A Class Divided

There has always been a major division between social classes throughout time. In our society today we always look up to the rich because they seem to have to power. We envy their wealth and struggle throughout our lives to try to catch up to their status. But does the upper class promote the continuing social segregation between classes? Or does the working class harm them own lives in society?

By first taking a look Marger’s work “Social Inequality: Patterns and Processes”, he describes each class in detail. I think by viewing what each class’s distinctions are we can understand the positions they hold within society.

Marger introduces us into the United States class system by his own definition that “it refers to groupings of people with approximately similar income and occupation” (16). This also can take into effect that most people of the same class grow up in the same neighborhoods and attend much of the same schools. The tree social characteristics—income, occupation, and education—are referred to as socioeconomic status; which is an individual’s or group’s position within a hierarchical social structure. This also includes a place of residence and where that residence is located.

Different sociologists have different views on which amount of income is the dividing line in the six-part model of class. Marger thoroughly explains each part in depth, but I will cover the general associations of each. The model includes upper, upper-middle, lower-middle, working, working poor, and underclass.

The upper class, also referred to as the Capitalist class, derives a majority of their wealth from returns on their investments on properties as well as stocks and bonds. They also attend the most prestigious schools throughout their life. “The upper class represents a very tiny percentage of the general class structure, no more than 1 percent” (Marger, 57). There aren’t a lot of people in this part of class structure, but all their wealth combined is more than the rest of the classes put together.

Not so different from the upper class, the upper-middle class comprises about 20 percent of the United States. Most people work for the government, corporations, in medicine, or education and are employed in their positions that are important in society. “The upper-middle class has expanded more than any other during the last several decades as the occupational structure of the society has changed” (Marger, 59). This happened because there is such a greater diversity in the types of jobs that are available today as opposed to the past. Jobs have improved because of all the technology currently available.

The lower-middle class is composed of government employees, non-retail service workers, and small-business owners. This class is what is observed then as “middle America” because they hold salaries close to society’s median. This class would not survive in society without a steady job with steady income because they don’t have wealth from generations before them to fall back on. Since this class has to work most of their lives, all the classes below them have to work even harder.

The working class holds jobs from skilled workers to retail sales clerks. They work primarily for hourly minimum wages. A high school diploma and some college is the primary amount of education received. The working poor is part of the working class but is even poorer. They receive low pay and most are unable to rise above the poverty line throughout their lives. Most don’t advance beyond high school and some drop out. Taking care of their families when they’re young can become a major priority for them when they become teens. They see skilled jobs as the only resolution to help them out in their lives and view education as a waste of time.

The underclass remains in constant poverty and is dependent on government welfare. Citizens in the upper classes view them as undeserving because of their situations. Most cannot find work. This class shows no hope of improving status and therefore will remain as they are while living in the inter-city areas.

The United States never had an aristocratic authority and was therefore comprised of middle class to begin with, such as farmers and entrepreneurs. Since the middle class is comprised of upper-middle, lower-middle, and working classes, it has a wide range of salaries. This causes debate of what salary range belongs to which class because some people can fall below their class line and rise above it. It is very hard to classify each person now as opposed to when America first starting its major growth.

First the industrial society grew and created more middle-class jobs. Afterwards the post-industrial society arrived which brought about service and information jobs. These major changes brought about more jobs, but only to create more structure in society. Those who own these companies still stay at the top. Now there are managerial jobs that still qualify a person to be middle class. These have definitely expanded this class thoroughly over time and have made each sub-class more defined. Our society is undergoing a total economic reconstruction while we are changing from a manufacturing based economy of the past to the service-based economy that we have become today. Now because of technological advance and globalization our middle class is shrinking.

Social class affects Americans today because it creates standards in which to live with upper class being the ultimate goal for most peoples’ lives. I’ve never met a person who said they didn’t want to grow up to be rich. The upper class has the money to help support the decisions of this country, making it more of a capitalist class. The underclass affects our economy because everyone else who works to pay taxes to the government which in turn is handed out to the poor for their survival. There can’t be one without the other. If each person earned the same salary, under a different position, then everyone would be equal. This would cause an entire global economic shift, but no one would want to lose their status. If everyone became rich then money would be worthless.

To understand more of the history of the wealthiest upper class citizens I researched within Sharpe’s essay “The Heavy Burden of Wealth”. He believes “they [the rich] are a community because of their backgrounds, organizations connections, and similar beliefs bind them together” (Sharpe, 121). Most of the rich receive their wealth through businesses that they’ve made or that they maintain through generations. Their connections support their businesses and some work with each other, forming an alliance, while others are competing against them. These alliances generally control a segment of the category their business is in. Alliances could create monopolies if there are no other businesses to compete with them, but, nonetheless, these alliances do have power.

