Class distinctions in the US and UK
April 30, 2008 7:38 PM   Subscribe

Social Class in the US and UK Lynne Murphy, a linguist from the US living in the UK, looks at the differences in class distinctions through the lens of the language we use to talk about them.
posted by mosessis (51 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
As Carolyn observed, Americans often use 'collar' descriptions of job types as a code for discussing class. AmE blue collar refers to jobs that one wouldn't wear 'business clothes' to, but to which one might wear blue (AmE) coveralls (BrE = overalls).** White collar jobs are those to which (traditionally) one would wear a suit--but of course these days more and more such jobs have casual 'uniforms'. Newer, analogous collar terms have sprung up, such as pink collar for (usually low-paid) jobs that have traditionally been held by women (e.g. waitress, receptionist, secretary, hairdresser, nurse) and less commonly green collar (environmental/agricultural jobs) and grey (or gray) collar (usually for jobs that are between blue and white collar--e.g. non-doctors working in health care).

And dog collar jobs might refer to workers at an S&M club.
posted by ornate insect at 7:52 PM on April 30, 2008


Americans often use 'collar' descriptions of job types as a code for discussing class.

I've always wondered where research scientemagicians fit in?
posted by porpoise at 7:53 PM on April 30, 2008


The next line is what struck me: The term working class is not as common in the US as it is in the UK--low(er) income is often heard in its stead

I feel like in the U.S., "working class" is mentioned everywhere (especially in the political realm), to the point that it has completely supplanted "lower-middle class," while "upper-middle class" is what all but the richest (when discussing those with disposable income) claim to be.
posted by kittyprecious at 8:07 PM on April 30, 2008


As the article suggests, traditionally "class" in the UK (a class-conscious society if ever there was one) referred to "social class" as much as wealth, i.e. more like a caste system: for instance, one might through pluck and luck get relatively rich as a East London merchant, but still have an identifiable working class accent which would effectively bar one from obtaining entry into certain "posh" clubs, or from getting one's kids into certain schools. In the States, by contrast, class has largely been conceived as a question about income status: it is defined by how much money one makes, not one's upbringing or social decorum.

Naturally, however, many people mis-identify themselves when asked--either knowingly or not.
posted by ornate insect at 8:25 PM on April 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


UK anarchist Penny Rimbaud on the internalized class repression of the UK.
posted by ornate insect at 8:34 PM on April 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


So what distinguishes U and non-U in the US?
posted by jouke at 8:51 PM on April 30, 2008


So what distinguishes U and non-U in the US?

What does this mean? I would argue that political affiliation has more to do with how Americans divide themselves up then any notion of class. Assuming by "U" and "non-U" you mean groups you identify with and groups you don't, which isn't all that clear really.
posted by delmoi at 9:15 PM on April 30, 2008


What does this mean? I would argue that political affiliation has more to do with how Americans divide themselves up then any notion of class. Assuming by "U" and "non-U" you mean groups you identify with and groups you don't, which isn't all that clear really.
The post linked to uses U and non-U to mean upper class and non-upper class.
posted by peacheater at 9:18 PM on April 30, 2008


U and non-U specifically refers to the dialects of English used by the upper and middle classes in England, especially in the 1950s.
posted by grouse at 9:37 PM on April 30, 2008


So what distinguishes U and non-U in the US?

I'd say that there isn't a definition that everyone would agree with. Is being rich enough to be upper class? Lots of people would say yes. But lots of indisputably upper class old-money New Englandy types would never accept a twenty five year old dot-com multimillionaire into their social circles.

I'm even torn as to whether you can be "upper class" in the United States without being rich. I know there was a tradition of genteel poverty back across the pond with old aristrocratic families falling upon hard times and arranging marriages with new money types who wanted the "family name" but I'm not sure that applies to the USA these days. I suppose that, if forced, I'd posit that money is required but not sufficient for being upper class in the US.

It's something like having money plus a certain sense of decorum plus social circle.

Note: If you make a hundred million throwing, catching, hitting, or shooting a ball of some sort and buy a $20 million house with zebra patterned furniture and mirrors on every ceiling you probably aren't upper class.
posted by Justinian at 9:46 PM on April 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Fantastic blog, thanks for linking it.

