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NIESR: Inequality Social Mobility and the New Economy

The latest issue of the National Institute Economic Review, which will be published today, contains research articles by some of the leading academic researchers on education, inequality and the new economy.

The five articles, which are summarised by NIESR Research Director Heather Rolfe in her latest blog,  are:

  • Precarious and productive work in the digital economy, by Diane Coyle (Manchester University);
  • On estimating the fiscal benefits of early intervention, by Leon Feinstein and  Haroon Chowdry (Office of the Children’s Commissioner) and Kirsten Asmussen (Early Intervention Foundation);  
  • The role of the eleven-plus test and appeals in producing social inequalities in access to grammar schools, by Rebecca Allen (Director, Education Datalab ) and Joanne Bartley (Kent Education Network)
  • Post-Compulsory Education in England: Choices and Implications, by Claudia HupkauSandra McNallyJenifer Ruiz-Valenzuela and Guglielmo Ventura (LSE Centre for Vocational Education Research and Centre for Economic Performance), 
  • Is London really the engine room? Migration, opportunity hoarding and regional social mobility in the UK, by Sam Friedman (Department of Sociology, London School of Economics) and Lindsey Macmillan (Department of Social Science, University College London.

Digital platforms have the potential to create benefits for their 'suppliers' or workers as well as their customers; yet there is a heated debate about the character of this work and whether the platforms should be more heavily regulated. In her article Coyle addresses how technology is contributing to changing patterns of work whilst the existing framework of employment legislation is still structured around the concept of 'the firm' as the agent of policy delivery. To reshape policies in order to protect the interests of people as workers as well as consumers, Coyle argues, we must first understand why digital innovators make the choices they do.

Their paper Feinstein, Chowdry and Asmussen explain some of the difficulties of providing forecasts of the financial benefits of early intervention programmes, focussing on those delivered during the early childhood period. We highlight the diversity of early intervention, and the complexity and multiplicity of outcomes. Summarising recent work at the Early Intervention Foundation they assess the evidence on the impacts of early intervention, describe new ways of assessing accurately the local fiscal costs of late intervention and consider the implications of this for addressing the well-established barriers to investment in prevention.

Allen and Bartley use eleven plus test and appeals data obtained from a large local authority to explore how the process of admission to grammar schools produces such a strong social gradient in entry rates. Their article focuses on the disparities between eleven-plus and subsequent SATs scores by social background for each element of the test. It then addresses whether the head teacher assessment panel seems to help or hinder poor students on the cusp of passing. Their analysis has implications for how to best improve access to grammar schools for those from disadvantaged families.

Most students do not follow the ‘academic track’ (i.e. A-levels) after leaving school and only about a third of students go to university before the age of 20. Yet progression routes for the majority that do not take this path but opt for vocational post-compulsory education are not as well-known. In their paper Hupkau et al scrutinise post-16 vocational options using linked administrative data to track decisions made by all students in England who left compulsory education after having undertaken the national examination at age 16 in the year 2009/10 and tracking them up to the age of 21. Their findings illustrate the strong inequality apparently generated by routes chosen at age 17, even whist controlling for prior attainment and schooling up to that point.

In their article Friedman and Macmillan explore for the first time regional differences in the patterning of occupational social mobility in the UK, examining how rates vary across 19 regions of England, Scotland and Wales. Their findings cast doubts on the dominant policy narrative on regional social mobility, which presents London as the national ‘engine-room’ of social mobility, revealing that those currently living in Inner London have experienced the lowest regional rate of absolute upward mobility, the highest regional rate of downward mobility, and a comparatively low rate of relative upward mobility into professional and managerial occupations.

The Review will also include NIESR’s analysis of the UK and global economic outlook, detailed in separate press releases under embargo until 00.01am on Wednesday 10 May.

Notes for editors:

Journalists wanting full copies of these papers should please contact the NIESR Press Office: Paola Buonadonna  on 020 7654 1923 /   /  

The National Institute Economic Review is a quarterly journal of NIESR. Published in February, May, August and November, it is available from Sage Publications Ltd ( or at    

NIESR aims to promote, through quantitative and qualitative research, a deeper understanding of the interaction of economic and social forces that affect people's lives, and the ways in which policies can improve them.

Further details of NIESR’s activities can be seen on  or by contacting . Switchboard Telephone Number: +44 (0) 207 222 7665


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