When you come across a belligerent person in a fur coat, waving bejeweled hands in the air, cussing out the person behind the counter and holding up the line — your line — you know there’s something wrong with the picture. It just means that money doesn’t necessarily equate automatically with breeding. What am I driving at? As I’ve heard it said often, “those rich #$@%^ ain’t got any class!” Unfortunately, many of those who acquire wealth tend to grow their ego in proportion to their riches. There’s nothing more unsightly than those who engage in power tripping as a sport. They dare declare themselves part of the “upper crust” and we normally don’t argue with that.
But when social scientists talk about economic or social class or standing in society, it’s not just all about the money, which clearly explains why some rich people can still behave like brutes. To explain this further, I dug up this cool piece from the New York Times expounding on the subject through an interactive tool. I decided I would deconstruct the tool and here’s what I found:
What Is Class? Some Facts And Figures
Class issues can be controversial. It means different things in different countries and is definitely much more emphasized in certain nations much more so than in others. I picked up some of these general facts from the Wikipedia and the New York Time polls.
Simpler and more primitive societies use physical power to determine pecking order while larger, more complex societies use economic power to determine “who rules”.
Our advanced (e.g. developed) societies therefore use the following components as the basis for class:
- Education and qualifications
- Income, personal, household and per capita
- Wealth or net worth, including the ownership of land, property, means of production, et cetera
Additionally, other factors that influence class distinctions include:
- Level of prestige
- Costume and grooming
- Manners and cultural refinement
- Political standing vis-à-vis the church, government, and/or social clubs, as well as the use of honorary titles
- Reputation of honor or disgrace
- Language, style of speaking
What is the class breakdown in America? Here’s one of the more detailed configurations I’ve seen.
o Upper-upper class; (ca. 1%) Old money stemming from inherited wealth. Persons in this class typically have an “Ivy league college degree.”
o Lower-upper class; (ca. 1%) This is the “Success elite” consisting of “Top professionals [and] senior corporate executives.” People in this class have degrees from “Good colleges.”
o Upper-middle class; (ca. 19%) Also called the “Professional and Managerial” class, it consists of “Middle professionals and managers” with a college and often graduate degrees.
o Middle-class; (ca. 31%) This class consists of “Lower-level managers; small-business owners; lower-status professionals (pharmacists, teachers); sales and clerical” workers. Middle class persons had a high school and some college education.
o Working class; (ca. 35%) This class consists of “Higher blue collar (craftsman, truck drivers); lowest-paid sales and clerical” workers. Younger individuals in 1978 who were members of this class had a high school education.
Lower Americans (ca. 13%)
o Semipoor; This class had a partial high school education and consisted of “Unskilled labor and service” workers.
o The bottom; Those who are “Often unemployed” or rely on welfare payments. These individuals typically lack a high school education.
Class Mobility: Getting Richer or Poorer By The Generation
Class mobility describes the movement or shifting across socio-economic classes. A comparison between the U.S. population in 1988 and 1989 showed that in the span of 10 years, some amount of class shifting went on. Class mobility, which is the core of the American Dream, reflects how households find themselves on the economic ladder. It looks like the top and bottom most classes tend to get stuck at their levels more so than those in the middle classes. For the top fifth and bottom fifth of society, a little over half remained at the same levels over the length of a decade. Goes to show that class mobility happens most easily for the folks in the middle 60% of the population.
Class mobility is “stickiest” when children are most like their parents and ancestors. The more similar you are to your kin, the less likely it is that things change for you in your generation. A typical poor family making around 20% of the average income can take up to 4 generations to reach the average income level.
Something I didn’t want to hear: we live at a time when class mobility may not be occurring as much as it used to. It looks to be slowing throughout the decades.
I was terribly surprised to find that in a study involving households in 5 developed nations followed through 4 generations: the United Kingdom, United States, France, Canada and Denmark — the U.S. scored almost the lowest in terms of class mobility. Though the U.K. had the lowest standing, its scores weren’t that far off from the U.S. This just means that it was easier to get out of poverty in France, Canada and Denmark than it was in the U.S. and the U.K.
Other Findings About Class
- Most respondents (most participants) to a recent Times poll believe that it takes an income of $100,000 – $299,999 to be recognized as wealthy in America. Sounds like it doesn’t take considerable wealth to be considered rich!
- Those with lower incomes have a greater tendency to recognize or admit that tension exists between the rich and the poor.
- More than half of respondents believe that the rich have too much power, but those who primarily think so have less money.
- More wealth means better or improved health. This makes total sense to me.
- Those with higher income spend more time with their family. This also makes a lot of sense since money can buy time.
- Respondents with less money portray a greater faith in God.
- Most people, regardless of their social class, think that they can achieve the American Dream in their lifetime, if they haven’t done so already. This just shows that hope springs eternal no matter what our financial situation happens to be.
All these findings I find tremendously interesting. Some things I already knew about, while other facts were news to me! These dispel some presumptions people make that wealth and becoming rich automatically gives you a free pass into the exclusive world of high class society since other factors such as reputation, manners, carriage, education and occupation are also components. More intriguing still is what happens when people become suddenly wealthy like when they win the lottery or receive a massive inheritance out of nowhere. What happens when their new situation inflates their ego and causes them to behave badly? They find themselves between two worlds — the world of old friends and family lost and estranged and the world of the elite who won’t give them the time of day because they just don’t fit in. So a message to all the “classless” rich… get a grip: with money comes tremendous responsibility (and not just power or influence) that we only hope you wield in positive ways.
Image Credit: The Ugly Duchess by Massys
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