The Class Structure in the U.S. _ Boundless Sociology.pdf -...

This preview shows page 1 out of 21 pages.

Unformatted text preview: 9/6/2020 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology Boundless Sociology Strati cation, Inequality, and Social Class in the U.S. The Class Structure in the U.S. 1/21 9/6/2020 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology Class Structure in the U.S. American society is strati ed into social classes based on wealth, income, educational attainment, occupation, and social networks. LEARNING OBJECTIVES Discuss America’s class structure and its relation to the concept of the “American Dream” KEY TAKEAWAYS Key Points There are competing models for thinking about social classes in the U.S. — most Americans recognize a threetier structure that includes the upper, middle, and lower classes, but variations delineate an upper-middle class and a working class. High income earners likely are substantially educated, have high- status occupations, and maintain powerful social networks. According to the “American Dream,” American society is meritocratic and class is achievement-based. In other words, one’s membership in a particular social class is based on educational and career accomplishments. Key Terms 2/21 9/6/2020 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology social network: The web of a person’s social, family, and business contacts, who provide material and social resources and opportunities. The American Dream: The belief that with hard work, courage, and determination, anyone can prosper and achieve success. Corporate Elite: A class of high-salaried stockholders, such as corporate CEOs, who do not necessarily have inherited privilege but have achieved high status through their careers. Most social scientists in the U.S. agree that society is strati ed into social classes. Social classes are hierarchical groupings of individuals that are usually based on wealth, educational attainment, occupation, income, or membership in a subculture or social network. Social class in the United States is a controversial issue, having many competing de nitions, models, and even disagreements over its very existence. Many Americans recognize a simple three-tier model that includes the upper class, the middle class, and the lower or working class. Some social scientists have proposed more complex models that may include as many as a dozen class levels. Meanwhile, some scholars deny the very existence of discrete social classes in American society. In spite of debate, most social scientists do agree that in the U.S. people are hierarchically ranked in a social class structure. Models of U.S. Social Classes A team of sociologists recently posited that there are six social classes in America. In this model, the upper class (3% of the population ) is divided into upper-upper class (1% of the U.S. population, earning hundreds of millions to billions per year) and the lower-upper class (2%, earning millions per year). The middle class (40%) is divided into upper-middle class (14%, earning $76,000 or more per year) and the lower-middle class (26%, earning $46,000 to $75,000 per year). The working class (30%) earns $19,000 to $45,000 per year. The lower class (27%) is divided into working poor (13%, earning $9000 to 18,000 per year) and underclass (14%, earning under $9000 per year). This model has gained 3/21 9/6/2020 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology traction as a tool for thinking about social classes in America, but it does not fully account for variations in status based on non-economic factors, such as education and occupational prestige. This critique is somewhat mitigated by the fact that income is often closely aligned with other indicators of status; for example, those with high incomes likely have substantial education, high status occupations, and powerful social networks. A commonly used model for thinking about social classes in the U.S. attributes the following general characteristics to each tier: the upper class has vast accumulated wealth and signi cant control over corporations and political institutions, and their privilege is usually inherited; the corporate elite consists of high-salaried stockholders, such as corporate CEOs, who did not necessarily inherit privilege but have achieved high status through their careers; the upper-middle United States Social Classes: While social scientists o er competing models of class structure, most agree that society is strati ed by occupation, income, and educational attainment. class consists of highly educated salaried professionals whose occupations are held in high esteem, such as lawyers, engineers, and professors; the middle class (the most vaguely de ned and largest social class) is generally thought to include people in mid-level managerial positions or relatively low status professional positions, such as high school teachers and small business owners; the working class generally refers to those without college degrees who do low level service work, such as working as a sales clerk or housekeeper, and includes most people whose incomes fall below the poverty line. In the above outline of social class, status clearly depends not only on income, but also occupational prestige and educational attainment. Debates over the Existence and Signi cance of U.S. Social Classes 4/21 9/6/2020 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology According to the “American Dream,” American society is meritocratic and class is achievement-based. In other words, membership in a particular social class is based on educational and career accomplishments. Many sociologists dispute the existence of such class mobility and point to the ways in which social class is inherited. For example, a son or daughter of a wealthy individual may carry a higher status and di erent cultural connotations than a member of the nouveau riche (“new money”). Likewise, being born into a particular social class may confer advantages or disadvantages that increase the likelihood that an adult will remain in the social class into which they were born. Social theorists who dispute the existence of social classes in the U.S. tend to argue that society is strati ed along a continuous gradation, rather than into delineated categories. In other words, there is inequality in America, with some people attaining higher status and higher standards of living than others. But there is no clear place to draw a line separating one status group from the next. Whether one ascribes to the view that classes are discrete groups or levels along a continuum, it is important to remember that all social classes in the United States, except the upper