Summary: The American Socioeconomic Class System

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The American socioeconomic class system is a permanent fixture in our culture. While the class system is universally recognized its structure and determining factors are the subject of widespread debate. The most traditional school of theory of social structure divides the country into three distinct classes: high, middle and low, based on income level. In Notes on Class, Paul Fussell contends that this “quasi-official division rather misses the point because as a class indicator the amount of money is not as important as the source.”(1) In an effort to better understand our societal order this paper will critically analyze the determining factors of social class and its effects on people. Categorizing people into their assigned social classes…show more content…
In their article Class Identification of Married Employed Women and Men in America, esteemed sociology professors Kazuo Yamaguchi and Yantao Wang offer another theory on the intricacies of class and its determinant factors. They contend that social class and perception is determined by “education, income and occupational prestige.” (2) This matrix is meant to be applied to both individuals and families when assigning the classes. Because this article was published some twenty years after Notes on Class it better takes into account families where there are two income earning parents and seeks to categorize them based on the mean of their incomes, levels of education and occupational prestige. Like Fussell, Yamaguchi and Wang’s theory implies that it is possible, when comparing two individuals, for someone of a substantially lower income to still be placed in a superior social class. For example, a successful banker with an MBA from a reputable business school would be placed at a higher strata than a NASCAR driver annually making five to six times the bankers salary. The key difference in these two theories is that the work of Yamaguchi and Wang doesn’t directly subdivide the upper class by inheritance and family prestige like Paul Fussell does. In Notes on Class it is noted that the key distinction among the top three of Fussell’s nine…show more content…
Consciously or unconsciously, as a people we have a tendency to categorize people by our individual and collective interpretation of the class system. As a result these classifications are a considerable contributing factor to our own self-worth as individuals. In Having Less Giving More Dr. Paul K. Piff states that “social class identity influences an individual’s life circumstances and patterns of construal in ways that are similar to other social identity constructs.”(2) In other words, our assigned social classes are an integral factor in determining not only our everyday lifestyle and future prospects but the way we perceive the world around us. This means that whether we like to admit it or not social class perception is just as integral to who we are as our country of origin or where were

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