What makes Britain Great #7

Posted on August 16, 2016

The seventh in a series of snippets about what it’s like to live in the UK and our attitudes to things.  Here we talk about our class system:

  1. Class

There was a time when Britain was very much a class-ridden society.  Today, multiculturalism and a changing economy are gradually eroding the British class system, but some features of the system still remain.

What is Class?

Sociologists define social class as the grouping of people by occupations. Doctors, solicitors and university teachers are given a higher status than unskilled labourers. The different positions represent different levels of power, influence and money. In days gone by, your class would affect your chances of getting an education, a job, etc. and it would also affect the people who you could socialise with or marry.

Times have changed though and things have moved on – it’s no longer the norm to discriminate between the classes – as was demonstrated by the most recent Royal Wedding when Prince William married “commoner” Kate with the support of the whole nation.

The three main class types explained:

British society is divided into three main class groups:

  • Upper Class
    Often people with inherited wealth including some of the oldest families, many being titled aristocrats.  Upper class people are often referred to as “old money”, and whether they have a large disposable income or not, they rarely move down the class ladder.
  • Middle Class
    Includes industrialists, professionals, business people, white-collar (non-manual) workers, lower-level managers, and small business owners, constituting about one-third of the employed population of the country. The income of this class is higher than that of the working-class but lower than that of the upper-middle class (doctors, engineers, lawyers, middle-size business owners) and upper class.
  • Working Class
    Those employed in lower tier jobs (as measured by skill, education and lower incomes), often extending to those in unemployment or otherwise possessing below-average incomes.

The British Class System today

Working class, lower-middle or upper-middle (and of course there are those who think of themselves as the “elite” or upper class), to the majority of the British it doesn’t seem to matter much these days.

Oddly, the majority of people in the UK (57% in 2007 according to the National Centre for Social Research) refer to themselves as working-class.  Why is this odd?  Well, only 31% of people are actually employed in what are categorised as traditional “blue collar” occupations, according to the same survey.

We Brits tend to define class by many things, like status and social origins, not just jobs and education.  We also apparently prefer to portray ourselves in an unpretentious way – we don’t want to be appear condescending or snobbish (both of these traits simply aren’t very British), preferring the “down to earth, look how normal I am” approach .  57% of Brits really aren’t kidding themselves – they are working class, and proud of it!

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