Tom Lee

Publication Date



A recent study by Jacobs [2003] examines economic class bias in the contemporary recruitment practices of public accountancy firms. The study bases its argument on a historical review that suggests such bias has its origins in early Scottish chartered accountancy. This paper challenges the Jacobs thesis by examining the notion of economic class in relation to the social status of professions, and provides archival evidence of the effects of the recruitment practices of Scottish chartered accountants from mid 19th century until the beginning of the First World War. This evidence demonstrates a dual effect. The first is a considerable change during this period in the economic class origins of the general community of chartered accountants in Scotland and the second is relative stability in the economic class origins of their leadership. Scottish chartered accountancy immigrants to the US provide a clear example of the general community effect. They also reveal how economic class was not a significant factor in the success of their American professional careers. The data also highlight differences in these matters between chartered accountants from each of the three Scottish bodies and suggest generalizations about early Scottish chartered accountancy are inappropriate. Overall, therefore, and contrary to the argument of Jacobs, the early Scottish chartered accountancy bodies did not maintain their social status in terms of the economic class origins of their general memberships. Instead, they coped with the economics of a growing market for their services by increasingly recruiting men from lower middle class and working class backgrounds while maintaining their social respectability as a professional grouping with leaderships almost exclusively of upper class and upper middle class origins.



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