Sociology Index

Social Class

The term social class is used in many ways in sociology. Social class implies a group of individuals sharing a common situation within a social structure. In land based economies, class structures are based on individual's relationship to the ownership and control of land. Social class may refer to groups of individuals with a shared characteristic relevant in some socio-economic status measurement like individuals earning a particular sum in a year. Social class then has a statistical meaning rather than being defined by social relationships. Social class is used in discussing social structure and sociologists rely on the concept of status in which individuals within a class can be seen as having quite differentiated social situations.

A social class is a group of people that have similar social status.

Karl Marx distinguished four classes in capitalist societies:

a bourgeoisie class who own and control the means of production,

a petite Bourgeoisie of small business and professionals,

a proletariat of wage workers and

a lumpenproletariat of people in poverty and social disorganization.

Class consciousness is associated with the development of a ‘class-for-itself’ where individuals within the class unite to pursue their shared interests.

The concept assumes that there is an objective ‘class interest’ of which its members are unaware.

When divisions between social classes become obvious it is difficult for individuals to change their social class because income, wealth, education, status is shaped by their class location.

It is commonly linked to such distinctions as that between finance-based capital and industrial-based capital. This is a useful concept in avoiding the simplistic view that the ‘corporate class’ is a necessarily unified group.

A class of individuals conscious of sharing a common social situation and who unite to pursue common interests.

A social class composed of individuals who objectively share class membership.

“In How Class Works Aronowitz argues for the enduring vitality of the concept of social class as a way of understanding social relations. This is a significant contribution to social theory, an argument certain to be widely considered, debated, and tested.” - George Lipsitz.

Social Class Abstracts

Social Classes in Classical and Marxist Political Economy. - John Milios - Abstract - The notion social class attains a well-defined theoretical content in the works of the classical political economists, who defined classes on the basis of the specific income form that each category of people (class) obtains. This approach to class constitutes a first form of a "friendly merger" between political economy and sociology. When combined with the classical labor value theory, it has led to a theory of class exploitation of the laboring class by the capitalist class. As economic theory became increasingly apologetic after the "Marginalist Revolution" (setting itself the aim of justifying capitalism), the theory of class has been totally banished from the corpus of "modern (neoclassical) economic science."

Social Class and the Spirit of Capitalism - Matthias Doepke, Fabrizio Zilibotti, Journal of the European Economic Association. Abstract: One of the key social transformations that accompanied the British Industrial Revolution was the economic decline of the aristocracy. Standard theories of wealth inequality cannot explain why the aristocrats, in spite of their superior wealth and education, failed to be the main protagonists and beneficiaries of industrialization. We discuss recent research based on a model of endogenous preferences that is consistent with the demise of aristocracy.

Relationship of Gender, Self-Esteem, Social Class, and Racial Identity to Depression in Blacks - Maria B. Munford, Journal of Black Psychology, Vol. 20, No. 2, 157-174 (1994). Abstract. Previous research has indicated that depression, the most common mental illness, can be related to suchfactors as gender, self-esteem, social class, and racial identity. Subjects in this study were 146 Black university students at North Carolina Central University and 83 Black males andfemales from the general population. Results showed that higher levels of depression were associated with lower levels of self-esteem. Preencounter and encounter attitudes were positively related to levels of depression, and internalization attitudes were negatively associated with levels of depression. No significant gender differences were found in levels of self-esteem and depression, and no significant social class differences were found in levels of depression.

Lifestyle and Social Class Mark Tomlinson
ESRC Centre for Research on Innovation and Competition, Devonshire House, University of Manchester. European Sociological Review 19:97-111 (2003)
Abstract. Using data on health and lifestyles the paper attempts to show that it is possible to identify distinct niches of behaviour in British society in the 1980s and 1990s. Contrary to many current theories of consumption and lifestyle, however, it also shows that traditional notions such as social class and gender are still highly relevant to a discussion of lifestyle and consumer behaviour and may even be better determinants. The ‘post-traditional’ groups and behaviors postulated by certain ‘post-Fordist’ thinkers are no more powerful than the ‘traditional’, although the reasons why this is so remain to be explained. The analysis uses categorical data techniques on the 1985 Health and Lifestyles Survey and 1992 follow-up survey to first show the clustering of behavioural patterns, and secondly to show that these clusterings tend to be strongly associated with traditional social categories such as social class and gender.

