How many classes does it take to describe Australians?

Nicholas Biddle, Australian National University and Jill Sheppard, Australian National University

We don’t often think of ourselves in Australia as belonging to a class-based society.

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Australians think and talk about social class less than their counterparts in Britain, France and Europe generally. Plus, we don’t tend to think that we have the same level of income inequality as the US. Despite this, newly released data shows we are surprisingly willing to identify ourselves as members of one class or another.

In the latest ANUpoll, released by the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods on Wednesday, most Australians (92%) surveyed responded that they belong to the middle or working class.

A majority (52%) view themselves as belonging to the middle class, while 40% describe themselves as working class. Only 2% are prepared to admit to belonging to the upper class of Australian society (with 6% providing no answer).

Class as a factor in attitudes

There are no differences between self-described class membership on the basis of gender, but it does have some relationship with age: the youngest (18-24 years) and oldest (55 and older) Australians disproportionately view themselves as middle rather than working class.

Such self-reported questions are useful, as a number of attributes and attitudes vary by this class membership. Members of the self-described working class are more likely to report that they are either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the way the country is heading (45%) compared to those who identify as upper or middle class (37%).

Class differences appear to matter a lot when it comes to attitudes to income inequality. While the affluent and middle classes are slightly more likely to be in favour of increased services, they are significantly less likely to feel that it is probably or definitely the government’s role to reduce income differences between the rich and the poor.

Class as a political indicator

The modern political parties emerged to a certain extent from the social class structure of the late 19th to mid-20th century. Class differences have remained but, again, the specifics have changed quite substantially.

Our analysis of the data suggested that there were class differences in what we might call political disengagement. When asked, “If a federal election for the House of Representatives was held today, which one of the following parties would you vote for?”, around 34% of the self-described working class either stated they didn’t know or were not sure, or stated that they would vote for “Some other party” rather than the Coalition, Labor or Greens. This was almost twice the rate of the upper/middle class.

Of those who did identify a preference for the major parties, support for the Coalition was much greater among the upper/middle class (50%) compared to the working class (42%). Support for Labor was much greater among the working class (41%) compared to the upper/middle class (32%). Interestingly, the self-identified class groupings were equally favourable towards the Greens, with a slightly higher rate for the upper/middle compared to the working class.

It is also interesting to confirm that a person’s own employment status is much more important in explaining self-described class than the employment status of their parents. Of those who were employed as a manager or professional, 74% reported they were in the upper or middle classes. This compares to only 53% of those in other employment.

The differences weren’t as large by the occupation of the respondent’s father or mother. When assessing class in Australia, we look to our own employment as opposed to our parents’.

The point of this 1916 magazine advertisement for a vocational school is clear, and today Australians primarily consider their own employment in self-assessing class. Wikimedia Commons

Arriving at a five-class model

Going beyond Australians’ self-described class, the ANUpoll also looks at what people do, who they know and what they have. We use this data to propose somewhat more objective categories of social class in Australia.

Building on a study conducted by the BBC and academic sociologists in the UK, social class is measured here by respondents’ possession of certain types of “capital”. This approach draws on the work of sociologist and theorist Pierre Bourdieu, who emphasises the role of economic, social and cultural capital in defining and entrenching social stratification.

Employing latent class analysis, a five-class model was found to explain enough variation between individuals that the classes tell us something meaningful about society. Estimating more than five classes in the model did not add to its explanatory power.

By contrast, the British study identified seven distinct classes. While influenced by it, Australia’s economic and social structures have clearly evolved along different lines to Britain.

The five observable (or “objective”) classes in Australian society can be described as:

an established affluent class (14% of the sample);an emergent affluent class (11%);a mobile middle class (25%);an established middle class (25%); andan established working class (25%).

These objective classes tell us a lot about social mobility. Across all classes, but particularly the working and middle classes, there is evidence of intergenerational mobility in occupational prestige. It is particularly notable in the two middle classes, where the mean prestige score is almost ten points higher than members’ parents.

The affluent classes, on the other hand, more closely reflect the positions of their parents. Members of the established affluent class appear to enjoy the benefits of their parents’ occupational prestige, earning high incomes at lower occupational prestige than all but the working class.

Our approach to analysing social class in Australia is just one approach among many. The general conclusion that we came to is that our self-perceptions of class line up pretty well with what our economic, cultural and social capital says about us. Our analysis also suggests, though, that class defines our society less than it does British society.

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

UN panel rejects air shipment of batteries

Australia has joined nine other nations in voting against a ban on rechargeable battery shipments on passenger airliners.

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A UN aviation panel rejected the ban despite evidence they can cause explosions and unstoppable, in-flight fires, aviation officials told The Associated Press.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation panel on dangerous goods voted 10 to seven against a ban, said officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorised to speak about the vote publicly.

