Unwritten Rules We All Follow

Welcome, to the world of The Big Three and their unwritten rules.

If that sounds ominous or confusing in any way, you might want to check out previous posts leading us to this: Part One is here and Part Two is here. These posts give some back story, so you should probably check them out first, but if you are a person who loves doing things in whatever order you want then continue reading (you rebel, you).

Let’s begin – it’s time to welcome in The Big Three…

The Big Three.jpg

Not them.

The Big Three Wrong


The Big Three Groups*.

By zooming out from all the various sub-groups us humans have created, we can begin to see three main social groups that have become the norm within most Western societies:

1. Poverty / Working Class / Lower Class / Fancy term = “Proletariat”

2. White Collar / Professionals / Middle Class / Fancy term = “Bourgeoisie”

3.  Wealthy / Socialites / Upper Class / Fancy term = “Aristocrats”

Each group is shaped by a collection of values, attitudes and beliefs. Whilst the individuals and families in these groups will have slightly different ways they live out these beliefs, values and attitudes, there are general traits and features of each group that have emerged (thanks to all of those amazing sociologists, behavioural psychologists and economists who spend their time investigating and researching this)**.

Our values, views, attitudes and beliefs are not only influenced by key mentors/carers in our lives, they are also influenced by our mentors’/carers’ families and any major events or experiences affecting society during their times.


Before we jump too far ahead with this, let’s look at each group making up our one big social group…society. Remember, these are overwhelmingly general values, attitudes and beliefs that have been identified.

No group is right. No group is wrong.

They are just different.

Ultimately, it all comes down to your values, attitudes and beliefs. You dictate the group you belong to, or aspire to be a part of. You decide what you invest in, deem to be worthwhile in life and the people you surround yourself with.

Poverty / Working Class / Lower Class / Fancy Term = “Proletariat”

Downton Abbey Character: Daisy the Cook

Daisy the Cook

You can see pretty straight up why “Lower Class” might anger people, right? From the get go words used to describe anyone within this Big Group already determines them to be below others….most likely by people like this bloke:

Earl of Chesterfield
Sir Judge-A-Lot IV

This social group highly values relationships as people and relationships can almost act as  a form of currency. If you are growing up in world where, for a wide range of reasons, money cannot be kept aside for a rainy day, budgeting isn’t fully understood (or simply not seen as possible) then you need to be able to rely on others.

Car broken down? Get in contact with whoever you can to organise a pick up, as well as future lifts to and from work (if you’re lucky). I see this in school when students miss a few days in a row. It isn’t uncommon to hear people immediately pass judgement on the family, “Typical”, “They’re just lazy” or “They don’t actually care about school”. 

It isn’t that these families don’t value school, far from it, it is just that sometimes things fall through and it just isn’t possible to get to school on that day…in that moment there are more important things to work out to survive.

Fixing a car.jpg

The importance of relationships can override other norms: if you are looked after by friends when your car is broken down, what will you have to do when you get a call at work and the situation is reversed? Sticking around at work may be the best option for you…true, and having a little less cash on your next payday will hurt, but to cut off your lifelines has far greater ramifications.

What makes this situation hard is when a manager or boss has no understanding of the unwritten rules others may be governed by. If your manager has no understanding of just how important relationships and people are in your world (and not simply putting in hour after hour at work above all else to get ahead), how likely are they to allow this to happen without negative consequences?

Think about your life right now.

Chances are, if you are sitting there reading this right now you have a monthly internet bill…along with a few others: phone, car insurance, home insurance, health insurance, motor vehicle roadside assistance and let’s throw in a gym membership.

That’s actually a lot of disposable money you are choosing to put aside every month on top of your day to day living expenses. But you probably do it without thinking. Of course you can pay your bills – you just set up an automatic savings plan that transfers some cash into an online bank account and that covers those bills…simple, right?

Really think about it: you’re not really living in the present. You’re constantly planning ahead and preparing for the future.


Within this group, the perspective of time is on the here and now. You can’t consider negotiating the best rate for 24-month gym membership when you genuinely aren’t sure if you have enough money for groceries before the next payday. What is amazing to consider is just how prevalent “Mindfulness” and “Living in the moment” is within parts of society right now.