So what distinguishes U and non-U in the US?
I'm no linguist, but I can't think of a single word which, if I were to hear someone say it, would identify them as "upper class." It's more lifestyle than manner of speaking.
posted by m0nm0n at 9:46 PM on April 30, 2008


It's interesting to listen to people who, at the very least, are very upper-middle-class describe themselves as "average earners," and not out of modesty. Friends of mine who make $200K a year assume that they're just typical folks, earnings-wise, when in reality they're in the top few percent of American households.

The disconnect is sometimes quite jarring, at that level of money coming in, it's hard to even grasp how its possible to not earn enough to pay rent or whatever. One of my friends was talking about a co-worker being 40 and just bought a house. "Can you imagine being 40 with a 30 year mortgage in front of you?" Uh, sure. That's me.
posted by maxwelton at 9:51 PM on April 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


maxwelton - I hear.

So what distinguishes U and non-U in the US?

Huh. And I had assumed it to be the difference between people in the US who spelled coloured color or honour as honor, &c. Or Aluminium vs. aluminum.
posted by porpoise at 10:24 PM on April 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


She writes
The UK is experiencing more social mobility than probably ever before (the government's big push to increase the numbers of young people in higher education is one symptom/cause), and Tony Blair (whose leadership was marked by affinity for things, including wars, American) famously claimed "We're all middle class now".
which flies in the face of all the research I've read, e.g. Disturbing finding from LSE study - social mobility in Britain lower than other advanced countries and declining or UK 'one of worst countries for social mobility'. Makes you wonder how hard she thought about/researched the rest.
posted by Abiezer at 11:18 PM on April 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've always wondered where research scientemagicians fit in?

Sub-lumpen bourgoisie, obviously. Unless you've got tenure, at which point you ascend to the uber-petit bourgoisie.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:56 PM on April 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


> I feel like in the U.S., "working class" is mentioned everywhere (especially in the political realm)

My feeling was that you hear it a lot on the Left, but very rarely on the Right. However I wasn't sure if that was actually true or just an assumption, so just for shits and giggles I ran a few Google searches. I thought the results were kind of interesting.

Google searches for "working class" in various domains:
JohnMcCain.com: 33
HillaryClinton.com: 33 (spooky!)
BarackObama.com: 5,120
GOP.com: 7
RNC.org: 3
JohnEdwards.com: 84
SP-USA.org: 98
Democrats.org: 3,100

Google searches for "middle class" in various domains:
JohnMcCain.com: 194
HillaryClinton.com: 2,060
BarackObama.com: 18,600
GOP.com: 540
RNC.org: 45
JohnEdwards.com: 667
SP-USA.org: 9
Democrats.org: 8,000

Ratio of "working class" to "middle class" mentions:
McCain: 33/194 = 0.17
Clinton: 33/2060 = 0.016
Obama: 5120/18600 = 0.275
GOP: 7/540 = 0.01296
RNC: 3/45 = 0.067
Edwards: 84/667 = 0.1259
Socialist Party: 98/9 = 10.8889
Democrats: 3100/8000 = 0.3875
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:03 AM on May 1, 2008 [4 favorites]


So what distinguishes U and non-U in the US?

I infer from the same site that correct (American) use of that/which is an indicator.
posted by alasdair at 12:53 AM on May 1, 2008


So what distinguishes U and non-U in the US?

Oooh! Oooh! I have a question!

How you hold and use your cutlery while eating is an excellent discriminator in the UK. North Americans universally do that "cut, swap, fork" action, British people vary from class to class.

Or so I thought. Watching SIX FEET UNDER recently, I noticed that Brenda, played by Rachel Griffiths, used her cutlery like an upper/middle-class Brit. The Brenda character is from a well-off, well-educated family, which suggests this was a deliberate indicator of class. However, Griffiths is from Australia, so she might use her cutlery like that anyway.

So, how do smart (the U word for posh) Americans hold their cutlery?
posted by alasdair at 12:58 AM on May 1, 2008


which flies in the face of all the research I've read, e.g. Disturbing finding from LSE study - social mobility in Britain lower than other advanced countries and declining or UK 'one of worst countries for social mobility'. Makes you wonder how hard she thought about/researched the rest.

