Who are the middle class?

When I was a kid, working out what class you were was simple. If you brought TV Times you were working class, if you bought Radio Times you were middle class and if you had a man to read the TV listings to you, you were upper class.

As I have grown older though, I have begin to wonder whether it might be slightly more nuanced than that.

A traditional British view might divide people into the aristocracy, the lords and ladies, the middle or ownership class, who own factories and businesses, and the working class, who work in them. I use traditional in a loose sense here because that has only been the case since the industrial revolution. This view fits with the wider social description of the class “between” the peasants and the nobility.

In more recent times, many new definitions have been brought forward. Some of which may have been promoted by governments in an attempt to create an aspiration. The advantage of this being that people will make sacrifices in order to achieve it, thus suppressing criticism of their policies.

Further education being a good example. Did you parents go to university? Or enjoy a high-prestige job such as a doctor or lawyer? Under some definitions this would categorise you as middle class.

In Capital in the Twenty-First Century Thomas Piketty divides society up into the top 10%, the middle 40% and the bottom 50%. Though he does this with the explicit statement that these are arbitary boundaries that are useful for statistical comparisons across states and not meant to be taken as definitions.

He does note however that one of the major changes of the last century was a shift away from a 10% owning everything, to 10% owning most things, while the 40% managed to gain a house (the bottom 50% still owning nothing). Home ownership could therefore be considered the qualification for middle class.

Ultimately then it would seem there is no agreed definition of what the middle class actually is. It would therefore seem wise to define it in the context of any debate being had.



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This entry was posted on Friday, July 17th, 2015 at 10:49 am and is filed under Religion & Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.