Max Weber Section Two
Max Weber and Social Stratification
This Document is divided into Two Sections and Four Parts as indicated below
Part One: The Life of Max Weber
Part Two: Max Weber and Social Stratification
- Max Weber and Social Class
- Max Weber and Social Status
- Max Weber and Party
- Max Weber and Social Closure
- Max Weber, Karl Marx, and Revolution
Part Three: The UK Class Structure Neo-Weberian Approaches
- The Embourgeoisement Theory, The Affluent Worker Studies, and Their Aftermath.
- Theories of the Underclass.
- The Oxford Social Mobility Study and the NS SEC Class Schema
- The NS-SEC and Recent Changes in the UK Class Structure
- The NS-SEC and Long Term Changes in the UK Class Structure
- Neo-Weberian Approaches to Social Status
- Max Weber, Gender, and the NS SEC
- Max Weber, Ethnicity and The NS SEC
- Max Weber and Social Stratification: Summary Conclusions
The UK Class Structure: Neo-Weberian Approaches
In Neo-Weberian analyses it is emphasised that although the UK is a class-divided society the UK class structure is highly fragmentary which would be likely to reduce the prospects for the kind of class solidarity which Marxists hope would lead ultimately to socialist transformation. Examples of neo-Weberian studies include the following.
- The Proletarianisation Theory: The Black Coated Worker [D. Lockwood 1958]
- The Embourgeoisement Theory: The Affluent Worker Studies and their aftermath
- Theories of the Underclass
- The Oxford Social Mobility Study and the NS -SEC Classification
- The Proletarianisation Theory: The Black Coated Worker
By the mid C20th it was being argued mainly by Marxist theorists that routine clerical workers were increasingly being proletarianised but were refusing to unite in solidarity with the manual working class because, due to false class consciousness, they misrecognised their true class position and had mistakenly come to perceive themselves as part of the middle class rather than as part of the working class. In this study David Lockwood attempted to analyse the social class position of clerical workers and in particular the question as to whether they were increasingly experiencing a process of proletarianisation. Lockwood recognised the difficulties of defining social class were recognised an opted to use an essentially Weberian approach measuring clerical workers' class position terms of their market situation, their work situation, and their status situation. His conclusion was that the class position of clerical workers was uncertain for the following reasons.
- In terms of their market situation, clerical workers, even in the 1950s were earning less than many skilled manual workers although they did continue to enjoy fringe benefits such as better working conditions and sickness and pension schemes not available to manual workers.
- In terms of their work situation, at least in relatively small scale offices, clerical workers enjoyed closer working relationships with senior management than did manual workers, although this was changing in large open-plan offices and typing pools.
- Clerical workers continued to enjoy a higher status in the community than did manual workers although this, too, was changing.
- Insofar as the class position of clerical workers was gradually deteriorating, this could be explained by the facts that the expansion of education meant that many more people now had the skills necessary to undertake clerical work and that trade unions had succeeded in gaining substantial pay increases for manual workers which meant that clerical workers no longer enjoyed an earnings advantage in many cases. As a result of this, clerical workers too increasingly joined trade unions.
- Thus, whereas some Marxists would assume that essentially clerical workers could by the 1950s be regarded as part of the Proletariat Lockwood had used a neo-Weberian approach to the measurement of social class to argue that the class position of clerical workers was changing but argued that by the late 1950s they occupied a position somewhere between the working class and the middle class. There is thus a more nuanced measure of social class and far greater emphasis on the fragmentary nature of the class structure than would be found in some Marxist theories.
There have been several more recent studies of the class position of the clerical worker, some of which accept the proletarianisation theory and some of which reject it. For example, John Goldthorpe has argued that clerical workers should not be described as working class because many of them are young and can reasonably expect to move on to managerial positions in later life so that they are unlikely to adopt a working class identity during their relatively short time as clerical workers. Conversely, Rosemary Crompton and Gareth Jones have claimed that clerical work is increasingly done by women and that their chances of promotion to managerial level are much smaller, such that they can be described as part of the proletariat or working class. However, my aim here is solely to demonstrate how David Lockwood used an essentially Weberian approach to analyse what he saw as the fine distinctions between the class positions of clerical and manual working class people.
Divisions within the Working Class: The Embourgeoisement Theory and its Critics
In the 1950s and 1960s, so called post-capitalist theorists were claiming that capitalist societies were evolving into post-capitalist societies characterised by a shift in the occupational structure from unskilled to skilled manual and non-manual work, full employment and a more equal distribution of wealth and income and increased provision of welfare services by the State which implied, for example more equality of educational opportunity and the reduction of poverty at least in an absolute sense. Also, nationalisation of several basic industries meant that they were now supposed to operate more in the interests of the consumer and the rise of the Labour Party, and the growing strength of the trade unions implied that working class people could share more fully in the use of political power which had previously been monopolised indirectly by the upper class. Thus, it came to be argued that Marxist theories of the state were now deemed increasingly irrelevant as political power could be analysed much more accurately via theories of Democratic Pluralism [although neo-Marxists such as Ralph Miliband were quick to argue that it was the theories of democratic pluralism which were inaccurate.]
Within this overall process of social transformation, it was increasingly argued that class boundaries were becoming more indistinct and that the more affluent sections of the working class were actually experiencing a process of embourgeoisement; that is they were increasingly becoming middle class both in terms of standard of living, life style and attitudes and values. The supporters of the embougeoisement theory made several inter-related points in support of the theory. Thus, proponents of the embourgeoisement theory made the following interconnected arguments.
- The occupational structure was changing with a decline in the proportion of unskilled and semi-skilled manual jobs and a growth of skilled non-manual and skilled manual jobs, linked to some extent to the relative decline of manufacturing and the increased importance of service industries, a trend which would accelerate in the future.
- The distribution of income and wealth was becoming more equal, partly because of the full employment of the long post-war economic boom and that affluent manual workers now enjoyed living standards comparable to some non-manual workers. Ownership of consumer durables was becoming more widespread and many working class people could now afford holidays abroad.
- Skilled manual workers were now less likely to experience alienation at work and were more likely to be consulted by management. Blauner 's work on the relationship between alienation and changing levels of technology was sometimes used to support this argument.
