Study Notes

A New Model of Social Class? Findings from the BBC’s Great British Class Survey Experiment

GCSE, A-Level

Last updated 18 Sept 2020

This research was conducted by Savage, M., Devine, F., Cunningham, N., Taylor, M., Li, Y., Hjellebrekke, J.,Le Roux, B., Friedman, S., Miles, A. in 2013. Here is a summary of some of its findings and links to the various places in the A Level Sociology specifications where it can be usefully deployed.


A New Model of Social Class? Findings from the BBC’s Great British Class Survey Experiment


Savage, M., Devine, F., Cunningham, N., Taylor, M., Li, Y., Hjellebrekke, J.,Le Roux, B., Friedman, S., Miles, A.

Year of Publication



Sage Publications

Method(s) used

Online surveys, face to face questionnaires

Aims of research:

In response to a re-emergence of interest in social class structures in the UK, Savage et al, argued that a different form of analysis was required of traditional social class definitions. Traditional definitions were focused on occupations such as the Nuffield class schema (National Statistics Socio-Economic Classification) developed in the 1970s which divided workers into ‘labour’ and ‘service’ occupations. Savage et al argued that the definitions of class in the 21st century needed to incorporate the different forms of capital outlined by Pierre Bourdieu in Distinction(1984). Using a form of ‘latent class analysis’, (a method of measuring categorised behaviours linked to social class groups) Savage et al analysed the results of the 2011 Great British Class Survey which was designed to incorporate elements of economic, cultural and social capital to differentiate between different social backgrounds. There included measures of social networks, of how leisure time was spent, musical tastes, tastes in cuisine and economic factors such as house price and savings.

Backed by a national campaign of advertising on different BBC forums, the Great British Class Survey collected 161,400 results in the six months that it was live. However further research was required as the results were dominated by ‘well-educated social groups’ which created a sample bias in the results. A further face-to-face survey of 1062 respondents was conducted with the sample constructed using quota sampling.

Important distinctions were made in the levels of economic, social and cultural capital. Cultural capital was measured on both highbrow cultural capital and emerging cultural capital. Social capital was scored on both the number and the status of people’s contacts.

Findings of research:

Savage et al found that traditional definitions of class where only correct for a percent of the population, with the existence of traditional working-class and traditional middle-class identities forming almost 40% of respondent in the face to face surveys. Upon analysis of the results, Savage et al concluded that alongside the traditional working class and the traditional middle class there were five other categories of social class within the UK.

Elites – Comprised 6% of respondents in the face to face survey but 22% of respondents in the online survey. This group had very high economic capital, high social capital and very high highbrow cultural capital. Occupations such as chief executive officers, directors, barristers and financial managers. They were also over-represented in graduates from elite universities – e.g. Cambridge, Oxford, LSE

Established Middle Class – This group comprised 25% of face to face surveys and 43% of online surveys. They had high economic capital, high status social contacts and high levels of highbrow and emerging cultural capital. Occupations included engineers, white collar civil servants, police officers and midwives. Geographically, these people were most likely to be located in ‘middle England’ away from urban areas and in suburbs and within commuting range of London.

Technical Middle Class – This group comprised 6% of face to face survey and 10% of online survey. High levels of economic and social contacts but lower levels of cultural capital. Occupations in this classification tended to be in the scientific fields, pharmacists, radiographers, natural and social science professionals and educational leaders.

New Affluent Workers – 15% in face to face survey, 6% in online survey. Moderately level of economic capital, high number of social contacts but lower status ones, moderate highbrow cultural capital but high in emerging cultural capital. Occupations included electricians, plumbers, sales and retail assistants

Traditional Working Class – 14% in face to face survey, 2% in online survey – low economic capital but more likely to be homeowners, low social contacts, low cultural capital. Occupations included secretaries, van drivers, care workers

Emerging Service Workers – 19% in face to face survey, 17% in online survey, lower economic capital in savings and home ownership but reasonable household income, high emerging cultural capital, but low highbrow capital. Moderate social capital. Occupations included bar staff, factory workers, customer service operatives.

Precariat – 15% in face to face survey less than 1% in online survey. Lowest scores on economic, social and cultural capital. Occupations included retail and cleaning staff.

Areas of specification to link to:

  • Stratification – different definitions of social class in the UK
  • Culture and Identity – emerging cultural capital amongst social groups
  • Methods – surveys, impacts of different sampling methods, sample bias

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