Inheriting inequality in the UK

Who knew? In the UK, where there is something called the “Government Equalities Office” dedicated to “Putting equality at the heart of government,” they have a new report on the state of their inequality. It’s even introduced by someone called the Minister for Women and Equality, the Right Honorable Harriet Harman. And you thought we were overrun with Bolsheviks.

Somehow, though, despite all this equality infrastructure, the UK still has a lot of inequality.

For example:

  • Almost exactly as in the U.S., the percentage of wives earning more than their husbands has increased from 4% at the end of the 1960s to 19% in 2006-7. (And just like here, it’s pitched as a tipping point. The Sunday Times combined the 19% of wives who earn “more” with the 25% who earn “the same” to conclude, “Breadwinner wives reign in 44% of homes.”)
  • The UK’s overall income inequality is pretty high – 7th among OECD countries with a Gini coefficient about 33  (the U.S. is 4th, at about 38).
  • Their income inequality has been rising, and is now the highest it’s been in the past 50 years.

But I was struck by the family transmission of inequality pattern, which shows dramatic differences in measures of school readiness at very early ages according to family income:

According to the report, these social class education gaps widen through childhood rather than narrowing – an indictment of the leveling capacity of the school system:

The evidence we examine confirms that social background really matters. There are significant differences in ‘school readiness’ before and when children reach school by parental income and mother’s education. Children entering primary school in 2005-2006 whose mothers had degrees were assessed 6 months ahead of those who had no qualifications above Grade D at GCSE. In addition, every extra £100 per month in income when children were small was associated with a difference equivalent to a month’s development. Rather than being fixed at birth, these differences widen through childhood. … Children with a higher social class background who start with a low assessment of relative cognitive ability when young eventually overtake those with a lower social class background who were initially assessed as having high ability.

In contrast to social class, educational gaps associated with ethnicity or national origin appear to close as children age through the school system. Someone who knows more about what’s going on over there than I do will have to explain that.

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