My guess is that when Blair said "we" he really meant London or maybe southern England.
posted by srboisvert at 1:04 AM on May 1, 2008


I infer from the same site that correct (American) use of that/which is an indicator.

That has nothing to do with social class, and more to do with those who engage in formal writing versus those who don't. And I think calling the distinction "correct" is correct, especially given that it is not universally considered mandatory by even American usage guides:
Many have thought it would be good were that always to be used to introduce only restrictive clause modifiers (The big dog that is barking is a nuisance) and which, only nonrestrictive ones (The big dog, which is barking, is mine). This neat dichotomy has been much recommended, and some conservative watchdogs of our Edited English do follow it pretty generally. But—especially in Conversational or Informal contexts—most of us use which almost interchangeably with that in restrictive modifiers and rarely but sometimes use that to introduce nonrestrictive modifiers... Best advice: use that or which or nothing, depending on what your ear tells you.
I don't think European fork etiquette is universal among posh people in the U.S., but it's surely far more common than it is among non-posh people.
posted by grouse at 1:15 AM on May 1, 2008


So what distinguishes U and non-U in the US?

Teeth.

The upper class have capped and whitened teeth. Even if they have perfectly healthy teeth, they have them cosmetically improved.

This confuses them when they encounter the British upper class, who traditionally identify themselves through accents.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:23 AM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


So what distinguishes U and non-U in the US?

Huh. And I had assumed it to be the difference between people in the US who spelled coloured color or honour as honor, &c. Or Aluminium vs. aluminum.


What? No! Those words could be used as indicators of how British/Canadian one is, but not of class.

The only word I can think of that distinguishes class is the use of "summer" as a verb. As in, "I summer on the cape" or whatever. Middle class people would just say "vacation".
posted by fermezporte at 5:08 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


USA doesn't have a true Upper Class as they are all tasteless heathens.. they just have rich wankers.
posted by mary8nne at 5:29 AM on May 1, 2008


This confuses them when they encounter the British upper class, who traditionally identify themselves through accents.

I would have bet money that sentence was going to end "...through their terrible teeth."
posted by languagehat at 5:30 AM on May 1, 2008


And yeah, separated by a common language is a great blog.
posted by languagehat at 5:31 AM on May 1, 2008


Great post, on what looks to be a great weblog.

ornate insect writes 'Naturally, however, many people mis-identify themselves when asked--either knowingly or not.'

Usually downwards, in my experience - the number of people who, say, work in the media and are the children of professionals, but claim to be working class is staggering. It's as silly as Americans who claim to be Irish or Scottish five generations down the line.

Re: social mobility, I think it's shocking how socially mobile my parents generation were compared to folk born in the last decade - all thanks to free university education/maintenance grants at a time when attending university (a Red Brick or New one, anyway) was based on being clever and not much else, presumably. And maybe it's true too that working class parents in the UK used to place an extreme emphasis on education but no longer do, immigrant populations aside?
posted by jack_mo at 6:00 AM on May 1, 2008


Y'all fail, at class, American style. You have failed to understand that "upper class" is not monolithic. There is upper-upper, and lower-upper. The former is attained only by birth or marriage. The latter can apply to any jerk with enough money. Wealth is not the distinguishing characteristic. Upper-Upper may no longer retain wealth, but retain status.

Of course, there are plenty of lower-upper type folks who would disagree. But these are the sorts of people who find it intolerable that they can not be on Top. They will go to any lengths to prove otherwise. Pathetic, really.
posted by Goofyy at 6:38 AM on May 1, 2008


I'm no linguist, but I can't think of a single word which, if I were to hear someone say it, would identify them as "upper class."

