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Social Class and Social Stratification


absolute poverty

measure of a person's inability to obtain the necessities of life, such as food, clothing, and shelter

American dream

idea that the social and political systems of the United States provide all individuals opportunities to become very successful or wealthy based on hard work and talent


class that owns property, including owning and controlling the means of production

caste system

system in which class is determined at birth and upward mobility is not allowed


group of people in a society who hold a particular social and economic status

class consciousness

awareness of shared economic, social, and political circumstances and an understanding that working together with others in the same class is necessary in order to solve problems faced by all members of the class

cultural capital

behaviors, knowledge, education, credentials, and skills that support upward social mobility

downward mobility

moving to a lower social group from a higher social group

feminization of poverty

phenomenon of women having higher rates of poverty than men


expansion of international trade, international investment, and multinational corporations


money received from wages, payments, and earnings from investments

intergenerational mobility

movement of one generation in a family to a different social position from that of another generation in the same family

intragenerational mobility

movement of individuals up or down the socioeconomic ladder over the course of their lives


working class, who own only their own labor. Members are forced to sell their labor because they have no control over the means of production.

relative poverty

measure of inequality based on the standard of living for the majority of people in a society

social capital

social assets acquired through networks of relationships that grant access to power and opportunity

social mobility

movement of individuals and groups up and down within overall social structure and social hierarchy

social stratification

hierarchical ranking of social groups based on unequal levels of wealth, power, and social status

socioeconomic status (SES)

combined measure of income, education, and occupation

status inconsistency

condition of possessing some high-status and some low-status characteristics

structural inequality

unequal access to material and symbolic rewards, including money, education, prestige, and rights

structural mobility

how broad, macroeconomic trends affect movement on the class ladder

upward mobility

moving to a higher social group from a lower social group


value of all economic assets, including income, property, investments, and debt