Beyond Cafetières and Cath Kidston mugs: Class, Status and Values measurement?

The polling organisation Britain Thinks have published a new report on occupational class. Some of the media coverage focused on the Cafetières and Cath Kidston mugs as a new class identifier. However what was more interesting were the points in Britain Thinks’ own summary of the debate which referred to issues of status rather than traditional occupational  class, which I quote here:

However, a number of researchers have pointed to differences in the results that flow from different self-identification questions, in particular the effect that the number of categories seems to have on the proportions of people who identify as middle and working class. This is a very significant finding, and one that speaks to a fundamental shift in what we mean when we talk about class……

…..These results give us reason to think seriously about what people are saying when they answer these questions. The variation in responses seems to suggest that respondents are seeing the options offered to them as an ordinal scale, in which each option is above the next – so adding in extra options at any point leads to a redistribution across the scale. But that isn’t how class is traditionally supposed to work.

Class isn’t supposed to be a simple measure of where you think you stand in society. Being working class is supposed to be qualitatively different from being middle class – they are supposed to be two clubs, each with their own member benefits. While you might place yourself towards the top or bottom of working or middle class, the idea is that you have a strong sense of which one you are first, and then decide whereabouts in that class you might sit.

The fact that adding in new options within a class can lead to a different spread across the classes themselves, suggests that for many people the very meaning of class has shifted – from a concept of discrete groups with their own values, cultural anchor points, internal hierarchies and positional markers to one where class names are simply indicators for where you think you stand in society generally.

I think this is an important point. If people in effect shift their class identification in relation to the questions asked as a result of where they position themselves in relation to others, then the occupational class classifications that all pollsters use are not going to be as useful a tool for public policy as they were in the past. Whilst occupational class is clearly still an important sociological issue that provides a very helpful longitudinal measure of economic and social trends over the last 65 or so years, we now need a wider range of more insightful tools to measure the direct perceptions that people use to see themselves and their current needs and motivations rather than just how they position themselves and relate to others.

I have previously  blogged here as to how values based segmentation can supplement traditional occupational class measurement. It is pleasing to  report that a UK polling company has recently been testing the use of values as an additional measure in their surveying. I hope to report further on this work in due course.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for The Campaign Company. If you want to see what your own primary values set is, why not take the simple Values Questionnaire here.

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2 Responses to “Beyond Cafetières and Cath Kidston mugs: Class, Status and Values measurement?”

  1. “Something for Something” – Is reciprocity now the key public policy debate? « The Campaign Company’s Blog Says:

    […] in a modern, complex developed western society, are some of these now taken for granted? As I blogged recently, those in the ‘squeezed middle’ of low to middle incomes, may measure their status not […]

  2. ‘What makes people tick’? New book explains effective use of values in public policy « The Campaign Company’s Blog Says:

    […] publication of the book is timely as it adds to the increasing recognition that surveys based on occupational class designations some of which  date back to the 1920′s and more latterly geodemographics are not enough on […]

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