The post-war economic boom and the development of the welfare state brought about profound changes in the social structure of the UK. This was the era summed up by Harold MacMillan (prime minister from 1957 – 1963) in the words ‘you’ve never had it so good’. Before the war the overwhelming majority in our country had little or no disposable income left over after they had purchased the necessities of life. Now millions counted themselves as ‘affluent’, able to afford the consumer goods that had previously been seen as the prerogative of the wealthy.
For many social scientists this period was characterised as a period during which class was declining and status distinctions were becoming more important. ‘Class’ is variously defined but is generally seen as linked to occupation, the way you earn your income and your relationship to the production of wealth. In contrast status is to do with life style, the way you spend your income and your role as a consumer. In the post-war period with rising standards of living and easy credit more and more people found they had ‘choices’ over spending and different status groupings emerged.
The essential point about status is that the divisions it gives rise to are essentially ‘subjective’. They are divisions in the ways in which people are regarded by others – divisions, which in dichotomous terms, can be characterised as who is looked up to versus who is looked down upon, who is admired who is despised, who has prestige and who has a stigma. Status distinctions thus relate to judgements about taste, refinement, quality of life – the snobs who look down on others as inferior, the ‘wannabes’ who want to join them and the ‘lowbrows’ who are seen as uncultured.
Two other important aspects to status are rarity and visibility. Rarity refers to the fact that if everybody has it there is no status in acquiring it. Material and symbolic goods only bestow status if they are possessed by... [continues]
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