LONDON (Reuters) - British people can now aspire to and despise four new levels of social classes, according to a new survey conducted by researchers in partnership with public broadcaster the BBC.
The Great British Class Survey found that the prevailing notions of a system comprised of the Upper Class, Middle Class and Working Class only related to a slice of the UK population, when analysed according to income, assets, social connections and social activities.
An “Elite” class and a “Precariat” (precarious proletariat)were the two most extreme groups at either end of a new social scale of seven classes produced by researchers from the London School of Economics (LSE) and University of Manchester based on two surveys conducted by the BBC and research firm GfK.
“It is striking that we have been able to discern a distinctive elite, whose sheer economic advantage sets it apart from other classes,” LSE Professor Mike Savage said.
“At the opposite extreme, we have discerned the existence of a sizeable group (the Precariat) - 15 percent of the population - which is marked by the lack of any significant amount of economic, cultural, or social capital.”
In between those two classes, researchers Savage and Manchester University Professor Fiona Devine alongside others found that the vast majority of the UK population can be broken down into an “Established Middle Class”, a “Technical Middle Class”, “New Affluent Workers”, the “Traditional Working Class” and “Emergent Service Workers”.
Of all the classes, the Established Middle Class was the biggest, representing 25 percent of the population and referred to by researchers as the “comfortably off bulwark of British society” who live predominantly in small towns or rural areas.
They were followed by Emergent Service Workers at 19 percent, the Precariat and New Affluent Workers at 15 percent each, the Traditional Working Class at 14 percent and the Technical Middle Class and the Elite both at six percent.
The researchers also highlighted that the Traditional Working Class, whose occupations included care workers, van drivers, cleaners and secretaries, were economically better off than Emergent Service Workers and the Precariat, but were also the oldest demographic group with an average age of 65.
“To this extent, the traditional working class is fading from contemporary importance, and clearly is less prominent than the established middle class,” the researchers said.
The survey turns on its head the traditional British notion of class, best represented in a black and white 1960s television sketch by comedians Ronnie Corbett, Ronnie Barker and John Cleese for the “Frost Report”.
In the sketch, the tall Cambridge-educated Cleese plays a bowler-hatted Upper Class person and the tiny Corbett a Working Class person in a flat cap, with medium height Barker in the middle wearing a trilby.
The three explain the complexities of British class by saying how the Working Class looks up to the Middle Class and the Upper Class, while being looked down on by both.
“I know my place,” is Corbett’s key punchline.
The Elites defined in the survey appear to have wealth, education, privileged backgrounds which the researchers said sets them at the apex of British society.
However, there was no mention in the statement of Britain’s landed aristocracy or royal family which sat at the top of the old class system’s structure.
The survey had two parts: one in which 161,400 people responded to the BBC’s online Great British Class Survey, and also a face-to-face survey of 1,026 people carried out by GfK.
Reporting by Paul Casciato; editing by Stephen Addison