The United States, Russia, Brazil, China and Spain, as well as organisations representing airline pilots and aircraft manufacturers, voted in favour of the ban.

Australia, The Netherlands, Canada, France, Italy, United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Japan and the United Kingdom, as well as the International Air Transport Association, a global airline trade group, voted against it.

Billions of the lithium-ion batteries are used to power consumer electronics, ranging from mobile phones and laptops to power tools and toothbrushes. Tens of thousands of the batteries are often shipped on a single plane.

US Federal Aviation Administration government tests show small quantities of overheated lithium-ion batteries can cause explosions that can disable aircraft fire protection systems. The explosions knock panels off the interior walls of cargo compartments, allowing halon gas – the fire suppression system used in airliners – to escape and dissipate. With no halon, a fire could rage unchecked and lead to the destruction of the plane.

The aviation organisation, also called ICAO, is the United Nations agency that sets international aviation standards. It’s up to each country to decide whether to follow the standards, but most do.

Angela Stubblefield, the US representative on the panel, spoke in favour of the ban, as did an official from the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations.

Opponents of the ban argued that the decision on whether to accept battery shipments should be left up airlines, the officials said. As the result of the US testing, nearly 30 airlines around the world say they no longer accept bulk battery shipments as cargo, but many other airlines continue to accept the shipments.

The battery industry and companies that rely on battery shipments have long said that the problem should be addressed by cracking down on shady battery makers who don’t use proper shipping procedures. Battery industry officials didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.

SA rejects Shorten’s abuse redress plan

The South Australian Labor government has said it will not back Bill Shorten’s plan for a national compensation scheme for abuse survivors unless it is “fully-funded”.

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The scheme announced by the federal opposition leader on Tuesday requires multi-million dollar contributions from the states and territories which ran the institutions where thousands of children were abused for decades.

SA Attorney-General John Rau has told AAP that as the state had its own scheme it would not be part of a national scheme where it would hand over powers to the commonwealth and pay a share of the estimated $4.3 billion needed to fund it for ten years.

“We would welcome a fully-funded Commonwealth redress scheme,” Mr Rau said.

Mr Rau drew wide criticism when he described the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse as “Johnny-come-latelies” when it recommended a national scheme run by the federal government as the best option to provide justice for tens of thousands of abuse survivors.

Under the scheme, which Mr Shorten vowed to put in place if Labor returns to power at the next election, the federal government would provide $33 million seed funding and the institutions – government and non-government – who ran the schools, homes and orphanages where children were abuse would fund the rest.

In a submission to the royal commission last March, SA outlined its redress scheme which provides for an average payment of $14,400 to an abuse victim with a cap of $50,000 for the worst cases of abuse.

The scheme that Mr Shorten has backed would see an average payment of $65,000 and a cap of $200,000.

Based on the commission’s modelling for a national scheme to cover more than 60,000 victims – it is anticipate there will be more – the South Australia government would need to contribute $90 million and non-state institutions in SA, the Salvation Army among them, would be up for $193 million.

$4 million of the SA government’s payment into a national scheme would be for administration costs.

The national scheme would cover counselling, ongoing health care and monetary compensation for eligible claimants.

Australia rejects ban on air shipment of batteries

Australia has joined nine other nations in voting against a ban on rechargeable battery shipments on passenger airliners.

杭州桑拿

A UN aviation panel rejected the ban despite evidence they can cause explosions and unstoppable, in-flight fires, aviation officials told The Associated Press.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation panel on dangerous goods voted 10 to seven against a ban, said officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorised to speak about the vote publicly.

The United States, Russia, Brazil, China and Spain, as well as organisations representing airline pilots and aircraft manufacturers, voted in favour of the ban.

Australia, The Netherlands, Canada, France, Italy, United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Japan and the United Kingdom, as well as the International Air Transport Association, a global airline trade group, voted against it.

Billions of the lithium-ion batteries are used to power consumer electronics, ranging from mobile phones and laptops to power tools and toothbrushes. Tens of thousands of the batteries are often shipped on a single plane.

US Federal Aviation Administration government tests show small quantities of overheated lithium-ion batteries can cause explosions that can disable aircraft fire protection systems.

The explosions knock panels off the interior walls of cargo compartments, allowing halon gas – the fire suppression system used in airliners – to escape and dissipate.

With no halon, a fire could rage unchecked and lead to the destruction of the plane.

The aviation organisation, also called ICAO, is the United Nations agency that sets international aviation standards. It’s up to each country to decide whether to follow the standards, but most do.

Angela Stubblefield, the US representative on the panel, spoke in favour of the ban, as did an official from the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations.

Opponents of the ban argued that the decision on whether to accept battery shipments should be left up airlines, the officials said.

