Are the British Still a Class Act in the Modern World? Our Neat Threetiered System Has Served Us Well for Generations - but New Research Argues That Our Familiar Class Structure Is Outdated and in Need of an Overhaul. Liz Day Looks at Whether a New Seven-Tiered System Does Any Better at Informing How We Live

Article excerpt

Byline: Liz Day

AN ICONIC photograph shows a short man in a scruffy trench coat looking up to a smart-suited businessman and a tall gentleman in a black tie and bowler hat.

The photo of comic legends The Two Ronnies and John Cleese neatly sums up the simple three-tier system that has come to define social class in the UK.

Yet, new research claims that the traditional categories of working, middle and upper class are outdated and do not accurately reflect the social landscape of 21st Century Britain.

The Great British Class Survey suggests modern-day society should instead be divided into a new model of seven social classes, ranging from the privileged "elite" at the top, to the most deprived "precarious proletariat" at the bottom.

The study was launched online by the BBC in January 2011, and more than 161,000 people took part in the research, which formed the largest study of class in the UK.

In the past, class has been measured by occupation, wealth and education.

But this study replaced the three defining factors with economic, social and cultural markers.

Economic capital was measured by income, savings and house value, while social capital was assessed by the number and status of an individual's acquaintances.

Cultural capital was judged on the nature and extent of cultural interests.

Researchers believe the study identifies groups that have been overlooked - but Welsh social commentators have criticised the research.

Cultural and social historian Professor Peter Stead said: "The traditional class model was only ever a rough guide, but it was extremely useful as an analytical tool and made a great deal of sense."

He believes the study has a number of shortcomings, suggesting the terminology is inaccurate and the sample size is too small.

He added: "We need to have a much broader perspective.

"Society is dynamic and constantly changing. We must understand the currents and energies, rather than taking a static snapshot."

Professor Stead believes that the traditional socio-economic groups in the UK have become "fragmented" and claims the distinction between individuals at the top and the bottom is more pronounced than ever before.

"Even in Wales, there are some staggering levels of power and wealth," he said, "There is a marked difference between levels of income and that distinction is as sharp as it has ever been."

As former Lord Lieutenant of South Glamorgan, Captain Sir Norman Lloyd-Edwards has hosted every member of the Royal Family and has strong views on social class. …