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A New Model of Social Class? Findings from the BBC’s Great British Class Survey Experiment

  1. Mike Savage

    1. London School of Economics, UK
  2. Fiona Devine

    1. University of Manchester, UK
  3. Niall Cunningham

    1. University of Manchester, UK
  4. Mark Taylor

    1. University of York, UK
  5. Yaojun Li

    1. University of Manchester, UK
  6. Johs Hjellbrekke

    1. Universitetet i Bergen, Norway
  7. Brigitte Le Roux

    1. Université Paris Descartes, France
  8. Sam Friedman

    1. City University London, UK
  9. Andrew Miles

    1. University of Manchester, UK
  1. Mike Savage, Department of Sociology, London School of Economics, Houghton Street, London, WC2A 2AE, UK. Email: m.a.savage@lse.ac.uk

Sociology April 2013 vol. 47 no. 2 219-250


The social scientific analysis of social class is attracting renewed interest given the accentuation of economic and social inequalities throughout the world. The most widely validated measure of social class, the Nuffield class schema, developed in the 1970s, was codified in the UK’s National Statistics Socio-Economic Classification (NS-SEC) and places people in one of seven main classes according to their occupation and employment status. This principally distinguishes between people working in routine or semi-routine occupations employed on a ‘labour contract’ on the one hand, and those working in professional or managerial occupations employed on a ‘service contract’ on the other. However, this occupationally based class schema does not effectively capture the role of social and cultural processes in generating class divisions. We analyse the largest survey of social class ever conducted in the UK, the BBC’s 2011 Great British Class Survey, with 161,400 web respondents, as well as a nationally representative sample survey, which includes unusually detailed questions asked on social, cultural and economic capital. Using latent class analysis on these variables, we derive seven classes. We demonstrate the existence of an ‘elite’, whose wealth separates them from an established middle class, as well as a class of technical experts and a class of ‘new affluent’ workers. We also show that at the lower levels of the class structure, alongside an ageing traditional working class, there is a ‘precariat’ characterised by very low levels of capital, and a group of emergent service workers. We think that this new seven class model recognises both social polarisation in British society and class fragmentation in its middle layers, and will attract enormous interest from a wide social scientific community in offering an up-to-date multi-dimensional model of social class.

P.243 “Class 7: Precariat
This is economically the poorest class, with a household income of only £8k, negligible savings, and they are likely to rent. Their social range is small with an average of seven contacts whose mean status is the lowest of any of the classes. The scores for both highbrow and emerging cultural capital are the lowest and second lowest, respectively, of any of the classes. This is clearly the most deprived of the classes that we have identified, on all measures, yet they form a relatively large social class, with 15 per cent of the population.
They are located in old industrial areas, but often away from the large urban areas. Stoke on Trent stands out as having a high over-representation, but London and the South East tends to score low (see Figure 9). Its members are unlikely to have attended university. Occupationally they are over-represented amongst the unemployed, van drivers, cleaners, carpenters, care workers, cashiers and postal workers, and they also include shopkeepers.
We use the term precariat in line with recent commentaries (Standing, 2011) and as a reflection on the existence of a significant group characterised by high amounts of insecurity on all of our measures of capital.”

Standing G (2011) The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License (http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (http://www.uk.sagepub.com/aboutus/openaccess.htm).


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