Globalisation, Youth Expectations and Social Class: The Case of Sri Lanka
Angela W. Little, University of London - Institute of Education
Ricardo Sabatas, Centre for International Education
International Journal of Educational Development, Forthcoming
Abstract: Whether economic globalisation is associated with a narrowing or a widening of the social class gap between the education and occupation expectations of Sri Lankan youth is examined through a test of four hypotheses.
Methodologically the study employs the estimated parameters from a system of seemingly unrelated equations for testing hypotheses. Youth expectations for education and occupation are higher than those of their parents when youth. Social class effects vary among youth and fathers and mothers when youth. The occupational expectations of youth show a widening gap between the middle and low social classes. In all other comparisons, the gaps are positive, indicating a widening, but none attains statistical significance. Causal explanations are explored and the implications for future investigations are identified.

Migration and Endogamy According to Social Class: France, 1803–1986.
International Review of Social History (2005), 50:219-246 Cambridge University Press
Abstract: Does intra-national migration matter for partner choice? A number of conflicting hypotheses on the effects of migration on the likelihood of endogamy according to social class of origin are formulated and tested on the French historical record over the past two centuries. We conclude that migrants were less likely to marry endogamously, especially if they migrated from rural villages to cities; this is explained mainly by the fact that they thereby escaped the social pressure of their parents and peers and met more people from different social backgrounds. Contrary to what we expected, the relationships between migration characteristics and endogamy changed hardly at all over the two centuries. We also investigated whether temporal differences in endogamy could be explained partly by changes in migration patterns. We found that they could. The increase in the number of men and women living in or moving to cities was one particularly important cause of the decreasing likelihood of endogamy. Finally, we were interested in the possible bias in regional studies on endogamy. Our results show that this bias is especially large if these regions include only rural areas or cities. This is because the likelihood of endogamy differs between rural areas and cities, and is also especially low for people who move between these two types of region.

The Cultures of Social Class and Religious Educational Practice
Katherine Turpin - Religious Education, Volume 104, Issue 3 May 2009 , pages 315 - 331
Abstract: Although social class impacts the assumptions, values, and normative practices of Religious Education, the lack of public discourse on class diminishes awareness of and critical reflection on this impact. This article describes social class as a largely unarticulated and embodied performance of identity inflected through hierarchical practices of race, gender, and commodity consumption. The author provides examples of the impact of social-class bias on the practice of Religious Education in the context of youth ministry.

Ethnic and social class factors in residential segregation: some implications for dispersal
T R Lee - Environment and Planning 5(4) 477 – 490
Abstract. Although the social class characteristics of coloured immigrants in Britain are clearly defined, and while social class groups within the majority population display distinctive spatial patterns, very little recognition of the role of social class has been incorporated into studies of immigrant concentration and dispersal. This paper seeks to evaluate the spatial constraints on the dispersal of West Indians in London which are imposed by social class segregation within the wider population.

How Social Class Differences Affect Students' Experience of University
Journal of Further and Higher Education, Volume 28, Number 4, 2004 , pp. 407-421(15). - Routledge, part of the Taylor & Francis Group
Abstract: The present paper outlines the experiences reported by students from different social class backgrounds who have recently graduated from university. Students from manual skilled and partly skilled backgrounds were classed as disadvantaged, while students from professional or intermediate backgrounds were classed as advantaged. There was some evidence of less positive perceptions of social support among disadvantaged students. However, there were no social class differences in ratings of teaching quality and all students reported high levels of financial concern.

Social class differences in social support among older adults
N Krause and E Borawski-Clark, Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, University of Michigan, School of Public Health. - The Gerontologist, Vol 35, Issue 4 498-508
The purpose of this study is to test for social class differences in social support among older adults. Data on a comprehensive range of social support measures provided by a nationwide sample of elderly people suggests that social class differences emerge when measures of contact with friends, support provided to others, and satisfaction with support are examined. However, significant differences fail to emerge with indicators of contact with family, support received from others, and negative interaction.

