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How has class structure changed in modern Britain?
The upper class
The ruling class has changed but opinions differ just on how much.
The New Right say that the ruling class has disintegrated. Saunders argues that the increase in the
number of people owning shares in the UK has led to power being spread more widely. The small
minority in power has been replaced with a nation of stakeholders.
The upper class still exists in Britain and continues to regenerate itself through public schooling and
social networking but it could be argued that its size and influence have diminished.
Marxists insist the ruling class is alive and kicking. John Scott agrees with Saunders that more and
more people own shares in the UK but argues this has not led to a break-up of the ruling class. Most
individuals own a few shares but hold very little real power.
Marxist notion of people who own the means of production has inevitably changed as the
importance of production has declined and the importance of service and financial industries has
Westergaad and Resler say there are still power elite who control business and the economy. They
claim the upper class now consists of owners of production plus higher professionals and company
directors, most of whom are major investors in the private sector.
The middle class
The middle class has grown but may be breaking up into several classes.
Professionals are normally considered to be upper middle class because of their ability to
command higher salaries and social prestige.
The lower middle class includes clerical workers and retail workers.
Changes to the experience of the middle class include a reduction in status and relative pay and
conditions of public service employees.
Civil servants were once highly respected professionals by Savage claims that government
emphasis on reducing public spending has weakened their position considerably.
Comparing public and private professions, Savage claimed that the lifestyles of different members
of the middle class varied according to their employment sector.
Professionals working in the private sector were better paid than public servants and had a distinctly
This suggests a division within the middle class that goes beyond the traditional divide between
professionals and routine white-collar workers.
Functionalist and Weberian sociologists cite the rise of the professions as evidence of an
expanding middle class. Embourgeoisement means working class people becoming middle class in
lifestyle and values as their incomes increase.
However some Weberian's view the lower middle class workers to still have a better market
position than their working class colleagues as their jobs are stepping stones to management.
Lockwood considers social prestige and market position such as job security, so it argues that
clerical workers are still a distinctly middle class group.
Goldthorpe tested the embourgeoisement thesis by interviewing car workers in Luton. They
concluded that affluence had not made the workers middle class, and clear differences remained
between them and the non-manual middle class workers. Goldthorpe also says there is an
intermediate class of low grade manual workers who have little in common with middle class
professionals. In terms of wages and relationship with employers, these groups are totally different.
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Marxist Braverman says many non-manual workers (e.g. routine clerical workers, secretaries, shop
workers and call centre staff) have been deskilled by technology so that they now have more in
common with the working class in terms of job security and wealth. This is proletarianisation.
Roberts et al interviewed `middle class' workers about their view of their own class position and
found wide variations in how groups saw themselves. They concluded the middle class is being
fragmented into smaller strata.…read more
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A big reason why there have been changes in the working class is because of globalisation. The
working class manufacturing jobs have vanished in the UK because they have moved abroad to
cheaper labour markets. There's an international division of labour. Globally the working class
includes workers in South East Asia and China who have few rights and low pay.
Some sociologists believe there is an underclass growing beneath the working class.…read more
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However, Runciman stated that the underclass consists of people who live on welfare benefits
without hope of getting work. This group may include the disabled and those who have limited
education or low literacy skills.
This view draws attention the barriers of social mobility and how many people struggle to move
between classes supporting the idea that the underclass does exist and has for a long time.
However, a separate social class will have a distinct shared cultural identity.…read more