Tag Archives: Social Class

Social Class Inequality Visualisations

I had my classes exploring one of my ‘favourite’ topics today – The extent of and explanations for inequalities in life chances by social class, gender and ethnicity – Here a few visual updates and links which highlight the extent of class inequality in the UK today…

1. In Education… 3 year olds from the richest fifth of households are twice as likely to be ‘school ready’ than 3 year olds from the poorest fifth of households


2, by health – This is a nice, if dated article which reminds us that Based on 2007-2009 mortality rates, a man aged 65 could expect to live another 17.6 years and a woman aged 65 another 20.2 years. This graphic demonstrates that men and women from routine manual backgrounds are twice as likely to die before the age of 64 than those from professional backgrounds(my title is clearer than that in the picture!)



3. The chances of being a victim of violent crime (available from the ONS and the Home Office Annual crime stats reports)


4. Births outside of wedlock (not that I think the decline in marriage is a bad thing!, unlike the author of the post where I got the info!

The chart below shows the proportion of kids who are born outside marriage by social class in Britain. Its quite a short period of time, but you get the general idea. At the top, things haven’t changed much. At the bottom, having children inside marriage is not the norm, and increasingly rare.



More Sources to follow…


The New British Class Survey

I haven’t blogged in a while, but now it’s summer I’ve got the time to get back to it – and where better a place to start than with a few thoughts on the New British Class Survey…

Click here to take the brief version of the survey – Once you’ve completed it you can click on the different classes to find out more about them

Key facts about the survey/ details of methods

  • The survey measures three aspects of social class – economic capital, cultural capital and social capital
  • 161 000 people completed the survey online in January 2011.
  • To avoid the problem of a self selecting sample the same survey was conducted face to face with 1026 people. This was done using quota-sampling, so that the population was representative according to the NS-SEC classifications. The responses of the two were compared and the original sample re-weighted accordingly, which the results below reflect.

Key findings of the survey (friendly version taken from the BBC web site)

There are 7 new classes – Maybe I shouldn’t number them, but here we go anyway…

  1. Elite (6% of the population) – 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.
  2. Established Middle Class (25% of the population) 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.
  3. Technical Middle Class (6%) – 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.
  4. New Affluent Workers (14%) – This class has medium levels of economic capital and higher levels of cultural and social capital. They are a young and active group.
  5. Emergent Service Workers (15%) This new class has low economic capital but has high levels of ’emerging’ cultural capital and high social capital. This group are young and often found in urban areas.
  6. Traditional Working Class (19%) – 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.
  7. Precariat (15%) –  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.

Other findings

  • Twentieth-century middle-class and working-class stereotypes are out of date. Only 39% of participants fit into the Established Middle Class and Traditional Working Class categories.
  • The traditional working class is changing. It’s smaller than it was in the past. The new generation are more likely to be Affluent Workers or Emergent Service Workers.
  • People consume culture in a complicated way. The Technical Middle Class are less culturally engaged while emergent service workers participate in various activities.
  • The extremes of our class system are very important. The Elite and Precariat often get forgotten with more focus on the middle and working classes. We’ve discovered detailed findings about them

I quite like this table taken from the findings article published in Sociology….

The column to the left gives the proportion of each group in the face to face survey, while the one to the right gives the proportions in the online survey – It’s worth noting how over-represented the ‘middle classes’ are 9whi obviously like doing surveys) compared to the precariat.  

I also quite like this – the wealth/ income stats


A quick note on how they measured cultural capital….

Interestingly the survey distinguished between what they call ‘highbrow’ cultural capital, which scores the extent of respondents’ engagement with classical music, attending stately homes, museums, art galleries, jazz, theatre and French restaurants, and ’emerging’ cultural capital,which is based on the extent of a respondent’s engagement with video games, social network sites, the internet, playing sport, watching sport, spending time with friends, going to the gym, going to gigs and preferences for rap and rock.

How valid is the survey?

If you click on the first link above there’s quite a nice 8 minute radio slot where 2 people debate whether or not the new class survey reflects actual differences in contemporary British society. Personally I’ve got mixed feelings about it – If you look at either end of the survey, it seems to make sense – there are important differences at both ends of the class spectrum, and in the middle I think it is the case that age and class blur together, which the survey recognises. Then again, the fact that I’ve now done the survey twice and come out as technical middle class the first time and established middle class the second time doesn’t fill me with confidence….  

Find out more…

Findings of the British Class Survey – Original journal article published in the journal Sociology

BBC News – summary of the findings of the survey – also allows you to take the survey for yourself

Nice post from the BBC of how they avoided selection bias

A Thinking Allowed podcast on the British Class Survey


Britain’s top CEOs get paid too much

In the latest edition of ‘The Week’, there is some nice data which, if analysed, dispels the myth that the excessive pay of Britain’s top CEOs is deserved –

According to Income Data Services, the chief executives of Britain’s 100 largest companies earned 81 times the average pay of full time workers in 2009. This is up from 47 times the average wage in 2000.

I did a few rough calculations – the average yearly salary (the mean) in the UK is about #25500/ year – so if the average CEO of the top 100 companies earns 81 times more than this  – that means they earn just over 2 million pounds a year.

Put in chart form – this looks something like this (Please note I am getting into my bar charts at the moment!)


Now, keep in mind that the top 100 CEO’s pay has nearly doubled compared to the national average in the last ten years. This means 10 years ago they would have been earning 1 million pounds a year, but now its two – while the average person’s wage clearly  has not doubled in the last decade.

So what’s going on – have these top 100 CEOs become more skilled compared to ten years ago – are they doing twice as much social good as they used to? Have their companies doubled in size or become twice as important – the answer to all of these questions is clearly no! – Or have these people become more powerful, more influential in government, more able to carve out a larger slice of the corporate profit pie for themselves?

I think you’ll find the later rather than the former is the case, especially when you realise that average pay for the whole of the UK has fallen by #2000 in last year alone.

The British Social Attitudes Survey and the Myth of Meritocracy

The latest findings of the British Social Attitudes Survey were released recently. The survey involves over 3,000 interviews annually and participants are selected using a technique called random probability sampling.

The chapter on peoples beliefs about ‘meritocracy’ is especially interesting in the context of education. Meritocratic factors are seen as being the most important when it comes to a person “getting ahead” in modern Britain….

  • 84% say hard work is important;
  • 74% think a good education is important
  • 71% say ambition.
  • 33% think knowing the right people is important.
  • 14% think that being born into a wealthy family was thought to be important
  • 8% thought that a person’s race/ethnicity was important

So since 1989, people believe that the importance of ‘ascriptive factors’ (which people are born with or into)in influencing where you end up has fallen. Your own individual effort and ambition is seen to be much more important!


Now this seems to be at odds with the actual facts – there is just too much evidence suggesting a strong relationship between private schools and the top jobs (you have to come from a wealthy background to get into a private school).

Just a couple of examples of the links between wealth (ascription) and ‘getting ahead’-

In this post I mentioned the following – Of 80,000 15-year-olds who’d been on free school meals in 2002, only 45 had made it to Oxbridge- compared to the high-end private Westminster school which averages 82 successful applicants every year

And in this post – quoting George Monbiot ‘A new report by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) shows that intelligent children from the 20% of richest homes in England are seven times more likely to attend a high-ranking university than intelligent children from the poorest 40%

You might also remember the post in December which reminds us that black students are much less likely to get into Oxbridge.

It may be that our society is more meritocratic than 20 years ago but class and ethnic background matter more than people think – the British public at large are surely here suffering from a ‘myth of meritocracy’ – perhaps because it is more comforting to delude yourself than face the stark truth that our society is still riddled with class inequalities?

What is Social Class?

Some of you might find this useful – my ‘What is Social Class’ handout from 2009. I put this together for the AS unit in Culture and Identity before dodgey standardisation practises (AQA exam board) meant we had to change our option to The Family. Some might argue that the fact that the chief examiner for the AQA writing a text book for commercial gain that only includes the family option, could lead to pressure to mark the other options not included in that text book more harshly. Of course, I wouldn’t suggest this for a minute.

The handout should be useful for anyone wanting to know more about class and class identity.