- Traditional working class communities were declining, and that increasingly geographically mobile manual workers were becoming indistinguishable from their middle class neighbours.
- Equality of educational opportunity was becoming a reality and that manual workers now took more interest in their children's education indicating a reduction in class differences in attitudes to education.
- These trends helped to explain why Labour was defeated in 3 successive General Elections in 1951, 1955 and 1959. Since manual workers were becoming more "middle class" they were deserting the working class Labour Party for the middle class Conservative Party. This could be taken to imply that for these workers there had occurred a decline in working class consciousness.
Consequently, it was argued that the overall class structure was changing from a triangle to a diamond with an increasing proportion of the population falling into the middle range of the stratification system. In this "middle mass society", the mass of the population was middle class rather than working class.
It was also pointed out that insofar as the theory of Embourgeoisement was accurate, it appeared to invalidate at least the more simplistic accounts of Marxist theory which present Marx as a fairly rigid economic determinist predicting that class polarisation would lead to the disappearance of the intermediate strata. By contrast writers such as Clark Kerr argued that technological developments in industrial societies, whether capitalist or communist would require and increasingly well educated, well trained work force earning the high wages necessary to create the consumer demand for the ever increasing production of goods and services possible in industrial economies. As a result, Kerr expected a convergence of capitalist and communist societies in which ideological factors became less significant (due to the so-called end of ideology theory associated with Daniel Bell) as both capitalist and communist societies would be influenced by a by the logic of industrialism which would cause societies to develop in ways not at all predicted by Marx.
However, in his later work, Marx did recognise that the intermediate strata would expand, and it has often been suggested that some of his critics overstated the extent of economic determinism present in his work. Also, Kerr's theory of the logic of industrialism attracted criticism as significant economic and ideological differences remained as between capitalist and communist regimes although notions of convergence and the end of ideology took on a new lease of life with the "collapse of communism 1989-1991), signalling what Francis Fukuyama has called "The End of History." Once again Fukuyama's views have attracted criticism, but I shall not pursue them here. Let us return instead to the nature of the working class!
- Criticism of the Embourgeoisement Theory
In his Dictionary of Sociology, Gordon Marshall states that "the clearest statement of the Embourgeoisement theory is found In F. Zweig's "The Worker in an Affluent Society (1961) which has the virtue that it is empirically grounded since Zweig conducted interviews with workers in 5 British firms." More critically, Marshall further states that "most other proponents of embourgeoisement argued principally on the basis of speculation and anecdote."
In the UK, the Embourgeoisement theory soon came in for heavy criticism and for several reasons.
- Economists pointed out that the distribution of income and wealth in the 1950s was more unequal than had been supposed and it was shown that relative poverty was widespread as was inequality of education opportunity.
- Blauner's theory of the relationships between alienation and levels of technology was criticised on the grounds that was empirically inaccurate in its own terms and also in any case that it relied on a narrow definition of alienation.
More specifically in "The Affluent Worker" studies, Goldthorpe, Lockwood, Bechhofer and Platt attempted to analyse the class position of affluent manual workers clerical workers and members of the traditional working class in detail. The authors studied 229 affluent manual workers and their families together with 54 clerical workers for comparative purposes. Luton was chosen as the location for the study because it was seen as an area especially likely to give rise to Embourgeoisement such that Goldthorpe et al. believed that they could conclude that if embourgeoisement was not occurring in Luton it would be unlikely that it was occurring in other parts of the country.
However, Goldthorpe and co. concluded that the affluent workers interviewed in their study had not experienced a process of embourgeoisement although they differed in important respects from both the proletarian traditionalist and deferential traditionalist sections of the working class as well as from the middle class., How did Goldthorpe, Lockwood et al. reach this conclusion?
- Firstly, it was necessary to define "social class" and the authors argued that social class contained economic, relational, and normative aspects. They then argued that the affluent manual workers could not be described as economically middle class because although in some cases they earned more than routine non-manual workers, this was because of overtime or shift work bonuses and that overtime and shift work interfered with their leisure activities and even, in some cases, with their health. Also, they experienced poorer working conditions and enjoyed few if any of the fringe benefits enjoyed by routine non-manual workers. These workers were committed to their company and job only insofar as it provided relatively high incomes. they were not interested in promotion and had few friends at work
- Neither were affluent manual workers middle class in relational terms. They had few middle class friends and were unlikely to engage in typically middle class leisure activities but their leisure activities, far from being community-centred as in the traditional working class, were described as home centred and privatised
- Neither were the affluent manual workers middle class in normative terms. To analyse the attitudes and values of the affluent manual workers it was important for Goldthorpe, Lockwood et al. to be able to compare them with the assumed attitudes and values of the so-called traditional working class and of the middle class. To achieve this, based on the limited evidence available at the time, Goldthorpe, Lockwood and co. relied on previous work by David Lockwood in which he had constructed what he described as ideal-typical proletarian traditionalist and middle class images of society. He also referred to a deferential traditionalist image of society, but this was not deemed relevant for the Luton Study
- Goldthorpe and co. then argued that the affluent manual workers of Luton differed in terms of their attitudes and values from both proletarian traditionalist and middle class workers Thus It was also claimed that they broadly accepted a "money Model" of society rather than the us- them model or the hierarchical model associated with the traditional working class and the middle class respectively. You may click here for further information on working class and middle class images of society.
- Affluent manual workers hoped to improve their living standards not via individual promotion and upward social mobility but collectively via their membership of trades unions and support for the Labour Party. In this they were significantly different from the middle class proper.
- However, they also differed from the traditional working class because although they were highly likely to be members of trade unions and to vote Labour: (80% of the sample had done so in1959), their reasons for so doing were explained by Goldthorpe and CO in terms of instrumental collectivism rather than the solidaristic collectivism associated with the traditional working class. That is: they supported the Trades Unions and the Labour Party not out of a sense of class solidarity but because of a calculated belief that this was the best way to improve their own economic circumstances. .Also, their support for the Labour Party was potentially volatile in that they said that they could easily imagine themselves voting Conservative if Conservative policies appeared more likely to benefit them economically.
