People from working class backgrounds who are socially mobile and make it into middle class jobs are less likely to feel they fit into those jobs than those from middle class backgrounds.
This is according to some contemporary sociological research which suggests support for the view that lack of cultural capital not only hinders working class children in education, but this carries on into the workplace…
Cultural Capital effectively means that the middle class who get middle class jobs just feel like they fit – the subjective experience for them is more natural, and less stressful because there is more of a fit between their home lives and their working lives.
But for the socially mobile working classes, the differences between their home lives and new middle class working lives means they find work more challenging.
The researchers first sent out a survey to 161 participants in a variety of sectors – both private and public. The survey asked about their subjective perceptions of their class background and their levels of engagement at work. 20 respondents were then interviewed in more depth – 12 of whom were women with an average age of 47.
Some working class respondents talked of not feeling like they fitted in – and felt under pressure to change their working class mannerisms and habits – such as switching to drinking wine rather than beer at work social events.
One respondent reported that she was actually ridiculed for her accent by colleagues – one had put in a formal complaint about the way she spoke to clients as being ‘unprofessional’ – she just thought it was due to her working class speech codes (effectively).
Some also felt the need to conceal their background from their colleagues, resulting in them having less to say and engaging less.
At home there is also less of an advantage to being socially mobile for the working class – their peers either aren’t interested in or don’t understand (the two are related) their jobs and so there is less to talk about there – essentially the working class are less able to ‘celebrate’ their social mobility because it means less to others in their home lives.
In contrast the middle classes moving into middle class job just felt ‘authentic’
When social mobility can work…
Some who were socially mobile felt they had learned new skills from the challenge and it had broadened them out as people and employees.
Finally, one crucial factor that made mobility work was the support of employers and colleagues, which is hardly surprising!
Find Out More
You can read the full details of this research here: A Bridge over Troubled Borders: Social Class and the Interplay between Work and Life, published in the Journal of Work, Employment and Society in February 2022.
You might also like this excellent summary article in The Conversation: The real life challenges of social mobility.