Ascot.
posted by rokusan at 7:29 AM on May 1, 2008


I think it is rather startling that in any of the comments thus far on this post, the term "race" is not to be found. Especially in America (I can't speak for the UK), I can't see how any relevant discussion about something called "class" can actually be had without mentioning "race".
posted by pantsonsteven at 8:28 AM on May 1, 2008


"Prole but Proud" was a t-shirt I wanted to sell at one point. Anyway, the one thing I do notice from my travels and living across the US is that there are regional differences in how wealth is acceptably displayed. In some regions I notice, shall we say, a more upfront way of wealth display vs. a more modest or different means; modest main home and oh yeah, the lake house or cabin being an instance. While in the UK I was kind of exempt from the class mental calculations being a foreigner, but did get a distinct class ranking, classification vibe under the surface. My time in the UK allowed me to read Terry Pratchett books with greater depth.
posted by jadepearl at 8:34 AM on May 1, 2008


> So, how do smart (the U word for posh) Americans hold their cutlery?

The cut-swap-eat method is pretty universal in the U.S., at least in my experience, but I'm not sure it's that much of a class distinguisher. You can see both good and bad table manners in almost any strata of American society; though there's probably some level of correlation, I think there are enough exceptions that I don't think many people use it as a signifier by itself. I'm sure it feeds into the 'total package' that people use when judging/placing each other, though.

I suppose when you get into more 'advanced' or special-case table manners, like handling the 'wine ritual' with a sommelier or selecting the proper silverware from a formal multi-course place setting, it could start to become a 'class' signifier, but it's not as black and white as one eating method versus another. It's more of a "how comfortable is this person in this situation," i.e. "do they belong or are they out of place" rather than a particular behavioral litmus test. I'd say in general, that seems to be how 'class' is determined and handled in the U.S.; there are very few universal or near-universal signifiers.

There are certain ethnic/cultural stereotypes regarding general table manners that you still see pop up from time to time in the U.S., though that's kind of a different issue.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:48 AM on May 1, 2008


Are you british, pantsonsteven? You're standing on the third rail.
posted by Tlogmer at 9:13 AM on May 1, 2008


I'm no linguist, but I can't think of a single word which, if I were to hear someone say it, would identify them as "upper class."

Grenarnia.
posted by nervestaple at 10:02 AM on May 1, 2008


Fascinating post, and I really like the blog. There are countless markers of various classes in Britain, and each of them produce different results depending on the way each of them interact with the others.

Regarding identifying class:
jack_mo: Usually downwards, in my experience - the number of people who, say, work in the media and are the children of professionals, but claim to be working class is staggering.

It's weird, I think in a lot of ways it very much depends on the political persuasions/inclinations of your parents. Mine were both brought up very working class – big families, small council houses, parents with manual jobs – and though they were both educated to degree level (PhD in my dad's case), and worked in "professional" jobs – teacher; guidance counsellor/computer consultant – we lived in a variety of council houses for two thirds of my childhood, and I was certainly aware that we were working class – or at least I felt that I was; my younger brother would most likely agree. (I mean, we didn't get a 'phone until I was 12! We must have been working class!) But to be honest class consciousness was probably far more to do with my parents' political beliefs than any standard markers of what class I was or wasn't (and currently am/am not). Had I been brought up by parents who weren't politicised socialists who dragged their children (willingly!) on trade union marches, peace protests, and in one rather thrillingly hairy instance, a rather violent picket line, I very much doubt I'd cling to the idea that I'm working class in the way that I still do. If, say, they'd been working class but educated small-c conservatives whose jobs and income took them from council house childhoods to comfortable larger-house, two-car suburbia, as was the case with many of their siblings, I probably wouldn't think about it at all, which is mostly the way my cousins think about it (or don't, if you see what I mean).


Of course, there's a bit (or a lot!) of pretence involved in me still calling myself working class; I don't think that's a realistic option for freelance arts hacks whose last stint of manual labour was a summer job 12 years ago, between first and second year of university. I was about to say that it's still rather knotty, but I think that's just self-delusion. Or a typical middle class self-loathing which romanticises the idea of being working class. It's weird; my brother and I were discussing this recently, and came to the conclusion that however much we might not like to admit it we – two artsy professional types with degrees, the spawn of intellectual parents, also with degrees – are middle class.

Rambling aside, all this class confusion makes for fertile ground for brilliant/cruel insults, my favourite of which was bibulous blue-blood Tory Alan Clark's line about Michael Heseltine. Sneering about his self-made fortune, Clark scoffed that Heseltine, not coming from landed country house gentry, was the kind of man "who has to buy his own furniture".
posted by Len at 10:43 AM on May 1, 2008


Growing up in the 50s and 60s, I understood clearly that education is what let you into the middle class. If you had a college education, you were middle class no matter what your parents did, or how much money you made.

