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Chav? Or Toff? Britain’s class system

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

by Stephen Andrews (単語・表現リスト by Shigeri Nishide)

The class system in Britain goes back hundreds of years and is still a huge influence in the country’s way of life today. It’s as much of an obsession as tea and talking about the weather!

Like to know more? Here’s a handy guide …

Working Class

These are people who do manual jobs, like labourers, agricultural and factory workers and have lower household incomes, below £20,000 a year on average. Some may own their own home, but many rent or live in council property*.

They tend to be unskilled or semi-skilled, with no university or college education. Sports, especially football, are particularly popular in this group, but not cultural activities like visiting museums or art galleries.

The slang word ‘chav’ is sometimes used to describe a some young people from this group, who are badly behaved, drink a lot and love wearing imitation designer clothes!

Middle Class The majority of people in Britain are middle class. They tend to be university or college educated and have a degree. They have an annual household income of around £40,000 and probably own their own home.

Many are what are known as ‘white-collar professionals’, literally those who usually wear a white collar to work. These include business people of all kinds and other professions like teachers, engineers, nurses and doctors.

They will have varied interests, a wide circle of friends, and like visiting art galleries, the cinema, museums and other cultural pastimes.

Upper Class

These are people who are very, very rich, with inherited wealth – that is, money handed down* through generations.

This group includes the royal family and some of the oldest and richest families in Britain. They may own stately homes (large homes in the country) with many having titles such as ‘Lord’ or ‘Lady’.

But being upper class, or having a title, these days doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re still rich. Many have seen their wealth decline over the years.

That’s why, to earn money, some have opened their grand estates to the paying public. A good example is Blenheim Palace, not far from London, which is still privately owned by the Duke of Marlborough.

The slang words you might hear to describe this group are ‘posh’ or ‘toffs’.

The class system today

Hundreds of years ago, you wouldn’t be able to change your class. It would affect your chances of getting an education or a job, and also dictate the people you could socialise with and marry.

But, in modern Britain, all that’s changed. For example a person born into the working class would years ago have been a manual worker. But, today, thanks to modern educational opportunities, a working class person can become middle class by entering a profession such as teaching.

The one exception to this is the upper class, which you have to be born into. Simply having lots of money doesn’t mean that you’re upper class. The only way of becoming part of the upper class is through marriage.

A good example is Kate Middleton. Her elevation from middle class life to upper class was very easy – all she had to do was marry Prince William!

Which class would you be?

The class system in Britain continues to change and you can get a much fuller picture of what it’s like today by taking a look at this recent Great British Class Survey:

Now, for a bit of fun. If you were British, which class would you be? Find out by answering a few simple questions on the BBC’s Great British Class Calculator:

And you can also watch this very funny video on the British class system:



council property: councilはlocal governmentのことで、例えばロンドンには、Westminster, Camden, Ealing, Richmond, Greenwich など33 councilsがあります。Councilによってゴミの収集方法などが違います。Council propertyは、この各councilが所有し、貸している家やフラットで、通常プライベートで借りるより家賃は低めです。

hand down: 子孫に与える。のこす。ここでは、handed downなので、残される(=相続する)


chav: 若い労働階級の人で、あまりお行儀が良くなく、教養もあまりなく、服装などのファッションでも’chav’とわかる。褒め言葉ではないので、使わないほうが無難。

stately homes:田舎にある大邸宅で、一般に公開されている

posh:  レストランなどがposhな場合は高級という感じですが、人や話し方の場合は、upper classの意味。

toff:  upper classやお金持ちの人のことで褒め言葉ではない。





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