Determinants of Social Class
What places· one in a particular social class?’ Is it birth, money, education, occupation, or WEALTH AND INCOME. Money is necessary for upper-class position; yet one’s class position is not directly proportional to one’s income. To understand the place of money in class determination, we must remember that a social class is basically a way of life. It takes a good deal of money to live as upper-class people live. Yet no amount of money will gain immediate upper-class status. The new rich have the money, but they lack the way of life ‘of the upper-class person. They can buy the house, cars, and clothes and hire a decorator to select the proper furnishings, books, and paintings. It takes a little longer to learn the formal manners of the upper class, by some careful observation, plus intensive study of the advice of Emily Post or Amy Vanderbilt, will probably suffice. Button acquire the attitudes and feelings and habitual responses of the upper-class person takes far longer. Unless one is born and socialized in an upper-class subculture, one is almost certain to make occasional slips which betray plebeian origin. Novels and plays abound with social climbers. who never quite “make it” .because they occasionally use the wrong word or reflect the wrong attitude and thereby betray their humble origin. Most of the “new rich” are no more than marginal members of the upper class during Their lifetimes. Their children, however, have a better chance, and for their grandchildren, a secure upper-class status is practically assured. Money, outer a period of time, usually gains upper-class status. People who get money begin to live like upper-class people. By the time their children mature, they are becoming “old family,” and the grandchildren will have fully absorbed upper-class behavior. Thus the two requisites of upper-class status are fulfilled. Money has other subtle overtones. Income from investments is more prestigious than income from welfare payments. Income from the professions is better than wages; money from speculating on stocks is better than money from on horses. The nature and Sonic of one’s income carry suggestions as to one’s family background and probable way of life.
Money one used to have is almost as good as money one has now. The “real” aristocracy of the South, for example, no longer has great wealth, partly because its class values prevented it from engaging in the grubby scrabbling which eventually created the oil millionaires and the industrial magnates. Yet the impoverished aristocrats can still retail upper-class status’ as long as they have enough money ‘to eke out an upper class pattern of living, even though it is somewhat frayed around the edges Money, then, is important determinant of social class, partly because of what it suggests about one’s family background and way of life.