A piece in the NYT on the 20th, by Steven Erlanger, under the head
British Snobbery Still Found In Paychecks, a Report Says [in print]
Hear This: Class Pay Gap in Britain Shows Snobbery Persists [on-line]
To a (very) rough approximation: in the UK, the most significant social fact about a person, the thing you register first about them, is their class; in the US, it’s their race. What follows from this is that the most powerful forms of social discrimination in the UK are based on class, in the US on race. And while some advances have been made in reducing the baleful effects of these types of discrimination in both places, the fact is that great and shameful social disparities, seriously disadvantaging the disfavored groups, persist (and fuel angry backlash towards the favored groups). In particular, Britannia rolls on in her disdain for the working class, and the first and easiest signal of class identity (though not the only such signal) is language.
From the NYT, the first part of the story:
London — For a relatively small country, Britain is blessed with a multitude of regional and even neighborhood accents.
While all these varied pronunciations add flavor to the language, they also have their pitfalls: Whenever British people speak, their fellow citizens immediately hear the unmistakable twang of class.
Snobbery still lives in Britain, a class-conscious democracy with carefully calibrated levels of social standing.
The latest evidence of the persistence — and perniciousness — of the class system comes from an official government report from the Social Mobility Commission, which found what it called a “class pay gap.”
Professionals with working-class backgrounds make, on average, 6,800 pounds, or about $8,400, less a year than their colleagues from more privileged families.
The study attributed some of that difference to education and other factors, but it also found that those from working-class families who have exactly the same occupational role, education and experience as their colleagues from more advantaged backgrounds are still paid, on average, 2,242 pounds, or about $2,800, less a year. The study found the gap was especially wide in the financial and medical professions.
Afternoon drinks in Leadenhall Market in London’s Financial District. A pay gap in Britain based on social class is especially wide in the financial and medical professions, a government study found.
The class pay gap is worse for women and people from minority-ethnic backgrounds, according to the research, which was carried out for the commission by the London School of Economics and University College London. The study looked at data from nearly 65,000 people drawn from the U.K. Labor Force Survey.
One reason for the pay disparity, the study suggested, is that children of professional families are more likely to work for larger companies and in London, where salaries are higher. Another is what it called “cultural matching,” whereby those making the hiring decisions extend job offers to those with whom they feel comfortable based on social and cultural traits.
That, of course, is another form of what the study calls “outright discrimination or snobbery.”
Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrat party, said the report “exposes the gaping class divide at the heart of our society that we all already knew existed.”
Alan Milburn, the former Labour minister who heads the Social Mobility Commission, said that he would send details of the findings to employers and that he expected them to “take action to end the shocking class earnings penalty.”
Mr. Milburn concluded that “this unprecedented research provides powerful new evidence that Britain remains a deeply elitist society.”
And the quickest and often clearest signpost for snobs is the sound of people’s voices.