The Economist, Aug 10th 2006 But did they buy their own furniture?
As a new YouGov poll for The Economist shows, Britons are surprisingly alert to class—both their own and that of others. And they still think class is sticky. According to the poll, 48% of people aged 30 or over say they expect to end up better off than their parents. But only 28% expect to end up in a different class. More than two-thirds think neither they nor their children will leave the class they were born into.
What does this thing that people cannot escape consist of these days? And what do people look at when decoding which class someone belongs to? The most useful identifying markers, according to the poll, are occupation, address, accent and income, in that order. The fact that income comes fourth is revealing: though some of the habits and attitudes that class used to define are more widely spread than they were, class still indicates something less blunt than mere wealth. Being the sort of person who “buys his own furniture”, a remark that Alan Clark, a former minister and diarist once reported as directed at Michael Heseltine, a self-made Tory colleague, is still worthy of note in circles where most inherit it.
A survey conducted earlier this year by Experian for Liverpool Victoria, a financial-services firm, shows how this convergence on similar types of work has blurred class boundaries. Experian asked people in a number of different jobs to place themselves in the working class or the middle class. Secretaries, waiters and journalists were significantly more likely to think themselves middle-class than accountants, computer programmers or civil servants. Many new white-collar jobs—in vast call centres, for example—offer no more autonomy or better prospects than old blue-collar ones.