Young people’s class loyalty is a stronger factor in voting Conservative at general elections than whether they have moved up or down the social ladder, a new study has found.

Researchers from University College London analysed data on 10,245 Britons and found that for people aged 30-42 class origin was a stronger influence than social mobility.

Dr Neil Kaye and Professor John Jerrim used data from the British Cohort Study, following for 46 years the lives of around 17,000 people born in England, Scotland and Wales in a single week of 1970, asking about their voting intentions and habits as adults.

The researchers divided the people surveyed into four classes: professional-managerial, skilled non-manual, skilled manual, and unskilled, and looked at what percentage of these said they voted Conservative or otherwise, including those who did not vote at all.

Voting Conservative was more likely the higher their class of origin, and higher among those who had moved up a class. Of those raised in the professional-managerial class and who stayed in it, 31% voted Conservative, compared with only 9% of those raised in unskilled class and who stayed in that class.

By analysing the data further, the researchers found that:

  • Overall, the effect of people’s class origin on their voting Conservative was at least as strong as any upward mobility during their adult lives.
  • For people aged 30-42 class origin was a stronger influence than upward mobility – for 34-year-olds voting in the 2001 general election, social origin carried 75% weight in the decision to vote Conservative, and their social mobility only 25%. By age 46, social origin and destination were equally important.
  • The likelihood of someone who has been upwardly mobile voting Conservative was 1.3 times higher than someone who has remained in the same class.
  • The likelihood of downwardly-mobile men voting Conservative was 30% lower compared with men remaining in the same social class, although this effect was not seen for women.

In an article in Sociological Research Online journal the researchers say: “Our findings indicate that social origin is consistently as important – and sometimes more important – than [class] destination across all time points included in the analysis.

“We have observed the persistence of the influence of social origin on voting behaviour, which continues to exert at least as much effect as one’s destination social class.

“This effect of social origin appears to peak in one’s 30s, while it is comparatively less influential in early adulthood, when one’s social class destination is less likely to have become permanent, and in later mid-adulthood, perhaps once an individual has had sufficient time to assimilate more fully to their social-class destination.

The researchers say that “individuals’ views, beliefs and behaviours become strongly ingrained during childhood and adolescence, which then prove hard to shift. With respect to voting behaviour, family – particularly parents – is likely to be key. But the local community, peers and authority figures are also likely to be important as well.

For more information, please contact:
Tony Trueman
British Sociological Association
Tel: 0044 (0) 7964 023392


  1. The article is entitled ‘Who do the socially mobile vote for? A longitudinal analysis of intergenerational mobility and political preferences’. The survey data followed people from birth in 1970 through to 2016, recording people’s occupation and voting history at ages 26, 30, 34, 42 and 46.
  2. Sociological Research Online journal is published by the British Sociological Association and Sage. The BSA’s charitable aim is to promote sociology. It is a company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales. Company Number: 3890729. Registered Charity Number 1080235