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The Evidence Quarter

The EQ Guest Speaker: Prof. Lindsey Macmillan

The Long Shadow of Deprivation: Differences in Opportunities across England

8th January 2021

We were thrilled to have Prof. Lindsey Macmillan as a guest speaker at The EQ.

Lindsey is Professor of Economics and Director of the Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities at UCL, where she works to design and inform evidence-led education policy and wider practice to equalise opportunities across the life course. Lindsey’s own research considers the role of early skills, education, and labour market experience in the transmission of incomes and work across generations. She has published widely on topics relating to educational inequalities and the role of family background in access to jobs. Lindsey also works closely with Government and third sector organisations including the Department for Education and the Social Mobility Commission.

Along with colleagues from the Institute of Fiscal Studies (Pedro Carneiro, Sarah Cattan, Lorraine Dearden, Laura van der Erve and Sonya Krutikova), Lindsey produced a report for the Social Mobility Commission titled ‘The Long Shadow of Deprivation: Differences in Opportunities England’. The report took a detailed look at social mobility in England, showing how social mobility varies across small local areas, and why there are differences in opportunities, considering the role of both education and the labour market. The IFS team were able to do this thanks to new administrative data links, in the form of the Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) data. The dataset follows 820,000 sons born 1986-88 and tracks their outcomes over different stages of life, linking data from school, university and work earnings for the first time.

There were four main findings of the report: that where you grow up matters for life chances; that family background casts a long shadow in the least mobile areas; that education is a key driver of opportunities but doesn’t explain differences across areas; and that we need both education policy and labour market initiatives in order to ‘level-up’. Lindsey showed a map of the differences between earnings of disadvantaged vs. advantaged sons in the same area, explaining that the places with the biggest gaps were the least mobile. Secondly, she discussed why such differences exist across local authorities. In the least mobile areas, sons from disadvantaged families earn less than an advantaged person even with the same educational attainment. So “in low mobility areas, education is not equalising opportunities like it does in high mobility areas”. 

Where you grow up matters - pay gaps between rich and poor sons

Thirdly, we looked at a bar graph of the relative contribution of education and wider labour market factors to differences in pay gaps across England. Whilst education gaps account for a stable 10-15 percentiles everywhere, pay gaps beyond education account for about one third of the pay gap difference in the least mobile areas. “What this is telling us, is that in the least mobile areas, even if sons from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve the same qualifications, they still face a penalty in the labour market”. Therefore, Lindsey argued that “in order to ‘level-up’, education policy alone is not going to be enough”. Commenting on the current policy landscape, Lindsey talked about the Towns Fund which aims to make towns – not just cities – centres for economic growth. Other local authorities have been named as ‘Opportunity Areas’, three quarters of which were also in the lowest social mobility localities identified by the Social Mobility Commission report. 

During the discussion, we talked about the future of this kind of research for females and for those with protected characteristics, and Lindsey currently is working on two projects looking into these areas. We talked about why there can be big differences in mobility between adjacent areas, and how big firms are incentivised to move to low mobility areas. To finish, Lindsey was asked about the huge potential cost of solving the issues mentioned, but she is hopeful that there might be interest: “Pandemics do tend to make people think slightly more about the greater good than they do about themselves, so there’s hope. Let’s not be completely downhearted by the whole situation. All it takes is enough people to want that to happen to start to move towards something a bit more sensible”. 

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