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Thread: Social classes still matter in Britain

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    Post Social classes still matter in Britain



    The Economist has published an enlightening article on how social classes are perceived today in the UK compared to 60 years ago. 71% of Brits think it is very or failry easy to to figure out which class others belong to. Over 2/3 of the peolpe believe that they will remain in the same social class as the one they were born into.

    A Gallup survey showed that the proportion of each social class indeed hasn't changed much since the survey of 1949 (only 1 to 10% of change for each class). The 2006 survey showed that about 5% of Brits thought of themselves as upper-middle class, 37% as middle class, 20% as lower-middle class, 33% as lower class and 5% didnt know (probably immigrants). None of the respondants replied "upper class", but that is probably because they are not people easily met in the street for a poll.

    Read the article => Class : But did they buy their own furniture?

    As I had read before, class in Britain is more determined by one's occupation, accent, address or even way of dressing, than by income. British people still agree with that.

    Interestingly, they said that "British social strata are a bit more flexible than America's but more rigid than in many European countries". Who would have thought of the USA as a class-rigid country ? Yet it seems to be.
    Last edited by Maciamo; 14-08-06 at 17:40.
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    there is also class in china
    and maybe class exists in every part of the world
    it cann't be eliminated though it bothers the society

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    I was wondering about the social class in Britian, isn't the royal family the highest class?

    I find it interesting that in the 21st century people still believe that once they're are born into a certian social class, they're going to remain in that same social class, even in the West. What are the issues of social mobility? Is it easier to move to a higher social class in other European countries?

    I do know that the attitude of social class is changing in the US. The belief that once you're born into a certian social class, you're going to stay within that class, or better yet it'll be much more difficult for upward mobility. Of course, this wasn't the same attitude ten years ago. I believe this may have to do with the sudden increase of poverty.
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    Britain is definitely a class society,it's deeply ingrained in the culture.There is a class-structure in placed,I can't remember exact words said in one BBC program I've seen several years ago.

    I think the Royal Family is part of so-called " aristocracy " class.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jaguar
    there is also class in china
    and maybe class exists in every part of the world
    it cann't be eliminated though it bothers the society
    It is obvious that classes exist in evry society. The message of this article is that people in the UK still care about social classes, and can recognise them easily in others. Most Japanese and American people, for instance, do not really understand how the class system works or do not exactly know where they are compared to others. I found Japanese people to be "class-blind", i.e. that they all think to be middle class when I personally can see big differences of class between them.

    The People's Republic of China officially doesn't have classes (because of the communist ideology), but they of course exist.

    I agree with British people that social classes is much more than how much one earns, and is better reflected in the person's character, accent, way of dressing, family background, etc. than in the paycheck.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ma Cherie
    I was wondering about the social class in Britian, isn't the royal family the highest class?
    No, merely upper class, like the high nobility (the "Lords") and people who have the political power.

    I find it interesting that in the 21st century people still believe that once they're are born into a certian social class, they're going to remain in that same social class, even in the West.
    Nevertheless it is generally true. Class defines how you are, what you believe and how you behave, not how rich you are (although there is often a correlation). This highly depends on your education (at home).

    What are the issues of social mobility? Is it easier to move to a higher social class in other European countries?
    Social mobility depends more on the will of individuals to educate themselves beyond the family/school education, or start behaving differently from one's family. This is mostly against human nature, or just a display of strong individualism (of which British people have more than most people on Earth).

    Economic mobility is completely different, as it depends a lot on the whole country's economy, job opportunities, improvement in the national education system, individual greed, etc.

    Contrarily to what some think, not every aspire to move upward, socially speaking (although most people wish to be richer). Not everybody wishes to wear suits, listen to classical music, speak with a posh accent, live in a historic house and go to vernissage at art galleries. If someone prefers to hang with their pals at the pub to drink beer while watching football or TV and share some "blond jokes" or gossip about Hollywood stars, it means that their personality fits better in the "working class" stereotype. Social class is all about image, clusters of stereotypes within society that people associate with. It is about being and belonging, not about money.

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    Wow - I read the article and I can't believe there are people earning over £100,000 a year who consider themselves working class!!!!?!!!?!

    I know class isn't so strongly linked to income - as you mention above and is in the article - but all the same - *chokes a little* ... XD

    I agree that it is relatively easy to tell what class people are from - roughly (I don't think I'd ever be able to make super-precise sub-divided class judgements about people as there are so many factors... ). I think it's easier for English people to roughly tell what class another person is in, than it is for them to judge their own.