Sharpe states “the chief officers and directors of the largest American corporations and banks form an interwoven group of friends and acquaintances…who know each other as members of boards of directors, business associations, policy groups, country clubs, neighborhoods, or as graduates of a select list of boarding schools and universities that attract the wealthy” (121). To be able to know these people one would have to have money to attend the same schools and activities to be able to interact. Without money one would not attend the same events of have status among the rich. These people would not be influential in business transactions because they could not support the same endeavor as an investor. The ultra rich are indeed a social community of their own.

“It wields power by supplying the most powerful American organizations—the largest corporations and banks, the most influential policy-making groups, and the federal government—with a disproportionate number of top officials” (Sharpe, 122). The people with the power usually keep it within their family passion the theoretical torch on through the generations. They introduce the heir into the company at a young age to familiarize them with business associates that they will interact with in the future. Some of the rich actually have held high positions in the government and use their power to approve of deny policies to be passed. Others informally discuss these policies and pass on their recommendations to the government.

While explaining the relationship between power and wealth Marger notes, “a key distinction of the rich from others is that most do not derive the bulk of their income from their occupations” (81). A majority of the rich stay rich with the help of their investments, stocks, bonds, assets, and also the wealth that has stayed in their families for several generations. Income covers only a small part of their wealth. The wealthy are segregated within themselves as being born into families with money or earn their money from a booming companies.

Marger also notes, “It was these families that formed the core of the American upper class and emerged as the closest the United States has come to an aristocracy” (86). He is referring to the families that are born into money because they gained their money through the rise of the Industrial age of the nineteenth century. They have maintained either money and expanded their wealth over time. They also have a certain lifestyle to adhere by: private clubs, operas, boarding schools and Ivy League colleges. On the other hand, the nouveau riche cannot join into that segment of the upper class because they don’t qualify as having the same status.

Positions of power, such as Presidency or Supreme Court, may not be maintained by the truly wealthy. Marger states, “The wealthiest in society, then, are not necessarily the mot powerful” (91). He goes on further to explain that the rich have a helping hand in the electoral and policy-making processes. I think that since the rich believe they have status that they are able to achieve friends with power. Our society proves this to be true. Marger believes that the wealth of an institution is more important than personal wealth. I agree because it gives the upper class another control in society. But in modern society the elite care more about their social status than society itself.

MacLeod writes about tow specific groups of boys, one white and one black, which grew up in the same project: Clarendon Heights. Both groups are members of the working poor class. He interviews them constantly on their aspirations and expectations in their lives during their high school years. These two working poor class groups, the Hallway Hangers and the Brothers, each have very different views in life.

MacLeod begins with this statement, “In this view, success is based on merit, and economic inequality is due to differences in ambition and ability” (3). He is referring to the two groups who each share a commonality of living with the city project. The Hallway Hanger’s (HH) have no high aspirations for them selves in life and the Brothers believe that if they put their mind to it, anything is possible. The HH’s view is impacted by what they know about the opportunities available in their future will be like. They don’t think they can accomplish anything so they give up too soon and fight against pursuing anything worthwhile, like education.

The Brothers show high aspirations to have a better life than they currently have at that time. They want to be able to support a family in their future and support their parents too. MacLeod suggests “some of the Brothers aspire to middle-class occupations partly because they do not see signification societal barriers to upward mobility” (7). They view themselves at the bottoms with nowhere to go but up, and they don’t see themselves as “stuck” in one class’s barriers. They have aspirations to the Horatio Alger myth in which anyone can make it to the top with enough perseverance. So in a sense then anyone can strive to be wealthy when they find a decent opportunity and when they have friends in the upper classes.

MacLeod explains social reproduction while commenting, “Schools socialize students to occupy roughly the same position in the class structure as that of their parents” (13). Schools separate the children immediately into distinct “categories” between the working parents and the social elite. These children are treated different from one another and are given different opportunities to grow mentally. Children of the workers are more apt to be taught in a conforming environment while the elite are taught less strictly and encouraged to be more independent in school as well as life.

The HH all received uninvolved parenting methods while growing up, their older siblings have often been/or are in jail as well as their fathers. They don’t have high hopes of their own situations changing throughout their lifetimes; if they did view themselves in twenty years, it was often worse off than they were at the present time. They don’t view schooling as a method to get a good job. The ultimate goal they have is to be able to support their wives and kids on a minimum-wage job when they’re older. They are prejudiced toward women because they see them only as a person to give them children. They don’t seem to want to be involved in their children’s lives because they parents were not involved in their lives. It would be degrading to them if their wife had to work to help support the family because they grew up without their mothers working.

If this group were to prosper they would be bringing with them the views they currently have. They wouldn’t want women to work or would not view them as equals. If they would own their own companies, they would discriminate on who would be employed. Their sexist views could be the downfall if they did “make it big” in society.

