Today it is very clear that social class is still relevant in our society, this is obvious because a number of social institutes are affected by the differences in class, whether its education, health or even occupation. We are constantly faced with the arguments about the social classes.
Social class is in fact an “open” system meaning that it is possible to move up or down the social hierarchy, this is known as social mobility and can be achieved either by receiving a promotion- meaning you will go up a social class- or due to job loss- decreasing into a lower social class. Although this seems very simple, in the UK it is very hard to actually move from the middle class up to the upper class as there seems to be a high level of respect and loyalty that must be attained before entering such a high class.
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In this society is it notoriously difficult to define social class because of our ever changing employment system plus but there are a couple of different ways in which it can be measured these include: the register general scheme, the Goldthorpe scheme and the NS SEC 2000 scale. The register general scale measures social class by dividing people into six different major classes, ranging from ‘professional’ in the first class to ‘unskilled’ in the last class. This way of measuring class has its drawbacks, these include the fact that it only takes into account the occupation of an individual therefore it is not a clear distinction of what class someone must be in. Whichever scale is it used it is still extremely difficult to measure social class because of the changes in employment.
In our society there have been a number of key changes that have occurred within the structure of social class. one being the reorganization of employment, since the 1970’s there has been a large decline in heavy industries such as shipbuilding, coal mining etc and also a decline in manufacturing industries which usually employed skilled male’s from the working class. However there has been a significant increase of 3 million service industries such as: finance, travel and leisure, therefore there has been an increase in non-manual middle class jobs and a decline in the amount of working class jobs.
This follows onto the next change in the structure of social class because with the increase in service industries jobs, a vast amount of women have started to enter into employment therefore allowing women to achieve their own separate social class status instead of it being based on what there husband or fathers occupation is. Also this has forced sociologist’s studies on social class to examine the way in which female employment is part of the class structure and so women have been included in social mobility studies.
Social class is a system of social stratification, a hierarchy that creates specific types of social inequalities. Social inequality refers to the existence of socially created inequalities such as: ownership of property, types of occupation that creates differences in wealth, income and power, whereas social stratification refers to the existence of distinct social groups. There are many argument about how class stratification should be explained, two of the theories that help explain class stratification are: the functionalist theory and the weberian theory.
Functionalists see our society as a structured whole and believes that in order to obtain social order and stability, each social institute must perform a functional pre-requisite in order to work together; this is known as the biological analogy because it is referred to as each organ working together in the body to keep that person alive, this is the same for our society. If one social institute is not working properly for example, education or health then this could affect the way in which our society survives.
According to Davis and Moore (1945) all of the inequalities that are evident in today’s society are necessary and arise because of different roles and rewards that are given out, particularly in employment, therefore each society needs to have the most functionally important jobs filled such as: doctors, vets and accountants etc. These jobs require years and years of study and training to achieve, this guarantees that these jobs will be filled with only the smartest individuals whether they are part of the upper class or the lower class. The way in which these jobs are filled appropriately is that high rewards and large sums of money are offered for the years of practice that is done.
The strengths of using this theory to explain social class are that it highlights the strong links between social class and the social structure, it also show how social class contributes to the maintenance of society as a whole
The weaknesses of using this theory is that this theory is far too simplistic as it only uses the importance of jobs to explain social class which is not a true way to measure an individual’s class. Also a weakness is that some people feel that functionalists do not have to right to decide which job is more important than the next for example Davis and Moore stated that the most important jobs where doctors etc, but some people may feel that a bin man or a school cleaners jobs is far more important to our society.
However Weber agrees with Marx that a person’s class situation cannot be determined by the ownership of the means of production but by the shared life chances that someone has or has been denied as a result of qualifications and possessions they have.
Weber has divided social classes in “multiple classes” this means that there are different classes with different people in each class. Because of the important differences in our society, each group is defined by various skills and services that are offered from each occupation. Weber believed that while the society expands so will the number of different classes, especially the middle class, as it is easier to move up or down to this class that to move up to the upper class.
The strengths of using this theory to explain social class are that it best describes social mobility and how each class is defined; it also accurately outlines the class situation as it is today, that more people will be entering the middle class whether they move up or down the social hierarchy.
However the weaknesses are that Weber understates the importance of the economy when defining class, because he only uses the individual’s skills and life chances which are not an accurate way to measure somebody’s class.
Social mobility refers to the ability that people have to move up or down the class structure; this can either be intergenerational or intragenerational. A family/individual can move up or down a social class simple by a change in there occupational status, whether they have been promoted or receive redundancy. Another way to move up the class system could be if you gained or one a large sum of money in the lottery.
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There are two studies that have been done that best explain social mobility. The first was the oxford mobility study by Goldthorpe et all in 1972. This study was based on the Weberian theory of stratification. This study was carried out by using only men between the ages of 20 – 64 years, the main findings of this study was that 2 out of 3 sons of unskilled or semi-skilled were in the manual occupation meaning that they followed after their fathers. They also found that only 4% of blue collar workers (service industry jobs) came from professional background and approximately 30% of professionals were from working class backgrounds, this could prove that people from a professional background will be more likely to receive a better education therefore aiming for higher paid jobs ( white collar jobs). It is evident from this study that downward mobility appeared to be declining, but more men from working class backgrounds were unemployed.
In conclusion this study showed that long range and absolute mobility rates in the UK have increased however due to little change in the relative mobility there has been no significant increase in the openness of the UK’s stratification system.
The strengths of this study are that it backs up Weber’s ideas of social classes seen to be multiplying and becoming more open.
The weaknesses are that the study only focuses on men and women therefore ignoring the work that is done by women in our ever increasing society.
The second study was the Peter Saunders “Unequal but fair?” in 1996. This study was based on the functionalist theory of stratification.
In conclusion, it is very clear that social class is in fact relevant in today’s society; this is shown by the results from the Westergaard and Restler (1976) Marxist theory study. This study argues that Britain will remain a capitalist society and with the persistence of class inequalities they will harden and it will make it exceptionally difficult to move between social classes, meaning that social class defiantly remains very important when explaining the social inequalities that we have today.
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