81% of young adults are furious, frustrated or angry about house prices

In 1980 50% of young adults aged between 18-34 owned their own homes.

Today only 20% of young adults live in their own homes. (1)

This is because of increasing house prices. In the 1980s the average house price was 4 times the average wage. Today the average house price is eight times the national wage.

It now takes 13 years on average to save for a deposit on a property. Assuming you start at 22, this would mean you’d be 35 before being able to afford a place.

This is a 100% increase in the cost of the most prized possession in British society: one’s house.

House ownership is part of the British dream. The idea is you work hard, save money, and are able to buy your own place. But house ownership is becoming increasingly unreachable for younger people.

This is especially true if you live in London, where the average house price is 30 times the average wage. There is no point someone on the average salary even trying to save for a house in London.

And even if you do live in London, saving for a deposit would be a struggle for most. If you want a social life, or family, and you have to pay rent, that doesn’t leave a lot left over.

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This makes me think of Merton’s Strain Theory. A crucial part of the British Dream – house ownership – is now unreachable for most through legitimate means.

So according to Merton’s Strain Theory we’ve probably got a lot of younger adults suffering anomie.

The problem is it’s VERY difficult to gain enough money to buy your own home through illegitimate means. So there’s possibly a lot of people who are responding through ritualism, retreatism or rebellion. In other words, there’s a lot of pent up misery and anger out there.

There is some evidence in this from of surveys on home ownership.

One survey in 2022 found that 66% of Millennials and 59% of Gen Zers saw home ownership as a mark of success. (Conducted in America, sample size 2500). Affordability was the main reason for not owning a home.

Another survey of of 1500 young adults in Britain conducted in 2023 adds further support. This survey found that 81% of young adults were either Furious, frustrated or angry about housing affordability. 44% had either completely given up or thought it unlikely they would ever buy a house.

All of this suggests there is a lot of pent up frustration out there amongst Young People. This can only be made worse by the increasing inequality in house ownership. The top 10-20% of 30 somethings are able to get significant parental support for a deposit. How can this not fuel a sense of resentment? It should do because this is people benefiting from wealth they have not earned.

What is interesting is how the political elite seem oblivious to all of this. Think about how they paid so much attention to the recent cost of living crisis. But this crisis was only a 20% increase and mainly offset by wage increases. In contrast, here we have an ENTIRE two generations facing a 100% increasing in house ownership. And what have to Tories done about this: absolutely nothing.


(1) The Week, 20th January 2024, page 12.

Increasing Billionaire wealth in Britain, and increasing inequality in society 

The wealth of billionaires in Britain has increased by 1100% in the 32 years between 1990 and 2022. 

  • In 1990 there were 15 billionaires who controlled £53.9 billion in wealth.  
  • By 2022 there were 177 billionaires who controlled £653.1 in wealth. 

These increases reflect a wider increase in inequality in the UK more generally. However the increase in wealth at the very top, such as billionaires, has been the most extreme. 

bar chart showing increase in billionaires in the UK from 1990 to 2022.

Most of the increase has been driven by an increase in the number of billionaires, but there has also been a concentration at the very top. The top two billionaire households in 2022 controlled as much wealth as the bottom half of billionaire households in 1990. 

Billionaire wealth has increased due to the structure of the UK economy. It has continued to increase post-Covid despite the wider population facing economic crises. 

Billionaires are not uniquely hard working, or intelligent, or creative. Instead, billionaires are better seen as the primary beneficiaries of an economic system which produces huge levels of poverty and inequality, and has left the UK particularly vulnerable to the multiple, overlapping crises we have faced over the past few years.

This blog post is a summary of ‘Billionaire Britain’, a report from the Equality Trust.

Measuring Billionaire Wealth 

There is no quality data source on wealth in the UK at the national level. This is because there is no systematic recording of wealth when it is taxed. The Wealth and Assets survey suffers under-reporting from the very wealthiest households. 
The Times Richlist is the most comprehensive source, but this could miss out on various assets and under-report wealth. 

Billionaire Britain uses data from the Times Rich List. 

From a research methods perspective this is an interesting example of how power shapes data collection. The very richest are the most powerful and the UK government doesn’t systematically track data on their wealth. In fact, tracking is poor that Billionaire Britain estimates at least £4.4 billion of property investment in the UK has been bought by corrupt individuals. 

Why are there more billionaires in Britain?

Two underlying structural changes have enabled massive accumulation by those at the top: 

  • Firstly, the financialisation of the UK means that those with wealth now have greater returns on their investments. This is due to corporations focusing on profits over wages and the inflation of asset prices. 
  • Secondly, deregulation has resulted in less restrictions and fewer taxes on wealth. This has attracted more wealth to the UK. 

Of the 177 on the 2022 billionaire rich list 42 gained their wealth through investing and 39 through real estate. 

Financialisation is where the financial industry becomes more important to the economy as a whole. 

The finance sector consists of a range of different industries from investment companies (including real estate investments), stocks and shares funds, hedge funds, and insurance and pensions. 

In a primarily finance based economy, the production of tangible products is less important, and many of the financial services seek to make returns trading financial instruments without creating anything of any value. 

One consequence of a financialized economy is asset price inflation. Financial companies invest in assets such as houses and land for a return (rather than seeking to develop land or improve houses themselves) which pushes the prices up. 

A second and related consequence is more households taking on debt. This is increasingly required to buy more expensive assets, such as housing. 

A third consequence is more companies seeking profit over wages and quality services. They become more concerned with providing dividends to shareholders over paying decent wages. 

In terms of service provision, energy and water companies have extracted billions in profits over the last years. Shareholders have got richer as a result. However the infrastructure is now crumbling in many cases, as evidenced with things such as leaky water pipes. 

All of the above has resulted in a more unequal society as a few benefit from financialisation. Meanwhile at the bottom end people have relatively less money AND worse services. 

What are the solutions to increased wealth and the inequality this causes? 

The Equality Trust suggests five courses of action…

  1. Introduce a progressive wealth tax. That means the wealthier you are the more tax you pay! 
  2. Make corporate ownership more democratic, so more people have a say in what happens to profits. 
  3. Regulate the financial sector more. 
  4. Return essential services to public ownership. 
  5. Improve tax transparency and end tax havens. 
  6. Create more community wealth funds to invest in areas that need it most.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This material is an important update for anyone interested in wealth and income inequalities in the UK.

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Income and Wealth Differences by Age in the U.K.

Adults aged 60-64 are nine times wealthier than adults aged 30-34. (ONS wealth survey, 2018-202.

Older generations enjoyed higher incomes in their peak earning years compared to today’s workers. Older people are much wealthier than younger people today.

Income Differences by Age

The Baby Boomers enjoyed high incomes for most of their working lives because they were part of a relatively small birth cohort and their peak earning years were before globalisastion really kicked into gear.