In sum, Goldthorpe and CO claimed to have uncovered not a process of Embourgeoisement but the emergence of a "new working class whose work experience, life styles, attitudes and values, although different from those of the traditional working class, were, nevertheless, still recognisably working class. They argued also that a process of "normative convergence" between the "new working class and the clerical workers was underway as clerical workers also increasingly joined trade unions attempting to halt the relative decline in their living standards
This is a widely respected study of an important aspect of the 1960s class structure, but it has been subjected to several important criticisms. In 'In Praise of Sociology' (1990), Gordon Marshall, while complimenting the Goldthorpe et al study, also refers to several criticisms which have been made of it since its publication. Thus, among the criticisms noted by Marshall are the following.
i). It is argued that within the traditional working class there have existed so-called proletarian traditionalists (who have been very critical of employer-employee relationships as being based on exploitation and conflict) and deferential traditionalists (more prepared to accept the current employer-employee and, indeed, more likely to be Conservative). It is then argued that the new working class identified in the Goldthorpe-Lockwood study are indeed a new phenomenon different from both types of traditional working class. However, this point may be criticised in that it is not at all certain that the traditional working class perspectives as described are any more than theoretical constructs which may not exist in practice. Also, it is claimed, there may be nothing new about the so-called new working-class. Marshall comments... "the well-documented privatism and instrumentalism of the skilled workers of the mid-Victorian labour aristocracy suggests that these attitudinal and behavioural traits are not peculiar to the post war period and may always have been close to the surface of working class life".
ii). Although it may be difficult to fault the Goldthorpe, Lockwood methodology, it may still be true that there may have been more working class solidarity and job interest among the Luton workers, but the survey methods were unable to pick them up.
iii). It is claimed that Goldthorpe, Lockwood and co. asked many, many questions, and sometimes received contradictory answers, but may sometimes have under-emphasised some of the contradictory evidence in order to justify the theories they were putting forward. Marshall comments "the finding that 52% of workers agree unions should be just as concerned with getting higher pay and better conditions while only 40% agree that they should also try to get workers a say in management, scarcely seems to justify the conclusion that there is no widespread desire among these men that their unions should strive to give them a larger role in the actual running of the plant".
iv). It is also argued that Goldthorpe and Lockwood tended to romanticise the so-called companionate marriages of the Luton workers. Feminists, for example would argue that such marriages were based very heavily on power inequality and would cast some doubt on how fulfilling the marriages were.
v). Very straightforwardly, it has been pointed out that the sample of clerical workers was very small (54) and therefore, not necessarily representative.
vi). Also, the affluent manual workers were all aged between 21-46 and all married. They may have been home-centred because many of them had young families, rather than because they were members of a new working class.
There are other criticisms of the Goldthorpe, Lockwood study, but these which have been given above are sufficient to suggest that although the Embourgeoisement theory was heavily discredited, Goldthorpe and Lockwood's own approach to the study of the development of the working class is also not without its critics.
Click here for a detailed article by Professor Mike Savage: Working class identities in the 1960s: revisiting the affluent worker study  in which he suggests that many Luton manual workers were conscious of divisions between themselves and a political and economic elite , much as was suggested in the proletarian traditionalist image of society.
Social Class in Modern Britain [ G. Marshall, David Rose, Howard Newby and Carolyn Vogler 1988]
Throughout the 1980s it was increasingly argued that the working class had become increasingly fragmentary. Ivor Crewe had pointed to the implications for voting behaviour of the distinction between the old and the new working class while P. Dunleavy and C. Husbands in their study "British Democracy at the Crossroads"  argued that class dealignment occurred because of the growth of sectoral cleavages within both the working class and the middle class as between public sector and private sector workers and between consumers of publicly and privately provided housing, health care, education and transport. Public sector workers and consumers of publicly provided services are more likely to Labour because they perceive Labour as the party most likely to improve public sector pay and conditions and to improve public services while private sector workers and consumers of privately provided services may be more likely to vote Conservative because they oppose the higher levels of taxation necessary to defend public service employment and the expansion of public services which they do not use.
Social Class in Modern Britain is a detailed study of several aspects of the UK class structure based upon 1770 interviews carried out in 1984 in which the authors assess the relative usefulness of the NS SEC schema and the E.O. Wright schema for the analysis of the UK class structure, and they also present information on social mobility, proletarianisation and voting behaviour. However, I shall attempt here only to summarise some of their comments on class identity, class awareness and the potential for class-based political action which are relevant to the consideration of the embourgeoisement theory.
The authors note that it was widely claimed in the 1980s that the UK class structure was becoming increasingly fragmented. Due to the increased role of pension funds and other financial institutions in the ownership of capital it was more difficult to visualise a recognisable capitalist class and there were also increasing divisions within the middle and working classes. Thus, the working class were seen as divided between workers in well-paid, secure jobs often in Southern England in expanding industries compared with their opposite; between skilled and unskilled workers; between workers in the public and in the private sector; between trade union members and non- trade union members; between employed workers and those dependent on state benefits. Further divisions based on age, disability, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality existed within the working class all of which may lead to differences in interests, attitudes, and behaviour.
It was also suggested that within the working class in the era of Thatcherism the instrumental collectivism and privatism identified in the Goldthorpe -Lockwood Luton study had intensified, and that working class people were now unlikely to identify with broad political struggles against unemployment, economic inequality, or nuclear weapons and more likely to seek solace in a privatised family life style.
However, based on their survey data Marshall and his colleagues conclude that individuals of all social classes are still highly likely to identify with membership of a social class rather with any other social grouping and that there is also a widespread belief throughout the class structure that there is too much social and economic inequality and that governments should do more to reduce these inequalities. However, it is also widely believed that it should be possible to reduce these social and economic inequalities via reforms within the capitalist system rather than via the abolition of that system although there is also a widespread cynicism that all political parties are the same and that none are likely to take meaningful action to increase social and economic equality. Thus, the authors draw the important conclusion that it is a resigned cynical fatalism as to the ineffectiveness of all political parties rather than a growth of individualised self-interested egoism which has stimulated the instrumentally collectivist approach to politics which had been recognised in the Goldthorpe- Lockwood study.
There are some similarities between the conclusions of this study and those of Fiona Devine’s 1992 study reassessment of the Goldthorpe-Lockwood Luton study as is indicated below.
