Whilst pondering the phrase I love to hate, social mobility (see here for the explanation, featuring benches and broken paving stones), I wondered how its usage how fared over the years in books. Courtesy of Google’s rather nifty book search tool, I’ve produced this graph of how frequently the phrase and several others have been used in the very large number of books in English that have been scanned by Google:
(Click on graph for larger version)
From after the First World War until around 1970 the use of upper class, middle class and working class in books mirrored each other closely, albeit with the slightly contrary pattern of both taking off in economic bad times (1930s) and then again in economic good times (post-war boom).
Yet whilst relative interest in middle and upper classes then tailed off, working class continued to be mentioned in a higher and higher proportion of books until a later peak. The phrase I was originally interested – social mobility – peaked around the same time as middle class and has declined away since.
The graph is a good example of how the digitisation of data opens up possibilities of analysis that were all but impossible before – in this case providing a useful series of hard data to accompanying any social histories of the last century and more (note too that sharp relative increase in interest in the working classes at the start of the twentieth century).