In a society eager to promote values of individuality and striving as a means for success, it is easy to dismiss the existence of class.
Class, like fashion, is ever changing and constantly redefined. No matter how much you claim to be a non-conformist, latest trends will always surround you and in turn affect you. In a similar way the social class you are from will affect you; either positively or negatively.
Contrary to the “hard work pays off” motto held up by capitalism, the background you come from can significantly affect how far you get in life. A study carried out by Betty Hart and Todd Risley found that children from privileged backgrounds hear 2,103 words per hour in comparison to the 616 words per hour that children from working class families hear. By the time they reach 3 years of age, there will have been a 30 million word gap between the children of these two different backgrounds. Imagine, before even attending school, language acquisition will be vastly different between the children of middle/upper class and working class. Immediately giving the middle class a head start in life.
In some cases capitalism has opened opportunities to allow social mobility, thus giving the illusion that class is no longer relevant. Lord Alan Sugar can be used as the perfect poster boy for the neo-liberalist ideology. Lord sugar grew up on a housing estate in Hackney. Having left school at the age of 16, he sought to make money from selling electrical goods from a van. In 1968, he set up his business Amstrad which sold products such as car radios, cigarette lighters and hi-fi systems. Before the stock market crash and at the height of its worth, the value of Amstrad reached £1.2 billion in 1986. Lord Sugar later sold his company and much of his wealth is now accumulated through property investment. He is now worth a staggering £1.4 billion and was ranked 101st by the Sunday Times Rich List 2015 (in Britain). Alan sugar is one of Britain’s best known rags to riches story and if he’s anything to go by, neo-liberalists are right in saying determination and hard work is the most important factor to succeed in a capitalist society.
But what of the 100 people ranked before him on the rich list? What was their start in life like? Len Blavatnik, who topped the list was born to academic parents. Sri and Gopi Hinduja, at second place, were fortunate enough to inherit a business empire from their father (Beresford, 2007). As we go through the list, we can see a pattern of wealthy or educated backgrounds behind the prosperous and affluent amongst us.
Thanks to the media’s demonization of working class benefit users and influx of migrants (who inevitably fall into the working class category), the topic of class is dismissed as irrelevant. However, class is still relevant! Being from a working class background can prove to be a disadvantage to you throughout your life. A curse if you like. But don’t worry, capitalism’s got your back, maybe you can make it to the rich list…providing that you’re brilliant, rich and have a father with a doctorate.
Anderson, E. (2015). How wealthy is Lord Sugar? A billionaire, thanks to clever property investments. [online] Telegraph.co.uk. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/enterprise/11930889/How-wealthy-is-Lord-Sugar-A-billionaire-thanks-to-clever-property-investments.html [Accessed 14 Dec. 2015].
Beresford, P. and Rubinstein, W. (2007). The richest of the rich. Petersfield: Harriman House. p195.
Hart, B. and Risley, T. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. Baltimore: P.H. Brookes.