You might file this under: Already known but not understood. Culture has certainly flattened in the past 50 years. There are fewer and fewer people using “high,” “middle” and “low” class to describe the quality of a person according to his or her aesthetic, taste, and sensibility. In other words, I still his “high” to describe a work of art, but I don’t use “high” to describe the person who engages that work. That would seem unseemly. And now we have a new study that draws attention to the distinction I’ve been making for some time now. At the same time, the study by Britain’s Oxford University make clear the distinction between class — what now seems like such a 20th century term — and “social status” something far more nebulous and more distinction from a person’s income. It’s also more democratic. While “class,” in the economic sense of the word, is something one is born with, “status” is something one can achieve. —J.S.

From the New Zealand Herald . . .

The “cultural elite” brought up on opera and the higher arts, which supposedly turns up its nose at anything as vulgar as a pop song or mainstream television, does not exist, according to research published by Oxford University academics.

Researchers have used data from Britain and six other countries to test a theory that people born to posh families absorb only “high culture” while “popular” or “mass” culture is strictly for those from ordinary to humble beginnings.

They found that in truth Billy Elliott – the fictional working-class boy from a northern mining village with a passion for ballet – is not the social freak he might seem to be. Equally, someone with an impressive ancestry and blue blood in his veins is not necessarily any more cultured than the rest of us.

People’s education, income and social class were all taken into account but this study, unlike others of its kind, differentiated between “class” and “status”. An out-of-work aristocrat has class, without status, while there are bright people from poor backgrounds who have “status” but not “class”.

In previous studies, they have concluded that status is now determined more by the work someone does than by their birth or their wealth. Office workers consider that they have a higher status than manual workers; professionals think themselves a cut above works managers, and so on.

The newspaper a person chooses, and the forms of entertainment that person enjoys are all tied up with ideas about social status. That does not mean that professionals in elite jobs restrict themselves to “elite” arts, but it does mean that the opera houses and specialist art galleries are likely to be filled with people who have “status”.

Full story . . .