‘Class pay gap’ seen in UK’s ‘traditional’ professions

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Professionals with a higher-income background earn more than their peers from a less privileged background in “traditional professions” such as law, medicine, journalism and academia, according to a new study by the UK’s Social Mobility Commission.

Among professionals like lawyers, for instance, the pay gap is substantial, with people from working-class backgrounds who manage to get a professional job being paid an average of £6,800, or about $11,300, less than colleagues from more affluent backgrounds. 

The study also found that access to the UK’s professions remains dominated by those from more privileged backgrounds. In the “traditional professions,” those who come from a professional or managerial family are 2.5 times more likely to gain access to professional or managerial jobs than their peers who come from less-advantaged backgrounds. 

Beyond access, however, those from less-privileged backgrounds are still disadvantaged even when they are already veterans in the field. A “significant ‘class pay gap’” was described by the commission for those with working-class backgrounds, both in the higher and lower rungs of the professions. 

Differences in education and managerial background can partly explain the discrepancy, the commission said. But even levelling the field using education, occupation and experience, there was still a £2,242 (or about $3,700) pay gap favouring those from a higher economic background.

The Rt Hon Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said it wasn’t right that those from working-class backgrounds faced an annual pay gap of £6,800, adding that pay should be determined by ability, not background.

“Many professional firms are doing excellent work to open their doors to people from all backgrounds, but this research suggests much more needs to be done to ensure that Britain is a place where everyone has an equal chance of success regardless of where they have come from,” he said.

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