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The proportion of the population reporting some level of racial prejudice is higher now than in but actually seems to have fallen since The figure also plots a smoothed series using a five year moving average of the results. The smoothed series is more supportive of an increase in prejudice over the last decade. Rather than the trend in racial prejudice this would seem to be the more interesting feature of the recent changes in the data.

Although we might be becoming more prejudiced towards people from other races, we do seem to have become more tolerant on matters of sexuality. The survey has also regularly asked people about their attitudes to sexual relations between two adults of the same sex. In many cases where we see overall attitudes changing quickly, it is likely that changes in attitudes between birth cohorts are important.


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Changes between birth cohorts can produce rapid changes in overall attitudes because people often form their basic attitudes when they are young and then don't change them much with age. The overall pattern of change in the population is then due to older cohorts dying out and being replaced by younger cohorts who, in this case, have more open attitudes to issues concerning sexuality. If respondents do not spontaneously put themselves as either "middle" or "working class", they are prompted to do so with the question -. Most people say they belong either to the middle class or the working class.

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If you had to make a choice, would you call yourself middle class or working class? Table 7. The proportion of people feeling that they are middle class around a third or working class around six in ten has not changed much over the 30 year period. Nor has the fact that only half of the population spontaneously places themselves as belonging to either class, with others only doing so when prompted to put themselves into one camp or the other.

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Although people are no more or less likely in as in to self-identify with the working or middle classes, the salience of class has declined substantially for people. When asked how close people feel to particular social classes, there is a marked albeit slow decline over time Heath et al. This tallies with substantial qualitative evidence suggesting that people are ambivalent about which class they belong to see for instance, Savage et al. Uncertainties about the contemporary cultural and social relevance of class as traditionally defined were very evident in the recent public debate about the findings of the Great British Class Surveywhich was launched by the BBC in April see Savage et al.

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These findings attracted great interest, with most commentators recognising that class divisions were strong. Yet at the same time there was much critical commentary about whether the actual classes defined in these new analyses were accurate and whether people felt they actively belonged to any of the newly-defined classes. In the context of this Savage , p.

Culturally, class does not appear to be a self-conscious principle of social identity. Structurally, however, it appears to be "highly pertinent". Our chapter therefore reflects on the significance of class - both objective and subjective - for a range of people's attitudes on welfare and liberal attitudes. There are at least four possible reasons why we might expect the relationship between someone's social class and their attitudes to have weakened in the last 30 years, each of which we explore in this chapter:.

Reason 1: class is no longer politically mobilised. One line of reasoning might run that while objective class differences remain strong, powerful institutions and agencies do not seek to mobilise people on the basis of these inequalities. Marshall et al. This leads us to wonder whether people's attitudes and values on issues where political parties used to give a strong lead to their supporters have also become more weakly associated with social class.

Reason 2: class no longer means the same thing. A second possibility is that perhaps the apparent importance of social class as an indicator of someone's attitudes has weakened artefactually, simply because our classifications of social class have become outdated. It may be that social class needs to be re-conceptualised, and that, if we did so, stronger associations with attitudes would be found. So, is the traditional distinction between middle class and working class no longer the relevant dividing line?

Should we now be thinking in terms of distinctions based on income levels, between say the rich, the 'squeezed middle', and the poor? Or along the lines of Savage et al.

Has education now superseded class as the key source of social attitudes? Reason 3: people's backgrounds do not influence their views any longer. A third possibility is that in a post-industrial, postmodern society Beck, ; Giddens, ; Giddens, attitudes themselves have simply become more individualistic and less tightly tied to people's social positions. Since, according to Beck, identities can be freely chosen, attitudes too might have become more indeterminate.

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Perhaps class has not been replaced by income or education or by any other social cleavage, but, rather, attitudes more generally have become more amorphous and unpredictable? This might be tied to Inglehart's famous argument that contemporary societies are becoming more 'post-materialist', or 'expressive' in their orientations, with the consequence that the kind of material interest-based attitudes deriving from class become less important.

Reason 4: other things matter now as well as class. A fourth and final perspective might claim that society has become more fragmented and differentiated with multiple bases of social attitudes rather than a single all-embracing division between middle and working class or between rich and poor.

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This might be consistent with the significance of immigration, the rise of multiculturalism and diversity. This is a point discussed in the recent Government Office for Science's report on the Future of Identity Foresight, Thus class, education, income, ethnicity and religion may each structure a limited set of attitudes, each within a relatively narrow sphere.

We could interpret this, in Bourdieu's terms, as the increasing differentiation of cultural fields Bourdieu, In other words we may be seeing a British society emerging in which there are multiple, cross-cutting lines of social cleavage rather than any one dominant line of division in the way that class used to operate. In order to evaluate the merits of these four possibilities, this chapter focuses on a range of attitudes and values towards traditional class issues such as redistribution and welfare, as well as issues around family and civil liberties. We compare results from the earliest British Social Attitudes surveys of and with those for the most recent surveys from and focusing on questions that were asked in identical formats at the two time points.

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How important is social class in Britain today?

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