Australian Social Class System

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

Australia has traditionally been regarded as being a classless society. Research has revealed, however, that social classes do exist. This lesson will identify and describe the five social classes that make up Australian society.

What is Social Class?

John and Linda are an Australian couple married for fifteen years. Both are well educated and have professional careers. John is a bank manager and Linda is the head nurse at a local hospital. They have a wide circle of friends which includes doctors, lawyers, and venture capitalists. John and Linda are financially secure and stable, and when asked will tell you that they belong to Australia's mobile middle class.

Social class is a grouping system used in societies. There is no one system for defining social class, and social classes vary by society. The purpose of a social class system is to provide some sort of organization. For example, a particular social class might be assumed amongst those with similar professions or similar income levels. Social class lets someone know where they stand in society. In the United States, for example, the lowest ranking social class are the poor. The income of people who are in this class falls below the established poverty line. Financial resources, occupation, level of influence, and ability to control, all have an impact on the determination of one's social class.

Social Class in Australia

In general, Australians don't like to talk about social class. They prefer to view their society as egalitarian where everyone has the opportunity to choose their own path in life and end up in a particular social class as a result of their effort and actions. However, five distinct social classes do exist in Australian society. These social classes are:

  1. Established affluent
  2. Emergent affluent
  3. Mobile middle
  4. Established middle
  5. Established working

The Australian National University conducted a study on social class in Australia. After surveying 1,200 people, the results found that:

  • more than 50% of Australians identified themselves as belonging to the middle class
  • 40% identified themselves as belonging to the working class
  • less than 3% considered themselves amongst the upper class

When they looked at the results more closely, however, researchers found the following:

  • 25% belonged to the two affluent classes
  • 51% belonged to the two middle classes
  • 24% belonged to the working class

In order to more fully understand Australian social class, let's take a look at each of the five Australian social classes in more detail.

Established Affluent

The word affluent gives us our first hint that this is amongst the more elitist and wealthy of Australian social classes. Characteristics of those who are amongst the established affluent class include:

  • extremely high-income levels
  • powerful social connections and networks
  • older generations
  • above average educational levels
  • significant personal wealth
  • well respected professional occupations (doctors, lawyers, judges, etc..)

Emergent Affluent

Those belonging to the emergent affluent class share the following characteristics:

  • educational successes
  • youngest of all social classes
  • utilize educational achievements to launch powerful, high-income careers
  • working towards membership in the established affluent class

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