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Study Notes

Class identification

AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

Class identification is the extent to which a citizen of the UK identifies themselves as members of a certain social class, and whether they do so in the same way as market researchers and political scientists do.

In the past, class identification was strongly linked with party loyalty. Those who identified as working class would traditionally vote Labour, and those who identified as middle class would traditionally vote Conservative.

But class identification has diminished for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is because people have moved between classes, sometimes it is because some people want to be viewed as middle class even though they would be traditionally classes as working class (labelled as ‘aspirational’) and also because some who are now middle class still want to be identified as working class because of their roots.

The political commentator Neal Lawson has also claimed that the changes in society through the 50s and 60s and especially the 80s have meant that people now identify and measure themselves more by what the consume rather than what they produce, leading again to less class identification.

So if class identification has diminished, it follows that party loyalties will diminish. In the 1980s this hit Labour particularly badly, because much of its appeal was to class loyalty. The “embourgeoisement” of the working class into people who defined themselves as middle class (through policies such as the “right-to-buy” council housing and the ability of workers to buy shares in their companies when they were privatised) and then ‘classless’ made a difference to the classification of voting behaviour.In 2005 60% of voters declared themselves “class-free” and this has affected voting patterns.

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