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Social Class Identification and Class Interest in Taiwan

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image of Comparative Sociology
For content published from 1960-2001, see International Journal of Comparative Sociology.

Are social classes perceived as a meaningful source of identity in Taiwan? I explore this issue with data from a 1992 survey (N = 2,377) of the population of Taiwan. Respondents were asked, "If people in our society are divided into upper, upper middle, middle, lower middle, working and lower classes, which class do you think you belong to?" Ninety-eight per cent placed themselves in one or the other of these six classes. The modal responses were "middle class" (41%) and "working class" (29%). Two tests are made of whether these responses are meaningful and consequential. First, I show that subjective class identification is rooted in respondent's position in the objective stratification system, i.e., the higher one's education, occupation, power and income, the higher the social class with which one identifies. The second test is the extent to which, controlling for one's objective position in the stratification system, subjective class identification has significant net effects on attitudes toward class issues (e.g, whether big enterprises have too much economic and political power). Class interest theory predicts that Taiwanese who identify with the "middle" or higher classes have a more conservative ideology concerning class conflict, while those who think of themselves as "working class" or lower are more likely to believe there is class conflict, to favor collective action by employees against their employer, and to think big enterprises have too much power. Multiple regression analysis provides at best weak support for class interest theory. Subjective class identification has a significant net effect on attitudes toward only two of eight class issues. While the Taiwan respondents are not generally conservative on these class issues, class identification appears to have little to do with whether one is conservative or nonconservative. A serendipitous finding concerns education, which more than any other variable had significant net effects on attitudes toward class issues. It is Taiwan's most educated who are the least conservative on class issues. This finding has parallels with what some observers of Europe and the United States have called the New Class. The paper concludes with a discussion of the reasons why class identification is only weakly consequential for class-relevant beliefs in Taiwan.


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