New research uncovers 'class pay gap' in Britain's professions

27 January 2017

Researchers have unearthed a previously unrecognised ‘class pay gap’ in a ground-breaking new report. Academics from the London School of Economics (LSE) and University College London (UCL) used extensive data from the UK Labour Force Survey (LFS) - the largest survey of employment in the UK with over 90,000 respondents - to examine access to the professions and the impact of socio-economic background on earnings.

People from working class backgrounds who get a professional job are paid an average of £6,800 (17%) less each year than colleagues from more affluent backgrounds.

The report finds that access to Britain’s professions remain dominated by those from more privileged backgrounds. But even when people from working class backgrounds manage to break into a professional career they face an earnings penalty compared to colleagues who come from better-off backgrounds.

Even when they have the same education attainment, role and experience as their more privileged colleagues, the report finds that those from poorer backgrounds are still paid an average of £2,242 (7%) less. Women and ethnic minorities face a ‘double’ disadvantage in earnings.

The report finds that Britain’s traditional professions such as medicine, law, journalism and academia remain dominated by those from advantaged backgrounds - nearly three quarters (73%) of doctors are from professional and managerial backgrounds with less than 6% from working class backgrounds.

Although technical professions such as engineering and many public sector professions like nursing have far more working class entrants, overall the odds of those from a professional or managerial family ending up in a professional or managerial job are 2.5 times higher than the odds for those from less advantaged backgrounds moving to the top.

Even if they get into the professions working class entrants find it harder to get on. The research finds that they do not go on to achieve the same earnings or levels of success. The report found the biggest class pay gaps exist in finance (£13,713), medicine (£10,218) and IT (£4,736).

The report says those from poorer backgrounds may be less likely to ask for pay rises, have less access to networks and work opportunities or, in some cases, exclude themselves from promotion for fear of not ‘fitting in’. Other explanations for the ‘class pay gap’ could include conscious or unconscious discrimination or more subtle employment processes which lead to ‘cultural matching’ in the workplace.

The report also calls for more questions on background to be included in the LFS to enrich understanding of social mobility in the UK.