Your class will soon be graduating from college. Some of your friends keep saying how their parents will buy them cars and pay for their holidays abroad. Is the most you can hope for a family photograph? Whatever one gets on graduation day is a clear reflection of their social class.
According to Nasseri, social class is the distinction between groups and individuals these distinctions are different from one society to another. Conversely, these divisions are also visible and different in one society. It is on the basis of age, gender, religion, education, an income that classes arise. Class in the United States is on the basis of age, education and occupation. Furthermore, there is upper class, middle class and the lower class (Distribution of wealth in America, n.d.). These differences in class are responsible for such things as where one lives, their friend to which schools they will attend and the kind of jobs they will hold; thus the rise of inequality. To sociologists, social class is major determiner of beliefs, behaviors, lifestyle and more importantly, life itself. Consider this, when the Titanic sank, 97% of the first class survived, however, only 84% of the second and 55% of the third made it (Gilbert, 2007).
According to Mantsios, (2003) one cannot only look at dollar figures and percentages if they seek to understand inequality. Even access to basic amenities can tell it all. It is evident that the distribution of wealth and income in the United States is skewed in favor of the upper class. Those who have gone to the best schools and can access the best services. Very few have a lot of the wealth and the small remainder is for subdivision among the middle class and the lower class, which is where most of the population falls. One also cannot analyze class difference on the basis of appearance. Mantsios opines that, America has been successful at hiding poverty (Class in America-2003 312). However, it is generally argued that class does not only affect one’s lifestyle and material wellbeing rather that it also affects ones physical as well as mental well being. Accordingly, there is link between social class and health. The lower class is more susceptible to certain diseases such as mental and heart diseases. Moreover, the lower class cannot access the best health care services (2003). The unequal distribution of wealth and the rising income inequality are responsible for the perseverance of classes (Devin, 1997). According to Harold Dalton, cultural myths inculcated to as in our families are also to blame (279). Most people grow up thinking that what they were born into, how things are is the way they are supposed to be.
Wealth is an aspect of social class. Wolff posits that wealth refers to the material possessions that one owns. This includes all the total assets one owns, from real estate to stocks and shares. After subtraction of debts, one then arrives at their wealth or what can also be referred to as net worth. Accordingly, the best way of measuring the distribution of wealth is by carrying out household surveys. From this it can be easier to ascertain the levels of inequality. In the US, the inequality levels have been shown to be rising. The rich only seem to be getting richer. For instance, in the survey carried out in the US in 1998, it was established that a large proportion of the wealth was owned only by a few. Thus, the richest 1% of households owned a whooping 38% of the wealth. Furthermore, the top 5% of the rich households own over half of the wealth in the US, about 59%. Ultimately, the bottoms 20% are more often than not left with nothing (2003). Thus, the ‘have’ and the ‘have nots’. By 2004, the bottom 60% of households only held a meager 4% of the national wealth. (Distribution of Wealth in America, n.d.) This results in classes, the upper class, the middle class, the working class and the lower class (also the working poor). There are also sub classes within them such as the upper and the lower middle class. While the upper class can be classified as capitalist who earn their income and make wealth from their assets, the upper middle class are just usually well paid educated managers who rely mostly on their incomes. On the other end, the lower middle class comprises of low level managers while the working class comprises of the low paid unskilled workers (Wolff, 2003).
This has important ramifications, for one, it means that the children of the wealthy can attend better schools and will hold better jobs later in life. This is very different from those who are not wealthy and just struggle to get by in life. The same goes in the access of health and even other social services. Those who have plenty have not trouble at all. Closely related to this is the power element (Wolff, 2003). Those who hold the most wealth, also happen to be the ones who hold political power as well. The result of this is that they are still going to make policies that are in their favor and seek to enrich them even more. Ultimately, it can also be argued that wealth is closely related to income. According to the distribution of wealth in America, not only does the bottom 60% of the households possess only 4% of the national income but they also just earn 26.8% of all income. More over, the argument is that for wealth to have a noteworthy impact on one’s standard of living, it first has to translate into a high income (Distribution of Wealth in America, n.d.). Thus, the more income one earns the more potential they have to create wealth. This is the reason the rich only seem to be getting richer. Think about it. They have more wealth with which they can use to make even more wealth.
Social mobility is possible, however, Dalton opines that the first step that should be taken is to challenge the myths we have grown up believing are true (283). Social mobility according to the Canadian encyclopedia is,
The movement of people from one social position to another. There can be upward or downward social mobility. Upward social mobility refers to when people to a social position that is higher than where they were before. This can happen for instance in such cases as when one gets an inheritance which considerably increases ones wealth. Conversely, as a result of a weak economy and unemployment which results in poor returns on investment and even low incomes, people may slip lower in their social class (2008).
Thus, the myth that most of America is middle class. The truth is there are very rich people and there are very poor people. Even the middle class itself has people who earn more income than others and can be considered to be wealthier than their other middle class counterparts.
Social stratification in America has seen the rise of social classes. These classes have their basis on education, gender, race, income and wealth. The richest 1% holds a massive 38% of all the wealth in America meaning those who do not fall under this bracket have to fight to stay relevant. While it is possible through social mobility to move from one class to another, the odds are clearly against the ‘have nots’. The ‘haves’ will still go to the best schools, access the best services, hold the best jobs and use their wealth to make more money.
Dalton, Harlon L. “Horatio Alger.” Rereading America. Ed. Gary Colombo, Robert Cullen, and Bonnie Lisle. 7th ed. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2007. 279, 283.
Devin, Fiona. Social class in America and Britain. Belford UK: Edinburgh University Press, 1997.
Distribution of wealth in America. n.d.
Gilbert. Social class in America. 2007.
Mantsios, Gregory. “Class in America-2003.” Rereading America. Ed. Gary Colombo, Robert Cullen, and Bonnie Lisle. 7th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007. 312
Mantsios, Gregory. Class in America in Rothenbergs, Paul S. Race, class and gender in the United States: An integrated study, 2003.
Nasseri, Hedyeh.. EzineArticles.com. n.d. Web.
The Canadian Encyclopedia. Social mobility. 2008.
Wolff Edward, The wealth divide: The growing gap in the United States between the rich and the rest. The Multinational Monitor (2003): vol 24(5)