Australia has six classes: Which one do you fall into now?

AUSTRALIA has six social classes, according to new research from social scientists at the Australian National University. They have run the numbers and concluded the old working class vs. middle class divide (almost no Australians identify as upper class) doesn't describe Australia.

The analysis, by Jill Sheppard and Nicholas Biddle, doesn't just rely on income or assets but also cultural aspects - like whether you go to the opera or go to the gym. It mines social data too, like who you hang out with (are they lawyers or cleaners?).

It then uses a computer technique called latent class analysis to find the groupings that best describe Australian classes.

Most people are between the extremes with just 24 per cent of Aussies in either the "precariat" or the "established affluent" classes.


Here are the six classes and their most interesting features:

 

THE PRECARIAT

One way to tell if you're in the precariat is if you've got zero in your bank account til pension day.

Over 36 per cent of people in the precariat are pensioners, and just 18 per cent work full time. People in this class who work are very likely to be labourers, and less likely to be managers. If you're young and broke, this class could also be for you. The precariat has a good chunk of students in it, presumably of the kind that eat a lot of instant noodles.

The study authors paint a pretty bleak picture of the precariat:

"Members of the precariat have the lowest mean household income: … the fewest real estate and cash saving assets… the lowest educational attainment, the lowest participation in both highbrow and emerging cultural activities, the lowest social contact score, and their contacts have the lowest occupational prestige."

A lot of struggling students are in the precariat.
A lot of struggling students are in the precariat. Brett Wortman

Nevertheless, 60 per cent of the precariat describe themselves as middle class, and 2 per cent say they are upper class.

(The name precariat comes from combining the word precarious - meaning at risk - with proletariat, which refers to people with no assets.)

 

AGEING WORKERS

These guys are older than the rest. Like the precariat, the group includes a lot of pensioners. The ageing workers don't have much money either but enough to keep them off the bottom rung.

“Aging workers” are doing better than the precariat. But not much.
“Aging workers” are doing better than the precariat. But not much. Luka Kauzlaric

Say Sheppard and Biddle: "This class comprises 14% of the Australian population. Members of this class … have come from slightly more advantaged backgrounds: their parents' occupational prestige is higher than that of the precariat."

An interesting note on this group: unlike the precariat, none of them think they're upper class - most of them say they're working class.


NEW WORKERS

This group is younger than the ageing workers, and also better off.

"The mean occupational prestige of this class is slightly lower than that of the ageing worker class, but it has been parlayed into greater material wealth," say Sheppard and Biddle.

(Is that the researchers way of saying this group includes the cashed-up bogans?)

Of all the groups, they are least likely to be unemployed, and the most likely to say they are middle class - 64 per cent say they're middle class and just 31 per cent say they're working class.

ESTABLISHED MIDDLE


A big proportion of the established middle class are self-funded retirees like these grey nomads.
This is the group most likely to call themselves working class. Weirdly.

The group has the highest rate of unemployment. It includes more self-funded retirees and more people working in the community and personal services sector than any other group.

"They report marginally higher rates of both social and cultural capital, and their parents had higher occupational prestige during the respondents' youth. In every regard, they enjoy greater advantages than members of the new worker class," say Biddle and Sheppard.

 


EMERGING AFFLUENT

This is the youngest group. It has the most full time workers and the most part time workers. Very few retirees are in this group.

I'm imagining double income families, maybe with kids, a BMW and a really breathtaking mortgage. The members of this group report the second-highest education levels and the measures of parental prestige are the highest of all the groups.

They also have the largest group of people 'keeping house.' (Maybe, I'm thinking, this could be maternity and paternity leave.)

These people  are mostly professionals and managers, and they’re likely to have young kids.
These people are mostly professionals and managers, and they’re likely to have young kids. Polka Dot Images

 

ESTABLISHED AFFLUENT


OK, you don't have to have a private jet to be in the established affluent class. But you get the picture.
This is the surgeons and their golfing buddies. These guys have the highest level of occupational prestige. The group is almost entirely managers and professionals.

What's interesting here is that only 6 per cent of them say they're upper class - while 11 per cent of them say they don't know what class they're in. That's the highest level of "don't knows" of any group - an interesting blind spot to have.

They are likely to attend opera, plays and ballet, which might be of no surprise, but they also have the most "emerging social capital" including listening to indie music, going to gigs and going to the gym.

OK, you don’t have to have a private jet to be in the established affluent class. But you get the picture.
OK, you don’t have to have a private jet to be in the established affluent class. But you get the picture.

 

WHAT DOES CLASS MEAN IN AUSTRALIA

The academics can run computer models that spit out classes, but do they really mean anything? Class signifiers in Australia are not always that easy to spot as a man barracking for the Melbourne Demons while polishing off a cheeseboard in the members reserve of the MCG.

Australia is not Britain, where your voice and your clothes can be a clear sign of your class heritage.

Academic Jill Sheppard says the lack of obvious signs of class can cut both ways.

"One, it has made mobility between classes comparatively easy; we are not readily marked as 'elite' or 'working class', so we can more easily slip between them. Two, it makes our assumptions about class and our associated behaviours more insidious. How can I claim to be discriminated against on the basis of my class, when it's such a nebulous identity?"

As the next graph shows, those signs of class really can be quite nebulous. Plenty of Aussies seem to put themselves in a category different to what the data would suggest.


Jason Murphy is an economist. He publishes the blog Thomas The Thinkengine. Follow Jason on Twitter @Jasemurphy

News Corp Australia

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