Michael Young, Baron Young of Dartington

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The Right Honourable
The Lord Young of Dartington
Member of the House of Lords
In office
20 March 1978 – 14 January 2002
Personal details
Born (1915-08-09)9 August 1915
Manchester, England
Died 14 January 2002(2002-01-14) (aged 86)
London, England
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Joan Lawson
(m. 1945–60)
Sasha Moorsom
(m. 1960–93)
Dorit Uhlemann
(m. 1995–2002)
Relations Toby Young, son
Children 3 sons and 3 daughters
Alma mater London School of Economics
Awards Albert Medal (1992)

Michael Young, Baron Young of Dartington (9 August 1915 – 14 January 2002) was a British sociologist, social activist and politician who coined the term "meritocracy".

During an active life he was instrumental in shaping Labour Party thinking. When secretary of the policy committee of the Labour Party he was responsible for drafting "Let Us Face the Future", Labour's manifesto for the 1945 general election,[1] was a leading protagonist on social reform, and founded or helped found a number of socially useful organisations. These include the Consumers' Association, Which? magazine, the National Consumer Council, the Open University, the National Extension College, the Open College of the Arts and Language Line, a telephone-interpreting business.

Early life and education[edit]

Grave in Highgate Cemetery, London

Young was born in Manchester, the son of an Australian violinist and music critic, and an Irish Bohemian painter and actress. Until he was eight, he grew up in Melbourne, returning to England shortly before his parents' marriage broke up. He attended several schools, eventually entering Dartington Hall, a new progressive school in Devon, in the 1920s. He had a long association with the small school, as student, trustee, deputy chairman and historian. He studied economics at the London School of Economics then became a barrister when he applied to be called to the Bar in 1939.

Political career and thought[edit]

Young served under the Labour Party government led by Clement Attlee, but left in 1950. He began studying for a PhD at the London School of Economics in 1952. His studies of housing and local government policy in East London left him disillusioned with the state of community relations and local Labour councillors. This prompted him to found the Institute of Community Studies, which was his principal vehicle for exploring his ideas of social reform. Its basic tenet was to give people more say in running their lives and institutions.

Young co-authored with Peter Willmott Family and Kinship in East London, documenting and analysing the social costs of rehousing a tight-knit community in a suburban housing estate (known affectionately by sociologists as Fakinel and invariably pronounced with a cockney accent).[note 1] Young also wrote the influential satire The Rise of the Meritocracy (1958), originally for the Fabian Society, which refused to publish it. In it he coined the word "meritocracy," to which he gave negative connotations, but he became disappointed with how the concept came to be seen as an achievable concept worth pursuing.[1]

Young's social research also contributed to the change in secondary education that led to widespread abolition of grammar schools and their replacement by comprehensive schools between 1965 and 1976, as well as the abolition of the eleven plus examination.[2]

In the 1950s and 1960s Young helped to found the Consumers' Association, the National Consumer Council, the Open University and the Open College of the Arts. He also founded Language Line, a telephone interpreting business, to enable non-English-speaking people to have equal access to public services. He fostered the work of many younger researchers and "social entrepreneurs", and founded the School for Social Entrepreneurs in 1997. Aspects of Young's work were developed by the Young Foundation, created from the merger of Young's Institute of Community Studies and his Mutual Aid Centre, under the direction of Geoff Mulgan.

Young was a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, from 1961 to 1966, and President of Birkbeck, University of London, from 1989 to 1992.

In the mid-1980s, Young co-founded International Alert, together with Leo Kuper and Martin Ennals.[3][4]

Throughout his life, and particularly in later life, Young was concerned for older people. He co-founded the University of the Third Age and Linkage, bringing together older people without grandchildren and young people without grandparents. In 2001 he co-founded the charity Grandparents Plus to champion the role of the wider family in children's lives.

Young was created a life peer on 20 March 1978, taking the title Baron Young of Dartington.[5]

Personal life[edit]

Young married three times. In 1945 he married Joan Lawton, with whom he had two sons and a daughter. They divorced and in 1960 he married Sasha Moorsom, a novelist, sculptor and painter with whom he had a son and a daughter. Young and Moorsom worked together on several projects, including in the townships of South Africa. Moorsom died in 1993 and in 1995 Young married Dorit Uhlemann, with whom he had a daughter.

Toby Young, Michael Young's son with Moorsom, is a journalist and writer.[6]


  • Will the War Make Us Poorer? [with Sir Henry Noel Young] (1943)
  • Civil Aviation (1944)
  • The Trial of Adolf Hitler (1944)
  • There's Work for All [with Theodor Prager] (1945)
  • Labour's Plan for Plenty (1947)
  • What is a Socialised Industry? (1947)
  • Small Man, Big World: A Discussion of Socialist Democracy (1949)
  • Fifty Million Unemployed (1952)
  • Study of the Extended Family in East London (1955)
  • Family and Kinship in East London [with Peter Willmott] (1957)
  • The Rise of the Meritocracy (1958)
  • Chipped White Cups of Dover: A Discussion of the Possibility of a New Progressive Party (1960)
  • Family and Class in a London Suburb [with Peter Willmott] (1960)
  • New Look at Comprehensive Schools [with Michael Armstrong] (1964)
  • Innovation and Research in Education (1967)
  • Forecasting and the Social Sciences [ed.] (1968)
  • Hornsey Plan: A Role for Neighbourhood Councils in the New Local Government (1971)
  • Is Equality a Dream? (1972)
  • Lifeline Telephone Service for the Elderly: An Account of a Pilot Project in Hull [with Peter G. Gregory] (1972)
  • Learning Begins at Home: A Study of a Junior School and its Parents [with Patrick McGeeney] (1973)
  • Symmetrical Family: A Study of Work and Leisure in the London Region [with Peter Willmott] (1973)
  • Mutual Aid in a Selfish Society: A Plea for Strengthening the Co-operative Movement [with Marianne Rigge] (1979)
  • Building Societies and the Consumer: A Report [with Marianne Rigge] (1981)
  • Report from Hackney: A Study of an Inner-City Area [with others] (1981)
  • The Elmhirsts of Dartington: The Creation of an Utopian Community (1982)
  • Inflation, Unemployment and the Remoralisation of Society (1982)
  • Up the Hill to Cowley Street: Views of Tawney Members on SDP Policy [ed. with Tony Flower and Peter Hall] (1982)
  • Revolution from Within: Cooperatives and Cooperation in British Industry [with Marianne Rigge] (1983)
  • Social Scientist as Innovator (1983)
  • To Merge or Not to Merge? (1983)
  • Development of New Growth Areas: Workers' Cooperatives and Their Environment: Comparative Analysis with a View to Job Creation: Support for Worker Cooperatives in the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Netherlands [with Marianne Rigge] (1985)
  • Metronomic Society: Natural Rhythms and Human Timetables (1988)
  • Rhythms of society [ed. with Tom Schuller] (1988)
  • Campaign for Children's After-School Clubs: The Case for Action [with Matthew Owen] (1991)
  • Life After Work: The Arrival of the Ageless Society [with Tom Schuller, Johnston Birchall and Gwyneth Vernon) (1991)
  • Governing London [with Jerry White] (1996)
  • The New East End: Kinship, Race and Conflict [with Geoff Dench and Kate Gavron] (2006)



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