Traditionally, Australians followed their parents when it came to identifying what social class they belonged to, or felt comfortable with.
Working, middle or upper – simple. Break out of the mould and you’d be risking becoming the “black sheep” or worse, “a snob”.
But Real Insurance felt change in the air. It commissioned a survey of 1000 Australians – the fourth in a series of national studies – with the aim of “investigating the shift in modern day classes”.
It says Australians are now changing class within their own lifetime, sometimes several times, moving “up” and “down” the ladders within and across “four large emerging social groups”.
- Startup Stars
- Gen 2.0s
- Gestaters, and
In a nutshell, two of those emerging groups – Startup Stars and Gen 2.0s – see a future in Australia driven by technology and think that mindset will see them rewarded. The other two – Gestaters and Sloggers – see less opportunity for themselves, and virtually no real opportunity to move onwards and upwards.
Here’s some more details on exactly who’s slotting in where:
Startup stars rely less on inheritance and more on embracing new technologies and understanding what they offer.
Up to 60% claim to work in industries that “were rare or didn’t exits 10 years ago” and 71% believe they have personally “upgraded” their social status over their parents, are in control of their lives and think it’s easy to move between the new classes.
They also generally spend more than they earn.
Gen 2.0s are Startup Stars with a sense of humility. They’re often the children of immigrants who are proud of their success, but respect their roots.
They believe class is a reflection of their occupation, whereas Startup Stars prefer to externalise their “class” with material goods.
They’re good savers and mostly believe people can change their class.
Gestaters are young, and living at home with their parents but have little career aspirations.
Nearly twice as many Gestaters don’t believe anyone in their family has improved their social status compared to Startup Stars.
They’re young and connected with technology, but they’re not interested – or have faith – in technology as something which could improve their place in society.
Sloggers are the older Australians working further into their retirement than they’d like to.
They’ve watched more technology come and go than any other group, but aren’t comfortable embracing it any more. Almost all link class to wealth and occupation; almost all aren’t interested or think it’s not possible to improve their situation.
While 86% of Startup Stars feel they are career-focused, only 44% of Sloggers are interested or engaged with their careers.
But what does it mean?
Because we’re talking about class, that, Real Insurance says, also points to a rise in a new form of snobbery – “social snobbery”.
“Startup Stars, for example say they think about social class when they meet new people and when they choose their friends,” Real Insurance spokesman Phillip Anderson said.
“Alternately, the Gen 2.0s and Sloggers indicated they would actually prefer to spend time with people significantly poorer than richer.”
Startup Stars, Anderson said, appear to be the group benefiting most from the new system, with Sloggers looking to be left behind.
But it’s the Gestaters who are the most concerning. Just 29% of this younger group believes it has already exceeded the expectations of their family and friends in relation to career and financial position.
You can change your stars
Dr Anna Hickey-Moody, lecturer in Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney, said the study “adds weight to the cultural and societal trends she has been watching evolve for some time”.
The positives can be seen in the widespread belief – strongest in Startup Stars and Gen 2.0s – that class is now fluid and it’s easier to move “up and down” the ladder than before.
“These groups have potential to open opportunities for class fluidity, although the social and financial capital to engage with technology and the personal flexibility to meet the changing demands of the new labour market remain,” she said.
“It is significant that we are starting to see signs of upward intergenerational mobility being created through technology use.”
The negatives are that the Gestaters and Sloggers aren’t interested in taking the opportunities technology offers, and “the gap may be widening between social classes”.
“It is important to note that groups that have harnessed modern technological advancements are finding it easier to increase their class standing than ever before, and we need to find more ways of facilitating this mobility.”
And some relics of the old class system remain. It is still difficult to change circumstances without the benefit of an inheritance or parents “with occupational repute”.
But Dr Hickey-Moody said at least that could be effectively addressed with “technological training and resources (being) made available to low socio-economic students”.