liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
[personal profile] liv
So everybody's been playing with this class calculator, because who doesn't love a find your personality type survey? And this one has the imprimatur of respectability that comes from being on the BBC site with professional graphic design and slick special effects. It tells me I'm "established middle class," which I probably could have told you without going through that rigmarole. Duh, I'm a university lecturer and the daughter of two lawyers, obviously I'm middle class.

It's provoked some surprisingly interesting conversation, though. Some people are saying it's a distraction from the real issues of the sweeping changes to the NHS and social security system brought in this week. Well, yes it is, but the fact that people fill in silly surveys doesn't mean they aren't also engaged in meaningful political activism. This article someone linked on Twitter argues that the whole BBC gimmick is a poor popularization of sociology.

The interesting theme that's emerging is that there is a deliberate misdirection of people's thinking about class identity, and that this prevents effective political solidarity. [ profile] blue_mai linked to a rather angry old-Left article which points out that it doesn't really make sense to treat low-level clerical and IT people as middle class just because they work in offices. I often don't find overtly socialist rhetoric very palatable, but Thee Citizen's post made sense to me. I can believe that there is a denigration of genuine working class values going on, and telling people they're middle class when in fact they have no real control over their lives or financial security is plausibly an subtle undermining of their ability to act politically as a collective.

[personal profile] helenic has a magnificent rant about a problem in the opposite direction: middle-class people are being manipulated into underestimating [our] class and relative wealth. [personal profile] helenic's post very much resonated with me; there is a sort of weird reverse snobbery going on where middle class people claim humble origins and / or feel hard done by even though they're pretty much at the top of the social heap, and absurdly wealthy people think of themselves as middle class.

Unlike a lot of people, I wasn't surprised to find I came out as middle class. I have a very typically middle-class job, I have a lot of middle-class interests and hobbies, my parents are both university graduates who had highly paid professional careers. Though my mother gave hers up when I was born, and always kind of meant to go back but never did, itself a very middle class lifestyle choice.

If you go back to my grandparents the picture gets a bit more complicated. Two of my grandparents were doctors (perhaps the most quintessentially middle-class profession) but they also came from immigrant backgrounds. One of my grandmothers was a domestic servant and later a shopkeeper. One of my grandfathers was Public-school educated and came from a family with a degree of inherited wealth from being absolutely classical capitalists, owning a middle-sized family business, but then again people of equivalent economic standing didn't accept him has a social peer because he was Jewish, and anyway his family disinherited him for marrying the aforementioned grandmother, so financially speaking things were pretty marginal when my mother was growing up. But ok, even if it's not very easy to define what social class my family was two generations back, there is such a thing as social mobility and my own generation are pretty solidly middle-class. I mean, my sibs have no money at all because they are a philosopher, a poet and a chef, and one of them is disabled which always intersects weirdly with class assignments. But they have a degree of social and financial security that a lot of people with their level of income don't have.

My own childhood was much like [personal profile] helenic describes: my parents scrimped and saved to pay to send us all to fee-paying schools, which meant we came into contact with people who were richer and higher on the social scale than us, and always felt like we didn't have much money or many of the obvious trappings of wealth. My father supported six people on one salary, which was a stretch but he earned enough to make that actually possible if one was frugal. Based on talking to my friends who went to state schools, I don't think the quality of education I received was vastly better, but I did get approbation and support for being interested in and successful at academic pursuits, rather than getting socially ostracised or even beaten up. In turn, that allowed me to go to Oxford, which in spite of stereotypes is reasonably socially diverse. Or at least, it doesn't perfectly represent the demographics of the country, but because it's a rich, prestigious institution that is currently putting a lot of resource into attracting the most academically able, extremely academically brilliant people can and do go to Oxford from any social background whatsoever. So at Oxford I met people who resented me for being "posh" or wealthy to the point of being spoiled, (as well as members of the actual nobility including minor royals). And now that I'm an Oxford graduate at least some people are forever going to view me as some kind of out-of-touch elitist, no matter how much actual money I have or what politics I espouse.

I am in fact quite happy to identify as middle-class. Middle-class values can be positive values: social stability, education, aspiration, political and social engagement, appreciating culture that requires a degree of effort and connoisseurship rather than just consuming entertainment passively, diversity of ideas. I appreciate that sometimes those things look more like conservatism and conformity, snobbery, meddling in others' lives, consumerism and so on, but on the whole I'm quite happy to be regarded as middle-class.

