WHAT IS SOCIAL CLASS? Assignment Help & Writing Service


A social class may be defined as a stratum of people of similar position in the social status continuum. The social position of the janitor is not the same as that of the college president; a student will not greet them in exactly the same manner. Most of us are deferential toward those whose soda I position we believe to be above ours and are condescending to those whom we consider socially below us. These processes of snubbing and kowtowing, of trying to one's way in or of shouldering out the person who doesn't "belong" inexhaustible material for hundreds of novels, plays, movies, and television scripts. . The members of a social class view one another as social equals, while holding themselves to be socially superior to some and. socially inferior to others. In placing people in the proper social class, one asks such questions as: "To whose dinner party will they be asked as social equals?" or "For whose daughter will their son be an 'acceptable' escort?" The members of a particular social class often, have about the same amount of money, but what is much more important is that they' have much the same attitudes, values, and way of life. How many classes are there? This question is hard to answer. Classes are not sharply defined status groupings like the different ranks in an army. Social status varies along a continuum, a gradual slope from top to bottom, rather than a series of steps. As "youth," "middle age," and "old age" are points along an age continuum, social classes may be viewed as points along a status continuum. Consequently, the number of social classes is not fixed, nor do any definite boundaries and sharp status intervals separate them. Instead, persons are found at all status levels from top to bottom, just as persons are found at all weights and heights, with no abrupt gaps in the series.

Such a series can be broken up into any convenient number of "classes." Earlier students of social class broke up the status continuum into three classes-upper, middle, and lower. Later students found this division unsatisfactory for many communities, because it placed persons in the same class even when they were much too far apart to treat one another as equals. Many sociologists have used a six fold classification by breaking each .of these three classes into an upper and a lower section. The top, or upper-upper class, is composed of the wealthy old families, who have long been socially prominent and who have had money long enough for people to have forgotten when and how they got it. The looter-uppers may have as much money but they have not had it as long, and their family has not long been socially prominent. The upper-middle class includes most of the successful business and professional persons, generally of "good" family background and comfortable income. The lower-middle class takes in the darks, other white-collar workers and semiprofessionals, and possibly some of the supervisors and top craftspeople. The upper-looter class consists mainly of the steadily employed workers and is often described as the "working people" by those who feel uncomfortable about applying the term "Lower class" to responsible workers. The lower-lower class includes the irregularly employed, the unemployable, migrant laborers, and those living more or less permanently on welfare. This six fold classification, used by Warner and Associates [1941, 1942] in studying an old New England town, is probably fairly typical of the large and medium-sized cities .in the more settled parts of the country. In the rapidly, growing Western regions, "old family" may be less important. Coleman and Neugarten (1971) use, a seven-layer system much like Warner's' but divide the middle lasses into three' levels: upper-middle (professional and managerial), comfortable middle-Americans, ·and marginal 'middle- Americans, In smaller towns, the class system is less complex. In studying a small city in the Midwest, Hollingshead [1949] used a fivefold classification in which the two upper classes were combined into one. In a 'small rural community, WesQ1945] found no agreement among the residents upon the number of classes, although the, status range probably would correspond to the bottom half of the . six-Class system 6f anuran society. Lynch [1959], studying the class system of an impoverished agricultural community in the Philippines, found only two classes-the self-sustaining and the destitute.

The number of social classes, therefore, varies from place to place, it may also vary with. the observer's appraisal of tallied number of modal strata whose members have the same general status. When' we speak of, for example, the middle class, we do-not refer to a group of people who are clearly set off from others by a definite status interval; we refer to a group of people who cluster around a midpoint in a status scale and who view and treat one another as social equals. The fact that the terms have, no distinct boundaries does not keep: the .terms from being useful concepts and research tools. Social class is a significant social reality not just a theoretical construct, for people do classify others as equals; superiors" and inferiors; Whenever people define certain other people as social equals and treat them' differently from those who are not so defined, their behavior creates social classes..

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