Table Summarizing Social Class Definitions
Societies in the Western world practice a variety of forms of capitalism. This means that they have a social class system. Unlike a caste system, social class can be achieved thorough social mobility.
Module Notes: Understanding Inequality
You inherit, in some ways, the social class of your parents. It is their social class that will determine the quality of the education that you get as a child, the amenities of the neighborhood you grow up in, and the quality of the shelter, clothing and food that you have access to as a child. The children of poor parents are classified as poor children. However, a social class system allows for social mobility [Video, 5:04 mins] or opportunities to elevate your social class across your life span. The majority does only slightly better than their parents and there is some speculation that this generation will actually do worse than their parents. While there are many classifications for social class in the United States, ranging from the underclass to the upper class, categorizing individuals by class is problematic. Working class, for example, refers to unskilled laborers and middle class refers to skilled laborers who earn approximately $70,000 annually. However, some people that work on the production line in the auto industry may earn more than $70,000, if they have worked there for a long time and put in overtime. How do we classify these unskilled workers who have a middle class income? They experience something known as status inconsistency. This occurs when there are stark inconsistences between the statuses that an individual holds. Also, social class drives an individual’s sense of self identity. For example, a person from the working or poor class may excel in school and become a physician. They move up to the upper levels of SES in terms of income and prestige. However, at heart, they may continue to think of themselves as poor or working class.
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