Sam Friedman (LSE): The Dogged Persistence of the Old Boy: Private Schools and Elite Recruitment 1897-2016
The Dogged Persistence of the Old Boy: Private Schools and Elite Recruitment 1897-2016
In this paper we draw upon 120 years of biographical data [N = 120,764] contained within Who's Who - a unique catalogue of the British elite - to explore the changing relationship between elite schools and elite recruitment. Although the propulsive power of Britain's 'public schools' has declined, they remain extraordinarily powerful channels of elite formation. Even today the alumni of 9 elite schools are 81 times more likely to become members of the British elite than those attending any other school. Alumni of elite schools also retain a striking capacity to reach the elite even without passing through other prestigious institutions, such as Oxford or Cambridge Universities or Private Members Clubs. Our analysis not only points to the dogged persistence of the 'Old Boy', but also underlines the theoretical importance of reviving and refining the study of elite recruitment. Once a central topic in sociology, recent literature on recruitment is sparse and hamstrung by inadequate data or narrow conceptualisations of elites. However, as our analysis shows, when the educational composition of elites is registered effectively over time, and connected to other key institutions that lubricate elite trajectories, a much richer and more accurate understanding of elite closure emerges.