Speaking up

Think tank: The Sutton Trust

Author(s): Erez Levon; Devyani Sharma; Christian Ilbury

November 3, 2022

This report from UK think tank the Sutton Trust looks at accents and social mobility.

Accent is arguably the primary signal of socioeconomic status. It is also a major indicator of many other aspects of a person’s social background, some of them protected characteristics, including gender, race, age, sexuality, and many others. A hierarchy of accent prestige has been entrenched in the United Kingdom for centuries, with Received Pronunciation (sometimes known as ‘Queen’s English’ or ‘BBC English’) the dominant accent in positions of authority across the media, politics, the civil service, courtrooms, and the corporate sector. This is despite less than 10% of the population estimated to have this accent, almost exclusively from higher socio-economic backgrounds. This new research, authored by Professor Erez Levon from the University of Bern, Professor Devyani Sharma from Queen Mary University London and Dr Christian Ilbury from the University of Edinburgh, looks at accent bias throughout the life course, including accent anxiety and experiences of discrimination. It also looks at how these experiences differ by socio-economic background, and their implications for social mobility.