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Michael Young, Baron Young of Dartington (9 August 1915 - 14 January 2002) was a British sociologist, social activist and politician. During an active life he was instrumental in shaping Labour Party thinking, was a leading protagonist on social reform, and founded or helped found a number of socially-useful organizations. These include the Consumers' Association, the National Consumer Council, the Open University, the National Extension College, the Open College of the Arts and Language Line, a telephone-interpreting business.

Young was born in Manchester. His father was an Australian violinist and music critic, his mother a Bohemian painter and actress, and 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 University of London and was called to the Bar in 1939.

He helped bring the Labour Party government led by Clement Attlee into office, single-handedly writing Labour's 1945 manifesto as the Party's young Director of Research. He left the post in 1950 and began PhD studies 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 urban studies think tank, the Institute for Community Studies, which was to be Young's principal vehicle for exploring his ideas of social reform and creating over sixty institutions. Its basic tenet was to give people more say in running their lives and institutions

With Peter Willmott, he wrote the ground-breaking study, Family and Kinship in East London (known affectionately by sociologists as Fakinel - invariably pronounced with a cockney accent[note 1]) and, alone, he wrote the influential satire The Rise of the Meritocracy in 1958, originally for the Fabian Society although they refused to publish it. It led to a change in Labour's thinking on equal opportunities and coined the word meritocracy. Young intended the word to have negative connotations, and he later became disappointed with the way in which subsequent governments (especially New Labour) came to suggest that a meritocracy is something worth striving for.[1] It was at this time too that Young began work on the Consumers' Association, the National Consumer Council and the Open University. He fostered the work of many younger researchers and "social entrepreneurs", founding the School for Social Entrepreneurs in 1997. Among the former was the collection of social studies in medical care, led by Dr. Ann Cartwright. Aspects of the work of Michael Young are now being developed by the Young Foundation, under the direction of Geoff Mulgan, a former policy advisor to Tony Blair.

Throughout his life, and particularly in later life, Young was concerned for older people and that society should take notice of them. He co-founded the University of the Third Age and Linkage, bringing together older people without grandchildren, and young people without grandparents.

He was a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, from 1961-6, and President of Birkbeck, University of London, from 1989-92.

For his work, he was made a life peer as Baron Young of Dartington, of Dartington in the County of Devon, in 1978.

Highgate Cemetery, London

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, the novelist, sculptor and painter, with whom he had a son and daughter. They worked together on several projects, including in the townships of South Africa. After Moorsom's death in 1993, Young married Dorit Uhlemann in 1995, with whom he had a daughter. Toby Young, Michael Young's son with Moorsom, is a celebrity journalist and writer, best-known for his book How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.



  • Will the war make us poorer? [with Sir Henry Noel Young] (1943)
  • Civil aviation (1944)
  • 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)
  • 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 [with John Baker] (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 et al.] (1981)
  • 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: Co-operatives and co-operation 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 co-operatives and their environment: comparative analysis with a view to job creation" : support for worker co-operatives 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)


  1. ^ Suggesting "fuckin' 'el" (fucking hell).


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