Social mobility is bad for your health, reports the Tory press. Better stay put then!

Strange angle on study recycles an ancient lie about class


Old habits die hard. The Telegraph and the Daily Mail report that improving your material circumstances is bad for your health.

As the Telegraph puts it in its story, ‘Social climbing may make you old before your time’:

“Social mobility is frequently touted as something positive and desirable, but it could actually be bad for health, as study has suggested.”

(Headline and intro taken from print edition.)

The Mail, never one for hyperbole, says in its story, ‘Why being upwardly mobile can be bad for your health’:

“Poor teenagers who do well later in life age more quickly, research suggests.

As a result, they may die younger than classmates who didn’t try to better themselves.

It’s thought the strain of dragging themselves out of poverty is to blame.”

So, what is all this?

A study of young African-Americans from rural areas finds that youths with more ‘self-control’ are less aggressive, less likely to take drugs, and achieve more academically. However, their cells appear to age faster than their peers.

The Tory papers have decided on the angle, ‘social mobility is bad for your health’.

But this is an odd take on the evidence. Would it not make more sense to say, ‘Social deprivation is bad for your health’, or ‘Lack of support for poor youth is bad for their health’?

Or even, ‘class and race subordination, and the myth that people can drag themselves up by their bootstraps, is bad for your health’?

A bigger objection to this spin would be it seems to imply the safe option is to stay put, and be happy with your lot!

(Actually, wouldn’t remaining poor be even worse for your health?)

The way this story is packaged and delivered recycles the oldest conservative spin of all. It’s well summarised in these lines from a famous hymn:

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.

Reading these stories today, you can only sigh: ‘Plus ça change’.

Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow MediaWatch on Twitter

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