Children growing up in or around these cities are more likely to end up in jobs such as medicine, law or become business chief executives than people of the same socio-economic background from other areas, the Social Mobility Commission said.
But when it comes to moving from a working class background to a so-called professional job, people growing up in outer London, Surrey and Sussex had the greatest chance, its 2023 State of the Nation report said.
Young people also tend to have better prospects for higher education, occupation and earnings if they grew up around London, even after their socio-economic background is taken into account, the research suggested.
Alongside the positive findings for people’s prospects in and around London, Manchester and Edinburgh, the chances of unemployment, economic inactivity and lower working-class employment were also found to be high among young people who grew up in the same areas.
On this point, Alun Francis, chair of the Social Mobility Commission (SMC), said: “The data shows why it’s just as important to look within areas as it is between them.
“And, despite popular narrative, there isn’t a clear cut north-south divide.”
While the report shows geographical inequalities across the country, there is no simple pattern of well-off and badly-off areas, researchers said.
People growing up in Cornwall, East Yorkshire, North Lincolnshire and the Scottish Highlands had a lower chance of moving upwards in terms of social mobility, as well as a higher chance of moving from a so-called professional class background to a working-class job, the commission said.
Across the UK, people growing up in Northern Ireland have the lowest chance of moving from a working class background to a professional class job, the research suggested.
The commission’s report – which it described as a first-time look at a detailed regional breakdown of social mobility prospects including education, occupation and pay – also showed it is now harder than ever for young people to buy homes.
People whose parents were homeowners were much more likely to own their own home, compared with those whose parents did not own their own home, the commission said.
There was also a gender split, with 64% of women whose parents were homeowners now owning their own place, compared with 75% of men in the same position.
Among people whose parents were not homeowners, only 35% of women compared to 55% of men owned their own homes.
The report suggested that, despite girls outperforming boys throughout their school years, women went on to become less likely to experience so-called upward occupational mobility by moving from a lower working-class background to a higher professional job – 8% of women compared with 14% of men.
The commission said young people from a Chinese background outperform all other ethnicities in terms of education, employment and earnings – even if they are born into disadvantage.
While students eligible for free school meals – generally accepted as an indicator of deprivation – from black African and Pakistani backgrounds outperform white British students at GCSE, the commission said this does not necessarily translate into better employment opportunities.
They said Pakistani people are less likely to be in a professional job and more likely to be unemployed than white British people from the same socio-economic background.
But people of Indian and Chinese backgrounds had significantly higher chances of so-called long-range upward mobility than their white British peers, the researchers added.
The commission used data from the Office for National Statistics, including the Labour Force Survey, as well as other academic research for its report.