Over the past five years, the sociologists Daniel Laurison and Sam Friedman have uncovered a striking, consistent pattern in data about England’s workforce: Not only are people born into working-class families far less likely than those born wealthy to get an elite job—but they also, on average, earn 16 percent less in the same fields of work.
Laurison and Friedman dug further into the data, but statistical analyses could only get them so far. So they immersed themselves in the cultures of modern workplaces, speaking with workers—around 175 in all—in four prestigious professional settings: a TV-broadcasting company, a multinational accounting firm, an architecture firm, and the world of self-employed actors.
The result of this research is Laurison and Friedman’s new book, The Class Ceiling: Why It Pays to Be Privileged, which shows how the customs of elite workplaces can favor those who grew up wealthier. The authors describe a series of “hidden mechanisms”—such as unwritten codes of office behavior and informal systems of professional advancement—that benefit the already affluent while disadvantaging those with working-class backgrounds.
In January, shortly before the book’s U.K. release, I interviewed Laurison, a professor at Swarthmore College, who told me that while England’s class politics do differ from those of the U.S., his and Friedman’s findings about “money, connections, and culture” broadly apply to Americans as well. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.