Affluent Workers Revisited: Privatism and the Working Class: Fiona Devine 1992
In her study “Affluent Workers Revisited: Privatism and the Working Class”  Fiona Devine conducted a detailed study of 62 Luton residents of Vauxhall workers and their wives. Her main aim was to reassess the main conclusion of the original Affluent Workers studies conducted by Goldthorpe, Lockwood, Bechhofer and Platt [GLBP] in the early 1960s which had essentially discredited the Embourgeoisement theory and some later studies such as those of I. Crewe, P. Dunleavy and C. Husbands and P. Saunders which, according to Fiona Devine involved a “revival of all or part of the embourgeoisement thesis.”
Fiona Devine concludes that the experiences, attitudes, and values of her respondents differed in several important respects from those of the respondents in the original Affluent Worker studies although she emphasises thar this cannot be taken as a direct refutation of the original studies which of course referred to different people at an earlier time and that the conclusions of her small- scale study can be assumed to be representative of working class people in general.
The key conclusions of her study may be summarised as follows.
Whereas many of the respondents in the GLBP study had moved to Luton in search of the relatively high wages which were available there in the early 1960s, respondents in Fiona Devine’s study had often moved to escape the higher rates of unemployment prevalent in the less prosperous regions or to purchase house at lower prices than those prevalent in the rest of the South East.
Also. in several cases they hard kin and/or friends who had already moved to Luton which meant that they were less likely to adopt the privatised, family centred life styles which had been reported in the original Affluent Worker studies. She found also that males were likely to socialise in the community with kin and with neighbours who might also be workmates and that females often relied on extended kin and neighbours for help with childcare.
However. her respondents were restricted in their leisure activities by the demands of paid work and relatively low wages and by the responsibilities of housework and childcare which remained mainly the responsibilities of wives rather than husbands. Patterns of sociability were also significantly affected by the changing stages of family life and both males and females had greater opportunities for community sociability once their children were older. Thus. the lifestyles of Fiona Devine’s respondents were neither entirely privatised nor entirely community centred and were related more to the demands of paid employment and childcare and to the changing stages of family life rather than to a shift toward greater individualism which had been emphasised in the original GLBP studies.
In the original Luton studies GLBP attempted to analyse affluent workers’ images of society and concluded that whereas so-called proletarian traditionalists operated with a conflict based two class dichotomous model of the class structure and middle class workers favoured a more graduated ladder=type model of society, affluent workers operated with a three class money model of society containing a small upper class, a small lower class and a large middle class containing professional workers but also workers like themselves. The working class respondents in Fiona Devine’ s study operated with a similar money model of society, but they emphasised that in their view this class system was essentially unfair because the privileged upper class could enjoy much higher living standards without having to work hard to attain them whereas for the large middle class and the smaller lower class the reverse was the case.
The workers in the Devine study hoped to improve their living standards through their own efforts but they also identified with other members of their class and hoped that they too would be able to attain the higher living standards which they deserved. Thus, whereas in the original Luton study affluent workers were characterised by an instrumental collectivism in that they hoped that support for the Labour Party and the Trade unions would enable them to improve their own living standards, the workers in the Devine study retained a sympathy with the plight of other members of their class. These workers also believed that the Labour Party and the Trade Unions should help to further working class interests, but they were in many cases disillusioned by the failure of the Labour Party and the Trade Unions to do so. Respondents in the study spoke of the bureaucratic inefficiencies of the trade union movement and doubted the ability of the Labour Party to manage the economy effectively as a result of which the party would be unable to fulfil its promises to expand the provisions of the welfare state. The respondents therefore tended to believe that the family life cycle was a key determinant of living standards which would improve if and when children started work or left home to live independently.
Whereas in the Goldthorpe, Lockwood, Bechhofer and Platt study of the 1960s support for the Labour Party remained high among the “new Working class” [ 80% of whom had voted Labour in the 1959 General Election] in the Fiona Devine study, working class support for Labour was much lower: out of 62 respondents 24 were Labour Party supporters, 24 were disillusioned Labour Party supporters and 14 were non-Labour Party supporters. This was unsurprising since there was now very clear evidence that at the national level in the late 1980s and early 1990s working class support for Labour was much lower than it had been in the 1960s.
Voting Behaviour and the Working Class
It had been argued in the 1950s and early 1960s that the gradual decline in the size of the manual working class combined with increased affluence and resultant changes in working-class political attitudes had contributed to the three successive defeats of the Labour Party in 1951, 1955 and 1959, and that the Labour Party would need to change its image and policies if it was to be successful in future general elections. This line of argument was to some extent undermined by the research of Goldthorpe, Lockwood, Bechhofer and Platt, which indicated that in recent general elections affluent workers had remained highly likely to vote Labour, although their research did also illustrate that these voters' support for Labour was increasingly pragmatic and instrumental, and that they could in fact easily imagine themselves voting Conservative, so that there did appear to be some evidence that working-class political class-consciousness was on the decline.
The Goldthorpe -Lockwood study had seriously discredited the theory of Embourgeoisement in the 1960s but by the 1980s, it was again argued by some that this process was underway as the living standards of manual workers in secure employment did improve significantly and more and more of them bought their own houses , bought shares in privatised industries and were more likely to vote Conservative now than they had been in the 1960s, thus contributing importantly to Conservative General Election victories of 1979, 1983, 1987 and 1992.
Writing in 1983 Ivor Crewe emphasised divisions in the working class between the new and the old working class. Members of the new working class possessed one or more of the following characteristics: they live in the South; they are not union members; they work in private industry; they own their own homes. Conversely the old working class possessed one or more of the opposite characteristics and were more likely than the new working class to vote Labour.
It was then widely argued that Labour’s electoral defeats of 1983, 1987 and 1992 could be explained to a considerable extent by processes of partisan and class dealignment. Thus, statistical data indicated that voters were identifying less strongly with the two main political parties [=partisan dealignment] and that the traditional relationships between social class and voting behaviour were weakening [= class dealignment]. Overall support for the Labour Party was declining partly because of a decline in the size of the working class and partly because of a continuing change in the nature of the working class along the lines which had been suggested by Ivor Crewe.
