Getting Stuck in Class Stereotypes

George Orwell wrote in 1941 that England was "the most class-ridden countryunder the sun", he was right and continuous to be. 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.

Occupation is the most trusted guide to class, but changes in the labour market have made that harder to read than when Orwell was writing. Manualworkers have shrunk along with farming and heavy industry as a proportion of the workforce, while the number of people in white-collar jobs has surged. Recently there has been a slight fall in the number who reckon they are at either the very top or the very bottom of the pile, consistent with the move to working behind desks and in air-conditioned places. But jobs, which were once a fairly reliable guide to class, have become misleading.

A survey conducted 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 offer no more autonomy or better prospects than blue-collar ones. Yet despite the muddle over what the markers of class are these days, 71% of those polled still said they found it very or fairly easy to figure out which class others belong to.

In addition to changes in the labour market, two other things have smudged the borders on the class map. First, since 1945 Britain has received large numbers of immigrants who do not fit easily into existing notions of class and may have their own pyramids to scramble up. The flow of new arrivals has increased since the late 1990s, multiplying this effect.

Second, barriers to fame have been lowered. Britain's fast-growing ranks of celebrities like David Beckham and his wife Victoria form a kind of parallel aristocracy open to talent, or at least to those who are uninhibited enough to meet the increasingly baroque requests of television producers. This too has made definitions more complicated.

Yet class categories remain surprisingly resilient, which seems to fly in the face of recent economic reality. Does it correspond to a new tendency in social mobility? The best-known findings about the fluidity of British society comes from a study of two cohorts: one made up of people born in 1958, the other of people born in 1970. The earlier group enjoyed a high degreeof mobility but the later one was less fortunate, suggesting that movement between income groups is slowing down. Recent international studies indicate that British social strata are a bit more flexible than America's but more rigid than in European countries.

In fact, it seems that many Brits, given the choice, prefer to identify with the class they were born into rather than that which their jobs or income would suggest. This often entails pretending to be more humble than is actually the case: 22% of respondents state that they consider themselves working class. The Experian surveyfound that one in ten adults who call themselves working class are in the richest quintile of asset-owners, and that over half a million households which earn more than £100,000 ($191,000) a year say they are working class.

If class no longer describes a clear social, economic or even political status, is it worth paying any attention to? Possibly, yes. It is still in most cases closely correlated with educational attainment and career expectations.In Britain the perception that class is fairly fixed could become more damaging if income inequality continues to rise and social mobility to slow.

(The source: adapted from www.economist.com/node/7289005 )


D. Choose the correct variant to finish each sentence:

1. The most useful identifying markers of class in present day Britain are:

A. occupation and address

B. accent and income

C. wealth and income

D. occupation, address, accent and income


2. England is the most:

A. class-ridden country in the world

B. class-stereotyped country

C. class-valuable society

D. class-forgotten society


3. British people believe that class is still:

A. essential

B. sticky

C. misleading

D. of no matter

4. The majority of Britons believe they or their children will:

A. end up in a different class

B. not inherit the class

C. not leave the class they were born into

D. have difficulties to figure out their class


5. Jobs nowadays are considered to be:

A. a reliable guide to class

B. a misleading guide

C. of no importance

D. essential in terms of class


6. In present day Britain class is linked to:

A. income and wealth

B. accent and education

C. occupation and wealth of a household

D. with educational attainment and career expectations.


7. Nowadays many new white-collar jobs offer:

A. more autonomy or better prospects than blue-collar ones

B. suggest greater opportunities in terms of careers

C. no more autonomy or better prospects than blue-collar ones

D. suggest less opportunities in terms of careers

8. The following factors have smudged the borders on the class map:

A. changes in the labour market

B. celebrities form a kind of parallel aristocracy open to talent

C. the flow of new immigrants

D. the richest quintile of asset-owners


9. Today class no longer describes:

A. social status

B. economic status

C. political status

D. identity


10. Brits, given the choice, prefer to identify themselves:

A. with the class they were born into

B. with their jobs

C. with their income

D. with their accent

E. Read the text again and answer the questions below:

1. What are the useful identifying markers of class in present-day Britain?

2. Does class in Britain indicate wealth nowadays? Why?

3. How do you understand the phrase to end up in a different class?

4. Why does occupation as a reliable guide to class become misleading nowadays?

5. How do British people in different jobs place themselves: in the working class or the middle class?

6. Except changes in the labour market, what other things make definitions of class more complicated?

7. Does class describe a clear social, economic and political status in present day Britain? Why?

8. How is class correlated with educational attainment and career expectations?


F. Briefly summarize the main idea of the text using the words and word combinations in bold. These phrases will help you:

To begin with, despite the fact, nevertheless, consequently, in contrast, similarly, in conclusion.



  1. Act as a teacher in class, using the material from the lectures above.
  2. American classical music
  3. B. Now try to go around a class, greet and start a conversation.
  5. Class osnova
  6. Class readership of British press
  8. Classes of Supply
  9. Classical pragmatics
  10. Classification
  11. Classification of accounting documents

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II. Reading | III. Vocabulary: Making Adjectives and Adverbs

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