When China opened up to world trade in the 1990s this meant British workers had to compete with cheaper labour from abroad. By this time most of the Boomers had most of their working years behind them and were well set up financially to cope with this.

The 2008 financial crisis changed things dramatically for the worse, and wages for younger generations have been going down in relative terms. 30 year old Millennials today have 4% less disposable income than Gen X had when they were a similar age.

Moreover, younger generations feel as if they are more hard done by, meaning they are more likely to question the social contract. 40% of Millennials think they have a low income compared to only 30% of Generation X.

The Stereotype of spend-happy youth

Younger generations are often criticised for being materialistic and more likely to report they think it is important to be rich, with some commentators suggesting the young can learn lessons in frugality from their elders.

However, the stats suggest younger people in fact spend less, and thinking it’s important to be rich is a function of them having lower and less secure incomes!

The over 50s account for one third of the population but 47% of consumer spending. 55-64 year olds spend around 20% on consumer items than 24-35 year olds.

Wealth distribution by age

Wealth is mainly concentrated among older people.

Since 2007 nearly all the extra wealth created has gone to the over 45s, with over two thirds going to the over 65s. Mostly driven by the increase in property prices.

This wealth hasn’t come because of frugality, but because of government policies creating windfalls: low interest rates, printing money keeping property rates high.

Bar chart showing median wealth distribution by age, UK 2018-2020.

And the ability to save for the younger generations has been harmed by stagnating wages and student loans.

Younger people increasingly rely on their parents helping them out financially, most obviously when they purchase their first house. In 2017 34% of first time buyers received help from their parents to buy, and the Bank of Mum and Dad was in the top ten of mortgage lenders!

However this only serves to increase inequality: those at the top are better able to help out their kids, who get richer faster while those at the bottom have nothing.

And it’s a long wait for inheritance, even for those lucky enough to be in receipt of one: age 61 is the average age.

Despite all of the above, there is no mass resentment against the old, and no real desire for wealth to be passed down en masse. The main problem is the inequality of wealth within the top generation and the economic inequality this increases across generations.

Sources and Signposting

ONS: Wealth distribution by age and other characteristics dataset.

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A-level results are down AND the attainment gap has increased

material deprivation still affects educational achievement!

The A-level exam boards in England decided to smackdown the 2023 A-level results this year. They are now back to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019.

line chart showing trends in A-level results 2019 to 2023, England and Wales.

For the top A and A* grades the trend looks like this:

  • 2019: 25.2%
  • 2021: 35.9%
  • 2023: 26.5%

So a slight, but not significant increase in top A-level grades in 2023 compared to 2019.

This clearly demonstrates that the 2020 and 2021 results were fantasy results. This is unsurprising given that they were awarded by teachers. The 2022 results, based on pre-release exams, were merely a half way step back to this years. Last years results now seem as ridiculous as the 2020 and 2021 results. Clearly this was an attempt to maintain credibility in the exam system by not bringing back down the results too suddenly.

None of this is the fault of the students, it’s the fault of the people running the education system. You might even argue the government and exam boards did the best they good faced with the uncertainty of the pandemic.

The problem now is that this year’s cohort are the real victims of this uncertainty and flawed responses. They are now the ones with the relatively worse grades. They now face huge competition to get into scarce university places. And they are the ones that had their schooling disrupted just as much as the previous three years of students.

What a mess!

One saving grace

The one saving grace of all this is that we can probably regard this years exam results as valid JUST FOR THIS COHORT.

What I mean by this is that individuals who achieved A grades this year are probably better at exams than those who achieved C grades.

What you can’t do is compare this years results with 2020-2022. So we have a reliability problem!

  • 2019 A-levels measured students’ ability to sit exams under ‘normal conditions’ compared to previous years.
  • 2020 and 2021 measured how far teachers were prepared to take the p*** and give their students inflated grades based on their theories of what the maximum they could possibly achieve.
  • 2022 measured student’s ability to sit exams based on having pre-release knowledge of some the material they’d be assed on.
  • 2023 exam results measured students’ ability to sit exams under ‘normal conditions’ having had significant disruption to their schooling during the pandemic.

NB please note that by ‘better at exams’ that’s all I mean. A student’s ability to get an A* doesn’t necessarily mean they are more intelligent or a better potential employee than someone who gets a B grade.

The main reason for this (IMO) is that some students are better trained for exams than others. And exam training is a very narrow skill, intelligence more generally is a much broader concept.

The attainment gap has increased

The education attainment gap between private and state schools is now wider than it was before the pandemic. 47.4% of A-level entries from private schools were awarded A or A* grades compared to just 22% from state schools.

bar chart showing that schools in richer areas get better A-level results than poorer areas, England and Wales.

To my mind this suggests privately educated students have been more shielded from the disruptive effects of the pandemic over the last three years compared to state school students.

This makes sense given the material advantages these wealthy students have. Such as:

  • smaller class sizes
  • better access to online learning
  • private tuition.

Some of these resources would have been put into exam training of course, a key part of ‘hothousing’ private school children.

The attainment gap by region has also increased

If we breakdown regions in quintiles by deprivation we find that 30.3% of A-levels in the least deprived regions were awarded A and above compared to only 22.2 in the most deprived regions.

This means parental wealth and income affects educational achievement more generally. Private schools just have a more extreme advantage at the very top end. (Private schools account for around 7% of pupils, so 1/3rd of the top quintile.)

Relevance to A-level sociology

Unfortunately this shows that material deprivation still affects educational achievement.

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Sources/ Find out More

The Guardian: Equality Depends on Education

TES: A-Level Results Reveal Worsening Rich-Poor Divide

FFT Education Data Lab: 2023 A-level Results

Do we need to tax the top 1% more?

Wealth distribution in the UK is shockingly unequal, especially if we take into account the wealth of the top 1%.

For 2018-2022 the distribution of wealth according to ONS data (1) was as below:

wealth inequality bar chart uk 2018-2022

Or in table form:

DecileTotal Household Wealth
Top 1%£4,403,500
10th (Highest) wealth decile£1,941,300
9th wealth decile£1,031,200
8th wealth decile£685,500
7th wealth decile£470,300
6th wealth decile£339,600
5th wealth decile£222,200
4th wealth decile£129,200
3rd wealth decile£47,300
2nd wealth decile£23,000
1st (Lowest) wealth decile£8,000

The extreme difference between the top 1% and the bottom deciles is stark. The top 1% have average wealth of over £4 Million, the bottom 10% only £8000 on average. (This is median household data).

This means the wealthiest 1% of households are 550 times richer than the bottom 10%.

The potential benefits of wealth redistribution

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation just over 20% of households were in poverty in 2020/21. 8% of these households are in very deep poverty (2)

To round things up let’s think about increasing the wealth of the bottom 10%.

