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Middle-class people cling to working-class roots, study shows

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Are you confused about your social class?

PEOPLE in Britain are determined to cling to their working class roots despite having climbed the social ladder.

Researchers have found that the same proportion of people as 30 years ago consider themselves to be working-class, even though there have been huge increases in the number of people doing middle-class jobs.

The news follows evidence of great social advances by Irish people in Britain.

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The vast majority of people who emigrated to Britain in the 40s, 50s and 60s took on low-skilled jobs.

But today the proportion of Irish people doing ‘white-collar’ jobs is higher than that of all other major ethnic groups.

The annual British Social Attitudes Survey found that two thirds of Britain’s population has an occupation considered middle-class.

But only a third described themselves as such while six-in-ten said they are working-class, replicating the findings of 1983, when less than half the population (47 per cent) had middle-class jobs.

Manchester-based TV presenter Terry Christian, whose parents were Irish, said people are less likely to see themselves as middle-class because “everybody likes to feel like they have a kind of journey in their life”.

“It is much more impressive to say ‘I am a doctor and my Dad was a hospital porter’ than it is to say ‘I am a brain surgeon and my Dad was a brain surgeon’,” he told the BBC.

Mr Christian added that people who are not working-class are also identifying themselves as such because “middle-class institutions seem slightly tainted nowadays”.

“We have this romanticised idea of the working classes,” he explained. “Del Boy Trotter almost looks like St Francis of Assisi compared to a lot of the bankers.”

Michael Savage, a sociologist at the London School of Economics who co-authored the research, said that identifying with working-class roots despite social advancement was unique to Britain.

“In the US, Canada, Australia and elsewhere in Europe people like to say they are middle-class because it means they are not super-wealthy but they are not poor,” he told The Times.

“In the UK, in some quarters, to say you are middle-class is considered to be a claim that you are above other people. It has connotations of elitism, so people would rather not say it.”

Processor Savage added that the survey’s findings could be a result of middle-class becoming an “all-encompassing” term.

“It has rather lost its meaning,” he explained.

“It used to be that only a small proportion of the population had white-collar jobs. Now they are the majority.”

According to the 2011 Census, just under half (49 per cent) the people in Britain who described themselves as White Irish worked in professional, managerial and administrative occupations.

That compares with four-in-ten White British people, 36 per cent of Asian people and less than a third of Black people.

The so-called ‘white-collar’ jobs are found in industries like finance, law, engineering and education.

Do you view yourself as working-class despite doing a middle-class job? Tell us why in the comments below.

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Niall O Sullivan
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Niall O’Sullivan is a reporter at The Irish Post. You can follow him on @Niall_IrishPost on Twitter

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