As for affluent, well. [personal profile] lavendersparkle ages ago linked to a much more detailed wealth calculator of where you fit into the population, rather than just putting you into a crude bracket based on your salary and very rough level of savings. I can't find that calculator again, but it told me I was in the top decile compared to the UK population. I was a little surprised to be at 90 percent, but I would certainly have guessed I was in the top quartile, I'm not ignorant of the fact I'm relatively well off. The thing is, I have a decent, though not vast income, but I'm rich because I have almost no outgoings! I don't have any dependants, which is probably the big one; colleagues at my salary band who are supporting two or three school-age children and an elderly parent or grandparent who needs substantial nursing care may very well feel really squeezed. I also live in a cheap part of the country, I don't run a car, I don't have expensive hobbies, I'm fit and able-bodied. I'm not servicing debt; being debt-free in my mid-30s really does put me in an unusually financially secure position, and one that is becoming rarer because of the way the economy and social infrastructure is going.

To a great extent I agree with [personal profile] hunningham's response to the recent budget. Yes, people like me should be paying more tax. Sadly no political party at the moment is offering me the option to vote for a tax increase against my own direct financial interests; I have voted for such in the past, like the Lib Dems years ago who proposed a 1% in income tax to be invested in education. But then I hesitate. First of all, you'd have to be careful to define who counts as "people like me". I mean, if you just did it based on income, that would hit people with huge mortgage and student loan debt and living in London and supporting families, who may be richer than the population average but are not rich. I remember the "fat cat tax" from the early days of the recent Labour government; sounded good, but in practice it meant that my grandmother lost a substantial chunk of her painstakingly saved pension. Yes, my grandmother, who was working as a maid at 14, at 74 counted as a "fat cat" because she'd put aside a tiny amount of her tiny income each month and invested it carefully. Now, it's true that there are people whose lives are so precarious that they literally couldn't save the equivalent of a shilling a month, but I can't buy the idea that anyone who has any kind of retirement savings at all is too rich and should have their widows' mites redistributed.

And then, well, with this current government I am not sure that increased taxes would actually help the people I want to be helping. I mean, if my tax money isn't going to the NHS, to education, to unemployment benefit or disability support, what's the point of voluntarily signing up to pay more? Maybe it's better to do as [personal profile] hunningham suggested and make a standing order to a food bank. Besides, even as an affluent, secure, Established Middle Class sort of person, I'm getting scared of the dismantling of the social safety net. If I had an accident or a serious illness. If I lost my job or the Higher Ed sector imploded. If if if... And if none of that happens one day I'm going to be too old to continue earning. So emotionally I feel like I have to hoard up every penny I can because if I can't earn money through my own labour then society won't support me, won't repay the contributions I've made over the years. This emotion is of course why the recession drags on and on, because anyone who has any kind of financial break at all hoards their money rather than putting it back into the economy, because everybody is scared.

The other thing about looking at all this business of ranking people by class and / or wealth is that I do feel it's far too easy and not really productive for people at all levels of society to resent and envy "the rich". In fact, most people don't know anything about people who are actually, seriously, rich, they're just impossible for ordinary people to imagine. Everybody comes into contact with people who are just a bit better off than they are, though. I was kind of horrified during the London riots when they interviewed people who were looting little corner store newsagents. They seemed to feel they were sticking it to "the rich": the people who have enough to rent a shop, who are just about able to work 80 hours a week and end up with more money than they started with. Those people are "rich" compared to long-term unemployed people or those who don't make ends meet even when they work all the hours they possibly can. The shopkeepers and others in low paid but at least relatively stable jobs are encouraged to resent lower middle class civil servants who have some degree of pension security, so the government can win popular appeal with really punitive cuts on that group of people. My peers who earn well over the national average wage complain a lot about City types and executives earning six figures. MPs cause howls of outrage when they complain their salaries and expenses aren't generous enough, but in fact their social milieu includes mostly people with considerably more earning power than current MPs. Highly paid businesspeople and opinion formers resent millionaires and anyone who has wealth as well as income. I expect even millionaires feel poor compared to "the 1%". It's all just a great merry-go-round of social and political fragmentation.

I'm not naturally inclined towards redistributive taxation. My economic philosophy is that people should contribute to infrastructure (which very much includes the welfare safety net), and after contributing a fair proportion of their income they should be allowed to keep what they earn. I would like to do something about the problem that some rich people and large companies can use their wealth to leverage avoiding having to pay any tax at all, but I don't think the solution to this is to raise income tax for everybody earning above the median wage.

I hope this isn't completely incomprehensible to non-Brits!

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Date: 2013-04-05 10:25 am (UTC)
lethargic_man: (reflect)
From: [personal profile] lethargic_man
So at Oxford I met people who resented me for being "posh" or wealthy to the point of being spoiled, (as well as members of the actual nobility including minor royals).

