The BBC today launches a nationwide interactive survey examining what class really means in Britain today, and whether it still matters in the 21st century.
The Great British Class Survey aims to be the largest study of its kind ever conducted in the UK, and is the first interactive commission by BBC Current Affairs. It is part of a wider BBC Current Affairs investigation into class, which also includes two documentaries on BBC Two.
The unique survey asks the British public to help answer important questions about class in Britain today. Many academics agree that the traditional model of class, with a clearly defined “working”, “middle” and “upper” divisions, is no longer relevant. So the survey will examine if we still have a class system and, if so, what kind it is.
Until now, most major studies have focused on economic factors such as wealth and occupation, and social factors such as networks of personal contacts to determine class. But there is increasing evidence to suggest that our interests and hobbies – or “culture” – can also influence our life chances. For the first time, this study will investigate all three factors together.
This project is a unique collaboration between the journalists of BBC Current Affairs, BBC Lab UK and prominent experts on class. It was designed by leading British sociologists Professor Mike Savage of the University of York and Professor Fiona Devine of the University of Manchester, in collaboration with BBC Lab UK.
Participants will answer questions that examine a wide and intriguing range of topics. The survey takes about 20 minutes to complete, after which participants will receive a detailed report that reveals how they scored on the three factors – economic, social and cultural. They will also be able to compare themselves to the UK population as a whole.
The results of the survey will be revealed later in 2011 as an interactive visualisation that will allow the public to explore the findings from every angle.
Clive Edwards, Executive Editor and Commissioning Editor, BBC Current Affairs, said: “The shape of Britain’s class system today is very much open to debate. Indeed, some people would argue that class simply doesn’t matter anymore. But our national fascination with class just continues – you only have to look at the huge popularity of programmes like Downton Abbey for the evidence. But when it comes to making policy decisions or having a proper debate about the class system, we need more than stereotypes and received wisdom. We need a proper assessment of what ‘class’ really is, and that’s what we hope this survey will produce.”
Professor Mike Savage, from the University of York, said: “The cultural aspect of class has so far largely been ignored, perhaps because it is a broad yet subtle concept that can be difficult to measure. The problem is, if we don’t measure it, we can’t know how important it is and how much it influences people’s chances in life. The Great British Class Survey will measure the cultural dimension of class for the first time, and will put into place another missing piece in a complex and fascinating puzzle.”
Richard Cable, Editor of BBC Lab UK, said: “Class has long been something of a national obsession, and the traditional language of class still pervades public affairs and continues to influence our opportunities in life. This hugely exciting project takes BBC Lab UK into new areas of research and we hope that with the help of the British public we will deliver a new and more meaningful understanding of class that’s fit for the 21st century.”
The BBC Two films broadcast around the launch of the survey examine what it takes to get on the career ladder in today’s Britain and who has access to the best jobs, including that of Prime Minister.
In Posh & Posher: Why Public School Boys Run Britain (BBC Two, Wednesday 26 January, 9pm) Andrew Neil hits the road to find out what’s happening to the background of our leaders and if British politics is dominated by posh people.
In Who Gets The Best Jobs? (BBC Two, Wednesday 2 February, 9pm) Richard Bilton explores to what level people’s backgrounds still dictate the opportunities open to them in leading professions.