Redistributing just 50% of wealth away from the top 1% could do amazing social good. If you did this then each of the 2.3 Million households in the bottom 10% would receive around £22 000 each.

£22 000 per household for the bottom 10% of households could contribute towards:

  • better insulation or damp proofing. The poorest households tend to be those in the worst conditions.
  • An education or training fund for one or more household members.
  • Small business start up costs.
  • Medical fees as appropriate
  • debt clearance, to help prevent the debt-cycle.

There is no way the top 1% are 550 times more hardworking or talented than the bottom 10%. This will be wealth unfairly accumulated due to previous generations having had wealth.

Thus there is no moral argument against taking all of this unearned wealth away, let alone just half of it!

NB we could have exceptions for the working class roots self-made millionaires. There will be a few thousand of these no doubt!


(1) ONS: Total wealth: wealth in Great Britain Dataset | Released 7 January 2022

(2) Joseph Rowntree Foundation: Depth of Poverty over Time

Gender inequality at work

A lot of research evidence suggests tech companies and academia are biased against women.

There are number of quantitative and qualitative research studies which show that recruitment and employment practices are biased against women, despite the fact that employers claim to be meritocratic.

In this post I focus on gender bias in tech companies and academia.

Sexism in tech companies

The tech industry is the peak of gender bias in employment, with only 25% of tech company founders saying they weren’t interested in diversity or work-life balance at all, which severely disadvantages women because they are more likely to be have higher loads of domestic responsibilities.

An analysis of 248 performance reviews from a variety of tech companies found that women are a lot more likely to receive negative personality criticism than men.

Women were called bossy, abrasive, strident, aggressive, emotional and irrational, and usually told to watch their tone and step back. For the most part men’s personality traits didn’t come up in these reviews, and on the rare occasions they did, they were criticised for not being aggressive enough.

Women make up only 25% of employees in the tech sector and 11% of its executives, and more than 40% of women leave tech companies after 10 years compared to only 17% of men, with women leaving mainly because of ‘workplace conditions’, ‘undermining behaviour from managers’ and ‘a sense of feeling stalled in one’s career’.

One of the possible reasons for gender bias in tech is that the historic recruitment practices are based on male gender stereotypes: the ‘ideal type’ of person who would be good at coding as overwhelmingly male characteristics, so the recruiters think.

For example, any recruitment program involving multiple choice maths tests are male biased, and there is a historic network-bias towards men that helps them get tech jobs.

Historically antisocial people have been stereotypically seen as good coders, which automatically disadvantages women who historically tend to do more social and emotional labour.

Some tech firms also use social data to trace the interests of prospective applicants. In one example, a ‘preference for Manga’ was seen as solid predictor of someone having good coding skills, and it is mainly boys and men who look at Manga sites.

Research has also found that the stronger you believe in meritocracy, the more likely you are to act in a sexist way, which is a particular problem in the tech sector, because tech founders tend to have a very strong belief that they are super meritocratic. In reality, according to the research, they are not meritocratic.

Sexism in Academia

Female students and academics are significantly likely to receive funding or get jobs than men, and where mothers are seen as less competent, being a father can work in a man’s favour.

Studies have shown that double-blind peer-reviewing results in a higher proportion of female articles being accepted for publication, but most journals and conferences do not adopt this practice.

Men self-cite 70% more than women, and citations are a key metric in determining career progression, so this can perpetuate gender inequality in academia.

When it comes to teaching women are asked more often to do undervalued admin work and are more likely to be loaded with extra teaching hours which impacts their ability to do research and get published.

Teaching evaluation forms are biased against females to the extent that it is statistically significant. An analysis of 14 million reviews on ‘RateMyProfessors.com’ found that female professors are more likely to be dubbed as ‘mean’ ‘unfair’ or ‘annoying’ and they more likely to get glib and offensive comments about their appearance.

Female academics also have to do more emotion work than males, as students with emotional problems usually go to female staff not male for help.

There is also a catch 22 situation where women are penalised if they aren’t deemed sufficiently warm and accessible, but if they go too far this way they are criticised for not being authoritative and professional.

Two simple solutions

Firstly, companies need to sex-disaggregate available data to analyse the relative performance of men and women in companies, and then they’d probably find that men and women have equal performance.

Secondly, they need to have gender-blind recruitment practices as these have persistently shown that more women get hired when they are adopted.

The biggest barrier to more gender equality in the workplace is algorithmic recruitment programs which claim to be neutral but actually have a gender bias hard wired into them, as with combing social data.

Signposting and sources

This material is supporting evidence for the view that there is still gender inequality in society, and shows us that Feminism is still relevant today.

The material above was summarised from Perez (2019) Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men.

Britain’s New Ordinary Class Elite

The top 6% of the UK population by wealth and income make up a new elite class who also have the most cultural and social capital

In Britain today, there is an ordinary wealth elite who make up the top 6% of the population by wealth. Their mean household income is £89 000 and the average values of their homes £325 000. They have average savings of £142 000.

These figures mean they have wealth and income more than double that of the next class down on the Great British Class Survey, and they have got there by reaping the rewards of steady accumulation of their capital assets. The rise of rentier incomes from second homes forms a significant part of this.

Among the elite, meritocratic justification about wealth ran deep. They tended to stress that their success, income and wealth reflected their hard work, rather than it being down to the advantages they had because of the generations of accumulated cultural, social and economic capital they had benefitted from.

Others played down their wealth by positioning themselves in a relative sense, pointing out they were not as well off as their friends, and some deflected the issue by pointing out ‘accidental accumulation’: house prices having increased so much in London and the South East for example.

However, the top 6% do not see themselves as united, but are more aware of their differences There are fractures as well as solidarity at the top. In other words, the upper class layer is not a coherent and cohesive group but rather a scene of internal contestation between those with the most resources.

Cultural Capital and the Elite Class

The contemporary class elite defies traditional ‘upper class’ presumptions. It is a differentiated and heterogeneous formation which lacks a unitary defining feature.

Its cultural motifs vary and its members conform to a highbrow norm, although they are the most likely to express a preference for opera, classical music and so on.

While the traditional elite of the past marked their distinction by selectively consuming only the visible prestigious forms of culture, members of today’s elite are also in tune with contemporary and popular culture.

Occupational diversity also makes up part of this constellation. There is no unitary group to be found among the wealth class. Different professions such as business, law, academia, media and science compete with each other to assert their authority in the public domain.

These elite occupational blocs may have distinctive cultures of their own and so form niches, and this is especially true for some of the older professions such as architecture and law.

In spatial terms London is where the elite class predominately live. Having a relationship to the London scene and being prepared to work in London are essential. There are also regions within London, niches dependent on property prices.

You don’t necessarily have to have been born in London, but living close to it and being familiar with its geography are important.

There are also cultural elite bubbles in places such as Hampstead and Hackney and a legal elite around Waterloo station for example.

