In both developed and developing countries, education is seen as a ‘ticket’ out of poverty because it enables children from low income families move upwards not only when it comes to income but social status too. In other words, children born to poor parents who completed higher education are more likely to climb the social ladder than those with a lower level of education. This is especially true for middle-income and rich countries although some - including the UK - are troubled by an increasing rather than decreasing gap between the rich and poor when it comes to both educational opportunities and income.
The link between education and social mobility is best seen in the developing, mid-income countries where the demand for highly educated and skilled labour force exceeds the supply. As a result, individuals with high education are highly sought after which in turn is expressed in higher wages and often also in higher social status regardless of the individual’s socioeconomic background. As long as the supply of highly educated labour force fails to meet the demand, education remains one of the surest ways out of poverty and social inequality. But as the gap between the supply and demand decreases, the gap between individuals from affluent and those from not-so-affluent families increases although there is a major difference between different countries.
While education in most countries including the developed ones continues to present a ‘ticket’ out of poverty, that is no longer the case in the UK, the United States and some other countries. According to recent studies, the gap between the rich and poor has grown bigger even though the attainment to higher education is greater than ever before in history. Instead of greater income and social equality, the income and influence of individuals from rich families have increased. At the same time, the income and influence of highly educated individuals with low socioeconomic background have decreased.
According to publicly available data, private schools currently produce as much as 50 percent of doctors and more than 75 percent of high court judges even if only 7 percent of children are attending private schools. Likewise, a handful of pre-eminent schools send more students to the nation’s most prestigious universities such as Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College London and others, than all other schools combined. This means that educational opportunity for the poorest students remains highly limited which is seen as one of the key reasons for the decline of social mobility and the widening gap between the rich and poor in the UK.