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Who Cares? Social mobility and the ‘class ceiling’ in nursing

Snee, Helene and Goswami, Haridhan (2020) Who Cares? Social mobility and the ‘class ceiling’ in nursing. Sociological Research Online. ISSN 1360-7804

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Nursing is often associated with providing working-class women a route to upward social mobility. This article argues that although nursing is a relatively open profession, the impact of social class endures, with the main division between nurses who are from higher professional backgrounds and the rest. We utilise the Great British Class Survey (GBCS) to explore nurses’ social origins; the relationship between background and economic, social, and cultural capital; and the impact of origin and capitals on income (and inferred career trajectory). While recognising the methodological limitations of the GBCS, we suggest there may be a ‘class ceiling’ in nursing, and that class advantages are still significant in lower professions of the public sector. Class identification endures regardless of whether nurses have been upwardly or downwardly mobile. We also suggest future directions for intragenerational mobility and gender in social mobility research and make a case for longitudinal and qualitative analysis of nurses’ trajectories. Our findings indicate that the downwardly mobile children of the middle classes retain their classed advantages as they establish their own careers.

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