Escalator Regions in the 21st Century: Examining the relationship between social mobility and internal migration within England and Wales during recent decades

Stiles, A. (2017) Working Papers, No. 2017/4. UCL Migration Research Unit, [ONS LS]

Other information:
This paper was originally submitted as a dissertation in completion of the requirements for the degree Masters in Global Migration. See output


The relationship between internal migration and social mobility has been encapsulated by Fielding’s (1992) escalator theory of social mobility. The theory comprises of three components: stepping on, riding up and stepping off. The first relates to the in- migration of young adults. The second requires that migrants and non-migrants engage in intra-generational upward social mobility. The third states that those that leave do so toward the end of their working life having experienced social mobility and entered the highest socioeconomic positions. Research has positioned the London-Southeast as the best performing escalator region in England and Wales during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

However, the evidence base for the theory has yet to extend to the 2000s, and so the paper aims to examine the performance of regional escalators in England and Wales during the first decade of the 21st Century. In addition, the paper also compares the performance of the escalator in the London-Southeast in the 2000s with the 1990s to determine the impact of various phenomena that took place during the 2000s. The analysis utilises annually released internal migration statistics and the Office for National Statistics Longitudinal Study of England and Wales (ONS-LS) to examine the three components of the escalator theory.

The findings conclude that the London-Southeast was England and Wales’ dominant escalator region during the 2000s and that as an escalator it functioned better in the 2000s than in the 1990s. More specifically, the region experienced a net gain of and was the most popular destination for highly-educated young adults. The London-Southeast was also the region whereby migrants and non-migrants had the greatest chance of experiencing upward social mobility and entering the service class. Those that stepped off the London-Southeast escalator were also slightly older and further along the life course than out-migrants from other regions, but were still highly represented by those in the early and middle stages of their working lives and those who were in high socioeconomic positions. Finally, the London- Southeast was as popular in the 2000s as it was in the 1990s among young adults. However, the latter decade saw a greater share of in-migrants entering the service class, and also a greater share of out-migrants represented in the service class than the earlier decade, demonstrating that the escalator had strengthened.

Available online: Link
Download output document: Working paper (PDF 586KB)
Output from project: 1001877


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