The topic of the paper is “Social class autobiography”. The aim of the work is to give characteristic to the notion of social class in the society, social class position. It is necessary to establish own social class and examine own class position and background, and to study the nature, characteristic and importance of the social class.
The nature and importance of social class
When identifying the social structure of the society it is necessary to remember that any theory, concepts and methods of its division into strata, classes or groups are conditional. Society itself is not divided into classes or strata, and such a division is the result of social construction, or rather, analysis and interpretation of economic and social conditions of life of people and society.
In general, the U.S. has always considered the state free from class and inequality. In America, people did not agree with European theories of classes, with a look at society as a hierarchy of classes, which predetermine all aspects of human existence. There became popular the theory of the stratum, according to which society is a “multistage continuous gradation of stairs”, where the place of man is not determined by production, as in Marxism, but the distribution factors such as education level, income, the presence of the property. Also it is important that people are more or less free to move from stratum to stratum according to their personal abilities and efforts. (Kingston, 200, p.5)
Social class can be defined as a stable large group of people within the society, community, with approximate equality in income, occupation and lifestyle, havesimilar values, interests and behavior.
Thus, social class in the U.S. is a group of people with similar social status, level of material well-being, education and other indicators. Although the division into social classes is rather conditional, however, in reality, no one doubts the division of the society to various class categories. There are several models of the U.S. division of society into classes. The simplest of them is a division of people into “rich”, “medium” and “poor”, but the reality is of course much more complicated.
Establishing the social class position
A person’s position in the society, his relationship with other people, habits, customs, beliefs, interests are largely connected with the place which he occupies in social community. The phenomenon of social position is the subject of works of many sociologists of the past and present. Numerous studies and observations of the behavior of individuals in social groups show that people with the same or similar status have closer contacts and closer relationships with each other. People, who are surrounded by equal by the status people, feel more comfortable, they do not have feelings of inferiority or vice versa, of superiority. Thus, people begin, unconsciously or consciously, to seek among the social environment people of the equal status and build on this basis social relations. In addition, numerous studies have shown that people with similar or equal status, as a rule, have similar attitudes and orientations, preferences, political priorities, and many other components of thinking and outlook.
In this regard, it is important to define the social position and social status, since they represent a completely different system of social relations and have a completely different content. To determine the differences in a particular social community (social class) is necessary to study the structural parameters that constitute the basic structural characteristics of modern society.
According to the table “How class works”, the main parameters are: occupation, education, income and wealth. (nytimes.com)
The above parameters can be referred to both a separate individual and to every social group. The totality of these parameters will determine the location or position of an individual or group in the social structure.
Establishing and analyzing the social class identity and class consciousness
According to the table in The New York Times, I can classify myself and my family to the higher middle class. When establishing my position I also used information about my parents because I am 21 years old and am a college student. Of course now I connect my position in society and social class with my family, because I am not yet 25 and I am not completely independent and don’t have independent position, respectively. Only when I finish my studies and will have a stable job and stable income, I will be able to have my own social status.
Belonging to a particular social class have great effect on the behavior and thinking of people, more than other aspects of social life. First, representatives of the upper middle and upper classes have more intangible benefits. Their children are more likely to study at prestigious universities, and will likely show better results than children of parents with not high social position. Secondly, the active life expectancy of wealthy people is greater than of the poor, as they have better life conditions and think more about their health. People belonging to higher middle and upper class have the opportunity to eat well, they do sports and usually have vacations; also they have health insurance and access to sanitation (children’s camp, spa). Third, people with a high income have a greater satisfaction from life, as belonging to a certain social class has an impact on lifestyle, on the number and quality of consumption of goods and services. According to the research, families with low income have more free time they spend watching TV but not playing sports, compared with the well-off families. Also, fast food, potato chips, frozen pizza and hamburgers are often included in the menu of families with low income. (Hamilton, 2010)
If to talk about and my family, I consider myself to be middle and upper middle class. That is why it is necessary to speak about the middle class position in the society.
Middle class is a set of social strata, occupying a middle position between upper and low classes in the system of social stratification. This class is characterized by heterogeneous situation of conflicting interests, consciousness and political behavior. (Hamilton, 2010)
As the primary social group, the middle class in developed countries (and in the USA) has a number of very important social functions. Basic among them is the social function of the stabilizer: having achieved a certain place in the social structure of society, the middle class tend to maintain the existing state system. It is necessary to point out that the middle class plays a leading role in the processes of social mobility, and it also reinforces the existing social order, protecting it from social cataclysms. In addition to the stabilizing function, the middle class plays an important role in other social processes. In the sphere of economic relations middle and upper classes play the role of economic donors, since these people are not only producers of a huge part of the income of the society, but also are major consumers, investors and taxpayers. In the cultural sphere the middle class is a cultural integrator – the guardian and disseminator of values, norms, traditions and laws of the society.
The middle class, which I belong to, is the bearer of the traditional family values, that, however, is combined with a focus on equality of opportunity between men and women in the educational, professional, cultural spheres of life. This class is a mainstay of modern society, its traditions, norms and knowledge. The middle class take active position in the political life of the country, being the guarantee of the evolutionary social development, the formation and functioning of the civil society.
Hamilton A. “Social class in America”. In Gilbert D. The American Class Structure in an Age of Growing Inequality . Pine Forge Press, 2010
“How class works”. Interactive graphics. The New York Times. nytimes.com
Kingston P. W. The Classless Society. Stanford (Ca.), 2000. P. 5.
Strasser H. “Stratum and class formation: Principles of the theory of class inequality”. The Canadian Journal of Sociology, 1980.