Social class refers to the relative social rank in terms of income, wealth, education, occupational status, and/or power. It is not easy to determine how many social classes exist in the United States. Over the decades, sociologists have outlined as many as six or seven social classes based on such things as education, occupation, and income, but also on lifestyle, the schools people’s children attend, a family’s reputation in the community, how “old” or “new” people’s wealth is, and so forth. Some other sociologists rely on measures of socioeconomic status (SES), such as education, income, and occupation, to determine someone’s social class. For more information, please visit: Social Class in The United States, Sociology, an open source by The University of Minnesota, and/or The U.S Class Structure. For statistics about wealth inequality, you can visit Inequality.org , visit the Census Bureau website, or watch the video Wealth Inequality in America.
In this page we explore the concepts of class and classism, starting with some definitions:
- Ruling Class: The stratum of people who hold positions of power in major institutions of the society.
- Owning Class: The stratum of families who own income–producing assets sufficient to make paid employment unnecessary.
- Upper–Middle Class: The portion of the middle class with higher incomes due to professional jobs and/or investment income.
- Middle Class: The stratum of families for whom breadwinners’ higher education and/or specialized skills brings higher income and more security than working–class people have.
- Lower–Middle Class: The portion of the middle class with lower and less stable incomes due to lower–skilled or unstable employment.
- Working Class: The stratum of families whose income depends on hourly wages for labor, or on other non–managerial work or very minor business activity that doesn’t require higher education.
- Poverty Class: The stratum of families with incomes persistently insufficient to meet basic human needs.
For additional information, you can read the discussion about classism in part 2 of Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice (2016): Chapter 7 (pages 213-254) offers a discussion about classism, and you can watch the video Classism and Poverty in America’s Schools.
For a discussion about some myths of the “American Dream” and the concepts of meritocracy, please visit: “The Meritocracy Myth” by McNamee and Miller.