Solicitors from poorer backgrounds could be earning up to £6,800 less than colleagues from more affluent families, according to comprehensive social mobility research that has unearthed a ‘class ceiling’.

A report published by the Social Mobility Commission states that ‘traditional’ professions such as law remain dominated by workers from privileged backgrounds. However, looking beyond access to the profession, the report suggests those from lower socio-economic backgrounds potentially face a ‘class ceiling’.

The report states that those from working-class backgrounds ‘face a significant "class pay gap” in both the higher and lower division of the professions. In the sector as a whole this translates into an annual earnings pay gap of 17% or £6,800-a-year compared to those from professional backgrounds’.

The gap is explained by differences in education and managerial backgrounds, the report says. But even where education, occupation and level of experience are the same, those from working-class backgrounds are still paid £2,242 less than more privileged colleagues.

The gap may be explained by the behaviours, practices and resources of the ‘upwardly mobile’, the report states.

‘As previous work suggests, the mobile may specialise in less lucrative areas, may be more reluctant to ask for pay raises, have less access to networks facilitating opportunities, or in some cases even exclude themselves from seeking promotion because of anxieties about “fitting in”.’

The report adds that the upwardly mobile may be victims of ‘demand-side’ mechanisms of discrimination, being consciously or unconsciously given fewer rewards, for instance.

‘This may manifest as outright discrimination or snobbery, or it may have to do with more subtle processes of favouritism or “cultural matching”, whereby elite employers misrecognise social and cultural traits rooted in middle-class backgrounds as signals of merit and talent.’

The report used new socio-economic background questions in the UK Labour Force Survey, drawing on an ‘unusually large sample’ of 64,566.