    For example, 'middle-class' and especially 'upper-middle-class' are often terms that have negative connotations here. Obviously there are people who are m-c and u-m-c; some of these know it and are proud of it (not necessarily in the 'smug' sense of the word, but sometimes), others know it and aren't comfortable with being thought of that way, and others who are upper-middle-class trying to be posher than they really are (these are very annoying! ).

    That relates to 'inverted snobbery' - middle-class people not wanting to be thought of as middle-class because of certain stereotypes associated with that class.

    Nyahh, I think I'm going off at a tangent here.

    From a personal point of view, it doesn't usually occur to me to think about my class. Maybe it's easier for me in a way because my class background is rather mixed and not entirely 'typical English', so I can be a bit more of a chameleon. But there are certainly times when I feel in the company of someone(s) from an entirely different class in such a way that I sense a 'barrier' between us. It's hard to explain because not all different-class people are like that. Sometimes I can keep company with someone of a much higher class than myself and we will feel totally at ease together, because of what we have in common, our class does not matter a bit. ^^ But at other times... I can only describe it as like having cultural differences between us, that are quite great. People who have their life's 'philosophy' and 'outlook' built on such entirely different foundations from mine that I can't find my way to them. Having said that, there are some such people in the same class with me, though... =P

    Oh, and btw I am quite a low class; not at the very 'bottom' of the scale but near it.

    Sometimes, I find people's attitude towards me will change when they discover a certain fact about me - for example, my address or my qualifications. I really dislike this. It's like "Oh, you have a university degree, you are really not so stupid as you look?" There is even a kind of inverted snobbery taking place, like, "You have worked with [xxxxx people]? Wow, you really know what life is like at the sharp end!"

    There is also the very English (or so it seems to me!) way that often (not in all cases!!!) the genuine aristocracy/real upper class are easier for working class people to relate to and get on with than middle-class people are. My theory is that it's because genuine 'big-wigs' don't feel the need to put on a massively superior 'act' towards those who are so obviously beneath them (XD), whereas the more insecure middle ranks tend to feel the need to pull rank. A real aristocrat would be ashamed to act like a snob (I generalise here, of course; I'm sure there are some upper class people who are truly horrible personalities! But there are different individuals within all classes! ^^).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kinsao
    Wow - I read the article and I can't believe there are people earning over 100,000 a year who consider themselves working class!!!!?!!!?!
    Likewise there are broke people who consider themselves as upper class because of their aristocratic lineage and education.

    There is also the very English (or so it seems to me!) way that often (not in all cases!!!) the genuine aristocracy/real upper class are easier for working class people to relate to and get on with than middle-class people are.
    Extreme opposites sometimes have more in common that it would seem. I was told that there are only two kinds of people in England who would go out in their dressing gown and slippers to buy a newspaper around the corner : either the top upper-class or bottom working class people.

    My theory is that it's because genuine 'big-wigs' don't feel the need to put on a massively superior 'act' towards those who are so obviously beneath them (XD), whereas the more insecure middle ranks tend to feel the need to pull rank. A real aristocrat would be ashamed to act like a snob (I generalise here, of course; I'm sure there are some upper class people who are truly horrible personalities! But there are different individuals within all classes! ^^).
    I agree with that. As you said it also depends on personality, but it it true that real upper class people have "nothing to prove" and feel less insecure about their position in society.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    Likewise there are broke people who consider themselves as upper class because of their aristocratic lineage and education.
    I think it is the same in France, if a person has debt problem, if his job or degree is high and person's character, accent, way of dressing, family background, etc is still better educated than the middle class, he still considers himself as the upper class.

    In France, even on the surface it looks egalitarian, there are better class suburbs with expensive apartments and there are the flats for poor people. The distinction is so clear. The obvious lower classes here are the North African Muslims, the Asian boat people refugees and some Latinos from Spain or Portugal. No wonder people think I am Japanese...

    As you said it also depends on personality, but it is true that real upper class people have "nothing to prove" and feel less insecure about their position in society.
    I think the new rich, those who become wealthy less than one generation ago tries harder to prove they have money, degrees...etc than the ones who have been in the upper class for generations.

    The lower class in France like the North Africans like to dress up on the weekends because they don't get to due to their labour jobs in the weekdays, they feel they need to show off when they can. The upper class don't bother to dress up in the weekends because they do that in their classy jobs already on weekdays.