class, consist of tens of millions of people. Thus social classes form social groups so large that they feature considerable internal diversity and any statement regarding a given social class’ culture should be seen as a broad generalization. The Upper Class The American upper class is the highest socioeconomic bracket in the social hierarchy and is de ned by its members’ great wealth and power. LEARNING OBJECTIVES Discuss the most important characteristics of the upper class in the U.S. 5/21 9/6/2020 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology KEY TAKEAWAYS Key Points Members of the upper class accumulate wealth through investments and capital gains, rather than through annual salaries. Households with net worths of $1 million or more may be identi ed as members of the upper-most socioeconomic demographic, depending on the class model used. Sociologist Leonard Beeghley asserts that all households with a net worth of $1 million or more are considered “rich. ” He divides the rich into two sub- groups: the rich and the super-rich. Key Terms investment: The expenditure of capital in expectation of deriving income or pro t from its use. capital gain: An increase in the value of a capital asset, such as stock or real estate. The American upper class refers to the “top layer,” or highest socioeconomic bracket, of society in the United States. This social class is most commonly described as those with great wealth and power, and may also be referred to as the capitalist class, or simply as “the rich. ” People in this class commonly have immense in uence in the nation’s political and economic institutions as well as in the media. Many politicians, heirs to fortunes, top business executives such as CEOs, successful venture capitalists, and celebrities are considered members of the upper class. Some prominent and high-rung professionals may also be included if they attain great in uence and wealth. The main distinguishing feature of this class is their source of income. While the vast majority of people and households derive their 6/21 9/6/2020 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology income from salaries, those in the upper class derive their income primarily from investments and capital gains. Households with a net worth of $1 million or more may be identi ed as members of the upper-most socioeconomic demographic, depending on the class model used. While most contemporary sociologists estimate that only 1% of households are members of the upper class, sociologist Leonard Beeghley asserts that all households with a net worth of $1 million or more are considered “rich. ” He divides the rich into two subgroups: the rich and the super-rich. The rich constitute roughly 5% of U.S. households and their wealth is largely in the form of home equity. Other contemporary sociologists, such as Dennis Gilbert, argue that this group is not part of the upper class but rather part of the upper middle class, as its standard of living is largely derived from occupation-generated income and its a uence falls far short of that attained by the top percentile. The super-rich, according to Beeghley, are those able to live o their wealth without depending on occupation-derived income. This demographic constitutes roughly 0.9% of American households. Beeghley’s de nition of the super-rich is congruent with the de nition of upper class employed by most other sociologists. The top.01% of the population, with an annual income of $9.5 million or more, received 5% of the income of the United States in 2007. These 15,000 families have been characterized as the “richest of the rich. ” The Upper Middle Class The upper-middle class refers to people within the middle class that have high educational attainment, high salaries, and high status jobs. LEARNING OBJECTIVES Identify the central characteristics of the upper-middle class in the U.S. 7/21 9/6/2020 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology KEY TAKEAWAYS Key Points Members of the upper-middle class have substantially less wealth and prestige than the upper class, but a higher standard of living than the lower-middle class or working class. The U.S. upper-middle class consists mostly of whitecollar professionals who have a high degree of autonomy in their work. The most common professions of the upper-middle class tend to center on conceptualizing, consulting, and instruction. In addition to having autonomy in their work, above-average incomes, and advanced educations, the upper middle class also tends to be powerful; members are inuential in setting trends and shaping public opinion. Key Terms educational attainment: Educational attainment is a term commonly used by statisticians to refer to the highest degree of education an individual has completed. salaried professionals: White-collar employees whose work is largely self-directed and is compensated with an annual salary, rather than an hourly wage. Sociologists use the term “upper-middle class” to refer to the social group consisting of higher-status members of the middle class. This is in contrast to the term “lower-middle class,” which is used for the group at the opposite end of the middle class stratum, and to the broader term “middle class. ” There is considerable debate as to how to de ne the upper-middle class. According to the rubric laid out by sociologist Max Weber, the upper-middle class consists of well-educated professionals with graduate degrees and comfortable incomes. 8/21 9/6/2020 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology In 1951, sociologist C. Wright Mills conducted one of rst major studies of the middle class in America. According to his de nition, the middle class consists of an upper-middle class, made up of professionals distinguished by exceptionally high educational attainment and high economic security; and a lower-middle class, consisting of semiprofessionals. While the groups overlap, di erences between those at the center of both groups are considerable. Among modern sociologists, the American upper-middle class is de ned using income, education, and occupation as primary indicators. There is some debate over what exactly the term “upper-middle class” means, but in academic models, the term generally applies to highly educated, salaried professionals whose work is largely self-directed. The U.S. upper-middle class consists mostly of white-collar professionals who have a high degree of autonomy in their work. The most common professions of the upper-middle class tend to center on conceptualizing, consulting, and instruction. They include such occupations as lawyer, physician, dentist, engineer, professor, architect, civil service executive, and civilian contractor. Many members of the upper-middle class have graduate degrees, such as law, business, or medical degrees, which are often required for professional occupations. Educational attainment is a distinguishing feature of the upper-middle class. Additionally, household incomes in the upper-middle class commonly exceed $100,000, with some smaller one-income earners earning incomes in the high 5- gure range. In addition to autonomy in their work, above-average incomes, and advanced educations, the upper middle class also tends to be powerful; members are in uential in setting trends and shaping public opinion. Moreover, members of the upper-middle class are generally more economically secure than their lower-middle class counterparts. Holding advanced degrees and high status in corporations and institutions tends to insulate the upper-middle class from economic downturns. Members of this class are likely to be in the top income quintile, or the top 20% of the economic hierarchy. 