Why do so many middle class professionals insist they are working class?

These interviewees misrepresent their subsequent life outcomes as more worthy, more deserving and more meritorious.
- Dr Sam Friedman
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New research by LSE Sociology's Sam Friedman explores why so many middle class professionals insist they are working class.

"Coronavirus has brutally reinforced that it pays to be privileged. Yet despite the advantages enjoyed by those from middle-class backgrounds, it is precisely these individuals who believe most strongly that meritocracy is working; that 'hard work' is the key to success," said Dr Friedman in an opinion article for The Guardian.

"One explanation for this is that many simply do not see themselves as privileged. Britain certainly has an unusual attachment to working-class identities. While in most western countries people tend to identify as middle class, Britain has long been an intriguing outlier. According to the British Social Attitudes Survey, 47% of Britons in middle-class professional and managerial jobs identify as working class. Even more curiously, a quarter of people in such jobs who come from middle-class backgrounds – in the sense that their parents did professional work – also identify as working class.

"How do we make sense of this? Our research published today addresses this question, drawing on 175 interviews with actors, architects, accountants and television professionals, 36 of whom were from middle-class backgrounds but identified as working class.

"Our findings indicate that such misidentifications are built on particular origin stories that people reach for when asked about their backgrounds. These accounts tend to downplay people’s own, fairly privileged upbringings and instead reach back into working-class extended family histories that incorporate grandparents and even great-grandparents. Here people find stories of the past – of working-class struggle, of upward social mobility, of meritocratic striving – that provide powerful frames for understanding their own experiences and identity."

To read the full Guardian article:

To read the journal paper: