Survey charts emergence of new class system
03 Apr 2013
The traditional view of a Britain made up of working, middle and upper class people is no longer accurate, according to one of the largest studies of its kind.
The Great British Class Survey of 161,000 people, has charted the emergence of a new class system comprising seven groups in Britain, blurring the conventional boundaries between the ‘middle’ and ‘working’ classes.
It was led by BBC LabUK, and leading sociologists Professor Fiona Devine from The University of Manchester and Professor Mike Savage from the London School of Economics
The results of the web survey are published in this month’s issue of the journal Sociology.
According to GBCS, only 39% of Britons now fit the stereotypes of middle and working class – those in the 'Established Middle Class' and the 'Traditional Working Class'.
Professor Savage said: “Occupation has been the traditional way to define a person’s class, but this is actually too simplistic.
“In fact, social class goes far wider than that: economic, social, and cultural dimensions all play an important role.
“So economic capital: income, savings, house value; social capital: the number, and status of people we know; and cultural capital: the extent and nature of cultural interests and activities all play a part.”
The ‘Technical Middle Class’ a small, distinctive new class group that is prosperous but scores low for social and cultural capital is distinguished by its social isolation and cultural apathy.
‘Emergent Service Workers’, a new, young, urban group is relatively poor but has high social and cultural capital.
They 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.
And ‘New Affluent Workers’ is another young class group, which is socially and culturally active, with middling levels of economic capital.
Professor Devine said: “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.”
Professor Savage added: “The Elite group is shown to have the most privileged backgrounds also is an important demonstration of the accentuation of social advantage at the top of British society.
“But a relatively old and small traditional working class is fading from contemporary importance.”
Notes for editors
the research team who analysed the data included:
- Dr Niall Cunningham, Professor Yaojun Li and Dr Andrew Miles, all from The University of Manchester.
- Brigitte Le Roux, Associate Professor, Paris Descartes University.
- Prof Johs Hjellbrekke, University of Bergen
- Dr Mark Taylor, University of York
- Dr Sam Friedman, City University London, UK
The paper 'A New Model of Social Class? Findings from the BBC’s Great British Class Survey Experiment', published in the journal Sociology, was presented in a plenary at the British Sociological Association annual conference. It is available.
The seven class groups are:
- Elite– this is the most privileged group in the UK. They are set apart from the other six classes, especially because of their wealth, and they have the highest levels of all three capitals.
- Established Middle Class – this is the second wealthiest class group and it scores highly on all three capitals. It is the largest and highly gregarious class group and scores second highest for cultural capital.
- 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 social isolation and cultural apathy.
- New Affluent Workers – this young class group is socially and culturally active, with middling levels of economic capital.
- Traditional Working Class– this class scores low on all forms of capital, but is not completely deprived. Its members have a reasonably high house values, which is explained by this group having the oldest average age (66 years).
- Emergent Service Workers– this new, young, urban group is relatively poor but has high social and cultural capital.
- Precariat (The precarious proletariat) – this is the poorest, most deprived class and scores low for social and cultural capital.
For media enquires contact:
Faculty of Humanities
The University of Manchester
0161 275 0790
Professor Mike Savage on 07540 451067
LSE Press Office
020 7955 7060
British Sociological Association