    Where I come from East Malaysia used to be called Borneo, there is definitely a class division. I definitely come from the upper end of the scale but I won't classify myself as aristocrat or elite, but definitely better than average Sino Malaysians you see on the streets. People treat you differently if your dad has a good or powerful job, there is a big difference. Above than average families get to go to western countries to study, and absorb the higher western culture, while the middle class people pick only very good graded children to be sent overseas to study and it is their life savings. The lower class don't get to go at all; they just operate small businesses and remain in their circles.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Minty
    I think the new rich, those who become wealthy less than one generation ago tries harder to prove they have money, degrees...etc than the ones who have been in the upper class for generations.
    I personally think that most of the new rich remain the the class in which they were born (or just slightly higher), as money rarely changes their mentality or attitude. New rich that were already upper-middle class could become upper class, but not necessarily (depends on their personality and how old they were when they became "rich").

    The lower class in France like the North Africans like to dress up on the weekends because they don't get to due to their labour jobs in the weekdays, they feel they need to show off when they can. The upper class don't bother to dress up in the weekends because they do that in their classy jobs already on weekdays.
    Many European farmers also dress up on Sunday for the same reason (although they are not lower class). Upper class people tend to dress very conservatively (traditional "English-style" suit, even in the Benelux), so they are rarely the ones to wear designer clothes. Designer clothes are more for the upper-middle class (e.g. cadres, managers) and nouveau riches.

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    Here is an interesting article from the Economist (that is almost a tautology to say "interesting" when referring to the Economist) about the working class and the underclass by ethnicity in Britain :

    The Economist : Poor whites; The forgotten underclass

    It explains how poor white Britons perform worse than any other ethnic group in GCSE's (final highschool exam), how and why their unemployement rate is higher, and how they commit more crimes (although less serious ones) than Black Britons.

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    Interestingly, they said that "British social strata are a bit more flexible than America's but more rigid than in many European countries". Who would have thought of the USA as a class-rigid country ? Yet it seems to be.
    I missed where this was stated in the original Economist article. Hardly seems likely, as many Americans couldn't give two figs about class. I work, so I guess I am 'working class' too!

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    Quote Originally Posted by gaijinalways View Post
    I missed where this was stated in the original Economist article.
    Third paragraph from the bottom :

    Quote Originally Posted by The Economist
    Recent international studies indicate that British social strata are a bit more flexible than America's but more rigid than in many European countries.
    Quote Originally Posted by gaijinalways
    Hardly seems likely, as many Americans couldn't give two figs about class. I work, so I guess I am 'working class' too!
    It is not because some people do not care that class division doesn't exist. We could even imagine a society that has no word for class and no such cultural concept, but classes would still exist if there are major differences in education, manners, values, etc. linked to socio-economic factors.

    "Working class" refers to manual work (e.g. factory worker, construction worker). Is it what you do ? The English language is rather confusing in this regard, as "worker" can either mean someone who works (travailleur in French, Ăl in Japanese) or someone who does manual work (ouvrier in French, J in Japanese). The term "working class" only refers to the latter.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gaijinalways View Post
    I missed where this was stated in the original Economist article. Hardly seems likely, as many Americans couldn't give two figs about class. I work, so I guess I am 'working class' too!
    I think the reason why many Americans don't think about social class is because our society has this is ideal that there aren't issues of social class. As well as being brought up to believe that just about anyone can become rich in the future if they work hard. In reality, this isn't the case, at least most of the time it isn't.

    What makes you believe that you're apart of the working class dear?

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    Maciamo, that was a very interesting article you posted. :) (I even emailed it to some of my co-workers as it has a relevance to our work. -- and my city also gets a lot of mention! XDD)

    Hmmmm. I don't know whether this is just a stereotype that I have acquired, through English upbringing , but I had the impression of the US as being a type of society where there is a great emphasis on being able to 'make good' through hard work. I.e., less of welfare, and a respect for those who have made money through their work (whatever that may be). Whereas in the UK (not 100% sure on other European countries), there is ingrained respect for 'aristocracy' - even if the 'upper class' person in question isn't actually even particularly rich. and a tendency to even look down a bit on people who are well-off but who have made their money through a relatively menial job.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kinsao View Post
    Whereas in the UK (not 100% sure on other European countries), there is ingrained respect for 'aristocracy' - even if the 'upper class' person in question isn't actually even particularly rich. and a tendency to even look down a bit on people who are well-off but who have made their money through a relatively menial job.
    It is exactly like that here. If you are nobility, you are automatically upper-middle or upper class (depending on the title). Even a poor duke or prince is still upper class.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kinsao View Post
    but I had the impression of the US as being a type of society where there is a great emphasis on being able to 'make good' through hard work....and a respect for those who have made money through their work (whatever that may be).
    It is the same in France..., the French in this sense is the same as the Americans.

