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27 January 2017

Aspiring top-tier lawyers still face 'class ceiling', says new report

Professionals from higher-income backgrounds are still earning more in the UK's 'traditional' professions, like medicine and law, than their peers.

By Kathryn Higgins

Surapong Thammabuht

New research from the UK’s Social Mobility Council has reported that individuals from more affluent backgrounds still enjoy a ‘leg up’ in professions like teaching, medicine and law than those from lower-income backgrounds when it comes to eventual earnings. In a phenomenon it dubs ‘the class ceiling’, the SMC research suggests that the tangible pay gap between pay gap between solicitors from poorer backgrounds and their colleagues from more affluent beginnings may be as large as £6,800 per year. A significant portion of the gap can be explained by differences in educational and managerial backgrounds, the report says. However, even with these variables accounted for, the class pay gap is still £2,242 wide – suggesting that other factors may be at play.

Supply and demand

Supply-side factors like taking less lucrative specialties, reluctance to ask for pay raises, fewer networking opportunities and unwillingness to seek promotions due to fears about ‘fitting in’ might be fueling the average 7 per cent gap between professionals who, in all regards except for socio-economic background, are essentially equivalent. However, the report concedes that elitism, discrimination and bias may still be throwing up a demand-side barrier to aspiring high-earners in professions like law: ‘This may manifest as outright discrimination or snobbery, or it may have to do with more subtle processes of favouritism or “cultural matching”, whereby elite employers misrecognise social and cultural traits rooted in middle-class backgrounds as signals of merit and talent,’ says the SMC.

Sources: Social Mobility Council; Law Society Gazette

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