University graduates
Chances of a child from a middle-class background holding the same job as their parents is much greater Reuters

More Britons have moved down the social ladder than climbed up it over recent decades, according to a major study from the University of Oxford.

The research was published in the British Journal of Sociology and conducted by academics from the University of Oxford and the London School of Economics and Political Sciences.

'There is a clear change in the direction of mobility," said Professor Erzsébet Bukodi, a sociologist at the University of Oxford.

"Over the past four decades, the experience of upward mobility has become less common, and going down the social ladder has become more common."

The study, which looked at a total of more than 20,000 British men and women in four birth cohorts from 1946, 1958, 1970 and 1980-84, explained that there was a "major expansion" of professional and managerial employment from the 1950s to the 1980s.

But this rise has now slowed down, and the children of those who benefited from it through upward mobility now have less favourable prospects than their parents had when they were young.

"It is not that there has been an increase in the risk of downward mobility but rather an increase in the numbers 'at risk', or the proportion of children starting off in professional and managerial families," Bukodi added.

The study also found that inequalities in the chances of individuals of different class origins ending up in different class destinations have not increased – though neither have they been reduced.

In addition, the report said for men and women alike the inequalities are significantly greater than previously thought – and much greater than if, for example, only income mobility were considered.

For example, the study said that the chances of a child with a higher professional or managerial father ending up in a similar position rather than in a wage-earning working-class position are up to 20 times greater than these same chances for a child with a working-class father.