Unformatted text preview: 6/29/2021 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology Boundless Sociology
Stratification, Inequality, and Social Class in the U.S. The Class Structure in the U.S. … 1/21 6/29/2021 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology Network
See Mor Class Structure in the U.S.
American society is stratified 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
three-tier structure that includes the upper, middle, and
lower classes, but variations delineate an upper-middle
class and a working class. … 2/21 6/29/2021 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology High income earners likely are substantially educated,
have high- status occupations, and maintain powerful
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 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
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 stratified 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 definitions, 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 … 3/21 6/29/2021 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology 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 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 significant
control over corporations and political institutions, and their privilege is usually inherited; the corporate elite consists of highsalaried stockholders, such as
corporate CEOs, who did not
necessarily inherit privilege but
have achieved high status
through their careers; the uppermiddle class consists of highly United States Social Classes: While
social scientists offer competing
models of class structure, most
agree that society is stratified by
educational attainment. educated salaried professionals
whose occupations are held in
high esteem, such as lawyers, engineers, and professors; the middle
class (the most vaguely defined 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 … 4/21 6/29/2021 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology 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 Significance of U.S. Social
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 different 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 stratified 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 defined by its members’ great wealth and power. … 5/21 6/29/2021 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology LEARNING OBJECTIVES Discuss the most important characteristics of the upper class
in the U.S. 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 identified as members of the upper-most socioeconomic demographic, depending on the class model
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 profit 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 … 6/21 6/29/2021 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology in this class commonly have immense influence 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 influence and wealth. The
main distinguishing feature of this class is their source of income. While
the vast majority of people and households derive their 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 identified 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 affluence falls far short of that attained by the top
percentile. The super-rich, according to Beeghley, are those able to live
off their wealth without depending on occupation-derived income. This
demographic constitutes roughly 0.9% of American households.
Beeghley’s definition of the super-rich is congruent with the definition 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. … 7/21 6/29/2021 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology LEARNING OBJECTIVES Identify the central characteristics of the upper-middle class in
the U.S. 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
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
influential 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
salaried professionals: White-collar employees whose work is largely self-directed and is compensated with
an annual salary, rather than an hourly wage. … 8/21 6/29/2021 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology 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 define 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.
In 1951, sociologist C. Wright Mills conducted one of first major studies of
the middle class in America. According to his definition, 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 semi-professionals. While the groups overlap, differences between those at the center of
both groups are considerable.
Among modern sociologists, the American upper-middle class is defined
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-figure 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 influential 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 ad- … 9/21 6/29/2021 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology vanced 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. 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 differences between the lower and upper-middle
class -… 10/21 6/29/2021 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology KEY TAKEAWAYS Key Points 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
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 upper-middle class.
In American society, the middle class is often divided into the lower-middle class and upper-middle class. The lower-middle class (also sometimes simply referred to as the middle class) consists of roughly one third -… 11/21 6/29/2021 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology 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.
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 house- -… 12/21 6/29/2021 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology holds had two income earners, with the majority of those in the top 40%
of gross income, household income figures would be significantly 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 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 differences in class culture may affect 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 differences 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. -… 13/21 6/29/2021 The Class Structure in the U.S. | Boundless Sociology Working classes are mainly found in industrialized economies and in the urban areas of non-industrialized
Key Terms working class: The social class of those who perform physical or low-skilled work for a living, as opposed to
the professional or middle class, the upper class, or the
upper middle class.
Blue Collar: Describes working-class occupations, es- pecially 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
In the United States, the parameters of the working class remain vaguely
defined and are contentious. Since many members of the working class,
as defined by academic models, are o...
View Full Document