As the result of the US testing, nearly 30 airlines around the world say they no longer accept bulk battery shipments as cargo, but many other airlines continue to accept the shipments.

The battery industry and companies that rely on battery shipments have long said that the problem should be addressed by cracking down on shady battery makers who don’t use proper shipping procedures.

Battery industry officials didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.

Let’s dance – synchronised movement helps us tolerate pain and foster friendship

Bronwyn Tarr, University of Oxford

You might not think of yourself as a dancer.

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In fact, maybe even the idea of dancing makes your palms sweat. But growing scientific evidence suggests that getting up and grooving with others has a lot of benefits. In our recent study, we found that synchronising with others while dancing raised pain tolerance. It also encouraged people to feel closer to others.

This might have positive implications for dance movement therapies, which are already showing promising results in the treatment of dementia and Parkinson’s. Music-based therapy is also already used for children with autism, and perhaps synchronised and exertive dance therapy could also help them connect with others.

The power of music

Humans are naturally susceptible to music: when we hear a good beat, it makes us want to move. You might find yourself tapping your finger or foot in time to a song on the radio, or bobbing your head (if not whole body) at a concert. This is something that even babies do.

Humans have danced together in groups throughout history. And with a rise in dance activities ranging from Zumba to flashmobs, collective dancing – an activity which involves synchronising with both the musical beat and fellow dancers – shows no signs of letting up.

So, why do people do it? There has been much debate about whether there is any evolutionary explanation for our tendency to dance. Most likely it features in our selection of romantic partners, and also in how we signal our group membership to other rival groups (think of the highly synchronised Hakka). One of the main theories about why we dance is that it offers opportunities to form positive connections with others.

So far, our testing of the “social bonding” hypothesis of dance has focused on one particular aspect: synchronisation with other people. It turns out that when you synchronise even a small movement, like the tapping of your finger in time with someone else, you feel closer and more trusting of that person than if you had tapped out of time.

This is because when we watch someone else do the same thing at the same time as us, our brain ends up with a merged sense of us and them. It feels like we “become one”. Anyone who has ever rowed might be familiar with that moment when you hit a state of perfect synchronisation with your rowing team. Suddenly you feel like you are part of something bigger than just yourself, and that you belong.

The science of dance and friendship

In other social animals like monkeys and apes, activities which encourage social connections, or “friendships”, are underpinned by various hormones. It is likely that we use similar chemical pathways to forge our social relationships.

Called the brain’s “happy chemicals” because of their feelgood effects, endorphins are released when we exercise. They may also be an important chemical in human and other primate’s bonding processes. In fact, the social closeness humans feel when doing synchronised activities may be because they trigger the release of a cocktail of bonding hormones, including endorphins.

Dance can be both exertive and synchronised, so we wanted to see what the relative effects of both these aspects might be on bonding and on endorphins. As it’s hard to measure endorphin levels directly, we used pain thresholds as an indirect measure. More endorphins mean we tolerate pain better, so measuring relative increases in people’s pain thresholds can indicate whether endorphins are being released (although other chemicals like endocannabinoids are probably also in the mix).

We had 264 young people take part in the study in Brazil. The students did the experiment in groups of three, and they did either high or low-exertion dancing that was either synchronised or unsynchronised. The high exertion moves were all standing, full bodied movements, and those in the low-exertion groups did small hand movements sitting down. Before and after the activity, we measured the teenagers’ feelings of closeness to each other via a questionnaire. We also measured their pain threshold by attaching and inflating a blood pressure cuff on their arm, and determining how much pressure they could stand.

Not surprisingly, those who did full-bodied exertive dancing had higher pain thresholds compared to those who were seated in the low-exertion groups. But curiously we also found that synchronisation led to higher pain thresholds, even if the synchronised movements were not exertive. So long as people saw that others were doing the same movement at the same time, their pain thresholds went up.

Likewise, synchronised activity encouraged bonding more than unsynchronised dancing, and more energetic activity had a similar effect – it also made the groups feel closer. So all in all, moving energetically or moving in synchronisation can both make you feel closer to others when you are dancing, and lead to higher pain thresholds. But dance which combined high energy and synchrony had the greatest effects.

Although there are lots of examples of highly synchronsied and exertive dances around the world (flashmobs are a good example), dance also involves other features like creative expression, improvisation, ritual and cultural significance. These elements no doubt also contribute to why we have such a widespread appreciation and aptitude for dance.

But whatever the reason, if dance helps us build social cohesion and trust, then as a collectively advantageous behaviour it is probably one we should all do more. So the next time you find yourself at an awkward Christmas party or wedding dance floor, wondering whether or not to get up and groove, just do it.

Bronwyn Tarr received funding for this research from the European Research Council Advanced Investigator Grant No. 295663 awarded to Robin I. M. Dunbar.