1993 volume 25(6) pages 779 – 795

Cite as:
Pinch S, 1993, "Social polarization: a comparison of evidence from Britain and the United States" Environment and Planning A 25(6) 779 – 795

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Social polarization: a comparison of evidence from Britain and the United States

S Pinch

Received 7 July 1992; in revised form 21 October 1992

Abstract. In this paper, evidence from Britain and the United States concerning social polarization is compared. Two major approaches to the subject are identified: the first, most extensively developed in the United States, is focused upon occupational shifts and their impact upon the earnings paid to individuals; and the second, which has emerged in Britain, is focused upon households and all the types of work undertaken within them. These approaches and their differing implications for polarization -- the first approach suggesting a 'disappearing middle' and the second approach a growing 'underclass' -- are related to differing social and economic circumstances in Britain and the United States. Both approaches are applied to a household survey of the economically active in Southampton. The survey indicates that social polarization is a result both of sectoral shifts in the local economy and of changing household structures. A number of contrasts between labour-market influences upon polarization in the United States and Britain are highlighted.

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