Regional inequalities can affect your career chances

Man rides a bicycle in the city on a bicycle path.

‘Levelling up’ and reducing regional inequalities has been a key focus of government policy in recent years.

Now research based on Next Steps has provided new evidence on the issues, showing which parts of the country have offered more opportunities for your generation to climb the social ladder.

What we asked you

When you were 25, we asked you about your occupation and where you lived. A researcher working at Durham University analysed your answers to these questions along with information your parents had given about their jobs, and where you were living when you were aged around 15.

They used this data to work out which regions in England had the highest levels of upward social mobility – in other words, where the largest proportion of the population had got a higher-status job compared to their parents.

They also explored whether you moved or stayed where you grew up and looked at what sort of occupations were available in each region.

What the research found

The research revealed that for your millennial generation, where you live has a significant effect on your life chances, but also that the impact varies from place to place, especially if you choose to move from where you grew up.

In general, it was found that, when comparing your occupations with your parents’, there was an expansion in professional and managerial roles, reflecting how the labour market has changed since the 1970s.

However, in terms of social mobility – generations moving up the professional ladder – there were regional differences.

Perhaps surprisingly, the research showed that the East Midlands was the best performing region, followed closely by London. Southern England performed worse than northern regions. In particular, both the South East and South West had lower levels of upward social mobility than the national average. This contradicts the historic understanding of a North-South opportunity divide across the UK.

The research also showed that moving regions has an impact. In general, people who moved away from where they grew up were more likely to be socially mobile compared with those who stayed, and compared with the national average.

A larger share of those who moved were from more affluent backgrounds. They were more likely to progress into more high-class occupations. Meanwhile fewer “movers” were from disadvantaged backgrounds. The “stayers” were less likely to progress in this way.

The London escalator effect

London remains an “escalator” for many of you, now in your mid-30s. London has consistently had higher levels of managerial and professional occupations than other areas of the country.

The research shows that those of you who moved to the capital from other parts of the country were more likely to get better jobs than those who stayed or moved to other regions. This was the case, whatever your economic background. It also means that those who grew up and remained in London were likely to stay at the same level as their parents.

Why this research matters

With a persistent and growing economic gap between London and the rest of the UK, the information you and your parents have shared with Next Steps has been essential.

Your contribution has helped researchers understand better how where you live impacts your life, beyond the persistent idea of the “North-South divide”, and how moving can improve your chances.

Find out more about this research

Spatial and social mobility in England: The persistence of the ‘Escalator’ effect for the millennial generation by Yang Yu was published in Population, Space and Place.