The elite class and meritocracy

The ordinary elite class strongly believe they got to where they are through meritocratic means, through their own hard work and effort, and they often contrast themselves to those who are not, like them, hardworking, but we shouldn’t take these beliefs at face value.

While it is true that they often got into their current high paying jobs by performing well in the education system and then succeeding in the cut throat professions they have also benefitted from their parents’ economic, cultural and social capital.

Many of them went to private schools and Shamus Khan has pointed out that private education is today about imparting the ‘meritocratic skills and practices’ that are required to get ahead in corporate and professional jobs. Ironically because these skills are taught most effectively in fee-paying private schools this means this is NOT meritocratic.

However there is still recruitment to this class from the outside: 25% come from comprehensives.

Elite universities play a role in separating out the very top professions: a boundary separates those who went to Oxbridge from the even those who attended Russel group universities.

The ordinary elite is not very glamorous nor glittering or self-recruited. It is not socially closed. However, people do have to perform to join it. They have to display knowingness, it is hard work being a member of the ordinary elite!

The Elite and the GBCS

The elite were more likely to do the Great British Class Survey. Despite making up only 6% of the objective class structure, 21% of the sample doing the GBCS were from the elite class.

Due to technocratic confidence they have the intellectual confidence and interest to take part, and taking part was a chance to obtain the private gratification that they had made it to the top.

They saw doing the survey as self-affirming, as a chance to have their elite status confirmed and flocked to it in disproportionate numbers, and the GBCS obliged them by awarding them with an ‘elite coat of arms’.

picture of the elite class summary from the great british class survey

Many of them then flocked to Twitter to communicate their ‘official’ elite status to the world. One example:

‘According to new #bbcclass survey I am elite. Nice to see a long-obvious reality reflected in hard data at last. Knee! Bow! And so on…’

What this (representative) tweet shows us is that the elite wanted to boast about their now socially recognised status, but dressed it up in a tongue in cheek way with humour to deflect away from this bragging.

It was also as if doing the survey gave this group a kind of scientifically based legitimacy to brag about their status: rather than them judging themselves as ‘elite’ the survey had done it for them, so all they are doing here (apparently) is stating ‘facts’.

This material was summarised from Savage (2015) Social Class in the 21st Century.

This material is relevant throughout A-level sociology but especially relevant to the Culture and Identity module.

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The Great British Class Survey

The GBCS found seven ‘objective’ social classes based on economic, cultural and social capital. However, most people do not identify with these social classes!

The results of the Great British Class Survey (GBCS) were first published in 2013 based on a sample of 161 000 responses.

The survey used a range of questions to measure three types of Capital:

  • economic capital (wealth and income, especially housing wealth)
  • cultural capital (of which there are two types: highbrow and emerging)
  • social capital (who people know, and the status of who they know)

The survey drew heavily on the work of Bourdieu in its design. One of the key aims was to measure the three types of ‘capital’. This is because social class in Britain today is a matter of advantages that people have accumulated over decades, and even generations as economic, cultural and social capital are passed down to children.

The results of the survey were analysed using ‘latent’ class analysis to group responses into clusters of overlapping answers and revealed that are seven broad social class today as below:

  1. Elite (6% of the population): the most privileged class in Great Britain who have high levels of all three capitals which sets them apart from all other classes. Typical jobs include lawyers, doctors and higher-level managers. Much of their wealth is in property (they are typically home owners), and their income and wealth are double that of the next class down. Also one of the oldest classes in terms of age with an average age of 57.
  2. Established Middle Class (25% of the population): members of this class have high levels of all three capitals although not as high as the Elite. They are a gregarious and culturally engaged class. Average age of 46.
  3. Technical Middle Class (6%): a new class with high economic capital but seem less culturally engaged. They have relatively few social contacts and so are less socially engaged. Average age of 52.
  4. New Affluent Workers (14%): this class has medium levels of economic capital and higher levels of cultural and social capital. They are a young and active group with an average aged of 44.
  5. Emergent Service Workers (15%): a new class which has low economic capital but has high levels of ‘emerging’ cultural capital and high social capital. This group are the youngest class with an average age of 32 and are often found in urban areas.
  6. Traditional Working Class (19%): this class scores low on all forms of the three capitals although they are not the poorest group. The oldest class with an average age of 66.
  7. Precariat (15%): the most deprived class of all with low levels of economic, cultural and social capital. These are the most likely to rent and will typically be in unskilled temporary jobs, with an average age of 50.

Key findings from the Great British Class Survey

  • The elite class, the top 6% is far removed in terms of economic, cultural and social capital from all the other classes. For example, they are twice as wealthy on average as the next class down. 22% of respondents in the GBCS were from this class.
  • The elite are happier to identify as elite than other classes: they recognize themselves as distinct.
  • The precariat is also distinct from the other 6 classes: they are much more likely to rent rather than be home owners and much less likely to know someone in the elite class.
  • The other five classes are less distinct, and there is ambivalence among respondents about whether they are working or middle class: more than 60% of respondents were reluctant to identity with a social class.
  • Age plays an important role in determining class, mainly because of property ownership: most people in the elite are over 50, most people in the technical middle classes are much younger.
  • Mike Savage (2015) saw the GBCS as an act of symbolic violence against the Precariat: only 1% of respondents were precariat, they were reluctant to do the survey because they saw it as an act of labelling them as inferior; the elite flocked to do the survey and then tweeted about their status afterwards: for them it was an act of class-affirmation.

Ambiguous Class Identities

The results of the survey give us a set of ‘objective’ class positions, however in terms of identity very few people identified with their own social class position.

The elite were most likely to identify as elite and think of themselves as superior, however they tended to play down the significance of money in their lives and emphasise the people they knew from different classes and the eclectic tastes they had rather than just ‘highbrow tastes’ .

This mirrors how cultural and social capital work: their importance is played down and not spoken about, they confer silent and subtle advantage on the children of the elite, but they themselves attribute their success to meritocracy and hard work.

‘Lower down’ the social class order more than 60% of people didn’t identify with a social class at all. People today are reluctant to identify with social class because of the negative labels associated with social class: Chavs for the working classes and #middleclassproblems for the middle classes.

There was also a significant tendency for people to identify themselves as being ‘somewhere in the middle’ of the social class scale: rich and poor alike tended to say ‘I am somewhere in the middle’, possibly people tended to compare themselves with people of a similar age, or with people in their local community rather than social class.

In the lowest social classes, especially the Precariat, people recognised the economic constraints on their lives and how these limited life chances but they were reluctant to take part in the survey because they knew it would label them as inferior.

The rest of this post provides an overview of Bourdieu’s cultural class analysis and then summarises the findings of the survey for economic, cultural and social capital.

Bourdieu’s cultural class analysis

Class is fundamentally tied up with inequality, but not all economic inequalities are about class. For example, if someone wins £10 million on the National Lottery, this does not automatically propel them into the elite or upper classes.

