She was born Jean Esther McDonald to working-class parents and went to primary and secondary schools in her home town of Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex. In 1927, the family moved to Stoke Newington, north London where she won a free place at North Hackney Central School for Girls, a grammar school.
Floud worked as the assistant director of education in Oxford (1940–46), then returned to LSE and taught there and at the Institute of Education (1947‑62).
With A. H. Halsey and F. M. Martin, she co-authored Social Class and Educational Opportunity (1956). Her next book was Education, Economy, and Society: A Reader in the Sociology of Education (1961), co-authored with Halsey and C Arnold Anderson.
Social Class and Educational Opportunity gave evidence that the 11-plus exam for grammar school entrance was unfair for working-class children. Floud wrote that "within wide limits, the educability of children is determined by the subtle interaction of the social influences of home and school". Their findings started a long debate on the value and fairness of the 11-plus exam.
Floud was a member of the committee who produced the Franks Report (1957) which proposed reforms to ensure a more efficient administration of Oxford University. Her membership of this led, in 1972, to an invitation to become Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge.
Following her retirement as Principal of Newnham College in 1983 she was elected into an Honorary Fellowship of the college. She was made an Honorary Fellow of Darwin College, Cambridge in 1986 and also received honorary degrees from the universities of Leeds (1973), City (1978) and London (2003).
- Social Class and Educational Opportunity (1956), co-authored with A. H. Halsey and F. M. Martin
- Education, Economy, and Society: A Reader in the Sociology of Education (1961), co-authored with A. H. Halsey and C Arnold Anderson
- The Sociology of Education: A Trend Report and Bibliography (1965)
- Dangerousness and Criminal Justice (Heinemann, 1981), co-authored with Warren A. Young
While at LSE she met Peter Floud, an Oxford graduate. The couple joined the Communist Party and married in 1938. They had three children: Andrew (1948-1982); Frances (b. 1952); and Esther (b. 1956). Peter died of a brain tumour in 1960; their son Andrew died in a plane crash in 1982.
After Newnham in 1983, Floud retired to Oxford where she died on 28 March 2013. During her retirement she travelled and continued to serve on university committees. She also spent time with her friends, her books, her music, and with the families of her two surviving children Frances and Esther.
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- Childs, Martin. "Jean Floud: Sociologist whose work revealed the impact of class on educational attainment". The Independent. Retrieved 8 March 2017.
- "Nuffield College". Nuffield College. Archived from the original on 2017-03-16. Retrieved 2017-03-15.
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- "Find My Past". Find My past. Retrieved 15 March 2017.