Monday, 21 November 2016

Scientists and Social Mobility

There was a great deal in the newspapers last week about the current lack of social mobility in Britain. At the same time I finished reading this year’s volume of Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society which always arrives in late October or early November. I made a note of the occupation of the fathers of the Fellows, excluding the Foreign members and those educated in other commonwealth countries. In one memoir no occupation was shown. That left me with 16, born between 1912 and 1944 (median 1927) (some memoirs take years to be written and published). These were the occupations of the fathers:

Coal Miner/Soldier; Lorry Driver; Mechanical Fitter; Pharmacist; Undertaker; Teacher with Cambridge degree; Worker who died when Fellow was aged 2; Trade - Cycle Shop; Solicitor; Farmer; Engineer; Royal Navy Seaman (Chief Petty Officer killed on H.M.S. Hood); Post Office Clerk; Journalist; Publican and then Fish and Chip Shop Owner; Customs and Excise Officer.

Might it be possible to predict that the range will be similarly wide in future years until the effects of the extermination of the grammar schools in the 1970s becomes apparent, with a further effect brought about by the expansion of the university system and the imposition of student fees and debt? My impression is that in England the young scientists I see are posher than they were, say, 15 years ago while my clinician friends tell me that medicine is becoming the preserve of the middle class.