What determines someone’s class goes beyond one single transaction. If that same lottery winner invested their money in stocks or set up a business and sent their children to private school, we might then, several years afterwards, start to talk of them having moved up the social class hierarchy.

According to Bourdieu, social classes are fundamentally associated with the accumulation of advantages over time, a view which reflects the trajectory of his own life as he was born the son of a rural French postal worker and ended his career as an illustrious professor at an elite university.

He was interested in the symbolic power of class and the shame and stigma that were bound up with forms of domination. For him class was associated with how some people feel ‘entitled’ and others ‘dominated’, thus recognising the cultural elements to social class.

Bourdieu saw class privilege as being tied up with access to ‘capital’ which he defined as having ‘pre-emptive rights over the future’. Some resources allow people the ongoing capacity to enhance themselves and the processes associated with the uneven distribution of resources are crucial.

In the words of Bourdieu himself: ‘Capital, in its objectified or embodied forms takes time to accumulate and has a tendency to persist, so that everything is not equally possible.’

For Bourdieu it is essential that we understand class historically rather than as a series of transactions as snapshots in time; in any one moment we come to social life with different endowments, capacities and resources, and thus social classes are historically forged.

Thus life-chances (such as your chance of getting into a good university) are NOT like playing roulette. In roulette two individuals place a bet, one on black and one of red, both have an equal chance of winning. And if they do so for another round, they have an equal chance of winning again. The odds are reset to the same after each round. Who wins in round two is NOT affected by who won in round one.

With economic (and cultural) capital whoever wins round 1 (generation 1) passes on a greater chance of winning to whoever bets with them on round 2 (their children)

Cultural Capital

Economic capital is one important form of capital Cultural capital is another.

Cultural capital is a form of inheritance, associated with educational qualifications. Well-educated parents pass on to their children to capacity for them to succeed in education and get qualifications to get them into the best jobs. This is not a direct inheritance but a probabilistic one.

Cultural capital is passed on, but in a opaque way, dressed up in the language of meritocracy and hard work, and thus its existence is denied. This opacity is part of how it works, because it makes it impossible to challenge.

This is like gift economics in gift-based societies: gift-giving tacitly demands reciprocation at some point in the future, and is, in reality, about someone with ore capital (the person able to give gifts) manipulating or dominating the person they give the gift to, because by doing so everyone knows they owe the gift-giver something.

Yet this is never spoken about, and it appears that the gift-giving is voluntary and altruistic, and the maintenance of this narrative-myth in public is key to the gift-giver maintaining their power.

According to Bourdieu, to accept the gift as a gift is a form of symbolic violence, it is an acceptance of domination, but as soon as we refuse to see gifts as voluntary and altruistic, they become a form of domination or manipulation.

This is similar to they way in which cultural capital works: in reality middle class parents pass on their higher level academic skills and ‘highbrow’ cultural tastes to their children and THIS is what gives them an unfair advantage and helps them be more successful, but in public we DO NOT TALK about this, instead we prefer to believe that it is simply the hard work of the middle class children that accounts for their success.

Social capital works along similar lines to both cultural and economic capital: the upper middle classes have more contacts their children can use later on in life to get them jobs in, for example, hospitals, law firms, and finance firms.

Capital accumulations and social class

These three forms of capital: economic, cultural, and social take decades to accumulate, they are the result of careful accumulation over the lifespan of parents, who then pass them on to their children, who pass them on to their children and so on.

For those born with little or no capital, it is very difficult to catch up all on your own. It can be done, but you have a long way to go compared to the children of the upper middle classes.

Economic capital

Britain is more unequal than most comparable nations and 78% of Britons are in favour of some forms of redistribution, but when it comes to viewing their own lives, people do not straightforwardly place themselves as winners or losers despite this intense inequality.

Simply noting that Britain is unequal and is getting more unequal tells us nothing of how people experience these inequalities. Economic divisions stamp themselves in complex ways in people’s identities.

Based on interviews with the Great British Class Survey, people in very different economic circumstances all place themselves in the middle, but if you dig down into it ‘being in the middle’ has different meanings depending on their objective position in the economic class structure.

In general, those with modest amounts of money are aware of how a relative lack of money has shaped their life in the past and continues to constrains their life in the present.

Whereas those with money tend to downplay the importance of it. Those who have money report caring less about it. They are able to stand back from the brute power of money itself.

People do not want to show off, nor do they want to recognise the shame and stigma of being at the bottom. Yet despite this, economic inequalities are central in shaping people’s lives.

Wealth inequalities and social class

Britain has got a lot wealthier in the 20th and 21st centuries, so much so that income from employment in the present is increasingly overshadowed by the influence of wealth accumulated from the past.

The absolute gap between the top 1% and bottom 50% by wealth increased threefold from 1976 to 2005.

The absolute increase in wealth is divisive: it means that those who start today with no wealth have a larger hill to climb in order to reach the top and this makes breaking social inequality difficult.

Bringing wealth into an analysis of social class has three major implications:

  1. It makes us realise that income is not the only, or even the main way economic capital influences people’s lives.
  2. The gap is getting bigger, so it is harder for people at the bottom to climb the ladder.
  3. Wealth is accumulated, and so your parent’s wealth matters – we need to understand class in terms of transfer of resources from young to old

The power of income inequalities

According to the Spirit Level Britain is a country of gross high income inequalities.

The Higher Managerial Class earns three times as much as those in routine manual occupations, but within the top class there is a group of especially well paid occupations such as CEOs, doctors, lawyers and financial intermediaries, and these occupations have pulled away from similar occupations which require similar education and skill levels.

The top 10% earn nearly 17 times as much as lowest 10%.

Is there a new aristocracy?

The GBSC shows us that there is a strong overlap between those who have extremely high incomes, savings and wealth.

In social terms those with the most economic capital are only slightly more likely to have degree-level qualifications. Those who have the most economic capital really do have the most privileged backgrounds.

The very wealthy also tend to have a strong awareness of themselves as either upper or upper-middle class, and they are more likely to identify as such.

Those with the most economic capital also have distinctive social and cultural characteristics too, they have more exclusive social networks.

House ownership and social class

One of the most important things which makes positioning oneself on an economic scale is whether one owns a house or not, something which is especially true for the over 50s, many of whom bought houses when they were much cheaper back in the 1990s.

There are many people, for example, who have had traditionally working class jobs for their entire lives, but by virtue of having bought a house in the ‘right area’ 30 years ago, are now sitting on property worth more than half a million, with no mortgage.

On the other hand there are also many people who have worked in traditionally middle class jobs but are sitting on cheaper properties with huge mortgages.

By way of an example: where would you place the following two people on the class scale?:

  • A builder with no qualifications earning £30K a year with a property worth £700K and no mortgage.
  • A teacher with two degrees earning £45K a year with a property worth £300K and paying £15K a year on their mortgage for the next decade?

