We're More Class Conscious Than We Think

28/10/2015 2:10 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
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Australia is not as classless as we think.

Or at least we’re more willing to identify ourselves as part of one class or another, despite the myth Australia is a classless society.

New research released by the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods on Wednesday showed 92 percent of Australians surveyed responded that they belong to the middle or working class.

A majority, or 52 percent, view themselves as belonging to the middle class, while 40 percent describe themselves as working class. Only 2 percent were prepared to say the belonged to the upper class of Australian society, while 6 percent gave no answer.

“Australians think and talk about social class less than their counterparts in Britain, France and Europe generally,” report authors Dr Jill Sheppard and Nicholas Biddle told The Conversation on Wednesday.

“Plus, we don’t tend to think that we have the same level of income inequality as the US. Despite this, newly released data shows we are surprisingly willing to identify ourselves as members of one class or another.”

Digging deeper, the researchers found there are five observable classes in Australia.

These are the established affluent class (14 percent of the sample), an emergent affluent class (11 percent), a mobile middle class (25 percent), an established middle class (25 percent); and an established working class (25 percent).

Dr Sheppard said there were positive signs of intergenerational mobility across all classes, but particularly the working and middle classes, with education being an important hinge to propel people into a higher category.

“That was the case in what we call the mobile middle class and this emergent affluent class --- education seems to be pushing them ahead,” she told The Huffington Post Australia.

There was notable evidence of inter-generational mobility in occupational prestige, meaning children were getting more prestigious jobs than their parents.

This was particularly highlighted in the two middle classes, where the mean prestige score is almost 10 points higher than members’ parents.

But it wasn't universal, with the affluent classes more closely reflecting the positions of their parents and appearing to enjoy the benefits of their parents’ job prestige, earning high incomes at lower occupational prestige than all categories except the working class.

The base of the survey replicated a recent study conducted in Britain by the BBC.

That study found there were seven observable classes in Britain.

Comparing the local result to Britain, Dr Sheppard said Australia was missing class extremes.

“They had an elite class and what they called a procareate class, a sort of portmanteau of precarious proletariat,” Dr Sheppard said.

“We found we replicated that study here with 1200 Australians, we found we have the five middle classes that the UK has but we don’t have the extreme tail ends.”

The Australian study also a showed people tended to underestimate their class, identifying themselves as established middle or working class when they were tended higher on the scale of objective measures.

“We all tend to think we’re knockabout,” Dr Sheppard said.

“We’re knockabout and we struggle and we’re battlers but we’re not actually. We sort of have it better then we realise.

“We don’t tend to talk about class but we’re conscious in Australia that there is a social hierarchy. It’s flatter than we think though.”

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