I think that what changed/confused the issue of class in America more than anything is the way the marketers got hold of the concept and redefined it as "what you own". Now, if you have the so-called trappings of a middle class lifestyle (house in the burbs, SUV, name brand clothes, big "grill" in the backyard, etc.) you are middle class. This completely subverted the anyone-can-get-there ethos of the post-war generation, who were able to break into the middle class through grit, determination, college, and the GI Bill.

Just another example of how we took what was best about America-- equality of opportunity (let's skip the race-based subversion of this for now), belief in social mobility, the New Deal, and the best public education system in the world-- and turned it into an entitlement society (by which I do NOT mean social security, but rather that I "deserve" to buy whatever the fuck I fancy, and screw whether I or the planet can afford it.)
posted by nax at 12:44 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's astounding, what the American upper class thinks "middle class" is. A friend of mine is a writer on a television show. She (an her co-workers) had a meeting where a producer/writer suggested that they make a particular character "an average middle-class guy, he makes, say, $250,000 a year...".

They all stared at one another.
posted by tzikeh at 1:23 PM on May 1, 2008



Americans mostly pretend that class doesn't exist and then are shattered when they realize how it limits them. Instead of taking this on politically, they decide that *I personally am a loser* and this is why I haven't become rich. There is a huge industry devoted to convincing them that this is the case, of course.

Its shameful and a sign of personal weakness and failure if you aren't rich here. In the UK, OTOH, you aren't expected to "get above yourself" so identifying yourself as working class can be a source of pride. I think this means a lot less misery for the majority of people who then take their identity from their social lives and communities, rather than from what they do-- but I suppose for a few people for whom being more driven would have led to greater success, it is limiting.

Either way, we've done a very good job at hiding class analysis and marginalizing even thinking about it as an evil communist plot...
posted by Maias at 3:24 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Ascot"

Someone needs to tell my small-town hometown's American Legion Band.
posted by Jahaza at 4:50 PM on May 1, 2008


which flies in the face of all the research I've read, e.g. Disturbing finding from LSE study - social mobility in Britain lower than other advanced countries and declining or UK 'one of worst countries for social mobility'. Makes you wonder how hard she thought about/researched the rest.
posted by Abiezer at 2:18 AM on May 1 [1 favorite +] [!]


It's possible for the UK to have higher social mobility than before, and still have lower social mobility than other places. Do the articles address change over time?
posted by jb at 6:17 PM on May 1, 2008


I think it is rather startling that in any of the comments thus far on this post, the term "race" is not to be found. Especially in America (I can't speak for the UK), I can't see how any relevant discussion about something called "class" can actually be had without mentioning "race".
posted by pantsonsteven at 11:28 AM on May 1 [+] [!]


For 1900 years of British history, class happened without race. (That's not to say there was no race, but it was hidden in the Carribean growing sugar and other things, and not participating in British socioeconomic discussions).

But even in the increasingly multicultural and multiracial UK culture, class still holds the place that race does in the US. And interestingly enough, the UK wants to always blame things on class, and never talk about racism, while the US always wants to talk about racism and never look at the effects of socioeconomic disparity. (gross generalisations, of course)
posted by jb at 6:25 PM on May 1, 2008


Sneering about his self-made fortune, Clark scoffed that Heseltine, not coming from landed country house gentry, was the kind of man "who has to buy his own furniture".

Perhaps the oddest thing about the quoted comment was that Alan Clark was himself hardly 'landed gentry'. His father, Kenneth Clark, was made a life peer approximately ten years prior to Alan Clark making that comment (or perhaps I should say 'reported as making that comment').

I suspect AC's motivation was, like a great deal of class based put downs, a jealousy of Heseltines success, in this case political and financial, relative to his own.
posted by southof40 at 6:45 PM on May 1, 2008


This class meaning different things has always alternately fascinated and frustrated me. I'm especially frustrated by the almost completely meaningless use of "middle class" now, especially in North America. As noted up thread, there are so many people who claim to be "middle class", until you point out to them how they are in the top tenth for income.

