Hastings A & Matthews P (2011) Connectivity and Conflict in Periods of Austerity: What do we Know about Middle Class Political Activism and its Effects on Public Services?. Arts and Humanities Research Council. Connected Communities.
There is concern that the middle classes enjoy advantages over less affluent social groups in relation to public service provision. Research on this question is, however, fragmented across policy fields and disciplines. This paper presents the results of a realist synthesis of academic research from the UK, US and Scandinavia since 1980. It shows that there is indeed evidence of middle class advantage in relation to public services, with the evidence most secure with respect to the UK, especially schooling, health and land use planning. It also notes, however, that there is insufficient evidence to identify the scale or import of additional benefit. The paper identifies four causal theories derived from the evidence which appear to explain how this advantage comes about. It offers an overview assessment of the strength of the evidence base in relation to both the mechanisms which underpin advantage, and the contexts which support these. It argues that middle class advantage accrues as a result of the interplay between the attitudes and activities of service users, service providers and the broader policy and social context. The paper argues for a more concerted research effort designed to determine the nature, extent and import of middle class advantage.
Also available from STORRE: 'Methodological Note' and 'Evidence for Causal Theories'