Class Inequality

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Social Inequality

Unit 08

What is the relationship between social class and inequality?

Learning targets:

• There are class differences in life chances in the UK.

• People from the lower social classes appear to be the victims of discrimination in the UK

• Britain is seen as a meritocracy by many, but the evidence suggests that class inequalities are entrenched in our society.

• There are those who believe that the social changes that have come about in recent years mean that class is not seen as significant, despite class inequalities persisting.

Key questions

(AO1) What evidence is there of class inequality in UK?

(AO1) How can class differences be identified?

(AO2) To what extent is British culture snobbish and socially unequal?

(AO2) What are social implications of class inequalities in our society?

Summary of Key Points

1

Social class is one of the oldest and most persistent inequalities in British society. In the past, people were very aware of their social class and their expected roles and responsibilities. People would have worn different clothes, behaved in different ways and had a very different culture from each other and they would have accepted this as a perfectly normal element of behaviour.

We are still aware today of some of the cultural differences between the social classes so that rich people and poorer people have different accents, are educated differently and wear different styles of clothes from each other. These cultural differences that separate the classes are known as indicators of class. In the past, many people also believed that people of the highest social classes were better than other people and should be respected because of their social position. This idea is known as deference.

People nowadays are less willing to admit that social class is important. Poorer people may imitate the styles and behaviour of wealthy people by buying copies of their expensive clothes in cheaper shops or buying replicas and fakes. However, rich people often copy the 'street style' of the working class people and their fashions.

The differences between the classes seem to be blurred to such an extent that many people would not define their social class in the same way that sociologists might. Sociologists mostly believe that despite the way that people reject the idea of social classes, it is still important in our society. We are just less aware of it than people were in the past. It affects our life chances and our life styles, with high earning people enjoying a superior standard of living and better life chances than those from more deprived backgrounds.

Subjective class can be measured by attitudes, beliefs and political opinions. This generally consists of the vague notions upper, middle and working class and most people would identify themselves as belonging to one of these groups. This type of description does not explain the full range of differences between these groups. People may be middle class and have access to huge wealth, whereas others have the education, lifestyle and manners of the middle class but are relatively poor. Equally, people from a working class background who achieve very good professional jobs may well still feel themselves to be working class. In contrast, sociologists are concerned with objective class. This refers to our occupations, education, possessions and our wealth. It can be measured in the data put out by the Office of Population, Censuses and Surveys such as mortality lists.

Sociologists have had limited success in attempts to measure social class objectively. There are two generally used scales of social class, though a very wide number have been devised by sociologists in the past. The Registrar General's Index of Social Class was used by government statisticians till 2001, and is still widely used as a rough indicator of people's background....
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