    Whereas in the UK (not 100% sure on other European countries), there is ingrained respect for 'aristocracy' - even if the 'upper class' person in question isn't actually even particularly rich. and a tendency to even look down a bit on people who are well-off but who have made their money
    through a relatively menial job.
    It is the same in Chinese societies, including the ones outside of China, by that I mean Singapore, Malaysia, Thailandcetc. You get respected if you have a highly respectable job like entrepreneurs, CEOs, doctors (yes, Chinese love doctors), lawyers, dentists...engineers....etc...

    As for the Chinese elite, even though their titles have been striped away from them, they still think the same, and brush aside those who are not able to achieve high degrees or those who fail to remain in the standard.

    Yes, in Asia it is a very materialistic world, and it is not just the Chinese.

    EDIT: I need to add when I was talking about China I was talking about China now.

    Mainland China today is no longer a communist country but an extreme socialist country. The Mainland Chinese today are very materialistic, much more than the ones who are born overseas or the ones from HK or Taiwan.
    My mother has a friend who has a son who is in Shanghai working and he says everything is about money. He is very turn off by this and is looking for a HK woman to marry as the women there are only after money.

    During the communist era I am not sure whether the mainland Chinese then were less materialistic or not, as they blocked themselves practically from the world. Not many people were allowed to visit mainland China; and not many mainland Chinese were allowed to go out.
    Last edited by Minty; 01-11-06 at 00:03.

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    What makes you believe that you're apart of the working class dear?
    Understated humor strikes again . I just sometimes think that I work, hence I am working class. I hardly am independently wealthy (though my wife still buys lottery tickets), yet I am well aware that the British meaning of 'working class' (which we don't use in America, by the way), refers to manual labor types (who sometimes make a sight more than I do ).
    Believe it or not, many millionaires in the US run service businesses involving manual labor (pest control, carpet cleaning, etc.). Of course, I am not referring to mega-millionaires or billionaires, just people who have assets of at least 1 million (and usually not with a house worth 900,000 dollars).
    Whereas in the UK (not 100% sure on other European countries), there is ingrained respect for 'aristocracy' - even if the 'upper class' person in question isn't actually even particularly rich. and a tendency to even look down a bit on people who are well-off but who have made their money through a relatively menial job.
    The old rich versus the nouveau rich arguement. In the US, certainly people who seem crass might not be well received, yet with people like Donald Trump around, one can't help wondering. As to people with titles only, there would be some respect given if people respect the heritage of the title or the history that the person lived through, but not just for the title itself, which may only reflect on someone who never worked to enjoy what benefits they have.

    And thanks Maciamo, I need to read the article again, missed that when I skimmed it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Minty View Post
    It is the same in France..., the French in this sense is the same as the Americans.
    I believe I know French culture better than you, being a native speaker of French, having watched French TV (and debates) since my childhood, having had an education very close to the one in France, having been all around France, having had French friends (and girlfriends) and being confused for a French in Paris and for a Parisian (or at least Northerner) outside Paris... How long have you lived in France ? There is virtually no difference between the way people see the class system in French-speaking Belgium and France - maybe less than between French- and Dutch-speaking Belgium.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gaijinalways View Post
    Believe it or not, many millionaires in the US run service businesses involving manual labor (pest control, carpet cleaning, etc.). Of course, I am not referring to mega-millionaires or billionaires, just people who have assets of at least 1 million (and usually not with a house worth 900,000 dollars).
    Not very difficult. If you have a 1-million $ house (or a not-so-big flat in London for that price), and you don't have a cleaning lady, you automatically have to do "manual" work for the cleaning. Add to that the garden if you have one. But "manual work" refers to once occupation in life, not daily household tasks. Maybe we should say "manual employment" to avoid all confusion.

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    No, I was saying these people don't have expensive property (usually in my book, overevaluated property), so more of their wealth is in cash, bonds, stock, etc. And they are usually are small business owners/workers, so they often do a lot of the manual work in their business, hence they are 'working class' millionaires.

