Affluent workers and class identity

The Affluent Worker Study (1961-62) – 'probably the most widely discussed text in modern British sociology' according to commentators - shed new light on the working class and the concept of class identity within Western industrial society. The study, led by renowned sociologists John Goldthorpe and David Lockwood, studied the attitudes and behaviour of high wage earners in three Luton-based companies, and how these attitudes were shaped.

During the 50s and 60s there was a growing belief that an increase in affluence would make workers become assimilated by middle class, in turn embracing middle class values and social life – so-called 'embourgeoisement'. The study focused on Luton as this was a prosperous town with growing affluence, and by looking at several firms (Vauxhall Cars, Skefco Engineering and La Porte Chemicals) the researchers could compare between workers in different types of production systems.

The aim was to explore workers' class identity in a wider perspective, not just as a cultural concept but as an integral part of society. Interviews with the workers showed little sign of a move to middle class - instead, affluent workers seemed to hold on to their working class identity and attitudes. The researchers concluded that growing affluence does not entail the end of class, or of class politics; on the contrary, class remains an important part even of a prosperous, affluent society.