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KPMG Research Confirms: Social Class Determines Your Career Opportunities. Surprise!

graphic of a man pulling out empty pockets

Some time back, KPMG UK released novel research that analyzed the career paths of more than 16,500 partners and employees at KPMG over a five-year period to discover that socioeconomic background, measured by parental occupation, had the strongest effect on how quickly an individual progressed through the firm. So if a KPMG employee’s highest earning parent was in a manual or blue-collar job when they were growing up, that person progressed more slowly through the ranks compared to peers who had professional parents.

Continuing with that theme, KPMG UK has released new research that shows social class could be holding young people back from their preferred career. It’s a no-brainer conclusion of course but they’ve put some real numbers on it.

Carried out ahead of Social Mobility Awareness Day on Thursday 15 June, the study of 2,000 adolescents found that those from low socio-economic backgrounds were less likely to have gained either formal or informal work experience. Two-fifths (40%) of those from low socio-economic backgrounds had gained exposure to the world of work, compared to around half (47%) of young people on average.

Nearly three-quarters (71%) of those surveyed felt that certain professions – such as becoming a doctor or lawyer – are easier to get into if your parents or guardians also worked in a similar profession. And of those who obtained work experience, this was more commonly arranged via a family member or friend (45%), rather than via their school (32%).

When asked about accountancy specifically, nearly half (48%) of those surveyed thought the profession favours those with parents or guardians from a professional background – such as doctors, lawyers and accountants.

That last bit is of particular importance. As the profession’s greatest minds work out ways to attract young people to the field we must ensure outreach doesn’t begin and end at business schools and high-performing high schools. Special attention should be given to underserved communities, to the people who would not be able to access the profession and all the opportunities that come with it without support. I could make a joke here about how cruel it is to push people who are already disadvantaged into accounting but I won’t, let’s try to be serious just this once. Miserable though you may be, I think we can all agree that if there’s one pro to accounting’s several cons it’s employability even when the economy sucks and the possibility of decent lifetime earning potential. For someone who grew up poor, this is a huge selling point.

Much of the current “awareness” discussion has centered around computer science and other better-paying careers that are poaching would-be accountants at the college level. Rather than trying to convince those people $60,000 is a very good starting salary, efforts should be made to reach the people who aren’t college-bound, to help them form connections with professionals and learn the soft skills they need to succeed in a professional role. Plus it will be a lot easier to convince those people $60,000 is a good starting salary (sorry, I had to).

Some work has already been done on this front. State societies regularly send members into high schools in their communities to preach the good word of accounting and various programs are popping up across the country to expose young people of diverse backgrounds to accounting (going to resist the urge to make a flasher-who-can’t-be-within-500-ft-of-a-school joke here). For example,, Urban Assembly, and New York City Public Schools have collaborated on a program to offer an Intro to Financial Accounting college course to 400 public school students in NYC with the help of financial support from Deloitte Foundation. “By providing access to top-tier educational resources in high school, this initiative seeks to empower students and create a more diverse and inclusive workforce in the accounting industry,” says a press release.

There’s still a lot of work to be done but it’s a start.

One thought on “KPMG Research Confirms: Social Class Determines Your Career Opportunities. Surprise!

  1. Does this study even address other ethnicities such as black or Hispanic? Where do they lie on this spectrum?

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