The influence of social class background on childhood sport involvement.
Hasbrook, C. A.
Abstract: Two theoretical constructs of social class: life chances-economic opportunity set; and life-styles-social psychological opportunity set were operationalized within the context of sport participation and tested to determine how well they explain the social class/sport participation linkage. Life chances or the distribution of material goods and services consisted of the availability/usage of sport equipment, facilities/club memberships, and instruction/programmes. Life styles or values, beliefs and practices consisted of selected parental achievement and gender-role socialization practices that encourage, fail to encourage, or discourage sport participation. Results indicated that social class and gender interact such that degree of sport participation is stratified along social class lines for females but transcends the social structure for males. No linkage was found between kind of sport participation, as indicated by either the team/combative versus individual/dual nature of a sport or by the expense of participation in a sport, and the social class background of its participants. Life chances explained a significant portion of the degree of sport participation/social class linkage among male and female non-athletes but did not explain the relationship among female athletes. Life styles did not explain a significant portion of the sport/class linkage.

Embodying social class - The link between poverty, income inequality and health
Stephen M. Rose, Stephanie Hatzenbuehler, School of Social Work at the University of New England
International Social Work, Vol. 52, No. 4, 459-471 (2009)
Abstract: Poverty, income inequality and the inequitable distribution of health invariably co-occur. The strength of the relationship between wealth and health holds even in countries with universal health care. A systematic literature review describes pathways from inequality of wealth to embodied diseases. The significance for social policy and social work practice is developed.

The relationship between social class and childrearing behaviors: parents' perspective taking and value orientations
Dekovic, Maja, Gerris, Jan R.M., Janssens, Jan M.A.M.
National Council of Family Relations, Journal of Marriage and the Family
Abstract: Researchers developed a model to give insight into the relationship between social class and parenting behaviors. Application of the model to a sample of 237 parents supports the hypothesis that parental perspective taking is an influential variable in the relationship between social class and childrearing behavior, and that parental value orientations are not causally related to childrearing behavior. The study revealed that parental perspective mediates between social class and childrearing behavior whilst also influencing parental value orientation.

Social Class Influences on Black American Ideological Beliefs from 1980 to 2003 (Poster)
Destin, Mesmin. and Griffin, Tiffany - Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ISPP 31st Annual Scientific Meeting.
Abstract: Social class differences in the ideological orientations of Black Americans have been examined empirically over the past fifty years (e.g., Frazier, 1957; Hwang, Fitzpatrick, & Helms, 1998; Kilson, 1983; Pettigrew, 1981; Wilson, 1978). Several researchers have investigated Wilson’s (1978) controversial declaration of a declining significance of race in the ideological beliefs of Black Americans. In the current analysis, we apply Wilson’s hypothesis to an investigation of Black Americans’ social psychological and structural conditions from 1980 to 2003. We use representative samples of Black Americans in the National Survey of Black Americans (1980) and the National Survey of American Life (2003). Findings support the prediction that the increased mobility for some Black Americans, along with persistent poverty for others, has translated into heightened economic inequality, increased social distance, decreased cohesiveness, and systematic distinctions in political ideology among Black Americans over time. Although the generally liberal political orientations among Black Americans continues to receive both theoretical and empirical support (e.g.Tate, 1994), social class also appears to significantly contribute to secular trends in political beliefs. Changes over this twenty-five year period do not overwhelm the consistent liberal orientation of Black American populations toward social policies, but upper class Black Americans do show a significantly more conservative general political orientation. Together these analyses suggest that the qualitatively different experiences of relatively high and low socio-economic status Black Americans over the last quarter of the 20th century may have contributed to a growing significance of social class in demarcating different ideological positions among the population.

Social Class and Undergraduate Degree Subject in the UK
Massimiliano Bratti, University degli Studi di Milano - DEAS; Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)
Abstract: Although past research has found strong social class effects on the decision to undertake higher education in the UK, there is only sparse empirical work investigating social class influences on the choice of degree subject at the undergraduate level. Using Universities' Statistical Record data for the period 1981-1991, we find no social class effect on students' undergraduate degree subjects enrolled. Our analysis suggests that in a period pre-dating the mass expansion of higher education, the replacement of student grants with student loans and the introduction of undergraduate student tuition fees, the UK university system granted equal opportunities to students from different social classes in terms of the degree subject enrolled.

Reducing Racial And Social-Class Inequalities In Health: The Need For A New Approach
S. Leonard Syme - Health Affairs, 27, no. 2 (2008): 456-459
It is well known that people in racial and ethnic minority groups and in lower social-class positions have higher morbidity and mortality rates from virtually every disease. To effectively deal with the problem, we will need to adopt a more appropriate conceptual model that focuses on the fundamental determinants of health, we will need to understand how important this is for all Americans as a society, and we will need to better deal with the issues people care about: their children, homes, jobs, safety, education, families, retirement, and future prospects.

