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Taking advantage: informal social mechanisms and equal opportunities policies

By Peter Taylor-Gooby


European welfare states have enjoyed some success in addressing both horizontal and vertical income inequalities (Atkinson, 1998; Berthoud, 2004). They have been less effective in tackling class inequalities and in promoting social mobility for women and men (Crompton, 2008, ch 7 and 8, Lister, 2003, Breen, 2004 ch.3, Blanden et al., 2007, Corak, 2004, ch. 1, Mazunder 2005, 80). This paper focuses on one aspect: the processes whereby privileged groups seek to ensure that their children have better opportunities than other groups to occupy the most advantageous positions in society. It pays particular attention to informal processes of social relationship and contacts and the role of individual values and aspirations, on the grounds that a major element in current reform programmes is the reduction of state intervention and a shift in responsibility towards individuals. It does so using recent quantitative data which makes possible assessment of the relative importance of these process in different European welfare states.\ud \ud One finding of much of the work on intergenerational social mobility is that opportunities for women and men have improved somewhat during the past 30 years, as a result of improved access to education and employment (Blanden et al 2007, Breen and Luijkx 2004, 73). However, clear gender gaps in outcomes (Misra et al., 2007), employment (Crompton, 2006), educational opportunity (Buchannan et al, 2008), earnings (OECD 2004, 70-72), contribution to care-work (Cooke 2009) and access to positions of authority (EU 2009a) remain. For various reasons, opportunity and access have emerged as key themes in current policy debates, summed up in the EU’s Renewed Social Agenda: ‘Europeans face unprecedented opportunities, more choice and improved living conditions. ... the focus needs to be on empowering and enabling individuals to realise their potential while ... helping those who are unable to do so’ (2008, section 1).\ud \ud The research considers the implications of evidence on the reproduction of class and gender privilege for reform programmes which seek to tackle the issue by extending opportunities rather than ensure more equal outcomes. It’s particular contribution is to stress the importance of the informal social processes which such reforms find hardest to tackle. The paper falls into five sections: brief reviews of literature on policies and on concepts; discussion of the methods appropriate for investigating the relevant social processes; some findings on the transmission of privilege; and discussion and conclusions.\u

Topics: HM
Publisher: Emerald Press
Year: 2011
DOI identifier: 10.1108/01443331111141255
OAI identifier: oai:kar.kent.ac.uk:26160
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