These two examples demonstrate how difficult it is to place people on class scales today and show the complexity of class identities, and that’s just factoring in income and housing wealth, and before we even look at the cultural and social aspects of class identification.

looked at more broadly, owner-occupied housing is now thoroughly implicated in the accumulation of economic capital, creating a powerful categorical divide between those who are owners and those who are tenants.

The housing divide also tends to increase the significance of age and location in terms of social class divisions.

The meaning of economic capital revisited

People’s perceptions of economic inequality might not involve comparing themselves with those in other occupations but rather those in certain geographical locations or age.

In this way the effects of economic capital can be naturalised so that monetary differences are associated with a range of personal, social and spatial factors which may make them appear ‘natural’ in the minds of many.

The fact that it takes so long to accumulate economic capital is why people place their situation in the context of life histories rather than draw direct ‘relational’ contrasts with the wealthy or poor, and thus people see their economic fortunes tied up with their life histories rather than global economic forces.

In the minds of respondents property was a very important form of economic capital, especially as it could be passed onto the next generation.

The continued importance of economic capital

An increase in economic capital clouds the boundary further between working and middle classes and it means those at the top are further apart.

One cannot make simple judgements based on occupation alone. Economic capital especially housing has an impact – age and region.

We can only understand economic capital by recognising it is the result of long term accumulation. In every dimension the better off are more closely associated with historically resonant forces: social cultural or coming from a senior managerial background. Economic capital is about long term investments.

Finally, growing relative proportions in economic capital might reduce general awareness of where they stand in relation to other people. It’s not just about income and employment anymore: people compare themselves to those of a similar age and neighbours!

Cultural Capital: Highbrow and Emerging

Most people are aware that economic capital (wealth, especially housing today) are assets that can be accumulated and invested to give oneself and one’s children advantages in life.

However most people don’t think of cultural tastes and interests as being forms of capital, but for Bourdieu they are, and what matters is the extent to which one’s tastes and interests are seen as legitimate. There are countless cultural pursuits, but not all are valued equally.

For example, there is a widely held notion that classical music and literature, fine art, opera and have more legitimacy and value and show better taste than Big Brother and computer games.

Traditionally three factors have cemented the notion that ‘high culture’ is superior:

  1. High culture has been deeply promoted by the state through subsidies from bodies such as the Arts Council.
  2. The education system reinforces the idea that classical literature and music are superior.
  3. Cultural critics and other taste makers further reinforce the idea.

Social Engagement: the new divide

The GBCS believes that cultural capital still exists today but that it has changed its form.

We see this from a cultural mapping exercise which shows us which kinds of activities are NOT done together and from that we can see which are furthest apart and even in contrast from each other and a hierarchy emerges.

Cultural activities ACultural activities B
Liking fish and chipsGoing to the theatre
Eating out rarelyGoing to the gym
Not going to restaurantsGoing to rock gigs
Not liking pop musicPlaying sport
Disliking Indian foodGoing to art clubs
Not going out with friendsWatching live sport
Disliking jazzLiking French and Italian restaurants
Disliking world musicLiking world music
Not going for a walkGoing to museums and art galleries
Disliking reggae musicGoing to the opera and ballet

Cultural mapping shows us that it is more likely that your choice of activities will ALL come from one column in the table above rather than finding equal numbers of activities from both columns.

On the right hand side of the column, the activities involve going out into the world of public, cultural institutions, such as going to the theatre and eating out at restaurants and on the left hand side there is an aversion to these, and most readers would probably recognise there is subtle social pressure to view the activities on the right as more socially legitimate.

Those on the right are socially approved of and supported, those on the left abstain.

This is not quite the same as ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture because also on the right we find activities such as going to the gym and rock concerts.

Those who are well educated and have a high income tend to engage in pursuits on the right and vice versa, so cultural tastes do map onto social position. The activities on the right require, in general a lot of money, those on the left do not.

For those on the left, they do not simply sit at home passively watching T.V. but their cultural activities are more likely to be informal, and kinship or neighbourhood based, done in private and with less of a public profile.

For those who engage in the activities on the right, it involves taking part in public life, they are more visible and this may lead to more confidence and assertiveness. They have more of a public profile.

Someone on the left may well be very culturally engaged, but they are more likely to play themselves down as lacking ‘culture’ as not being very informed. Those with lower income are more tentative about what good taste is as they tend to lack confidence.

Those with ‘good taste’ are more likely to be confident that their tastes are legitimate and may use this to ‘inflict’ their taste on others. They are sure they have ‘good taste’. They are at ease. They are much happier to communicate this conviction in public.

The secondary cultural divide: highbrow versus ’emerging’ cultural capital

Cultural mapping also reveals a second set of oppositional tastes and activities. Activities such as going to the opera, classical music and ballet correlate with disliking rap and popular music:

Cultural activities ACultural activities B
Liking fast foodGoing to the theatre
Being indifferent to classical musicDisliking pop music
Being indifferent to heavy metalGoing to stately homes
Liking rap musicLiking classical music
Liking vegetarian restaurants Disliking reggae music
Being indifferent to jazz musicDisliking rap music
Playing sportNot going to fast food restaurants
Not going for a walkDisliking rock music
Taking holidays in Spain Going to museums and art galleries
Watching live sportGoing to the opera and ballet

Those tastes and activities on the right are consistent with ‘highbrow taste’ and seems to support Bourdieu’s views on Distinction.

Those on the left who prefer such things as popular music are more likely to state they are ‘indifferent’ to classic music and so on.

Age is also a factor in this opposition, with younger people being more likely to fall into the left hand column, those with ‘highbrow’ tastes are more likely to be older. The average age of a Radio 3 listener is 62.

When we factor in both age and class, we see from this are two modes of cultural capital: ‘highbrow’ and ’emerging’.

  • Highbrow culture is more established, historically sanctioned and institutionalised in the education system, but is also an ageing mode of cultural capital.
  • Emerging is more hipster – adopted by the younger middle class – it has its own infrastructure in bars and on social media and sports and may be institutionalised in new professional workstyles which emphasise adaptability.

So with respect to cultural capital, younger people are not obviously disadvantaged compared to their elders: they partake in these new forms of cultural capital and are engaged.

People are also increasingly keen to express their eclectic tastes, the drawing of sharp boundaries was relatively rare, even among older respondents.

Sociologists in the USA have talked about the rise of the ‘cultural omnivore’ who is more culturally tolerant and less snobbish and more accepting of diversity. This is NOT what the GBCS reveals.

While the better off talked about their eclecticism there was a ‘knowingness’ about this diversity of engagement. For example, the elite tend to be very selective about which precise and particular ‘unusual’ aspects of popular culture they like, and explained in great depth why they like them.