9/21 9/6/2020 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology University Campus: Advanced education is one of the most distinguishing features of the upper-middle class. The Lower Middle Class The lower-middle class are those with some education and comfortable salaries, but with socioeconomic statuses below the upper-middle class. LEARNING OBJECTIVES Discuss the di erences between the lower and upper-middle class KEY TAKEAWAYS Key Points 10/21 9/6/2020 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology The lower-middle class, also sometimes simply referred to as “middle class,” includes roughly one third of U.S. households, and is thought to be growing. Individuals in the lower-middle class tend to hold low status professional or white collar jobs, such as school teacher, nurse, or paralegal. The lower-middle class is among the largest social classes, rivaled only by the working class, and it is thought to be growing. Key Terms college education: Education beyond secondary school, usually culminating in a bachelor’s degree and serving as a necessary credential for middle class occupations. White Collar: Describes a person who performs profes- sional, managerial, or administrative work for a salary. professional: A person whose occupation is highly skilled, salaried, and requires high educational attainment. In developed nations across the world, the lower-middle class is a subdivision of the middle class that refers to households and individuals who are somewhat educated and usually stably employed, but who have not attained the education, occupational prestige, or income of the uppermiddle class. In American society, the middle class is often divided into the lowermiddle class and upper-middle class. The lower-middle class (also sometimes simply referred to as the middle class) consists of roughly one third of households—it is roughly twice as large as the upper-middle and upper classes. Lower-middle class individuals commonly have some college education or a bachelor’s degree and earn a comfortable living. The lower-middle class is among the largest social classes, rivaled only by the working class, and it is thought to be growing. 11/21 9/6/2020 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology Individuals in the lower-middle class tend to hold low status professional or white collar jobs, such as school teacher, nurse, or paralegal. These types of occupations usually require some education but generally do not require a graduate degree. Lower-middle class occupations usually provide comfortable salaries, but put individuals beneath the top third of incomes. Elementary School Teacher: Primary school teachers are generally considered lower-middle class. They usually hold college degrees, but often do not hold graduate degrees; they make comfortable incomes, but have low accumulated wealth; their work is largely self-directed, but is not high status. According to some class models the lower middle class is located roughly between the 52nd and 84th percentile of society. In terms of personal income distribution in 2005, that would mean gross annual personal incomes from about $32,500 to $60,000. Since 42% of all households had two income earners, with the majority of those in the top 40% of gross income, household income gures would be signi cantly higher, ranging from roughly $50,000 to $100,000 annually. In terms of educational attainment, 27% of persons had a bachelor’s degree or higher. If the upper middle and upper class combined are to constitute 12/21 9/6/2020 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology 16% of the population, it becomes clear that some of those in the lower middle class boast college degrees or some college education. The Working Class The working class consists of individuals and households with low educational attainment, low status occupations, and below average incomes. LEARNING OBJECTIVES Explain how di erences in class culture may a ect workingclass students who enter the post-secondary education system KEY TAKEAWAYS Key Points Members of the working class usually have a high school diploma or some college education, and may work in low-skilled occupations like retail sales or manual labor. Due to di erences between middle and working-class cultures, working-class college students may face “culture shock” upon entering the post-secondary education system, with its “middle class” culture. Working classes are mainly found in industrialized economies and in the urban areas of non-industrialized economies. Key Terms working class: The social class of those who perform physical or low-skilled work for a living, as opposed to 13/21 9/6/2020 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology the professional or middle class, the upper class, or the upper middle class. Blue Collar: Describes working-class occupations, espe- cially those involving manual labor. manual labor: Any work done by hand; usually implying it is unskilled or physically demanding. Working class is a term used in the social sciences and in ordinary conversation to describe those employed in lower tier jobs (as measured by skill, education, and income), often extending to those who are unemployed or otherwise earning below-average incomes. Working classes are mainly found in industrialized economies and in the urban areas of non-industrialized economies. In the United States, the parameters of the working class remain vaguely de ned and are contentious. Since many members of the working class, as de ned by academic models, are often identi ed in the vernacular as being middle class, there is considerable ambiguity over the term’s meaning. In the...
View Full Document

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture