Home > Inequality, Labour Market, Unemployment > Polarisation of British class system.

Polarisation of British class system.

class systemMany thanks to David Parr who forwarded this article from the LSE website. The British class system is becoming more polarised between a prosperous elite and a poor ‘precariat’, and also that what used to be termed the middle and working classes seem to be splintering into social classes with systematically differing amounts of cultural and social capital.

Traditionally a person’s class was defined by their job, but many sociologists think this is now too simplistic. Influenced by the arguments of sociologists such as Pierre Bourdieu, they argue that a person’s social class has three dimensions:

Economic – Income, savings, house value etc
Social – the number, and also the status of people one knows
Cultural – the extent and nature of cultural interests and activities

Seven Class Groups

1. Elite – this is the most privileged group they have the highest levels of all three capitals – and are marked out because of their extremely high levels of economic capital.

2. Established middle class – this is the second wealthiest class group and it scores highly on all three capitals. Its members tend to be socially highly connected and score second highest for cultural capital.

3. Technical middle class – this is a small, distinctive new class group that is prosperous but scores low for social and cultural capital. It is distinguished by its relative social isolation – with its members reporting few contacts – and cultural disengagement.

4. New affluent workers – this young class group is socially and culturally active, especially for youthful forms of cultural activity (contemporary music, sport, internet), and has middling levels of economic capital.

5. Traditional working class – this class scores low on all forms of capital, but is not completely deprived. Its members have reasonably high house values, which is explained by this group having the oldest average age (66 years).

6. Emergent service workers – this new, young, urban group is relatively poor, but has high social and cultural capital, especially for popular ‘emerging’ kinds of cultural capital.

7. Precariat (The precarious proletariat) – this is the poorest, most deprived class and scores low for social and cultural capital. It is a relatively large group of the population.

Headline findings

Only 39% of the population fit the older stereotypes of middle and working class –those in the Established middle class and the Traditional working class. The majority of the population belong to one of the other social classes which have not been previously dissected.

New affluent workers and Emergent service workers appear to be the children of the Traditional working class, which has been fragmented by de-industrialisation, mass unemployment, immigration and a shift from manufacturing to service-based employment. Generational change and social change intersect in powerful ways.

Many people think that the problem of social and cultural engagement is more marked in poorer class groups, but the GBCS shows that our levels of social and cultural capital don’t always mirror our economic success. The Technical middle class score low for social and cultural capital but is quite well off, while the Emergent service workers score highly for cultural and social capital but are not very prosperous.

The Elite and Precariat groups at the extremes of our class system have been missed in conventional approaches to class analysis, which have focussed on the middle and working classes.

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