Great Britain’s class system retains the marks of a long feudal past. ~ John Macionis
Britain evolved during 19th-century industrialization into a class society largely based upon inherited wealth, the remnant of the preceding agrarian estate system (the landed gentry). Britain’s estate system was maintained by the law of primogeniture, by which only the eldest son inherited parental property. This law had the effect of keeping estates intact for centuries rather than being divided among multiple offspring.
The law of primogeniture also meant that younger sons had to find another living. The clergy – the 2nd estate, owing to its vast land holdings – was popular, as was the military for boys of a sterner bent. Meanwhile, the fate of females was always in marrying well.
The cream of England’s elite – a fraction of 1% of the population – are a small number of families that have been wealthy for many generations. These are the descendants of estate holders from the preindustrial era of manorialism in England. Such a long duration of standing promotes high status consistency.
A rung below the estate-based elite is the “upper class,” with both wealth and highbrow cultural capital; some 6% of the population.
Upper-class Englishmen are educated at elite institutions, enjoy high prestige, and have considerable power to shape society. A woman’s social status becomes that of her husband.
The middle class comprises some 25% of the population within. The top crust of the middle class is moderately wealthy, and includes many professionals, such as lawyers and doctors, and those unusually successful in business: increasingly commonly in the 21st century in the financial sector, making money with money (once the only occupational refuge of European Jews, now sought after by greedy gentiles).
The middle of the middle class has educated professionals in business managerial, technical, and scientific occupations.
On the bottom crust of the middle class are wage earners who have accumulated little wealth. Most are office workers.
Status consistency is more viscous at the bottom of the hierarchy than toward the top, and downward mobility is more slippery.
Half of Britons are working class. Modestly educated, the working class are wage slaves: employed as technicians, in the service sector, employees in shops and small companies, or manual laborers. The vast majority of ethnic minorities are working class.
Service workers have been a rising proportion of the working class for the past few decades. As of 2015, ~20% of British society were employed in the service sector. The downing of retail shops by Internet commerce will continuously stress that sector.
The remaining quarter of Brits are precariat. Precarity is existence without economic security or predictability.
The precariat has emerged from the liberalisation that underpinned globalisation. It consists of a multitude of insecure people, living bits-and-pieces lives, in and out of short-term jobs, without a narrative of occupational development, including millions of frustrated educated youth who do not like what they see before them, millions of women abused in oppressive labour, growing numbers of criminalised tagged for life, millions being categorised as ‘disabled’ and migrants in their hundreds of millions around the world. They are denizens; they have a more restricted range of social, cultural, political and economic rights than citizens around them. ~ English social economist Guy Standing
Compared with Americans, Brits are very class conscious. Like Americans, they recognize class distinctions based upon look, the stores patronized, and car driven. But the most striking statement of British class is dialect and education. As these often show up in distinctive speech, accent almost always betrays class. As soon as someone speaks, social class is revealed, whereupon the listener treats the speaker accordingly.
Far more than in other western European countries, if you are born poor in Britain, in a poor area, the chances are that you will remain poor for the rest of your life. If you are born rich, in a rich area, the likelihood is that you will find a way – or will have ways come to you – to stay wealthy and privileged throughout your life, and your children will do the same. Advantage is hoarded by the privileged sticking close to those who are similarly privileged.
There is a subtle collusion shared by both left and right to maintain the solidity of this structure, while continuing to deny it. Tensions between the classes have been exploited mercilessly by politicians.
Social and economic inequalities, particularly between the south-east and the rest of the country, and between major cities and outlying towns, have grown, and that growth been tolerated, for decades – to a point where it now threatens social and political stability. ~ English journalist Lynsey Hanley in 2016