But if I were a woman in the 1950s, say, who was not ambitious, who was living with a breadwinner husband, who liked being at home and didn’t need to go out to work — and who today lives in a world where there are a lot of couples with two good incomes who are buying the good houses, who are ambitious for their children – and where she does increasingly have to go out to work and where many of the jobs that everybody’s doing are quite routine, quite poorly paid, quite insecure, often at very unsociable hours. I think that if I were that woman, I would not be convinced that today’s society was hugely better for me.
And I think that has very much to do with globalization and the speed of economic change, and the fact that successful and privileged parents are able to do huge amounts for their children, and are determined to do so, but also seriously worry that if they don’t their kids are going to be downwardly mobile. That it’s a really tough world out there, and there’s competition from outside the country in a way that there wasn’t in the past. I don’t think it’s guilt, I think it’s anxiety. I think it’s linked to the determination of the parents that the next elite is made up of their kids and not other people’s. They don’t like to admit that to themselves. We all believe in social mobility as long as it doesn’t mean that our kids are going to be downwardly mobile.
And on the Anne-Marie thing, I just disagree with her — for the same reason really. I just think that the reality is in a very, very competitive world that essentially — maybe if everybody could agree together that we’d all stop and restart tomorrow in a civilized way, you could do that. But who is going to be the first to do that? I have a friend who was at one stage a partner in a really top law firm and moved sideways to become an academic, and she was just saying that this was the reality. And you get the deals — or if you’re at a small startup you actually succeed — because when it’s necessary you’re willing to be there.