*boggle* I never met anyone like that (at least knowingly) at Cambridge. (Indeed, though changing the subject slightly, I always assumed that some of the people I knew at Cambridge would go on to be famous years later, but so far the sum total of such people amounts to one Olympic gold medalist.) If I ever did meet members of the aristocracy during my education, it was at my (private) school, and even then I'm not sure if they were aristocrats or merely members of families who had been, once. (Names like Trevelyan, Mitford, D'Arcy.)

I'm not servicing debt

Well, this is why you're in the top decile. Your lifestyle and mine are broadly similar, though I'd guess your income is lower; and you and I bought our residences for the same sum, but I've got a five-figure mortgage (it was six figures when it started!) and you don't. (It's the same argument I put to you eleven years ago when you'd just bought your first flat, as a Ph.D. student, whereas when I was at that stage, I'd been trying to live on £4800 a year.)

Besides, even as an affluent, secure, Established Middle Class sort of person, I'm getting scared of the dismantling of the social safety net. If I had an accident or a serious illness. If I lost my job or the Higher Ed sector imploded. If if if...

Well, with the exception of the last of those, you can get insurance for that. (I recommend discussing this with [ profile] bluepork, who's my financial adviser as well as my brother.)
Edited Date: 2013-04-05 10:26 am (UTC)

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Date: 2013-04-05 10:40 am (UTC)
oursin: Brush the Wandering Hedgehog by the fire (Default)
From: [personal profile] oursin
I came out as 'established middle class', which in my case is actually about 'working class background, passed the 11+ to an academically high-powered girls' grammar school, full student grant and no debt on graduating, entered a buoyant employment market': very much a generational thing (along with parents who were all for educational opportunities). Also, I have been in full employment ever since graduation, have no children/dependents, and have finally paid off the mortgage on my flat.

The middle class is vast, it contains multitudes, and I'm currently working on a conference paper on a topic where I think there's some weird intra-class hostility going on about middle-classness.

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Date: 2013-04-05 10:44 am (UTC)
ptc24: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ptc24
I think it's worth distinguishing between the research paper and the application on the website; reading the paper, I can see that it takes more information into account, so the website thing needs to be treated with salt.

On the BBC News website, there seem to be a lot of people boggling at what they came out as.

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Date: 2013-04-05 10:41 am (UTC)
ptc24: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ptc24
Millionaires are the 1% (and quite a few sub-millionaires, too).

It's interesting looking at how our natural inclinations differ from each other; it's like there are two near-orthogonal left/right axes, you come out rather to the left of me on one of them (re various social justice issues), me to the left of you on the other (economic redistribution).

I think one of the things of the established vs technical middle class is that class isn't just wealth; there are a whole pile of other things that go with it. One of the interesting ideas in the study is that you can have two classes that aren't necessarily above or below each other, but are different. I suppose it's like the difference between Old Money and the Noveau Riche, but a rung or two lower down.

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Date: 2013-04-05 10:57 am (UTC)
vatine: Generated with some CL code and a hand-designed blackletter font (Default)
From: [personal profile] vatine
I was expecting to come out as "middle class", but based on the fact that I know people in a variety of jobs, the calculator placed me as "Elite" (I re-did the questions, only choosing "Software design", "University lecturer" and "Scientist" as jobs people I knew did and I was "Technical middle class" all of a sudden).

As far as humble backgrounds go, I don't know. My mum used to work filling cans in a pain fatcory, then went on to solder components onto boards. My dad (bio-dad) was a roofer and my step-dad was a machinist in a plastics factory. Is that humble? In Sweden, it's pretty much "not poor, not filthy rich" class.

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Date: 2013-04-05 12:53 pm (UTC)
shoaling_souls: Fish swimming independently but still together in a group (Default)
From: [personal profile] shoaling_souls
I'm a Precariate, which is a new word to me, but for a lot of questions I could see how my truthful answers would be interpreted differently if I were living in Britain than where I am now.

For example, I go to the opera, but that costs about 10 GBP where I live and it's something young people do as an alternative to going to a cinema, which is cheaper than the opera, but the prices are comparable if you consider that you might buy candy, popcorn and soda at the cinema, which you don't at the opera.

The "people I know", I counted people from online, so that was a wide mix. I know professors, scientists, doctors, housekeepers, etc.

Also, my income level is very low for British standards, but I'd say middle class where I live.

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Date: 2013-04-05 01:00 pm (UTC)
owl: Stylized barn owl (Default)
From: [personal profile] owl
Being any sort of middle class doesn't surprise me; my parents were a university lecturer and a teacher, education to university was taken for granted when I was growing up, I work in a knowledge industry with a good salary and a career path, and I'm about the 75% mark for both income and net worth.

If I entered the cultural activities for my family growing up, I got established middle class, if I entered what I do nowadays I get technical middle class. The internet has ruined my pretensions to culture...