Referring to Marger under the section of occupational concentration he suggests to “not how jobs with the highest percentage of women are those that involved interpersonal skills assumed to be natural to women” (332). I worked in a retail position of customer service for over three years. It wasn’t necessarily that the people whom I worked with decided that I should have that position because I’m a girl, rather I moved up to that position from cashier because I did my job well and I was a respected employee. I never advanced further within the company because it is society’s view that managers were primarily male. I often got looked over for my sex and my age as being helpful to the customers. The managers ultimately chose who would be part of the grocery crew and because they only hired males to be a part of that team, their sexist views showed well.

These managers, as far as I learned, were from working class backgrounds. To relate them to the Brothers with their aspirations, these men are now supporting their families on a full time salary within a corporation. If the HH looked up to them when they were in school they would be able to see that there is hope for an adequate job in their futures with only a high school education. No one showed them all the options of what they could do in their future and I think that is a downfall in the school system for them; a reason to leave because they don’t see any use with a diploma.

The Brothers all grew up in a more authoritarian household where their parents disciplined them for neglecting house rules. Their parents also took concern in their schooling and encouraged them to attend college after finishing high school. They have positive outlooks on life and think the negative attitudes of the HH are the reason for their failure. Their parents and teachers helped the Brothers realize that they do have a career to look up to and they believed in the school systems.

We have in effect today a No Child Left Behind law (Freeman). The high schools in my town were designed for a general education diploma. Granted we did have advance placement and college prep courses as well as generic level classes (freshman English), but never different programs. The whole school was intertwined and whatever class you were placed in, unless you complained to your guidance counselor to switch it, or got dropped, you were there the entire semester/year.

I started off in College Prep history courses until the last quarter of my sophomore year where I ended up failing; the class was predominately white. I was moved into the generic World History class where the work was slow paced in comparison and the class was filled with more minorities who complained much about the workload. I received an A and balanced off my F with a C grade for the semester. Many of the students were doomed to repeat the class, but with this law in effect the teacher saw fit to curve the grades so only the students who didn’t show up never passed. I don’t believe this actually helps the students, especially if they are planning on attending college.

I think the select few will become overwhelmed by the workload that college offers. Time management is the most important thing during school. A student can’t skip classes everyday and expect to receive their Bachelors degree, so why are we letting the high school students abide by this law? The skippers should have to realize the error of their ways if they want to advance in society. The HH are giving up because they do no see that they can advance enough to attend college, let alone even graduate high school to get a job. They see themselves stuck either way and are harming any chance of advancement with their pessimistic attitudes.

Marger talks about race and inequality which fits in with MacLeod’s writing. Most people attach a stigma because of past events, like the Hallway Hangers, and cannot get beyond what they see. Each has different backgrounds but they both are in the same place, Clarendon Heights, and are basically in the same situations in life. The HH choose to turn to drugs and to steal instead of getting a job later in life. They don’t believe they can do any better in life and still carry their defeatist attitudes.

The Brothers choose to do well in school and excel in sports instead of ruining their chances of getting out. They know that they have to work hard to do well in life and intend on doing just that. They value their friendships and pursue their goals accordingly. It is interesting to see that each group comes from the same place and grew up with the same lifestyles and turned into complete opposite personalities.

While the ultra rich were always secure in their lives because they always had money, these two groups struggled to make ends meet all their lives. The way I view society today is like a caste system. Those with the most power, money equals power, stay at the top. Where/When did society first start viewing themselves this way?

Take a look at Jane Tompkins essay “’Indians’: Textualism, Morality, and the Problem of History”, she writes about how historians write about what they perceive to see. She said, “These judgments and descriptions are a function of the historian’s position in relation to the subject” (666). If the historian believes that the first Europeans are superior because they are “civilized” then that is how they will interpret them into their own text. The writer chooses what to include. There are no outside sources that pressure him to change what he perceives.

When the first Europeans came into contact with the Indians, the first inhabitants of the new continent, Tompkins said of the historians, “what concerned these writers most when they described the Indians were the insignia of social class, or rank, and of prestige” (666). The writers distinguished each Indian from the next with a level of ranking within their own society, primarily the Chief being at the top. The authors were not concerned with their appearance, but with how their society functioned; how they discriminated socially among themselves. If the Europeans that started the new colony were wealthy, they would take their ideals from their youth and apply it within the new society. Also, since they see how the tribes of the Indians work, they assume it to be an order of nature.
Works Cited

Freeman, Eric. “No Child Left Behind and the Denigration of Race”. Equity & Excellence in Education. 38:3, 2005: 190-191.

MacLeod, Jay. Ain’t No Makin’ It: Aspirations and Attainment in a Low-Income Neighborhood. Colorado: Westview Press, 1987.

Marger, Martin. Social Inequality: Patterns and Processes. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Sharpe, Mike. “The Heavy Burden of Wealth”. Challenge 49:5, Oct. 2006: 121-125.

Tompkins, Jane. “’Indians’: Textualism, Morality, and the Problem of History”. Critical Inquiry 1986: 654-670


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