Do you identify with Made in Chelsea or TOWIE? Do you dine with the Duke of Westminster or grab fish and chips on your way to the football? How wide is your circle of friends? Do you go to art galleries or sports fixtures? Exclusive bijoux restaurant or high street chain? All these things, and many more, say a lot about you. The British are talking about the class system again and we are being asked where we see ourselves on the social scale. This new take on class has been initiated by the BBC’s Great British Class Experiment, the results of which have been presented at the British Sociological Association annual conference today, but it’s a debate with a difference. No more moaning about the privileges of wealth and lack of social mobility. The new debate is about what class you actually are.
The original three stratum model with upper, middle and working classes, now only fits thirty-nine per cent of the population, according to research involving 161,000 people, the largest of its kind in the UK. No longer simply defined by occupation, wealth and education, the new theory suggests that there are now three separate dimensions, economic, cultural and social, which when added together provide what Professor Fiona Devine of Manchester University calls a ‘nuanced picture of what class is like now’.
Within these, seven classes have been categorised ranging from the ‘elite’ to the ‘precariat’ or precarious proletariat who live in poverty without any economic security. In between, however, there are ‘new affluent workers’, ‘emergent service workers’ and ‘technical middle class’ all subtly different from one another in terms of ‘cultural capital’, ‘social isolation’ and levels of ‘economic capital’. For each dimension, you are placed in a different class group, giving an intriguing overview of your tastes, income and sociability. It’s not all different, however. When you complete the survey questionnaire, you are still asked about the profession and social status of your parents and asked to estimate your income, but it certainly provides much to think about.
Click here to take the Great British Class Experiment. Regardless of the result, ultimately we know that we cannot be defined by categories, however, nuanced they may be. As Benjamin Franklin is reported to have said, ‘All mankind is divided into three classes: those who are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move’ and in the end, it’s those that move that matter.