Modern Social Classes

Traditional vs. Modern

The old social class system could be simply described as upper class, middle class and lower class. In some cases, the lower class might be changed to 'working class' but the general classification was the same. However, things have changed. There are a number of reasons including increased social mobility but the old structure has become increasingly difficult to apply.

The two systems generally use the same principle of calculating Economic, Cultural and Social capital but the interpretation varies.

Class Definitions

The modern social class system contains, of course, more options but importantly it isn't quite as linear as the older system. The general breakdown is as follows :


There's some debate on what classifies as elite. In a basic sense it would be those regarding as being in the most privileged position. This concept tends to gravitate towards Economic capital. However, many people in what might regarded as the traditionally elite position may well be wealthy but capital often tends to be asset rich and cash poor. Broadly speaking, these people might have a huge estate inherited from generations past but relatively little in the bank.

The elite term has also taken on a new meaning particularly following the recent elections throughout Europe and United States. In these cases, the 'elite' are regarded as being privileged but not necessarily in the financial sense but also the social sense. The frustration towards the 'social elite' in this sense is based on a concept that social mobility not only prevents normal people from entering the circle but that the elites seems to be able to stay elite regardless of competence.

There should also be some consideration as to the scope of that social capital. For example, a Company Director might be considered on face value as Elite due to a high economic and social capital. However, the scope of that social capital is likely to be relatively small. A Politician on the other hand might have significantly lower economic capital (one might hope) but has a very broad social capital. Arguably, therefore, a politician may be more readily considered Elite.

In short, it's a difficult one to easily classify. Probably best to regard as a person in a position of power with significant but not specific economic, cultural and social capital.

Established Middle Class

This is probably the closest crossover to the traditional Middle Class. Typically a homeowner with a good to strong income. Likely to be interested (or pretend to be interested) in various cultural pastimes. It's generally regarded that a strong trait of the Established Middle Class is having a keen interest in increasing Cultural Capital. Likely to have good social capital.

Technical Middle Class

Another difficult one to clearly define but could best be described as having a strong income but only a moderate cultural capital. They are likely to be homeowners and have savings. While the household incomes tend to be quite high, there isn't much interest in development of cultural capital.

New Affluent Workers

Recent graduates or younger 20-30 year olds who are likely to have a good level of income with little or easily managemeable financial overheads. Typically quite social but likely to have a strong cultural interest as well.

Traditional Working Class

Likely to have low levels of all types of capital but particularly economic. There tends to be an increase in cultural capital with age as while there is often a link between lower education levels and working class that doesn't necessarily reflect on 'intelligence' levels. Many traditional working class people have or tend to develop cultural capital.

Emergent Service Workers

Representing perhaps a fifth of modern society, this group tends to show high levels of social capital. They are likely to have a high income but little savings and relatively low financial strength and therefore have a low economic capital. They also tend to display a strong cultural capital but not necessarily within the entire scope of 'culture'.

Typical employment is within the service sector such as customer service, tourism, healthcare and lower skill level production.

Very likely to rent their home rather than buy, they may have a higher number of social contacts but are less stable. They are likely to see changing jobs, home and environment as normal.


Generally showing the lowest rating on all forms of capital but significantly economic. They are likely to be reliant on social infrastructure and have found themselves stuck within the social boundary.

Typical jobs might include cleaning, delivery drivers and retail workers. Education levels are likely to be very low and while the number of social contacts might be slightly higher than some, they are likely to be of a lower social status.

The precariat class may represent 10-15% of the social hierarchy. A signficant characteristic is the inability for people within this class to move to another social class. This is typically due to high levels of insecurity on all forms of capital: Financial capital in that they are unable to save enough money to take the risk of moving job or home. Social insecurity in that they have little social support or social network that can support any change. Cultural capital insecurity in the way that they typically have neither the time or the money to expand outside their current situation.