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Date: 2013-04-05 02:40 pm (UTC)
atreic: (Default)
From: [personal profile] atreic
I'm very surprised you came out as middle class - I see you as very similar to me, but slightly better off financially (I have a huge pile of savings, but you have a house which I'd guess was worth more) and I came out as elite. Which I hated and had a huge mental kickback against, but eventually found a sort of peace with, mostly because of [personal profile] helenic's post. I'm curious as to whether it's because I claimed more friends and hobbies, or whether it's because you didn't count Jack's income as part of your household, or what could have done that!
Edited Date: 2013-04-05 02:41 pm (UTC)

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Date: 2013-04-05 06:17 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] sea_bright
I came out as a member of the precariat, which I found... baffling, to be honest. As far as I could tell from the little diagrams, my social and cultural scores were much closer to the various types of middle class, but apparently I am poor enough for this not to matter. As I have an income which is more than adequate for my needs plus what seems to me to be a fairly generous quantity of savings, this confuses me. Admittedly I don't own property, and Oxford's crazy prices mean I am unlikely to in the foreseeable future, but I don't consider myself particularly financially insecure!

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Date: 2013-04-05 07:36 pm (UTC)
ephemera: celtic knotwork style sitting fox (Default)
From: [personal profile] ephemera wasn't the calculator you were thinking of, was it?

The BBC thing currently pegs me as "established middle class", whereas if I look at my partner and I separately, I become "New affluent workers" and my partner "technical middle class", which seems more right for him than for me, but - eh.

(I'm not surprised that the ifs calculator puts our joint income in the 80th decile, but I am surprised that my income alone scrapes into the 70th, given the gap between the two numbers.)

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Date: 2013-04-05 10:09 pm (UTC)
mathcathy: number ball (Default)
From: [personal profile] mathcathy
I think I'd be happy to pay increased tax just to get rid of the debt. It wouldn't immediately go to any of the things you've listed, but I hate debt. I hate it personally and I'm irrevocably angry with the Labour party for causing the problem (on top of the Iraqi war). I think I'd only be happy with a tax increase if the government found a way to commit to not borrowing any more or ever getting into such a ridiculous mess again, which of course won't happen.

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Date: 2013-04-06 06:19 pm (UTC)
mirrorshard: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mirrorshard
I turned out to be an emerging service worker; if I were interested in fewer things and/or knew people with fewer kinds of occupation (I ticked literally every single box on that list, and thought of a few they'd missed), I'd be precariat. If I had income and/or assets, I'd be established middle class.

Also, to point out how accurate and useful that survey is - did you know that, as a university lecturer, you have a noticeably higher social status than accountants, solicitors, and chief executives?

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Date: 2013-04-08 09:36 am (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
I think this ... thing (paper as seen through the lense of the BBC widgit) is really unhelpfully mixing up "class" and "wealth". I really really don't think they are the same thing at all. Yes, being middle or upper class puts one in a privileged position that makes it easier to obtain wealth (easier is not easy); but I don't think it's the money that determines the class, even if most well off people aren't working class.

The widgit tells me I'm Establish Middle if I say "we own our home" and "Emergent service" if I say "I rent" (with the same income and savings). So *we* are middle class but *I* am not.

I think I'm Middle Class all the way. I was raised by upwardly mobile middle-middle class parents, have middle class views, middle class values, middle class aspirations, middle class interests... I had an upper middle class education (and grammar school and Cambridge). I was middle class when I was a child with no income or assets to my name, I'd be middle class if I was flat broke, I'd be middle class if I won the lottery and was suddenly a millionaire.

I'm sure my middle-class-ness has helped me to acquire my current level of income and assets; and this is of course entirely unfair.

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Date: 2013-04-08 10:31 am (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
Oh and my grandparents were a bit of a mixed bag. One grandfather was a priest and his wife a nurse then housewife; the other grandfather was with the RAF in WWII and then worked his way up to brewery manager which I think of as being sort of precariously between working and middle class and gran was a housewife but then he retired from brewing and they bought a post-office and then they sold that and went into service as a housekeeper and chauffer/handyman (for George Lucas! but in the UK, where he never was. And then in South Africa) which seems to me a weird sort of career move. and THEN they gave that up and bought another post office. And FINALLY they actually retired ;-p

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Date: 2013-04-09 02:10 pm (UTC)
shreena: (Default)
From: [personal profile] shreena
I came out as "elite" which I found surprising. Helenic's post helped me to come to terms with it.

However, I do think that the quiz doesn't take into account your family's background/history enough. I entirely agree that I am very privileged - but my father didn't go to university, put himself through accountancy night school by driving a fork lift truck during the day, and both my parents and their families emigrated here with little money. I think that doesn't change the fact that I am very privileged but it does give me a different outlook than the people I know who were born into families who have had money going back generations.


Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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