Despite the fact that we are looking only at the two ends of the British Social Attitudes time series, this chapter offers powerful support to those who claim that there have been only gradual shifts in public attitudes, and that there is only limited evidence of the declining significance of class. The first key point is that - at the start of British Social Attitudes in the early 1980s - once we take into account the various ways of dividing the British population into different social positions, we find that social class in itself was not very important in shaping attitudes. Rather, people's attitudes were related to other factors associated with social class - such as employment and trade union membership. This in itself limits the debate about the declining importance of class. So, overall, the big story is that not a great deal has changed over the years from 1984 to 2012: there is substantial continuity in the patterns of relationships between social attitudes and social class. While some relationships between attitudes and social cleavages have weakened (for instance, trade union membership with welfare attitudes) others have strengthened somewhat (such as attendance at a place of worship and liberal attitudes).
Let us reflect on the four possible explanations of the relationship between class and attitudes which were raised at the start to consider how our analysis affects them. The first of these (Reason 1) is that political agencies no longer seek to make an issue out of class, hence leading to a declining relationship between class and attitudes. Perhaps there is some evidence for this in that trade union membership is no longer a driver of attitudes in the way that it was in the early 1980s, linked in part to its different social composition. The historical remaking of the Labour Party and the weakening of the link with trade unions might be responsible for this. The declining significance of subjective class identities in shaping attitudes might also be linked to this trend. Someone's class is now less related to their views on welfare than it used to be, in parallel to the decline in class voting and - perhaps for similar reasons - the movement of New Labour to the centre of the political spectrum and the absence of class-related cues.
We are not really able to adjudicate the second possibility (Reason 2): that the nature of class divisions have changed and require different measures, because we do not have alternative operationalisations of class in British Social Attitudes. The fact that the apparent effect of class can largely be decomposed into constituent factors associated with class might suggest that the artefactual issues might be important. However, there is no supporting evidence that this might be an issue in our study. There is certainly no evidence that one's position in 'consumption sectors' (for instance in public or private systems of housing or health care) makes an increasing difference.
Is there evidence for the third view (Reason 3) that we are seeing a more individualised set of attitudes along the lines that Beck (1992) sketches out? In Giddens's (1991) formulation, for instance, class might be expected to remain important for the politics of 'life chances' whereas it becomes less important for 'identity politics'. However, our analysis suggests that attitudes on welfare are becoming less structured by objective indicators, whereas those concerned with liberal attitudes are becoming more marked by these, and especially by sex, religion and ethnicity. There is no uniform story of 'individualisation' as Beck would have it.
This finding may suggest some modest support for the fourth idea (Reason 4) we mentioned at the start; that we are seeing an increasing fracturing of attitudinal domains. This would be consistent with the increasing significance of religion and attendance at a place of worship on liberal attitudes. If there is an overarching story here, it concerns the declining significance of subjective class membership and awareness on attitudes and the rising significance of ethnicity which appears to be a major new division in British society.
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- The reduction in the strength of the association between socio-economic group and party identification is clear from the Cramer's V score in each year. Cramer's V is a chi-square based measure of association. While a chi-square coefficient depends both on the strength of the relationship and on sample size, Cramer's V eliminates the effect of sample size by dividing chi-square by N, the sample size, (together with a further adjustment) and taking the square root. V may be interpreted as the association between two variables expressed as a percentage of their maximum possible variation. In 1984, the Cramer's V was 0.180 (Chi2 = 179.7 (20 df), p < 0.0001). In 2012, it was 0.125 (Chi2 = 181.4 (20 df), p < 0.0001).
- The seven classes identified by Savage et al. (2013) are the elite; the established middle class; new affluent workers; the technical middle class; the traditional working class; emergent service workers and the precariat.
- Our analysis of the responses to the items on the first and the second priority for government spending (cross-tabulating the two variables and inspecting the adjusted standardised residuals) indicated that the responses "health" and "education" were highly significantly associated, while the responses "defence" and "police and prisons" were also significantly associated. None of the other responses showed a distinctive pattern of association. In our analysis we have therefore constructed three categories: health and education; defence and police; other.
- Factor analysis (see Technical details for more information) confirms that the questions we selected do indeed belong (in both periods) to two distinct ideological dimensions, the structure remaining largely unchanged over time. See the appendix to this chapter for the results of the factor analysis.
- Chi-square is very sensitive to the sample size, and sample sizes vary both between surveys and within surveys (since some items were asked only of randomly chosen subsets of respondents). We cannot therefore use chi-square to tell us about the strength of association, only about its statistical significance. As a measure of strength of association we use Cramer's V (explained in note 1).
- We also explored alternative 'objective' measures of class and reached the same conclusion.
- Since the factor analyses indicated that attitudes towards tax and spending and towards premarital sex had the strongest loadings on the two ideological dimensions (both in 1984 and in 2012 - see the appendix to this chapter), we focus on these two issues in our more detailed cross-tabular and regression analysis.
- The 1984 and 2012 datasets were pooled and a loglinear model fitted to the data. The model was one which assumed that there were relationships between social cleavage and attitude, between social cleavage and year, and between year and attitude, but that there was no three-way inter-relationship. In effect this tested whether the relationship between cleavage and attitude was the same in both years (allowing for changes in the marginal frequencies over time). It is analogous to the 'constant social fluidity model' in social mobility research. If the model does not give a good fit to the data, as judged by the deviance, then the null hypothesis of a constant relationship has to be rejected.
- Deviance 14.0 with 8 df, p > 0.05.
- Null hypothesis that the relationship is unchanged is rejected: Deviance = 9.9 with 2 df, p < 0.01.
- Deviance 76.9 with 16 df, p > 0.001.
- The measure of education level is different in the two years, so we therefore hesitate to interpret the changing pattern.
- The only measure available in 1984 was age when education completed, namely 19 and over (plus "still at college or university", equated to degree), 18 (equated with A levels), 17 (equated with GCSE), 16 (equated with CSE) and 15 or less (equated with CSE). These are very crude equivalences but do capture the hierarchical nature of education.
- Deviance 76.9 with 16 df, p > 0.001.
- We used ordered logit modelling, which is the appropriate technique when we have dependent variables such as attitudes towards premarital sex which are ordered (responses ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree).
- Variance explained, or R squared, is a statistical measure of "the proportion of the total variability of the outcome that is accounted for by the model". It is used in OLS regression, where continuous, normally-distributed variables are assumed. The OLS interpretation has no formal equivalent in logistic regression (which does not assume that variables are either continuous or normally distributed). However, if some heroic assumptions are made, a statistic that looks like R-squared, and which has the same range from - to 1, can be developed. (They are essentially counterfactuals - what might the variance explained have been if this were a continuous normally distributed variable?) Lots of different pseudo R-squareds have been developed, and none has become standard. We use the Nagelkerke version. These measures should not be used to compare different datasets but only really to compare goodness of fit of different models within the same dataset.
- See note 8.
- We also found some evidence, from the measures of variance explained (the pseudo R2 statistic) that the overall explanatory power of the predictors has declined somewhat between 1984 and 2012. We have to be a little cautious here, since the multivariate analyses reported in Table 7.16 only cover two of our nine attitude measures. To check our results we constructed composite measures of the two main ideological dimensions, using all the available attitude items. This composite analysis confirmed our individual analysis of government spending on the welfare state (R2 for the government spending dimension falling from 0.061 to 0.022) but it did not confirm a decline in explanatory power for the liberal dimension (R2 actually increasing when a composite measure was constructed from 0.264 to 0.301).
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