Look at the top selling adults books and you’ll come across mindful drawing books. Living in the here and now is something the other two groups wish they could do more (without the financial pressures, no doubt).


White Collar / Professionals / Middle Class / Fancy Term = “Bourgeoisie”***

Downton Abbey Character: Doctor Clarkson

Dr Clarkson.jpg

Like the typically used name “Middle Class” suggests, this is the group between the two other social groups.

Often this group is the largest and can actually have a few sub-groups within it. You may hear people speak about upper-middle-class or lower-middle-class but, truth be told, this often seems to just be fancy wording people choose to judge others who may be new to the group and possibly break some of the group’s unwritten rules.

Whilst the first Big Group was focused on relationships and people as a prime possessions, this group seeks things. Specifically, things that demonstrate the ability to buy things…think Home decor and finishings, or else that “clutter” you hear some people talk about.

Don’t believe me?

How often do you see someone from a wealthy or poverty background hosting a garage sale?

This focus on things and items is also driven by another factor: labels. Being able to select and afford the right brand name is a definite unwritten rule. Thinking of conversations I’ve overheard, it is very apparent from a young age that people within this group know which labels are acceptable and those you never admit to.

Rice Bubbles? Nice. Rice Puffs (Generic brand)? No way.

The focus on labels, especially with clothing, is an interesting development of an unwritten rule. As ideas and knowledge of budgeting became norms for this group, you can’t help but wonder if clothing moved away from being a thing to simply protect you from the elements, to being something that defined you within the group.

Maybe clothing became less about demonstrating your personality and demonstrating what brand personalities you (and your kids) can afford?

With this focus on labels there is an importance is being able to afford the right kind of labels. In order to do so this group has developed key attitudes, values and beliefs on time: the future is paramount and decisions made now affect that future.

Selecting everyday items or making important decisions can be influenced by how they will you not affect you now, but later on in life. Think superannuation, savings accounts or even where you choose to send your children to school.

These decisions are often seen as incredibly important to this group and may or may not keep group members up at night…but, truth be told, ridiculously wealthy private schools can (and do) have terrible teachers who will not properly teach your child, while your local state school has some incredible teachers who will inspire children to do more with their lives.

Education is something viewed as key within this social group. It not only provides people with access to climb professional ladders, but also allows for greater access to make money to secure your and your family’s futures. Whilst others from a poverty or working class background very much revere education, it has the possibility to be seen as an abstract thing that is either unattainable (based on your and your family’s history and learned attitudes). The difference between these two groups is the expectation of education – a White Collar group member will seemingly never question completing all thirteen years of school (plus a following undergraduate degree, of course).


Wealthy / Socialites / Upper Class / Fancy Term = “Aristocrats”

Downton Abbey Character: Lord Grantham

Lord Grantham.jpg

Welcome to The Third Big Group.

This group often will have the fewest members within society, however it seems to hold the greatest amounts of overall power and influence. Which makes sense when you consider the unwritten rules working in the background.

In the other two groups the basis of possessions is on people and your relationships, or enhancing/distinguishing your image with collections of items or things. As we move into this group, the focus shifts from being able to collect seemingly everyday items to collecting one of a kind or rare items. The focus is on the pedigree nature of items, how special it is and whether or not others can access it too.

Think of Ivy League schools, Grange wines, rare batches of whiskey or car and art collections. The rarer and harder to access, the better.

This strong focus on expertise and uniqueness within this group shapes many of the unwritten rules. Being able to network and provide connections is paramount- and not just within a national context. Think broader…internationally. Being able to provide unique information and connections to others can signify your status within the group.

To go back to an educational perspective, think about one of the key reasons why people might choose to invest into private schools. Majority of people would speak about the “networks” or “Old Boys/Girls Club” you can become a part of and subsequently use to assist your progression in a chosen field. The connections and access to experts in various fields is something that can set these schools apart from the rest.

Even consider food.

