Coffee? I’ll just have instant
We reported the massive study of Britain’s new middle class by BritainThinks, Deborah Mattinson’s new research company, in The Independent on Sunday yesterday.
The coverage included Mattinson’s account of her experience of talking about class in focus groups since the late 1980s, and three memoirs of being brought up in different classes, by an alarmingly thin looking working-class Kevin Maguire, a middle-class David Randall and a posh Matthew Bell.
Randall’s account of the semiology of suburban Worcester Park is a gem:
The detached homes had a certain type of name – “Tall Trees”, or “Hilltops” – suggesting to the distant correspondent they commanded several choice Home Counties acres. (Another, “Pantiles”, was treasured by us, if only because we enjoyed removing the “L” from time to time.) Ours merely had a number, one of many signs that you had not quite “arrived”.
It also included a quiz by which the reader can decide if he or she belongs to any of the six middle classes identified by Mattinson’s research. It is not on the website, but I have put a pdf of it here (with apologies for the quality: it takes a little while for the maximum zoom to load).
The top line of our report (apart from the importance of real coffee) was that 71 per cent of people now describe themselves as middle class (7 per cent upper middle, 43 per cent middle, 21 per cent lower middle) and only 24 per cent as working class when asked to choose.
There is no directly comparable time series, but it compares with a MORI series from 1986 to 2008:
Most people say they belong either to the middle class or to the working class. If you had to make a choice, would you call yourself middle class or working class?
And it compares with the British Social Attitudes average 1983-89:
Most people see themselves as belonging to a particular social class. Please look at this card and tell me which social class you would say you belong to.
Upper Middle 1%
Upper Working 21%
(YouGov used same question as BritainThinks in January 2010:
Upper Middle 5%
Middle 39% Total Middle 66%
Lower Middle 22%
Some of the expansion of the middle class found by BritainThinks may be attributable to people who would in the past have described themselves as “upper working class” – an option not available in the BritainThinks study – now defining themselves as “lower middle class”. But most of it is clearly a real and significant change in attitudes over the past quarter-century.
The findings cast a new light on the debate about social mobility. Some studies have suggested (pdf) that social mobility decreased during the Thatcher years, in that people were more likely to end up in the same class as their parents. Those studies defined class by job category. This research suggests that, defined by how people see their own class status, the middle class has expanded hugely over the past two decades.
There may be an element of what Peter York calls false consciousness in this, in his commentary, but if people call themselves middle class, who are we to argue?
*“Which of these best describes you, middle class or working class?”Tagged in: class, social mobility
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