Few of us now believe that today’s teenagers will be better off than their parentsby Peter Kellner / June 19, 2013 / Leave a comment
We all know that our society is becoming more unequal; but what role does social class play in determining today’s winners and losers? I have both good and bad news for those who yearn for a classless society. The good news, according to YouGov’s latest survey for Prospect, is that most of us think that hard work and talent matter more than going to the right school or having rich parents. The bad news is that we regard today’s Britain as essentially a meritocracy for the middle classes, not yet a meritocracy for all.
Social class is a tricky subject, not least because we don’t all agree on what the labels “middle class” and “working class” mean. The conventional measurements—as recorded by the white collar “ABC1” (middle class) and blue collar “C2DE” (working class) headings in pollsters’ tables—relate to the type of job done by the head of each household. If the main breadwinner works in an office or has a professional qualification or is a senior or middle manager, then he or she is deemed middle class. Families whose breadwinner has a manual job or relies on state benefits are deemed working class.
These were pretty clear-cut classifications half a century ago, when two-thirds of jobs involved manual labour, typically in factories, mines, shipyards or on the land. These divisions are less relevant in today’s vastly different landscape, where white collars are often frayed and many blue collars have designer labels.
Formally, the ABC1 middle classes now outnumber the C2DE working classes by four to three. However, when we asked people to say which class they belonged to, we found a huge mismatch between people’s “objective” social class and how they defined themselves. Overall, people divide themselves evenly between working class and middle class. But fully one-third of ABC1 respondents say that they are working class—and one-third of C2DE respondents insist they are middle class.
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We also asked people which social class their parents belonged to. These figures confirm that the shift from a working class to middle class majority is not just the product of the traditional system of social classification; many people feel that it reflects what has happened to their own family. Altogether, 15 per cent of the public—equivalent to 7m adults—say they are middle class themselves…