Within this Big Group, the quantity and quality of food are not the important factors when selecting where to eat. Food becomes something more. Restaurants become art galleries and dishes become theatres.

This idea of uniqueness and expertise as valued commodities seems to really underpin this group. As a member of this group, much of your time spent is on selecting and conserving investments. The group members who live and follow these unwritten rules of wealth, tradition and decorum may often be called, “Old Money” (Rothschilds, Rockefellers, Fairfaxes…or any royal family).

What is interesting is what happens to those who suddenly make great amounts of money, and access the power and influence that come with that wealth…what some would call “New Money“. Whilst they may have access to expertise, unique knowledge and rare pedigrees, they still somehow never truly fit in. These group members somehow merge between two groups (and most likely get judged by both).


Or, maybe they just don’t care about fitting in with the Wealth Group and simply just want to keep buying more stuff and holding more garage sales?



Finally, these issues of understanding, merging and moving between these groups have been captured in a great way through the show Upper Middle Bogan…


So, what group do you most connect with?****

Which unwritten rules or group holds up with your family’s values, attitudes or beliefs?

How are your closest friends’ or partner’s/spouse’s views similar or different to yours?


Comment, critique, share or like- we’d appreciate any of them from someone as delightful as you!

*Many, many societies, academics and sociologists would argue that there are sub-groups within these socio-economic groups, as well as WHOLLY different social structures within various countries around the world. As mentioned earlier in Part One, these posts are referring to modern day, Western, capitalist societies in a general way**.
**The key influence on this series of posts is on the work of Dr Ruby Payne. I first became aware of three years ago when attending a conference for educators working in remote communities with high percentages of generational poverty.
***I had no idea how to even say this word, so this may help to impress all those people out there next time you’re out at the pub/club/restaurant/country club.
****There are so many, many features, traits and intricacies of each group to be written about, so please know this couldn’t possibly cover every aspect or intricacy of each Big Group


Further Upgrades:

Dr Ruby Payne – ‘A Framework for Understanding Poverty’ or ‘Hidden Rules of Class at Work‘.

This great article on The Drum by Jill Sheppard and Nicholas Biddle which actually further breaks down our Big Three Groups and adds on two more.

Paul Piff presenting his research into life (and how wealth or privlege can affect our behaviours) through that family ruining board game Monopoly


One Reply to “Unwritten Rules We All Follow”

  1. This was entertaining to read and make connections with all sorts of people and groups from all classes, and the often disastrous fireworks that can be set off when relationships breakdown over classes crossing and /or personality differences. What I find im left with is a bit of self analysis. Why is it so fun to tease mr judgemental with his Roman numerals? Poor mr judgemental probably had a crappy childhood. So I’m looking forward to Dr Payne shedding some light – or you – on the ‘hope’ that in a country like Australia which one would ‘hope’ is evolving for the better-this wealthy upper class can hopefully become or continue to be (??) some of the
    greater givers to charity. I hope so! Maybe a little ethics in the curriculum can make Australia a better people? No one knows what’s ahead but it’s sometimes a worry when you notice society taking shape. So many complexities!

    And why is it so fun to tease wine swishing and cheese tasting but then love a good deli that sell yum stuff? What I was hoping to see was a ‘Ted & Marshall’ bagging gesture with the aristocratic goals to buy rare delicacies. Competition in society can be so petty, but it’s real – and nowhere more sad than in schools especially for teenagers, and again, – across many suburbs and school systems in our country. Even students in schools with no fees see and hear other kids ‘upgrading’ and feel uncomfortable. We have so much work cut out for us as educators in the world-and as families.

    My baby just farted! That’s exactly the Ted & Marshall gesture sound.

    I think it all comes down to lessons about life and why some choose to teach and hopefully students choose to listen. And learn.

    In the case of the terrible teacher reference-and they’re everywhere-in every education system-like the excellent variety-my question is….do we need more excellent people in teaching? And what makes a fine person exactly? How does a government filter out good people with good standards into education courses? Because there’s clearly current talk about measures to reduce the ‘low’, ‘illiterate/innumerate’ judged type person from an education degree.

    Questions, questions…not enough sleep!

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