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    Ah, I see, you are referring to someone who is (for example) a carpet-cleaner by profession and owns/manages a carpet-cleaning business - rather than simply someone who cleans their own carpet at home. In England, someone who was a millionnaire from having built up a successful carpet-cleaning business would be looked at differently from someone who was a millionnaire on inheritance and had a title to go with it. Although I can't exactly say what the difference is. And of course, there are a lot of people who turn up their noses at people with inherited wealth and say "they never had to work for it", too. But I think the carpet-cleaner would get more respect for their profession and their success in America. My feeling is that they would be admired in America for having made a success. In England they might also be admired for being successful and rich, but certainly in some circles there would be a distinct lingering feeling of "s/he's only a carpet-cleaner, after all..."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kinsao View Post
    Ah, I see, you are referring to someone who is (for example) a carpet-cleaner by profession and owns/manages a carpet-cleaning business - rather than simply someone who cleans their own carpet at home. In England, someone who was a millionnaire from having built up a successful carpet-cleaning business would be looked at differently from someone who was a millionnaire on inheritance and had a title to go with it.
    And this is exactly why I was trying to explain that classes do not depend on money. You are born into a class, and you will remain in it, even if you win the lottery. In fact, if someone wins the lottery, the way they will use the money is often a good reflection of their class values.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo View Post
    I believe I know French culture better than you, being a native speaker of French, having watched French TV (and debates) since my childhood, having had an education very close to the one in France, having been all around France, having had French friends (and girlfriends) and being confused for a French in Paris and for a Parisian (or at least Northerner) outside Paris... How long have you lived in France ? There is virtually no difference between the way people see the class system in French-speaking Belgium and France - maybe less than between French- and Dutch-speaking Belgium.
    And I believe my husband knows French better than you. He is born in France and has lived in France almost all of his life. As for his parents one is Northern Italian the other is Belge (French side).

    No offence but he says in France it is a very egalitarian society, people don't look down at you because of your jobs unlike in Chinese societies for example. It's true in France you need to hide your wealth if you do have money.

    That's why when he showed up in his carpenters and laborer friends' houses with a luxurious watch, their wives were very jealous.

    French don't really care about royalties and they are not very religious, even though there are tones of church left from their past constructions.

    EDIT: If I am not mistaken from memory, in the Chinese forum somewhere you have mentioned before the Belgium people do put organs on sale on glass windows and you don't think there is any difference in France but my husband says no, they don't do that in France. That's why he was very upset to have seen that in Taiwan. I think you seem to think the French side of Belgium is more similar to France than what my husband thinks.
    Last edited by Minty; 01-11-06 at 18:45.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Minty View Post
    And I believe my husband knows French better than you. He is born in France and has lived in France all his life. As for his parents one is Northern Italian the other is Belge (French side). No offence but he says in France it is a very egalitarian society, people don't look down at you because of your jobs unlike in Chinese societies for example. It's true in France you need to hide your wealth if you do have money.
    I don't think that your husband's ancestry proves that he understands French society better than me (and even less you). Understanding requires an interest in the matter (sociology) at first, as well as knowledge and analytical skills. It is a myth that France is an egalitarian society just because the national motto is "Liberté, égalité, fraternité". France is one of the most unequal societies in Europe, certainly the most hierarchical and elitist, and the one with the strongest power distance. You can only understand that through cross-cultural studies (and this requires an international experience). It is true that people don't look down at you because of your jobs or respect you because you have money, and this is exactly what I have been trying to tell you about the meaning of social classes in Europe. European social classes are about the mind (values, tastes, manners, education...), not a person's job or wealth.

    Believe me, French speakers are not egalitarian when it comes to classes. They may not care about money and display of material wealth (clothes, cars), but the way you speak and what you believe in is a major factor of division in France and Belgium. Someone who has graduated from ENA does not socialise with ordinary folk. Middle class French people see Arabic immigrants who speak with a strong "rap-like" accent, wearing a cap back-front and have no respect for anything, as an underclass to avoid. But classes in Europe are not so numerous, and the main types of mindset can be divided in only 4 categories, like in my classification in #1 here. 80-90% of French people of European descent being middle class in this classification, it is fairly normal that some French people might think of their society as pretty egalitarian - but only as long as they remain in their class !


    They are not very religious, even though there are tones of church left from their past constructions.
    Same in Belgium, and most of Europe. What's your point ? What does this have to do with social classes ?

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