Inequalities in health related to social class in women: What is the effect of the measure used
BORRELL, Carme; ROHLFS, Izabella; ARTAZCOZ, Lucia and MUNTANER, Carles.
Gaceta Sanitaria, Gac Sanit [online]. 2004, vol.18, suppl.2, pp. 75-82.
Abstract: Classical theories of social stratification share the assumption that the family is the unit of stratification, using the man's occupation as a measure of social class. These theories were criticized by feminism, which claimed that women were not visible in class analysis. The present article aims firstly to review measurement of women's social class, secondly to review studies on the impact of different measures of social class on inequalities in health among women, and thirdly to illustrate the differences among alternative measures, using data from the Barcelona Health Interview Survey 2000 as an example. There are few studies analyzing inequalities in health among women that take into account several measures of social class; most studies have been performed in the United Kingdom, although some studies have been conducted in other countries.

Social class in childhood and general health in adulthood: questionnaire study of contribution of psychological attributes
Hans Bosma, senior researcher, H Dike van de Mheen, senior researcher, Johan P Mackenbach, professor.
Erasmus University Rotterdam, Department of Public Health
Objective: To determine the contribution of psychological attributes (personality characteristics and coping styles) to the association between social class in childhood and adult health among men and women.
Design: Partly retrospective, partly cross sectional study conducted in the framework of the Dutch GLOBE study.
Subjects: Sample of general population from south east Netherlands consisting of 2174 men and women aged 25-74 years. Baseline self reported data from 1991 provided information on childhood and adult social class, psychological attributes, and general health.
Main outcome measure: Self rated poor health.
Results: Independent of adult social class, low childhood social class was related to self rated poor health (odds ratio 1.67 (95% confidence interval 1.02 to 2.75) for subjects whose fathers were unskilled manual workers versus subjects whose fathers were higher grade professionals). Subjects whose fathers were manual workers generally had more unfavourable personality profiles and more negative coping styles. External locus of control, neuroticism, and the absence of active problem focused coping explained about half of the association between childhood social class and self rated poor health. The findings were independent of adult social class and height.
Conclusions: A higher prevalence of negative personality profiles and adverse coping styles in subjects who grew up in lower social classes explains part of the association between social class in childhood and adult health. This finding underlines the importance of psychological mechanisms in the examination of the negative effects of adverse socioeconomic conditions in childhood.

Social Class and Ageing Bodies: Understanding Physical Activity in Later Life
Alex Dumasa and Suzanne Labergeb - Social Theory & Health (2005) 3, 183–205.
Abstract: In most Western societies, chronic illness is an increasingly important health issue among older populations. In response, public health agencies have advocated physical activity as a strategy to improve the quality of life of older adults. At present, little is known about the processes that lead to an active or sedentary lifestyle in later life. This study is based on an analysis of data collected for a broader Canadian study on older women, physical activity and health. This paper examines dispositions to adopt physical activity across three periods in life (youth, adulthood and later life) of two groups of older women in highly contrasting living conditions. A major finding was that although dispositions towards physical activity differed greatly between the two groups during youth and adulthood, they tended to be more alike in the later phase of life. Pierre Bourdieu's theory was useful both in understanding how social class and age are important structuring principles of health behaviour in later life, and in conceptualizing the shifting effects of structural inequalities on health dispositions in life.

Social Class Journals

Race & Class - A Journal for Black and Third World Liberation - Published on behalf of The Institute of Race Relations - A. Sivanandan, Hazel Waters Institute of Race Relations. Race & Class is the foremost English language journal on racism and imperialism in the world today. For more than two decades it has established a reputation for the breadth of its analysis, its global outlook and its multidisciplinary approach. Contributors include academics, scientists, artists, novelists, journalists, politicians, and black and Third World activists and scholars.

Series: Journal of Social Issues - Psychological Meanings of Social Class in the Context of Education - Edited by: JOAN M OSTROVE and ELIZABETH COLE - ISBN: 9781405118842 
Description: This issue of JSI is an effort to engage psychologists in a critical study of social class; that is, a systematic, research-based literature focused on the exploration of the psychological meaning of social class to diverse groups of people. Because educational institutions both attempt to offer opportunity and often simultaneously reproduce existing class stratification, the context of education is an ideal stage on which to watch the dynamics and contradictions of class play out in both individual and social psychology. Focuses on understanding attitudes, beliefs and attributions about class. Examines the processes through which education may provide class mobility for some, while maintaining class status for others. Brings attention to the implications of a critical psychology of social class for both educational policy and practice.

