Social Class Status in America Hierarchies Essay

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What are the purposes of determining to which social class a person or occupation belongs? How does class background, or current class position influence individual actions? 

In creating a democratic form of government, Americans had long prided themselves for creating a radically new society divorced from the Old World social hierarchies. Yet social class stratification persisted in the United States since the birth of the nation. Social class has also intersected with gender and race throughout the history of the country. Class stratification serves several functions, not least of which is the ability of a ruling elite—including the owners of the means of production—to exploit the lower classes for labor. Moreover, the elite social classes possess social and cultural capital in addition to financial capital. Forms of social and cultural capital serve to facilitate the actions of the upper classes, while preventing those with lower status to access positions of power. The capitalist market economy exacerbated some of the class hierarchies, while also allowing for the emergence of a new middle class. Although the middle class would never possess the wealth or power of the elite, a middle class does possess some political agency, particularly when engaged in collective action. The purposes of determining to which social class a person belongs include the preservation of existing social customs and institutions; the purposes of determining to which social class an occupation belongs likewise helps to perpetuate norms of race, class, and gender.

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Ultimately, classifying people and positions according to their perceived class status is critical for preserving existing power hierarchies.

Class background does not necessarily preclude class mobility, but it can. Despite the romance of “rags to riches” stories that abound in the American psyche, dramatic upward social mobility is extremely rare: “Hardly anyone starts at the bottom of the ladder and ends up at the top,” and upward mobility opportunities are “limited” at best (“Social Class in the United States,” p. 1). Current class position will influence individual actions, and individual actions can also be constrained by class background. For example, a person from a particular class background learns values, beliefs, behaviors, and communications styles from parents and community members within the same socioeconomic milieu. Those values, beliefs, behaviors, and communication styles become part of the person’s self-concept, which in turn influences how the person is perceived by others. A person might also act from the….....

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“Social Class in the United States,” (n.d.).

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