Culture and Identity – social class worksheet

The Transnational Capitalist Class

Thumbs up for the Transnational Capitalist Class?
Thumbs up for the Transnational Capitalist Class?

This is my best effort so far at making some fairly complex ideas understanable to a typical 17 year old Sociology student – read it and good luck!

Held and Mcgrew (2007) suggest that Global Corporations have become the driving force behind ‘economic globalisation’ and wield considerable power in determining where in the world production takes place[1]. Today, 50 of the 100 largest economies in the world are run by TNCs rather than Nation States and Transnational Corporations account 80% of world industrial output, and approximately 40% of world merchandise trade.

Leslie Sklaire argues that the leaders of transnational corporations and their powerful political allies (4) in the world’s richest countries together form a ‘Transnational Capitalist Class’.

This class wields disproportionate power within two global economic organisations – The World Trade Organisation (WTO) and The International Monetary Fund (IMF)  which were initially established after World War Two to facilitate redevelopment through co-ordinating the expanding global economy. Through these organisations, leading politicians of countries and international business leaders meet at least once a year to agree on economic policies in order to improve trade relations – the WTO establishes ‘rules of trade’ between nations and the IMF regulates the global supply of money and, when necessary, lends money to nation states.

Left wing critics argue that these institutions have ended up working in the interests of global elites and global corporations. One such critic is Joseph Stiglitz[2] who argues that since the 1970s these institutions have forced dozens of developing countries to adopt neo-liberalism. Neo- liberalism is an economic and political ideology that believes state control over the economy is undesirable and seeks to transfer control of the economy from the state to the private sector. Neo-Liberalism involves three main policies –

  • Deregulation – Nation States placing less restraint on private industry. In practise this means fewer laws that restrict companies making a profit – making it easier for companies to fire workers, pay them less, and allowing them to pollute.
  • Privatisation – where possible public services such as transport and education should be handed over to private interests for them to run for a profit.
  • Cut backs in public spending – taxes should be low and so investment in public services would be cut back.

While the transnational captialist class claim that neo-liberal polices are necessary to bring about economic growth, critics point out that that economic growth has in fact been slower in some neo-liberal countries compared to more social democratic countries (where the state plays a more active role in protecting social welfare). This is because neo-liberal policies have allowed economically powerful actors such as Transnational Corporations to do things such as open sweat shops, pollute local areas, and take profits away without giving very much back.

There is a long list of countries that have adopted elements of neo-liberalism (often encouraged or coerced by the above institutions, lead by the USA[3]) over the last four decades – starting with Chile and a whole host of other Latin American countries in 1970s, Britain in the early 1980s, many of the ex-communist Eastern bloc countries in the early 1990s, through to Iraq today. While all of these countries have seen economic growth, they have also all witnessed increased inequality, and related social problems such as worsening labour rights and social services, and quite often neo-liberal policies have been pushed through by oppressive regimes.

So to summarise, a class based analysis of society is still relevant because globally we have a situation where the Transnational Capitalist Class, operating through Transnational Corporations and the global financial institutions of the World Bank, World Trade Organisation and International Monetary Fund encourage or coerce developing countries into accepting neo-liberal economic policies that are primarily designed to benefit Corporations and broader Transnational Capitalist Class; it is the wider general public, you and I, who bear the costs of these neo-liberal policies – in terms of worsening social services and inreasing inequalities.


[1] Held D and Mcgrew, A (2007) – Globalisation/ Anti Globalisation: beyond the great divide – Polity.

[2] See Stiglitz – Globalisation and its Discontents

[3] One way in which the IMF can encourage countries to liberalise is by only providing development loans if the country deregulates the economy – this happened in one city in Bolivia in the early 1990s when it was required to privatise its water supply to get a development loan – this mean a French company took over the running of the public water supply and started charging people half of their disposable income for a service that was previously free –  This is detailed in this five minute clip of The Corporation – 



(4) Sklaire actually argues the TCC can be broken down into four main factions.

  • Owners and controllers of Transnational Corporations and their local affiliates;
  • Globalizing bureaucrats and politicians;
  • Globalizing professionals;
  • Consumerist elites (merchants and media)