divided into the following:
Manual occupations – those that involve a fair amount of physical effort. These are also known as blue collar occupations and are seen as working class.
Non-manual occupations – those that involve more mental effort, such as professions and office work. These are also known as white collar occupations and are seen as middle class.
Registrar General’s Scale: 1911-Present Day
Examples of occupation
I Professional and managerial
III Non-manual – skilled occupations
Police officer, sales representative
III Manual – skilled occupations
Electrician, bus driver
IV Semi-skilled manual
Farm worker, postman/woman
V Unskilled manual
Strengths and Limitations of the Registrar General’s Social Class Scale
The problems with the above scale is that the occupational structure in the UK has moved on – there are many more unskilled non manual jobs – in call-centres for example, and there is no room for the long-term or intermittently unemployed in the above scale either.
However, even today the majority of occupations fit pretty unambiguously into one of the categories, and six categories broadly organised along educational achievement and income is very easy to manage if we wish to make comparisons, and if we stick to these six simple categories, there does appear to be a historical relationship between these social class groupings and life chances – especially where life expectancy is concerned.
The New British Class Survey
The New British Class Survey is an attempt to update the Registrar General’s Social Class Scale and make it more relevant to contemporary Britain.
The survey was conducted by the BBC, in conjunction with The London School of Economics, recently conducted an online survey of 161 000 people. The survey measured three aspects of social class – economic capital, cultural capital and social capital.
Economic Capital – Measured by a combination of household income, household savings and the value of house owned.
Cultural Capital – The level of engagement in ‘highbrow’ and ’emerging’ culture. The amount of ‘Highbrow’ culture people consumed was measured by scoring how engaged they were with classical music, attending stately homes and so on. How much ’emerging’ cultural capital people owned was measured by scoring engagement with video games, a preference for hip-hop etc.
Social Capital – Measured using the average status or importance of people’s social contacts and the number of occupations people said they knew.
According to this survey, there are now 7 new classes in the United Kingdom…..
Elite (6% of the population) – The most privileged class in Great Britain who have high levels of all three capitals. Their high amount of economic capital sets them apart from everyone else.
Established Middle Class (25% of the population) Members of this class have high levels of all three capitals although not as high as the Elite. They are a gregarious and culturally engaged class.
Technical Middle Class (6%) – A new, small class with high economic capital but seem less culturally engaged. They have relatively few social contacts and so are less socially engaged.
New Affluent Workers (14%) – This class has medium levels of economic capital and higher levels of cultural and social capital. They are a young and active group.
Emergent Service Workers (15%) This new class has low economic capital but has high levels of ‘emerging’ cultural capital and high social capital. This group are young and often found in urban areas.
Traditional Working Class (19%) – This class scores low on all forms of the three capitals although they are not the poorest group. The average age of this class is older than the others.
Precariat (15%) – The most deprived class of all with low levels of economic, cultural and social capital. The everyday lives of members of this class are precarious.
Strengths and Limitations of the New British Class Survey
This seems to be a clear improvement on previous class scales – it seems to describe social class divisions as they actually are in the UK (you might say it’s a more valid measurement of social class) – and the inclusion of ‘lowest’ class – the precariat reflects the important fact that many people are in low-paid work are in poverty because of the precarious nature of their flexible and/ or part-time employment. It also includes more indicators (or aspects of class) and reflects the importance of property ownership which only typically comes with age.
However, because it includes more aspects of class and because it is more subjective, it is simply harder to ‘get your head around’ – the divisions aren’t as clear cut, and it’s more difficult to make comparisons – of which there are few available because this is such a new measurement. Still, these aren’t necessarily weaknesses if that’s the way social class really does manifest itself in reality in contemporary Britain.
Discussion Question: To what extent do you believe someone’s social class background affects their life chances in Modern Britain today?
Research Task –Use this link to do the survey and find out more about your class background (you could either enter your parents‘ details, if you know them, or think about where you think you will be in 5-10 years time and enter those details.
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