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Thread: Social Class and Social Mobility

  1. #1

    Default Social Class and Social Mobility

    So, I've been reading one of my old sociology textbooks this week, and when the discussion of class came up in another thread (about which tie someone should wear with a certain shirt, in off topic), I decided to make this thread.

    I was brought up in a distinctly middle class background, and I attended a private school (although it was a struggle for my parents to afford that for however many years). My parents were both born to very working class families, and both of them suffered some form of neglect/abuse in the household. Both my parents worked very hard to better themselves, and tried to bring me up in a very middle class way. A lot of my friends call me posh, and during my schooling I was taught a lot of things that my peers weren't - how to behave at a dinner party, how to tie a bow tie, what sorts of styles of dress are appropriate at various events, how to accept/decline 'society' invitations, how to behave at pre-dinner drinks (and whether or not you're invited to the dinner following!).

    So, clearly, class is mobile, but how mobile is it? My parents are definitely now middle class, having come from a working class background, and most people would probably set me as middle class too, assuming when I eventually make my way in the world I succeed at my projected career (accounting).

    So, firstly, how do you define working, middle and upper classes? Do you feel there are other classes as well? How mobile do you feel the class system is in your country? And what class do you think you are? Why?

  2. #2


    I dislike the distinct "classes" that are so commonly used, but since they are little me describe what they mean to me. Being only 17, it's harder to define from strictly personal experience so some of my definitions might come across as narrow minded.

    I would describe a working class family very similar to a middle class family. In the United States, the two are almost paired together. Working class to me means those who are doing the basic, entry level jobs. Jobs such as waitresses, factory workers, construction, cashiers, ect. Some of these "working class families" could be just as well off, if not more so then their middle class counterpart.

    I consider middle class families the families that either one, or both member of the family has a career job. This would include a banking job, teacher, nurse, engineer, or any other job that some sort of degree is required.

    Where I live, these two classes are more or less paired together. Both groups are friendly with each other and everyone more or less gets along no matter what job or schooling they have. I also would like to point out that many members of the working class are just as well, if not better off then the middle class. I believe that most any job can be a career if the time, and effort is put into it that is required. For example, my father, who went to a respected university went on to do carpentry for a number of years (25+). He was able to make a great living from it, not because of his degree in engineering, but because of his wonderful work ethic throughout the years. Even though I would consider our family middle class because of education, my father has always had a working class job until recently.

    I believe that the upper class are the specialist's in fields such as doctors, lawyers, and executives. This class is slightly more secluded and less common. I find these sort of people tend to distance themselves from common folk. I'm not saying that they don't associate, but in my opinion they are slightly arrogant. I also feel that they have the right to be so if that is what they enjoy. I believe that they worked for that spot, spent long hours studying, working their butt off, and drinking way too much coffee. They are entitled to arrogance if that is what gets them off.

    I would like to include one more class. This class would be called celebrity. I guess I feel that they need to be included as they are similar to the upper class, but have no right towards the arrogance that I believe the upper class can have. I find celebrities quite obnoxious and more a hindrance to our culture than a help.

    On a side note, anyone born into one of the countries that makes up the majority of this forum (America, Canada, Australia, uk) should feel grateful for what they have. Even without a job there are programs in place to feed children, house mothers and children, and allow a quality of living much greater then many other countries. I am speaking from an American view point, but I believe that most countries offer similar services that the majority of the world would love to have.

    I believe that in America, the class system is very much mobile. With enough drive, any capable human should be able to do whatever they want. Sure, it would be harder for some families to offer the support for education, but it is still doable and their are few valid excuses as to why someone shouldn't be able to reach a level in society outside their own.

    As I said, I would say our family is a middle class family. We live a modest life compared to some, but are comfortable, have a nice house, parents have good jobs, and we have a great quality of life.

