The term “Affluent Worker” refers to a group of workers that emerged in the postwar period and are distinguished by comparatively high earnings as compared to the traditional manual laborers. In the 1960s and 1970s, sociologists were interested in affluent employees to see whether they would adopt middle-class traits. Sociologists like Zweig asserted that these employees were moving towards the middle class. Zweig predicted a sizable middle class and a modest working class in future industrial nations.
The names of three volumes produced as part of a significant British initiative in the 1960s directed by John Goldthorpe and David Lockwood are mostly credited with popularizing this concept.
Wealthy manual laborers in the British auto industry were studied to test the embourgeoisement or “becoming middle class” argument.
Marxist ideologies argue that the working class lack control over the means of production. The embourgeoisement approach argues that wealth significantly impacts attitudes and behavior more than ownership and control.
As employees’ wages rise, they will resemble the middle classes more. The research on affluent workers reached very diverse outcomes. In some ways, these employees were becoming to resemble the middle class.
Workers began to own their homes, favoring domestic over communal leisure pursuits, but they kept supporting the U.K. Labour party and were still engaged in the labor movement. In these activities, rational self-interest took precedence over established communal bonds; class solidarity had been replaced by “instrumental collectivism.”
The wealthy worker studies, whose primary investigators were Lockwood and John Goldthorpe, likewise emphasized the relevance of various aspects to stratification and how they influence class awareness.
According to Goldthorpe and Lockwood, Wealthy employees are developing into a new kind of working class rather than the middle class.
Critical sociologists argued that wealthy employees already existed and were nothing new. An elite class of trained workers had always existed, which is known as the “aristocracy of labor.”