They were off the cuff about their like of highbrow tastes, but had to legitimate their like of things falling outside this.

Emerging capital is thus not about liking popular culture per se, but rather demonstrating one’s skill in manoeuvring between the choices on the menu and displaying one’s careful selection of particular pop artists. Demonstrating WHY you liked something (in relation to your life) was as important as WHAT you liked.

Especially among the younger generation, no pop artist was out of bounds, but this was usually done with a lot of justification – exhaustively selective, even in terms of Burger King over McDonald’s.

In other words, emerging cultural capital is expressive, it is a performance.

For example on respondent: Henry said of his music tastes – ‘there is no cohesion at all’ and he was proud of this, but his play lists included such things as ‘obscure’ and ‘hopelessly poppy’. His collection of tastes was about having material to add to discussions in university halls.

You can consume ‘right pop music’ but also ‘wrong pop music’ in the right way by demonstrating an eclectic taste but a privileged understanding.

Ways of Seeing

There is a difference between activities which are immediate and sensuous and discerning.

Discernment is the ability to judge across genres and justify these: skills associated with education and professional jobs. These are not neutral skills and those who value them tend to denigrate immediate, sensual reactions.

There is a class differences in how things are enjoyed. The basis of a new snobbery.

Just getting lost in classical music at a sensual level is seen as inferior to engaging with it at a more highbrow level of appreciation: being stretched intellectually is seen as superior to merely being entertained.

The working classes are more likely to express just ‘getting lost in the music’ but for the middle classes, engaging in something just for pleasure was often tied up with guilt: being too knackered to do anything better after work, for example.

Cultural snobbery

Emerging cultural capital embeds its own form of subtle hierarchy.

People in higher class positions distance themselves from snobbery but they contradict themselves by showing a dislike of culture that was mass produced.

Reality TV and talent shows were frequently mentioned as things they didn’t like as was Bingo and certain fashion brands.

Responses to questions about such cultural tastes tended to start with a denigration of lifestyle (so not personal) but then moved on to a criticism of the people who liked them: such as audiences of reality shows being passive and easily duped by advertisers.

Towards the end of interviews, when they were more relaxed, the wealthier better-educated respondents often considered cultural tastes as powerful indicators of pathological identities, expressing even disgust.

They tended to commend themselves on their own flexibility and energy in choosing the ‘right’ cultural products, and in contrast saw those who watched shows such as the X factor as being lazy and non-discerning.

Cultural activities were not seen as just private enthusiasms, they brought with them social baggage.

Social Capital

Most of us understand the importance of networks in our lives, especially in the age of social media.

Most of us pride ourselves on having a wide range of social contacts, and especially for the elite it is seen as vulgar to stress that you only know other people from the elite, they stress the working class people they know.

However we are also aware of the strategic importance of knowing certain types of people.

Bourdieu’s conception of social capital is that it is something the privileged and powerful use to protect their interests and shut out those without social capital.

Three main findings from the GBCS about social capital were:

Social networks are not exclusive. Most people know someone a fundamentally different walk of life, so we do not live in a closed society.

However, there is a strong tendency for those in professional and managerial jobs to know people in similar jobs and the same is true for those in manual and routine jobs. People in the bottom quintile know just over one person in one of the elite 8 positions, for those in the top quintile, they know three.

The extremes are distinctive. The very wealthy are much more likely to know very advantaged people than everyone else, so these are more closed off. And those with no educational qualifications are much less likely to know those from other occupational clusters. The elite occupations are the most socially exclusive.

Social capital accumulates over time, and is passed down. Those with a parent ranking in the highest-status income earners know twice as many people in the elite professions compared to those whose parents belong to the routine manual class.

A Subtle shaping occurs: social capital determines who you socialise with, and how you think about your class position, but this is not immediately obvious in day to day life.

Social Class: the new landscape?

The interplay of economic, cultural and social capital generate the kinds of cumulative advantages and disadvantages which may fuse together in social classes more broadly.

Drawing links between these three kinds of capital is complicated because the three strands are organised on different principles.

Economic capital has accumulated massively in recent years, but it is difficult to see cultural and social capital accumulating in this sort of way. Technical innovation especially means people have more cultural and social capital than previously, but it is difficult to map this out because there is so much diversity, unlike with economic capital, which is more blunt.

Economic capital has been subject to more absolute accumulation, but with social and cultural capital the accumulation is more relative, in that people have become divided by different kinds of cultural interests and social ties.

We often fixate on where there is NOT a fit between these types of capital – such as with wealthy footballers or self-made working class millionaires, but Bourdieu tended to see these three types of culture as coinciding – there was a ‘homology’ between them, but the fit was never perfect.

The GBCS confirms Bourdieu’s view to an extent: it shows us that there are some common intersections between these three types of capital, but it is far from perfect, and age also has a significant impact on class location in the new class scale.

A new model of social class?

The responses to the GBCS were analysed using a model of ‘latent class analysis’ to group the three types of capital and show how they cluster.

The seven classes were then ranked according to their economic capital, the variable that is the most unevenly distributed.

The hierarchy here is not always that distinct, for example it is uncertain whether the new affluent workers should be placed higher or lower than the technical middle class.

The two most clearly differentiated classes are the elite and the precariat. These score highest and lowest on most of the measures of the three capitals.

The elite have incomes twice as high as any other class and by far the largest house values. They also have the highest amount of ‘highbrow’ capital, and extensive social networks. With the elite we see more of a ‘homology’ than with other classes.

At the bottom the Precariat refers to the precarious proletariat. This class has the lowest household income, little savings and is the most likely to rent property. It also ahs the fewest social ties, and least likely to know people in the elite. Its cultural capital is also more limited than other classes.

Signposting and Sources

This post was summarised from Mike Savage’s (2015) Social Class in the 21st Century.

You can do the Great British Class Survey here.

This material is essential for A-level sociology, especially any topic relevant to social class inequalities, and the culture and identity module.

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Generational Inequality Keeps Growing…

Government policies favour the old and harm the young

The gap in wealth, income and governmental support between the young and the old has grown significantly in recent decades, to the extent that the social contract between the generations is now broken.  

This general injustice is further fuelling inequalities between the young as those parents with sufficient wealth are increasingly passing it onto their children before they die, while those with lower wealth simply cannot do this. 

These differences have been fuelled by changes in government policy which panders to older people because they are more likely to vote than younger people, and older people are also more likely to vote Tory, the dominant party of the last four decades which has resided over social policies that have persistently favoured the old over the young. 

Older people have benefited from:

  • Decades of a well-funded, functioning NHS delivering free health care at the point of delivery. 
  • A well funded education system, including free universities and grants to pay tuition fees. 
  • The most generous pension terms, with many retiring on full, final salary pensions. 
  • The treble-locked pension going forwards, with pensions rising 10% in line with inflation. 
  • Properly funded council housing, much of which was sold off under Thatcher providing very cheap home-ownership for millions. 
  • The opportunity to become a ‘share holding democracy’ when Britains’ nationally owned water and gas companies were sold off, again under Thatcher. 
  • Being able to buy their own, very large homes which they now under occupy. 67% of homeowners of retirement age have two or more spare bedrooms. 

