School of Philosophy, Psychology & Language Sciences

New report finds accents still act as a barrier to social mobility

The report, co-produced by Linguistics lecturer Dr Christian Ilbury highlights a clear link between accents, socioeconomic background and social mobility.

Christian Ilbury photo
Dr Christian Ilbury

Christian worked as part of the Accent Bias in Britain project to examine the impact that someone’s accent has on their journey through education and into the workplace, based on the experiences of sixth-formers, university students and professionals.

The research found that 30% of university students and 29% of university applicants (largely 17-18 year olds) reported being mocked, criticised or singled out in educational settings as a result of their accents, and 25% of professionals reported the same in work settings.

These experiences are particularly prevalent for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, who report significantly more mocking or singling out in workplace or social settings. Over a quarter (29%) of senior managers from working class families said they had been mocked or criticised in the workplace for their accent, vs 22% of those from better off backgrounds.

In order to address accent bias, the report recommends that action should be taken to diversify the workplace so that there is a range of accents within the organisation.

“Our work shows that the long-standing hierarchy of accent prestige in Britain continues today. Standard varieties such as ‘Received Pronunciation’ are generally evaluated as more prestigious than other regional, working class, and minority ethnic accents. These accent biases are likely to negatively impact individuals at key junctures for social mobility, such as in job interviews. Subsequently, speakers of non-standard varieties are likely to feel pressurised to adapt or change their accent. We show that this accent related anxiety is present at all stages of life, but it is particularly pronounced for those from the North of England and from working-class backgrounds. Our research demonstrates that accent-based discrimination is likely to be a barrier to social mobility but it can be mitigated by raising awareness of accent bias.”

Dr Christian Ilbury

Lecturer in Sociolinguistics.

The report is available in full on the Accent Bias Britain website linked below.

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