Working class support for Labour plummeted in 1983 and recovered only partially between 1983 and 1992 despite continuing high levels of economic inequality which led to the conclusion that working class political class-consciousness had indeed declined: there was little evidence that the Marxian transition from class in itself to class for itself was underway. This line of argument had some considerable influence on the electoral strategies of the Labour Party under the leadership of Tony Blair, who would seek to tailor Labour policies to reflect the reduced size and assumed changing nature of the working class and the growth of the middle class.
Thus it was that although Tony Blair and his supporters would often claim that New Labour represented the interests of “the many not the few”, both he and subsequent labour leaders Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband would rarely mention the words "social class" or "working class". Since the same was even more likely to be true of Liberal Democrat and Conservative leaders, it could be argued that from the 1990s onwards, class politics had been more or less expunged from modern political discourse, except insofar as mainly Conservatives continued to analyse poverty in terms of the existence of what they considered to be a fatalistic, work-shy welfare-dependent underclass.
Meanwhile, when New Labour politicians addressed questions of poverty, they did so primarily in terms of "Social Exclusion", which many regarded as an ambiguous term which in some respects amounted to a progressive distancing from more neoliberal variants of the underclass theory but in other respects harked back to them. It would nevertheless be fair to say that Labour politicians were less likely than Conservative politicians to refer to Murray-style variants of the underclass theory.
Working class support for Labour did increase in 1997 and 2001 but it was still much lower than it had been during the 1950s and early 1960s and it declined again in 2005 and 2010 as the popularity of the Blair Brown Governments declined. Then the results of the General Election in 2015, 2017, and 2019 were much influenced by the fragmentation of the working class in Scotland between support and opposition for Scottish independence [ which resulted in the increased popularity of the SNP at the expense of the Labour Party and, to a lesser extent, of the Conservative Party] and by the fragmentation of the working class and the middle class over the issue of EU membership. By 2019 working class voters were more likely to vote Conservative than to vote Labour and this was a significant factor in the Conservatives’ General Election victory in 2019. You may click here for data on relationships between social class and voting behaviour 1992- 2019
I shall not consider these political issues any further here but merely reiterate that these developments do lend further support to the Weberian analysis of the working class which emphasises the increasingly fragmentary nature of working class political attitudes.
Theories of the “Underclass
| Theories of the Underclass are discussed briefly here and, in more detail, later in the notes when the Weberian theories of the underclass of A. Giddens and J. Rex and S. Tomlinson are discussed in relation to ethnic differences in social status.
Also, it has been argued that the 1980s saw the beginnings of the development of an "underclass" in the UK whose living standards and opportunities are significantly worse than those of the working class as a whole. Here sociologists have distinguished between structural and cultural variants of Underclass Theory. Structural views of the theory maintain that an underclass has developed because of changes in the structure of the world economy, resulting in the deindustrialisation of capitalist economies and mass unemployment caused by the relocation of manufacturing production to developing economies with lower labour costs. On the other hand, in cultural versions of the theory, underclass membership is said to derive from the development of dependency culture deriving from excessive expansion of welfare state support which needs to be cut back if the growth of the underclass is to be reversed.
It is true that some sections of the working class are severely disadvantaged, but critics of the Underclass Theory argue that these disadvantaged groups are still visibly part of the working class. There has also been especial criticism of Charles Murray's variant of the Underclass Theory in which he explains the persistence of the underclass in terms of the cultural pathology of its members rather than in terms of wider structural factors which inhibit opportunities for disadvantaged groups no matter how hard they may try to improve their situation. Whether or not an underclass exists, the existence of mass relative poverty has major implications for the analysis of the UK class structure. I hope to provide further information on Underclass Theory in a subsequent document
Most recently, further fragmentation of the working class and of the class structure in general has been evident in Scotland as attitudes to Scottish independence divided the social classes, and in the UK as attitudes to Brexit divided the class structure with monumental political consequences. I shall not consider these political issues here but merely reiterate that analysis of the working class from a mainly Weberian perspective has certainly emphasised the increasingly fragmentary nature of the working class.
Marxists may well continue to emphasise the importance of the fundamental economic exploitation experienced by all members of the working class, but it certainly does appear that the divisions within the working class emphasised by Weberian sociologists have had major effects on the attitudes and behaviour of working-class people.
The Oxford Social Mobility Study and the Development of the UK NS SEC class schema
Will it be easier to copy main diagram from here
As has been noted above Max Weber delineated 4 social classes [ the dominant property owning class, the petty bourgeoise, the propertyless white collar workers [which include the intelligentsia and the working class] within which social mobility was easy but between which it was difficult and neo-Weberian sociologists have devoted considerable attention to the study of social mobility.
In their study Social Mobility and Class Structure in Modern Britain, John Goldthorpe and his associates developed an essentially neo-Weberian model of the British class structure to investigate patterns of social mobility in England and Wales. For purposes of the study, a 7-class schema based upon differences in market situation and work situation was developed, where market situation referred to “respondents' sources and levels of income, their degree of economic security and chances of economic advancement”, and work situation referred to "their location within the systems of authority and control governing the processes of production in which they were engaged and hence in their degree of autonomy in performing their work tasks and roles”.
Goldthorpe and his associates subsequently made some modifications to this schema and came to use a class schema based upon a combination of employment status [distinguishing between employers, the self-employed and employees] and different forms of employment regulation [service contract, labour contract and intermediate contract] [see below].
The Goldthorpe schema was subsequently adopted with some further modifications to form the basis of a new official system for the analysis of social-class membership known as the NS SEC Classification, which was introduced in 2001. The precise details of the current version of the NS SEC Classification are complex and may be found via the following link.
Click here for a full description of NS SEC Categories as of 2016, and Click here for a letter on social classes comparing the NS SEC schema and the GBCS Schema. I present below some of the main points from this publication.
• The NS-SEC is an employment-based classification, but it can also be used to provide coverage of the whole population via the allocation of pensioners to appropriate NS SEC classes on the basis of their previous employment and the introduction of further separate categories for students, the unemployed and those who have never worked.
• Individuals' allocation to their appropriate NS SEC classes depends upon their employment status: whether they are an employer, self-employed or employee, whether a supervisor, and upon the number of employees in their work place.
• Individuals' employment situations are classified in terms of their labour market situation, their work situation and the nature of their employment contract.