Interestingly, I just did some analysis for another thread on the Gregory King estimates of household numbers and incomes from 1696 -- only to see that the turn of the 18th century was a lot less middle class than many historians imply it is -- they don't say it outright, because then you could prove them wrong, but they keep talking about that "rise of the middle class" despite the fact that 62% of the population weren't even petty middling sort, but were outright labourers and cottagers and paupers. (original comment)

And then I found (finally) a graph of Household income distribution in the United States, and again, I'm surprised by just how big the lower ranges are. The way people talk -- even in the excellent lecture by Warren (linked in the other thread) - they keep saying 'we have few poor, few rich, and lots of middle people' - but that's not true. That's a big chuck down there in the lower income range - more households in the US are between $10-30,000 (£5-15k) than there are $30-50,000 (£15-25k) or $50-70,000 (£25-35k). The median is $44,389. Britain has a similar distribution (Post-Tax Household Income), with a median of about £20k/year - though at least there the 'hump' is a bit higher -- rather than $10-20k/£5-10k being the biggest lump, from which it's a pyramid up, it's $20-30k/£10-15k, and that's post-taxes (don't know if the US graph is pre or post tax). But it seems there are fewer Brits with less than $20k/£10k, though cost of living can be higher there.

But the overall pattern seems that in both places, the largest groups - by the income way of talking about class - are the lower class and the lower-middle (at best) class. So why are we always talking about a "middle class" that is essentially an upper-middle to upper class, by income range and distribution? I hate this "middle" word -- it's because we have such silly terms as "upper-middle" for what is really "lower-upper" that those people start to think that they really are in the middle. Well, if you make about £20/year or $44k/year, you are in the middle.
posted by jb at 6:54 PM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


Basically - both the US and the UK have much more pyramidal structures than I think people realise -- certainly more than I realised. I knew that early modern England had a pyramidal income structure, that's obvious, but if you had just asked me what to expect from modern Britain, I would have guessed at a more pear like structure. Well, it does have a bit of a tail at the bottom, but from £10-15k on and it's not as pyramidal as 1696, but it's pretty pyramidal.
posted by jb at 7:04 PM on May 1, 2008


It's as silly as Americans who claim to be Irish or Scottish five generations down the line.

Americans, ok, but you all don't seem to realize how this doesn't apply elsewhere. (Ukrainian Canadian, here)

Chatting with some Americans last year, they made a remark very similar to yours. Our conversation pretty much went like this.

"Oh, but don't you have any ethnic celebrations? For example, we do Ukranian Christmas. Different date entirely."

Ah, no.

"Well, ethnic foods, then? Learn to prepare any?"

Not really.

"Speak the mother tongue?"

No.

"Crafts, like we do pysanky?"

No.

"Oh..."
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:58 PM on May 1, 2008


Alfred Lubrano's Limbo does a great job of explaining class in the US. Until I read this book, I couldn't understand many of the challenges I faced in university, but, more importantly, in the workplace. I couldn't understand why it was funny that the Connors on Roseanne or Homer on the Simpsons went bowling -- until I read this book. I suddenly realized that, when I opted for bowling on HR "staff bonding events", I was making a class statement. I've spent years studying for the transition.
posted by acoutu at 8:36 PM on May 1, 2008


Ugh. I edited that link twice and it still brought up a thread from the Elizabeth Warren post earlier. I'm sorry. Limbo is here: http://books.google.ca/books?id=b19iulkoUbsC&dq=limbo+lubrano&pg=PP1&ots=HJFMkYNvTj&sig=nUPtP0QDaLzX3PAHvQvnGJxAxp8&hl=en&prev=http://www.google.ca/search?q=limbo+lubrano&sourceid=navclient-ff&ie=UTF-8&rlz=1B3GGGL_enCA176CA231&sa=X&oi=print&ct=title&cad=one-book-with-thumbnail
posted by acoutu at 8:37 PM on May 1, 2008


Class in the U.S? There are basically two classes of people here. Those that shower before they go to work and those that shower after they get off work.
posted by tgyg at 9:12 PM on May 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


