Social mobility and fair access to the accountancy profession in the United Kingdom: Evidence from Big Four and mid-tier firms

Angus Duff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)
182 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose. This paper considers how Big Four and mid-tier accountancy firms in the United Kingdom (UK) are responding to political concerns about social mobility and Fair Access to the accountancy profession.

Design/methodology/approach. Interviews were undertaken with 18 public accountancy firms, ranked in the Top 30 by fee income, operating in the UK to identify how they are recruiting staff in the light of the Fair Access to the Professions’ agenda. Bourdieusian sociology is used to inform the findings.
Findings. The Big Four firms employ a discourse of hiring ‘the brightest and the best’ to satisfy perceived client demand, where symbolic capital is instantiated by reputational capital, reflecting prestige and specialisation, supported by a workforce with elite credentials. For mid-tier firms, reputational capital is interpreted as the need for individuals to service a diverse client portfolio. In general, most interviewees demonstrated relatively limited awareness of the issues surrounding the Fair Access agenda.

Research implications/limitations. The interviews with accountancy firms are both exploratory and cross-sectional. Furthermore, the study was undertaken at an embryonic point (2010) in the emerging Fair Access discourse. Future work considering the accountancy profession could usefully examine if, and how, matters have progressed.

Social implications. The investigation finds accountancy firms remain relatively socially exclusive, largely due to the requirement for high educational entry standards, and interviewees’ responses indicate generally only limited attempts at engagement with political agendas of promoting Fair Access to the profession.

Originality/value. The paper: is the first to empirically evaluate how the accountancy profession is responding to the Fair Access agenda; documents changing patterns of recruitment in accountancy employment, including the hiring of non-graduates to undertake professional work; and augments the literature considering social class and accounting.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1082-1110
Number of pages29
JournalAccounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal
Issue number5
Early online date18 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jun 2017


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