• "Labour Market situation equates to source of income, economic security and prospects of economic advancement", and "Work situation refers primarily to location in systems of authority and control at work although degree of autonomy is a secondary aspect.”
• The NS SEC also distinguishes 3 forms of employment contract. This is explained in the above publication as follows:
1. "Service relationship: the employee renders service to the employer in return for remuneration which can be both immediate reward [for example salary] and long term prospective benefits [for example assured security and career opportunities]. The Service relationship typifies Class I and is also present in weaker form in Class 2.
2. Labour contract: the employee gives discrete amounts of labour in return for a wage calculated on the amount of work done or time worked. The labour contract is typical of Class 7 and in weaker form in Classes 5 and 6
3. Intermediate: these forms of employment regulation combine aspects from both the service relationship and labour contract and are typical of Class 3."
It is then argued that individual occupations can be classified in terms of the different types of employment contract attaching to them and therefore be allocated to appropriate occupational classes within the NS SEC schema. Some examples are provided in the table below.
The NS SEC data can be presented in several differing formats, as is indicated in the document mentioned above, which refers to the following schema:
The most frequent presentation is in terms of 7 NS SEC classes combined with an 8th category for those who are long-term unemployed or have never worked. Also, in some formats data are included on full-time students and those whose occupational status cannot be classified.
Data based upon the 5 class categorisation are presented below and analysts also sometimes refer to a 3 class categorisation comprising the Service Class (NS SEC Classes 1 and 2), the Intermediate Classes [NS SEC class 3, 4 and 5) and the Working Class [NS SEC Classes 6 and7)
Some Recent NS SEC data
Click here, and then in the table of contents click on Section 8: National Statistics Socio-economic Classification (NS SEC) for data on the NS SEC in the 2011 Census, subdivided according to Gender.
The 2011 Census data can be complemented using information from the Labour Force Survey data [LFS] . In the following table I have used information from the August 2022 LFS to calculate the distribution of individuals to the NS SEC social classes in April -June 2022 . Notice, however, that LFS data do not correspond exactly to the 2001 and 2011 Census data because the LFS data do not include information on the unemployed and people who did not specify their occupation. See Labour Force Survey data . These data are updated quarterly and you may find future publications oof these data via this link
All persons in employment in the UK by socio-economic classification April- June 2022
In relation to the NS SEC data, it is important to note the following points:
• In Weber's original 4-class scheme, one social class contained property owners, and insofar as neither the original Goldthorpe schema nor the NS SEC schema includes a separate NS SEC class of property owners, they could to some extent be seen as departures from the Weberian 4-class schema.
• Since the NS SEC schema is based upon employment status and occupation, it does not include as a separate class category of individuals who are independently wealthy and have no employment status or occupation. However, information is available here on the distribution of wealth related to the NS SEC categories; although, as expected, members of NS SEC Class 1 are most likely to own high levels of wealth, there are some very wealthy individuals among the never-worked or long-term unemployed category.
• It should be noted that although the NS SEC schema is based upon employment status and occupation, it is not based in any way on the levels of skill associated with individual occupations, as was the case in the previously used Registrar General's Classification.
• The schema is not fully hierarchical in that NS SEC classes 3, 4 and 5 are not listed in hierarchical order.
• No distinction is made between non-manual and manual occupations as was the case in the RG Classification.
• There are no references to the terms upper class, middle class and working class. Click here for an article by Graham Scambler which points to the limitations of the NS SEC [ and subsequently the GBCS] for the analysis of the higher reaches of the UK class structure.
The NS SEC schema has also been used to illustrate the existence of significant social-class differences in educational attainment, as in the Youth Cohort Studies which were unfortunately discontinued in 2007, leading to the far from satisfactory procedure of using eligibility for free school meals as a broad indication of social-class membership. NS SEC data are also used to illustrate the existence of social class differences in enjoyment of good health and in life expectancy.
Click here for the most recent 2017 data on NS-SEC membership and life expectancy, which indicate that for men average (mean) life expectancy in 2017-2018 varied between 82.5 years in Class 1 men to 76.6 years in Class 7 men, and between 85.1 for Class 1 women and 80.8 for Class 7 women.
Thus, for Neo-Weberian sociologists, class inequalities continue to exist and to exercise a major influence on life chances.
The NS SEC Classification and recent trends in the UK class structure
|NS SEC category||Examples of occupations in each
NS SEC category
|2001 Census data %||2011 Census data %||2022 [April June ] LFS data %|
|1. Higher managerial, administrative and professional occupations||11.9||10.0||20.6|
|1.1 Large employers and higher managerial and administrative occupations||Large employers, chief executives, senior civil servants, financial managers, production managers||2.3|
|1.2 Higher professional occupations||Scientists, pharmacists, dentists, university teachers, civil, mechanical and electrical engineers, lawyers||7.8|
|2. Lower managerial, administrative and professional occupations||General managers in small companies, lower grade civil servants, nurses, schoolteachers, social workers||24.2||20.7||27.4|
|3. Intermediate occupations||Clerical workers, library assistants, nursery nurses, secretaries||12.5||12.7||13.6|
|4. Small employers and own account workers||Shopkeepers, publicans, electricians, plumbers, builders||9.1||9.2||9.1|
|5. Lower supervisory and technical occupations||Foremen, supervisors, laboratory technicians, printers||9.4||7.0||5.6|
|6. Semi-routine occupations||Chefs, cooks, fitters, sales assistants, care assistants||15.5||14.2||9.1|
|7. Routine occupations||Bar staff, bus drivers, cleaners, refuse collectors, warehouse workers||12.3||11.3||10.4|
|8. Never worked and long-term unemployed||5.0||5.6|
|L14.1 Never worked||3.8|
|L14.2 Long-term unemployed||1.8|
|L15 Full-time students||9.0|
The NS SEC and Long-term Changes in the UK Class Structure
In the following diagrams the original NS SEC categories have been collapsed into 5 categories and estimates have been made for the distributions of individuals among these 5 categories prior to 2001, which is when the NS SEC Classification was first introduced. Since 1951 the proportions of male and female workers in the Managerial and Professional category have increased, and the proportions of male and female workers in the routine and semi-routine occupations have declined. The proportion of female workers in the intermediate occupations has declined, but it remains higher than the proportion of males in these occupations.
