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Under pressure: status-related consumption in the 'squeezed middle'

Miles, Alice (2021) Under pressure: status-related consumption in the 'squeezed middle'. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004539


Over the past 20 years, rising inequality in the UK has taken an uncertain shape in national politics. Politicians have variously claimed allegiance to a ‘squeezed middle’ or ‘just about managing’ families or to those ‘left behind’ by economic progress. Conservative Prime Ministers have pledged to tackle inequality and the social problems that arise alongside it, or have blamed ‘wrong personal choices’, and now commit to ‘levelling up’ without being at all clear what they mean. This thesis concentrates on families on low-to-middle incomes in South East England, and the ways in which they negotiate social and economic inequality and the risk of being financially and geographically ‘squeezed’; and asks what it takes to keep up, or get on, in a highly unequal region of a very unequal country. I explore the positional consumption of 33 low-to-middle income families in two neighbourhoods, one socially uniform and the other socially mixed. Qualitative interviews explore what the (mostly) mothers spend, why, and with whom they are comparing. I show how local reference groups, as well as a complex set of other social comparisons, affect status concerns and positional consumption. This contributes to understanding of the mechanisms by which inequality affects social well-being at the individual level. A second strand of analysis estimates the actual spend on positional consumption by these families, enabling me to test the qualitative findings against the £ spent. This study portrays a picture of a group generally silent in the empirical literature, low-to-middle income families in the ‘squeezed middle’ of South East England, itself part of a wider middle-income group variously theorised as both agents and victims of inequality; and as socially, culturally and politically ‘missing’ or ‘weak’.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2021 Alice Miles
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > Social Policy
Supervisor: Burchardt, Tania and Le Grand, Julian

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