It's possible for the UK to have higher social mobility than before, and still have lower social mobility than other places. Do the articles address change over time?
Check the Sutton report at the first link jb - not only lower against other nations, but declining over time too. Fits with other research I've seen too.
posted by Abiezer at 1:47 AM on May 2, 2008


Sorry - yes, I should have read more closely. I see that the original author tried to use a wiggle word, "probably", but thank you for flagging that. The decreasing social mobility does have a real impact on her argument. I knew that income inequality is increasing most places in the anglo world, but didn't know about social mobility.
posted by jb at 7:48 AM on May 2, 2008


Here in Lake Woebegon America all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children incomes are above average.
posted by nax at 8:52 AM on May 2, 2008


Networked from birth
Still, the bare facts are there, for those who wish to make something of them. While in the UK only 7.3% of the population go to private schools, 59% of Conservative MPs were privately educated. Of the 27 members of David Cameron's shadow cabinet, 17 went to private schools. Last summer, a smattering of reports drew attention to the fact that no less than 14 Tory frontbench spokesmen were educated at Eton alone. To be fair, such high-flyers as William Hague and the shadow defence secretary Liam Fox keep their comprehensive-educated end up - but Cameron's circle of friends, colleagues and associates is, perhaps inevitably, dominated by men who once spent their school days cloistered near Windsor, dressed in top hat and tails. They include his speechwriter and "ideas man" Danny Kruger, Tory MPs such as Hugo Swire and Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Cameron's avuncular guru Oliver Letwin and his stepfather-in-law Viscount Astor. The shadow chancellor George Osborne, it should be noted, went to the London school St Paul's - but managed, once he'd got to Oxford, to make it into the "Buller", among whose members he was reportedly known as "Oik".

Last year, figures obtained under the Freedom Of Information Act revealed that Oxford admitted almost twice as many Old Etonians in 2006 as in 2001, and that the figure for alumni of Westminster School was up from 14 to 52 (at the last count, 60% of Westminster's sixth formers got places at either Oxford or Cambridge). When you look at the array of research put together by the educational charity The Sutton Trust, the picture is pretty quickly fleshed out. In the past 18 years, for example, the proportion of privately educated high court judges has barely shifted: in 1989, it was 74%; in 2007, it was 70%. And anyone who sees the media as some forward-thinking meritocratic milieu should think again: to quote from one of the Trust's reports, "the proportion of independently educated top newspaper editors, columnists and news presenters and editors has actually increased over the past 20 years".

Which of today's top politicians are privately educated?

Current cabinet
Alistair Darling (Loretto School, Edinburgh); Jack Straw (Brentwood School, Essex) Harriet Harman (St Paul's Girls' School, London); James Purnell (Royal Grammar School, Guildford); Ruth Kelly (Westminster, London); Geoff Hoon (Nottingham High School); Ed Balls (Nottingham High School); Shaun Woodward (Bristol Grammar)

Shadow cabinet
David Cameron (Eton); George Osborne (St Paul's, London); Michael Gove (Robert Gordon's College, Aberdeen); David Willetts (King Edward's School, Birmingham); Andrew Lansley (Brentwood School, Essex); Theresa Villiers (Francis Holland School, London); Nick Herbert (Haileybury, Herts); Peter Ainsworth (Bradfield College, Berkshire); Jeremy Hunt (Charterhouse); Francis Maude (Abingdon); Theresa May (refused to disclose her educational background); Alan Duncan (Merchant Taylor's School, Northwood); Owen Paterson (Radley College, Oxford); Cheryl Gillan (Cheltenham Ladies' College); Andrew Mitchell (Rugby); Oliver Letwin (Eton); Cheryl Gillan (Cheltenham Ladies' College); Andrew Mitchell (Rugby)

A privileged position

Of the 52 prime ministers since 1721, only 12 have not been privately educated: 18 have gone to Eton, seven have gone to Harrow and seven to Westminster

When David Lloyd George became Liberal prime minister in 1916, he was the first PM not to have had a private education

In 2005, 13% (88 in number) of members of the House of Lords came from Eton. Only 17% (106 in number) came from state comprehensives (which account for 90% of all British schools)
posted by Abiezer at 10:57 AM on May 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


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