These data indicate clearly that in recent years the relative size of the middle class has increased which discredits Marx; theory of class polarisation and supports Weber’s prediction that the size of the middle class would increase. However, we must remember also that in his later work Marx accepted that the size of the middle class would increase, and neo-Marxists have incorporated the growth of intermediate strata into their class theories as, for example, in the work of E. O. Wight which is discussed here. Consequently, it has been argued that there has been some convergence of neo-Weberian and neo- Marxist analyses of the middle class or intermediate strata
Neo-Weberian Approaches to Social Status
Max Weber focused especially attention on status differences in pre= capitalist societies and agreed that in capitalist societies social class differences were likely to be of greater significance than differences on social status. However neo-Weberian sociologists have pointed out that both women and members of ethnic minority groups might face discrimination based upon their lower social status which among other things has to some extent disadvantaged them in the labour market. Individuals may also be accorded lower status based upon their age, disability, or sexuality.
The following data on the NS SEC positions of men and women enable us to investigate the extent to which status differences have some bearing on class position as measured by occupation.
Weber, Gender, and the NS -SEC
For many years women's relatively low social status based upon widely accepted patriarchal assumptions resulted in high levels of gender discrimination in family life, education, employment, and political influence and that this continues despite some improvement in advanced capitalist societies. Thus it has been claimed that women are far more suited to "expressive housewife mother roles rather than to employment either in professional non-manual or skilled manual occupations while due to gender discrimination in education they were denied the quality of education which would have prepared them for employment in well-paid occupations which meant that their relatively low social status arising out of various types of gender discrimination had the effects of limiting their access to higher social class occupations while their resultant lower social class occupations reinforced their low social status in society. Women's' labour market situation has sometimes been analysed in terms of the distinction between primary and secondary labour markets whereby it has been argued that for a variety of reasons women are more likely than men to be allocated to be allocated to secondary labour market positions. However, the dual labour market theory has also been criticised on the grounds that there are many subtle variations in labour market conditions so that it would not be accurate to distinguish only between two broad categories of labour market situations.
However female educational achievements have increased significantly at GCSE Level, GCE Advanced Level and in Higher Education and this has resulted in some considerable improvement in their employment prospects although they continue to be under-represented relative to men in Social Class 1 but not in Social Class 2 of the NS SEC Classification which is discussed below,
Click here and then in the table of contents click on Section 8: National Statistics Socio-economic Classification (NS SEC) for data on the NS SEC in the 2011 Census, subdivided according to Gender.
If you then refer to Figure 7 you will see that females are under-represented in NS SEC 1, 4.5 and 7 but over-represented in NS SEC 2, 3 and 6
You can also update this information using Labour Force Survey data. These data are based on fairly large samples, and you will see that the gender differences in NS SEC categories have changed little since the last census
Weber, Ethnicity, and the NS SEC
In the 1960s and 1970s both John Rex and Sally Tomlinson and Anthony Giddens argued from a Weberian perspective that ethnic minority members were accorded relatively low status in society and were consequently were especially likely to face discrimination in the education system , the housing market and in employment so that they could be regarded as constituting an underclass which was a consequence of their low status in society although of course these authors certainly did not identify with the cultural versions of the underclass theory which would later be developed by Charles Murray and others.
At the time these Weberian theories were disputed by Marxists who variously argued that ethnic minority members might be seen as part of a divided working class [Castles and Kosack]. a united working class [Westergaard and Ressler] or a racialised class fraction [ Miles and Phizacklea.]
In any case , however, and despite the discrimination which they continue to face it soon became increasingly clear that in general minority members could be found throughout the UK class structure and also that there were significant differences in the social class situations of different ethnic groups which called into question the validity of both the Weberian and Marxist theories although it seems clear that both the Weberian and Marxist theories do help to explain the disadvantaged class situations which some ethnic minority members face. Thus, regarding the Weberian theories it might well be argued that ethnic minority members do face discrimination based upon the lower status which they are accorded in society but that this does not mean that these ethnic minority members can reasonably be seen as part of an underclass. Also, interestingly in a recent study utilising a Bourdieusian framework of analysis N. Rollock, D. Gillborn, C. Vincent and S. Ball discuss the situation of ethnic minority parents in the middle class who, despite their high levels of economic, cultural, and social capital feel that, in the interactions with teachers, they are discriminated against because of their ethnicity which again gives some support to the neo-Weberian emphasis on the status situation of ethnic minority groups.
The following summary table is taken from the UK Government Publication Ethnicity : Facts and Figures 2018 : [Ethnic groups by socio- economic Status] It refers to NS SEC Class situation all ethnic minority members but it is also the case that ethnic class position varies according to gender and you may Click here to find more detailed information.
Ethnicity and NS-SEC [ England and Wales: Based on 2011 Census]
Click here and scroll to Section 10 [pages 47-50] for recent data on Ethnicity and Poverty. Bangladeshi and Pakistani people are most likely to experience relative poverty and click here for fuller data.
Max Weber and Social Stratification: Summary. [These paragraphs have been extracted from the above main text].
- Weber sought to distance himself from what he regarded as Marx’ excessive economic determinism although it has been argued that his criticisms applied especially to what have been seen as the simplified and overly economic determinist versions of Marxism which were available in the early C20th and propounded most notably by Karl Kautsky, who at the time was the most influential theorist within the German Social Democratic Party. However, as we shall see, it seems unlikely also that Weber would have sympathised with the more subtle interpretations of Marxism which became available from the 1930s onwards as more of Marx; previously unpublished work became available.
- Whereas Marx claimed that social class in capitalist societies was by far the most significant dimension of social stratification in that it also determined [or at least heavily influenced] the distribution of social status political power , Weber argued that the three dimensions of social stratification [ social class, social status, and “party”] were to some extent independent and that the extent of their independence in different societies and at different times should be carefully studied. It was entirely invalid to claim, as Marx had done, that differences in social status and political power derived almost entirely from differences in social class position.
