The class system is dead – long live the class system



On the front page of the BBC Website is a wee test to see what class you are. With input from the BBC, London School of Economics and from the University of Manchester these are their new class categories based on Economic capital, social capital and cultural capital:

  • Elite: This is the most privileged class in Great Britain who have high levels of all three capitals. Their high amount of economic capital sets them apart from everyone else.
  • Established Middle Class: Members of this class have high levels of all three capitals although not as high as the Elite. They are a gregarious and culturally engaged class.
  • Technical Middle Class: This is a new, small class with high economic capital but seem less culturally engaged. They have relatively few social contacts and so are less socially engaged.
  • New Affluent Workers: This class has medium levels of economic capital and higher levels of cultural and social capital. They are a young and active group.
  • Emergent Service Workers: This new class has low economic capital but has high levels of ’emerging’ cultural capital and high social capital. This group is young and often found in urban areas.
  • Traditional Working Class: This class scores low on all forms of the three capitals although they are not the poorest group. The average age of this class is older than the others.
  • Precariat: This is the most deprived class of all with low levels of economic, cultural and social capital. The everyday lives of members of this class are precarious.

Having done the test I come out as “New Affluent Worker” – here’s the link so you can see where you fall – but does class matter anymore? Does it still matter how much you earn, who you know and what your interests are? Yes it does.

In a city like Aberdeen for example who you know will influence your work to large extent. Up in the North East we live in a little bubble full of networking within the oil and gas industry and other industries too. With a population of just over 212,000 the city is small enough to know enough people in the sector you work to allow you to move, be informed and keep in the loop. I’ve told by several people it’s who you know in this area of the world and not so much about experience or qualifications. Your interests and cultural activities are as likely to help you find a position as applying will in certain jobs.

The old working, middle and upper lass model is not relevant anymore because of the change in the UK economy and industry. Over the last thirty years manufacturing and skilled labour has been largely replaced with service industries so the old model no longer covers the true nature of society. The question shouldn’t be does it matter – but more do we know what our class is? The seven stage layout will change again in twenty years with the advance of technology, changing working patterns and the emergence of home based businesses (mumtrepreneurs, eBay trading and online services being prime examples).

I don’t see myself as a specific class although I certainly grew up in a Working Class family: Dad is a joiner, Mum a housewife with part-time job, lived in a tenement which was being paid for by an endowment policy, no-one in the family before me and my cousins had gone into further education and most of the extended family worked in skilled labour positions or public service. In many ways I still see myself as working class, not to be fashionable or quirky, but because it’s a value system as much as anything else. There are politics and cultural aspirations linked with class and I still see myself very much of that mind – left of centre politics and not particularly interested in social-climbing. I know my children will be more middle class than I am because of where we live and the community we grow up in as well as the financial position we find ourselves. I hope though they retain that wider view that you get from the bottom as too often the social climbers forget where they came from and the overall view it gave them looking up.

Does it matter? Yes unfortunately it does because others will always remind us of our place in society’s hierarchy. It’s a stick we’re either beaten with or a rope tied to us that stops us from climbing too far above our stations. Whether it’s a good or bad thing is irrelevant, it’s just a fact of life.



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