Deprivation, social class and social mobility at big four and non-big four firms

Paisey, Catriona and Paisey, Nick and Tarbert, Heather and Wu, Betty (2020) Deprivation, social class and social mobility at big four and non-big four firms. Accounting and Business Research, 50 (1). pp. 61-109. ISSN 0001-4788 (

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Using the work of Bourdieu and Savage, this paper investigates social class and social mobility among chartered accountants who qualified with The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland in 2009. We find that these accountants tend to come from privileged backgrounds and that those who qualified with Big Four firms possess more economic, social and cultural capital than those who qualify with other firms. Our study provides fresh insights into how elements of social class interact with social background. In contrast with the prevailing view that there is limited social mobility in the accountancy profession, we find some evidence of social mobility, suggesting that current debates are based on contestable assumptions. We also find that chartered accountants from more deprived backgrounds as indicated by childhood postcode often have a father who has a professional or managerial occupation, so are not deprived on all measures. Where those from more deprived backgrounds accessed chartered accountancy careers, this was at the expense of people whose parents held lower rather than higher professional or managerial jobs. This suggests that the most advantaged maintain access to chartered accountancy but those from more middling professional homes are displaced when those from more deprived backgrounds gain access.