- According to Weber, “Property and lack of property are the basic categories of all class situations.” [ Class, Status and Party]. Thus, whereas property owners are positively privileged property-less workers can be said to be negatively privileged. Among propertyless workers there are significant differences in aptitudes and skills as a result of which different workers face different market situations which result in differences in income, fringe benefits and opportunities for upward social mobility. Thus, differences in market situation result in the existence of a very large number of economic classes
- However Max Weber defines social classes as “the totality of those class situations within which individual and generational mobility is easy and typical” and this leads Weber to posit the existence of 4 social classes. These are: the dominant property owning class, the petty bourgeoise, the propertyless white collar workers [ which include the intelligentsia and the working class. It seems clear that within these broad social class rentiers might easily become entrepreneurs and vice vera; professionals might become executives and unskilled workers might become skilled workers. However, mobility between the classes would be more difficult and this is the factor that causes Weber to distinguish between the 4 broad social classes. One’s social class position would then have a very significant effect on one’s life chances: one’s current and future living standards, one’s health, one’s educational prospects.
- With regard to these 4 social classes Weber did not automatically assume that the property owning upper class were also a politically dominant ruling class; he expected the growth of the middle class as a result of the increased importance of science and technology, the increased complexity of management and the growth of the welfare state; and he did not he expect the working class to be a revolutionary class partly because the differences and divisions within the working class would undermine the prospects for class solidarity and the growth of revolutionary class consciousness.
- Weber believed also that social status was an important dimension of social stratification. An individual's social status is a measure of his/her rank, honour, prestige, or social standing within a community which may be, at least to some extent, independent of his/her social class position. According to Weber status groups evolved when groups of individuals were able to define themselves as socially superior for example based on their aristocratic family lineage or based on their leadership position within a religious community or on the basis of their political training which gave them access to political power within state bureaucracies. These status groups [or estates of the realm in the case of the nobility and clergy] were then likely to try to preserve their high status by restricting their contact with lower status groups, by adopting styles of dress and speech, particular leisure activities, particular forms of education for their children, by associating primarily with members of their own status group and by restricting access of lower status individuals to their own high status group.
- While Weber noted the existence of status groups in pre-capitalist societies, he argued that in capitalist societies social class differences are more significant than status differences and that in most cases social class differences would be the key determinants of social status differences. Thus, broadly speaking higher levels of wealth and/or income will usually be associated with high social status although there are exceptions related to how these high levels of wealth and income are earned.
- However, it is also the case that in capitalist societies social status differences based upon gender, ethnicity, age, disability and sexuality continue to have significant effects on individuals' social class locations and consequently on overall life chances life chances and as indicated above, neo Weberian sociologists have given considerable attention especially to ethnic and gender differences in social status.
- The Weberian concept of social closure refers to the various processes by which dominant social groups [be they social classes, status groups, political groups, or other organisations] retain their economic and or social and or political privileges at the expense of subservient social groups. Thus, in Marxist terms it can be argued that the Bourgeoisie practices social closure vis a vis the proletariat via its ownership of the means of production but once we turn to Weberian Theory it is clear that many other forms of social closure are possible such as those based upon gender, ethnicity, age, disability and sexuality ad it is argued that social conflicts involving these groups can be analysed more effectively in a Weberian framework than in a Marxist framework.
- Whereas Marx argued that under capitalism it was the nature of the capitalist class structure which determined the distribution of political power such that the economically dominant Bourgeoisie were also a politically dominant ruling class which through various mechanisms also dominated the political institutions of the state, Weber argued that the key feature of modern societies was not that they were capitalist but that they were subject to forms of rationalisation which resulted in the growth of complex state bureaucracies. Consequently, Weber rejected the Marxist theory that the Bourgeoisie was not only an economically dominant social class but also a politically dominant class which indirectly controlled the State and argued instead that political power in modern industrial societies resided directly with state bureaucracies which were in effect to a considerable extent controlled by a state elite which exercised considerable autonomy vis a vis the capitalist class.
- Weber saw the growth of bureaucracy as a necessary process which would enable the increasingly complex problems of modern industrial societies to be taken rationally but at the same time feared that the routinisation involved in the growth of bureaucracy would lead to a situation where existing rules and methods would inhibit the development of original approaches to problem solving as bureaucrats became more concerned with their own career prospects than the search for more original approaches to problems solving. Bureaucracy, he said would become an "iron cage" and result in "the parcelling out of the soul".
- However, Weber also hoped that in the newly emerging liberal democratic regimes of the early twentieth century the powers of the state bureaucracy could to some extent be restrained via effective parliamentary scrutiny of their activities and via the existence of competing political parties and pressure groups. Weber, therefore, could be seen as an early contributor to theories of the state based upon the ideas of pluralism although it has been suggested that the overall approach which he favoured was most likely to develop in the direction of elite pluralism rather than classical pluralism given the extent to which political parties and pressure groups each seemed highly likely to be dominated by their leaders rather than their rank and file members.
- Radical democrats have argued that Weber's approach to politics saw a very limited role for the active involvement of individual citizens in the political process and that Weber saw them as essentially incapable of playing such a role: Weber was clearly a believer in representative democracy rather than radical participatory democracy although he did also recognise some of the limitations of the former. He was in some respects " a liberal in despair" believing that liberal democracy offered the best prospects for human happiness but that the hopes of liberal democracy might be disappointed in practice.
- As indicated above Weber believed that the working class was a highly fragmentary class and saw no necessary reason why it would develop the class solidarity, revolutionary class consciousness and political activism predicted by Marx. Furthermore, even if the working class did develop in ways predicted by Marx, Weber believed that Marxist style revolution would serve merely to increase the powers of new One Party State bureaucracies at the expense of the Bourgeoisie but with no increase in the political powers of the Proletariat whose political powers, if anything, would decrease. Contrary to Marx’ view, Weber believed that the working class would continue to experience alienation under state socialism.
- Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, the subsequent development of the USSR State seemed to prove that Weber's predictions had been correct on this count, but Weber was not the first to make such predictions: similar assessments of the likely consequences of Marxist inspired communism had been made by anarchists throughout the latter half of the c19th.
- The UK class structure has been analysed from a neo-Weberian perspective in considerable detail and here you should refer to studies of the Proletarianisation and Embourgeoisement theories and to data on the NS SEC classification.
- Neo-Weberian sociologists have used the Weberian concept of social status to analyse gender and ethnic inequalities ethnic and inequalities arising out of differences in age, disability and sexual orientation may also be analysed as differences in social status.