Britain is still a society deeply divided by class. The same schools, established church and universities dominate public life, but under the façade of immobility, changes are afoot.

Social class is clearly no longer neatly defined by occupation. People of the same income can have access to widely varying resources. Class is no longer simply a vertical ranking linked to capital and a system of production. It’s possible to hold multiple class identities. What class, for example, is a university graduate working in a call centre, renting with friends but expecting some “help” with a mortgage from their parents in later middle age?

While accent, dress and name can still reveal so much about who you are in Britain, most European societies have overcome many of the restrictions and inequalities of older class systems. For more than a decade, we have known that social mobility is lower in the UK than elsewhere in Europe, and that it is falling. In North America, Japan and much of the rest of the world, a revolution or invasion abruptly disrupted the traditional class systems and social mobility was greater after those events. By comparison, the gradual loss of Britain’s empire and the global dominance that went with it meant this did not happen in the UK.

So often, someone’s address tells you a great deal about who they are: your postcode is the unhidden part of your wealth. This is also true in the US, where income inequalities, and class and race divides are even greater than in Britain.

This is an extract from an article for The Conversation. Read the full article on The Conversation website or in the web archive.

The wealth parade by Ella Furness

The wealth parade. Illustration by Ella Furness