  3. #3


    I read somewhere that the vast majority of people (at least in the US) consider themselves to be middle class, even if they are poorer or richer then what would normally be considered middle class. The American labor system is highly mobile, in that most people will tend to have years where they make lots of money and years where they make not so much money. Generally, the younger you are the less you're going to make, but plenty of macroeconomic factors and background factors obviously make a difference. A lot of government policies are seriously harming economic mobility, which is ironic because often times the stated goal of said policies is to help the lower classes. I think it's best not to see class as some static thing or assume that people living on lower incomes will always be that way, because it tends not to be the case.

    Now, I personally am growing up upper class. My hope is to make $40k out of college, but I've got a lot of personal problems that are seriously holding me back and retarding my grades, social life, etc....the $40k estimate is actually kind of low for my school but I don't consider myself an obvious hire. But I'm very privileged in that I don't have to pay for college and I've likely got some sort of inheritance coming my way.

  4. #4


    Class seems like such an undefinable thing, especially these days.

    I think a certain amount of "class" depends on your upbringing... Not the "old boy network" and "secret handshake" and "knowing how to tie a bow tie", but more... how you carry yourself.

    If you treat people equally, with respect but also commanding respect (whether you're talking to a tramp or the Queen) then I think that you will find that the social protocols that you are supposed to follow disappear. If you are a reasonable, honest, respectful and discreet person, I think most people will overlook minor faux pas and perhaps even respect you more for having the confidence to be yourself. The only people who care whether you pass the port to the right or the left are the kind of tedious bores lacking any genuine class, if you know what I mean!

    I sometimes think that the only class that really exists is the middle class! They are the ones that came up with their system (it seems) to justify their lack of nobility and forever give them some comfort in the fact that they can still feel superior to the "lower classes". It's interesting that, when you mention class, you talk about dinner parties, dresses, bow-ties, invitations, social events... and I wonder if, really, the "middle class" would be better named the "dinner party class"... Because that's what all these social rules were designed for originally... By knowing your class, and the rituals that you were expected to follow, potential suitors could establish your family's wealth using this series of covert signals, and work out whether marriage was a financially viable prospect.

    I have friends who are multi-millionaires and others living in council flats. But, to me, everyone seems "middle class". My "rich" friends don't wear top-hats and my "less well-off" friends don't drink lager on street benches and get into fights. Away from their houses (and cars) you wouldn't know which was which.

    So... I think class is really quite mobile these days (depending what you mean by "class", of course) to anyone who can behave with some understanding of manners, etc. But opportunities (and wealth and job prospects) are not equally available to all. And sometimes people are unfairly judged to be of a particular class because of the opportunities that they have been afforded (wealth doesn't make you upper class and poverty doesn't make you lower class, in my opinion) or their appearance. My well-off friends wouldn't have a clue how to respond to a formal written invitation. They'd pick up the phone and say, "Yeah, I'll probably come..." (and not care that "probably" might sound a little dismissive and rude)...

    I used to be quite fascinated by etiquette when I was a kid. And I remember one thing that stuck in my mind... At school, if kids hadn't heard what the teacher said, they might say, "What?" and were told that this was rude, and that "Pardon?" was the appropriate response. And that a "toilet" should be called a "lavatory". Years later I read an etiquette guide that listed the appropriate response, according to the class that you were in (as a way of identifying yourself and others who belong to your class). It said that "pardon" and "lavatory" were considered polite for the middle classes, but the upper classes should ensure to say "what" and "toilet" to establish their credentials.

    Not only did that blow away the idea that anyone had the faintest idea what "class" really meant (other than knowing your place), but it seemed to suggest that the upper classes (who are presumably independently wealthy) had no need to ingratiate themselves with everyone they met by using "flowery" language. When you can do whatever you want without needing someone else's approval, why waste time tediously choosing your words delicately when it won't make any difference? Be blunt, then get on with spending money and having fun as quick as you can!

    So... I dunno... The concept of social class seems to suggest a very Victorian society, where everyone knew their place... Or something like the caste system in India. A kind of out-dated form of subtle discrimination. Judging someone according to their perceived class is really as bad as racism. If there is a genuine reason to judge them (they are obnoxious, don't appear to have a particular skill that's appropriate for what they are doing, have done something that actually offends you)... well... that's something different.

    (Sorry -- I got carried away and rambled on a bit... )

  5. #5


    I see social mobility as very easy in the US. All you have to do is apply your self and jump on an opertunity. I was raised in a working class family (lower middle class). I did not want to be in a boiler room like my dad, and I was bored with school, so I joined the military after highschool. I am now a fully liscensed aircraft mechanic with 2 standing job offers for when i get out, and I currently make 10k more than my dad a year plus benifits. I am half way through my bachlelors degree because some jobs want to see the peice of paper. I am moving up because I didn't want to rely on any body but my self.

    I see middle class and working class the same. You never stop working engineers and mechanics do hard, tedious work. They make more but I have changed many helocopter engins the developers. Small buisness owners will tell you that you have more work than hours in the day. Point to my origional little rant there are plenty of opportunities if you think outside the box are aggressive and are willing to start from the bottom.

  6. #6


    Quote Originally Posted by Paddeduper View Post
    I believe that the upper class are the specialist's in fields such as doctors, lawyers, and executives.
    In the UK, I those would typically be considered middle class professions. The upper classes would be owners of multi-national companies, tycoons and aristocrats and the independently wealthy.

    Quote Originally Posted by Paddeduper View Post
    I would like to include one more class. This class would be called celebrity.
    I consider most celebrities to be either working class or middle class -- roughly a 50/50 split. (Even though I just said I don't believe in class and that everyone is middle class... Oh well... Maybe it's the uncivil behaviour of some celebrities that means I consider them "lower class"...)

  7. #7


    Quote Originally Posted by tiny View Post
    In the UK, I those would typically be considered middle class professions. The upper classes would be owners of multi-national companies, tycoons and aristocrats and the independently wealthy.
    Completely agree with this here! Unless you're a private consultant sort of doctor! Although this split between UK and USA might be due to our differing healthcare structures!

    I consider most celebrities to be either working class or middle class -- roughly a 50/50 split. (Even though I just said I don't believe in class and that everyone is middle class... Oh well... Maybe it's the uncivil behaviour of some celebrities that means I consider them "lower class"...)
    But... Kate Middleton?!

  8. #8


    Quote Originally Posted by Talula View Post
    But... Kate Middleton?!
    Ha! I don't really know who she is, to be honest. I know she married... err... Prince William, but I don't usually watch the TV news or read newspapers and I have no interest in the royals... so... all I've seen is half-a-dozen photos and a few seconds of TV footage (that I've already forgotten!). Not much to go on.

    I heard that the tabloids perceived her to be more middle class than upper class... I've no idea whether that's justified (or what that even means). I can't quite decide whether being married to a royal automatically makes her upper class... I guess it pretty much does...

    It's confusing to think about when I don't really know what class means... But it's got to be much more than simply wealth or career choice...

  9. #9


    To me she is now upper class - she's married to our future king. My school put a lot on titles. In fact, the fact that I'm engaged to be married to a working class man has put a lot of strain on several relationships of mine. Her upbringing is distinctly middle class though - her parents made a reasonable amount of money catering to the upper classes! If her parents are counted as upper class then they are definitely new money!

  10. #10


    Here's another question - what difference, if any, is there between social class and wealth?

    It seems that when people talk about middle class vs. upper class it's really a wealth-distinction that they're making. But that distinction doesn't seem to apply to middle class vs. working class - Paddeduper referred to a carpenter being a working class job, which kind of makes sense. One potential distinction is whether the job involves physical labor, but then you could describe a carpenter or plumber who makes a very good living as working class, but a receptionist or office clerk who doesn't make as much middle class, and that doesn't quite make sense.

    Does upper class then mean "independently wealth?" I don't think that quite explains it either.

    Maybe I have a different perspective since I'm American, live near San Francisco, and work in an internet startup. There may be a few "old money," "high society" types around, but I think for the most part everyone makes fun of them (or the things they do, at least - I'm sure they're nice people). And maybe that makes me middle class.

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