Young people suffer from:

  • A now underfunded NHS which is so crippled even nurses have taken the difficult decision to strike as a last ditch effort to get the government to fix the broken social contract and pay workers a living wage. 
  • An education system which has seen a 20% real terms cut to funding under the Tories since 2010, and they have to take out loans of tens of thousands of pounds to fund a degree on which they are soon going to have to pay almost 7% interest (while pensions are increasing in line with inflation. 
  • Their pension age has been pushed back to at least 68 and replaced with average salary rather than final salary schemes in most cases. 
  • Very high property prices to the extent that most people have to save for a decade until they can afford to buy in their mid 30s and with current inflation mortgage interest is at a 20 year high. 
  • Having to live in shared accommodation or with their parents into their early 30s in increasing numbers of cases. 
  • Their earnings are relatively lower thanks to steadily rising inflation and made dramatically worse by the recent cost of living crisis. 

It is also the case that the chosen government response to the Covid-19 Pandemic, that of locking down the country for six months, was mainly to prevent old people dying, and it was young people who paid the price for this: especially those whose education was harmed. 

Increasing inequality among the young 

According to a recent report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) based on a cohort of young people in their early 20s and 30s, the parents of the well off will provide their children with £17bn in gifts and loans in 2023. 

And children of university-educated homeowners, who are already the highest earners, will receive six times more than the children of renters.

This is only human: of course parents want to and will help their children financially if they have the means. 

David Willets who recently chaired the intergenerational commission has pointed out, however, that this ‘natural’ desire of individual parents to help their particular children is bad for society as a whole. They may be ‘good’ parents but they are not good citizens. 

Social policy solutions

The commission has suggested several government proposals to combat generational injustice and restore the social contract between young and old people, such as:

  • Making older people pay more tax to benefit the young 
  • A massive housebuilding programme to help bring down house price
  • Reforming council tax to make larger properties pay more
  • More secure tenancies for renters
  • Ending zero hours contracts
  • Abolishing various loopholes which allow people to avoid paying inheritance tax
  • Increasing capital gains tax on wealth gains. 

The most radical proposal of all was a £10 000 citizens inheritance grant to every 30-year old to go towards housing, education, or pension. 


The most significant challenge to improving the lives of young people through social policy is the lack of will within government, and especially within the Tory government. 

The simple truth is that the majority of voters are over 50, and most of these vote Tory, and people vote in their own self-interest. 

So we’ve got a situation where the Tories and probably Labour if they wish to get into power are going to keep pandering to the old and allow them to keep their wealth and high income. 

The problem is that this has to crack at some point!

I mean, it is young people who work and raise most of the tax revenue, after all!

To find out more you might like this Guardian article by Polly Toynbe which inspired this post: My generation are sucking Britain’s young people dry.


This material should be of general interest to any sociology student wondering why their life is so difficult, and it is also relevant to the topic of social policy, part of the Theory and Methods aspect of second year sociology.

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Ethnic Inequalities in the U.K.

Most ethnic groups in Britain are poorer than the white majority.

There are several dimensions to inequality by ethnicity in the United Kingdom.

Pakistani and Bangladeshi households have among the lowest levels of wealth and income compared to White Households while Black African households have high wealth but lower income.

Despite their wealth and income, however, White British people have the second lowest life expectancy of all ethnic groups, and despite their relative poverty Bangladeshi women have the second highest life expectancy!

Household Wealth Inequalities by Ethnicity

There are significant differences in household wealth by ethnicity.

The median household wealth in the U.K. between April 2016 and April 2018 (the latest data available) was £286 600. The range between the most and least wealthy ethnic groups was £314 000 for the White British Group and £34 000 for the Black African Group.

This means that White British households are nine times wealthier than Black-British African households.

All ethnic minority groups have less household wealth compared to White households, except for Black Caribbean households who are wealthier:

If we rank ethnic minority groups in order of household wealth from richest to poorest we get the following:

  1. Black Caribbean
  2. White
  3. Chinese
  4. Indian
  5. Bangladeshi
  6. Black African
  7. Pakistani.

However these differences in household wealth are partly a reflection of two other factors which have a major influence on wealth

  1. The different age profiles of ethnic minority populations. Black Africans especially have a lower age profile than average, in other words they are younger overall, and age has a huge influence on household wealth. Those in the 55-64 age group are 10 times wealthier than those in the 25-34 age group.
  2. Home ownership. Houses tend to be the largest capital investment a family or individual has, and the value of houses is included in the measurement of wealth used by the ONS. Home ownership rates vary by ethnicity and Black Africans have relatively low rates of home ownership, which is in turn partly a reflection of the lower age profile.

Income Inequality by Ethnicity

Income inequality varies by ethnicity. The statistics below (2) are for the period 2017 to 2020 (the latest available at time of writing in January 2023).

Focusing on which ethnic groups are most likely to be in the bottom two quintiles for income, ranking the poorest first:

  • 76% of Pakistani and 75% of Bangladeshi households are in the bottom two quintiles.
  • 75% of Bangladeshi households
  • 62% of black households are in the bottom two quintiles
  • 49% of Chinese households are in the bottom two quintiles
  • 40% of Asian and 38% of households are in the bottom two quintiles.

So to summarise Pakistani and Bangladeshi households are almost twice as likely to be in poor households compared to the average (which is 40% which is the poorest two quintiles or 2/5 or 4/10!).

Black households are 1.5 times more likely and Chinese households are slightly more likely to be poor.

Indian and White British households are at 40%, which is in line with the national average.

The figures are similar for the chances of having a high income household by ethnicity.

Ethnic Differences in Life Expectancy

Life expectancy at birth for females varies by ethnicity from 83.1 years for those of mixed ethnicity to 88.9 years for those of Black African ethnicity.

The differences here don’t seem to correlate at all with inequalities in wealth and income.

For example the White ethnic group has the second lowest life expectancy despite having some of the highest wealth and income.

Also Bangladeshi and Pakistani females have differing life expediencies despite having very similar levels of household income.

The pattern is similar for males but with overall lower life expectancy in all ethnic groups.


This material is of general relevance to a whole range of sociology modules, from education to crime and deviance!

You might also like this post – another aspect of ethnic inequalities covered elsewhere: educational achievement by ethnicity.

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(1) Office for National Statistics (November 2020) Household wealth by ethnicity, Great Britain: April 2016 to March 2018.

(2) GOV.UK Income Distribution by Ethnicity.

(3) Office for National Statistics: Ethnic Differences in Life Expectancy.