Books On Social Class

Psychological Meanings of Social Class in the Context of Education Book by Joan Ostrove, Elizabeth R. Cole, Joan M. Ostrove

The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq : by Hanna Batatu

Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic, and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap Richard Rothstein

How Class Works : Power and Social Movement Book by Stanley Aronowitz

New Working-class Studies Book by John Russo (Editor), Sherry Lee Linkon (Editor)

Talk That Counts: Age, Gender, and Social Class Differences in Discourse Ronald K. S. MacAulay

Social Inequality: Patterns and Processes Book by Martin Marger

Boston Against Busing: Race, Class, and Ethnicity in the 1960s and 1970s Book by Ronald P. Formisano

What's Class Got to Do With It?: American Society in the Twenty-First Century Book by Michael Zweig (Editor)

Structure of Social Stratification in the United States, The (4th Edition) Book by Leonard Beeghley

Revolution And Counterrevolution: Class Struggle In A Moscow Metal Factory Book by Kevin Murphy

Social Mobility In Europe Book by Richard Breen (Editor)

Experiencing Race, Class, and Gender in the United States Book by Roberta Fiske-Rusciano, Virginia Cyrus

Adolescent Lives in Transition: How Social Class Influences the Adjustment to Middle School Book by Donna Marie San Antonio

Youth Deviance in Japan: Class Reproduction of Non-Conformity Robert Stuart Yoder

The Parlour and the Suburb : Domestic Identities, Class, Femininity and Modernity Book by Judy Giles

The Failures of Integration: How Race and Class Are Undermining the American Dream Book by Sheryll Cashin

A Theory of Global Capitalism: Production, Class, and State in a Transnational World (Themes in Global Social Change) Book by William I. Robinson

Social Inequalities in Comparative Perspective Book by Fiona Devine (Editor), Mary C. Waters (Editor)

Harvard Works Because We Do Book by Studs Terkel (Foreword), Greg Halpern.

"Social Class in America" - Bob Millar, (1995).

The Invisible Americans", Families on the Fault Line, Lillian Rubin, (1995)

Working class experiences - "Shattered Dreams", Families on the Fault Line, Lillian Rubin, (1995)

Title Condition of the working class in England
Description: Online edition of The condition of the working class in England by Friedrich Engels, originally published in 1845. The work is available as separate Web pages, organised according to the order of the chapters in the original work. Hypertext references to footnotes provided by Marx and Engels in later editions are provided. The work is made available via the Marxists Internet Archive, an online archive of freely available Marxist texts.

Bartley, M., Carpenter, L., Dunnell, K., and Fitzpatrick, R. (1996) ‘Measuring Inequalities in Health: An Analysis of Mortality Patterns from Two Social Classifications’. Sociology of Health and Illness, 18: 455-475.

Breen, R. and Rottman, D. (1995) ‘Class Analysis and Class Theory’, Sociology, 29, 3: 453-473.

Bushnell, D. (1994) ‘Priority Rules for Imputing SEG and Social Class’, Mimeo. London: ONS Social Survey Division.

Elias, P. and McKnight, A. (1996) ‘Earnings, occupations and social classification. Paper prepared under Stage II of the ESRC Review of the Social Classification’. Coventry: Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick.

Evans, G and Mills, C (forthcoming, 1997) ‘Identifying Class Structure: A latent class analysis of the criterion-related and construct validity of the Goldthorpe class schema’, The European Sociological Review.

Gallie, D. (1995) ‘Social Classifications and Employment’, paper presented at a workshop on Social Classifications, London Guildhall University, February 17.

Gallie, D. (1996) ‘New Technology and the Class Structure’, British Journal of Sociology, 47, 3:447-474.

Goldthorpe, J.H. (with C. Llewellyn) (1980) Social Mobility and Class Structure in Modern Britain. Oxford: Clarendon.

Marshall, G. (1997) Repositioning Class. London: Sage.

Marshall, G., Roberts, S. and Burgoyne, C. (1996) Social Class and Underclass in Britain and the USA, British Journal of Sociology, 47:1:22-44.

Marshall, G., Rose, D., Newby, H. and Vogler, C. (1988) Social Class in Modern Britain. London: Hutchinson.

Martin, J. (1996) ‘Classification of individual occupations by socio-economic group and social class based on occupations', Mimeo. London: ONS.