Understanding Class: A Class Development Series Part 1

Welcome to the first post of the Class Development Series. This series will be focused on the American class system. For members outside of the American class system, take note of any differences from the US class system and see if you could apply things from this series to your life. This certainly applies to those in Westernized systems of class and structure.

Let’s begin with the definition of class in this context. As the second definition, Merrimack Webster describes class as “a group sharing the same economic or social status” and “a social rank.” To break this down further, class encompasses a group of people who grew up in similar beliefs, education, income, and environment. Every person is a part of a class status since America is a capitalist society. However, those who are not in a capitalist society will still have a class system. It’s a part of life, and it is based on human behavior to become a part of a tribe of people.

The focus in American society can be simplified into one statement, “the have and the have nots.” Those who have the income requirements, pedigree, prestige, education are the haves. The have nots do not have these things. The difference in America is there are more opportunities for those to become the “haves.” How? There are a couple of examples like education, lineage, and social climbing.

Class Routes

The first route is through education. It is one of the traditional formats of how people move up a class level in income, living area, and accessibility to new thoughts and networks. Hence, the country’s top schools like the Ivy Leagues, Stanford, etc., get serious attention from those who want to become educated AND gain a class symbol. For instance, did you know the Ivy Leagues have private members’ clubs JUST for their students and alumni? These clubs were established by former students of these institutions. British private members’ clubs inspired them to create similar clubs for their educational institutions. Through education, it is a long game for most people. It brings good results if someone applies their education well enough. Education never leaves you.

A key example of the Roosevelt Family, includes two US Presidents, one First Lady, bankers, socialites, and more in their family lines.

Next route, you have lineage, aka the pedigree of your family and their connections on class. There is nothing wrong with this. The previous family members put in the time, effort, and resources to become this important name. Outside of celebrities (even tech money), I want you to consider if you know any families local to your community that has been involved in a particular field for decades. This is a similar thought process and mindset. It is difficult for those to use this route for several reasons.

The first reason is families have trouble with keeping their family wealth after three generations, aka “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves.” Usually, the first generation is the hungriest and willing to do what it takes to build the bulk of the family line, wealth, and connections. The second generation is used to the fruits of the labor and may have trouble keeping that drive for success. By the third generation, the hungry and the money are gone if the first and second generations do not prepare well enough.

If you are an Operations member, please check out your next, private Class Development Post to read more on family investments.

The second reason for those who have succeeded in keeping their family wealth and connections, they are highly protective of their family legacy and weary of people who aim to use them. Hence, they remain exclusive and choose their places wisely, not all families are super secretive, but they are selective. That is the difference. Lineage is more important to the upper class in American society. Today some old money is associated with preppy culture and WASPs; these are the families who came from Europe to America and intermarried together with other top wealthy families as they built their wealth here. Other families on the lower end of the upper class have built their wealth through investments and business in the few decades to two centuries.

The final example of a route is through social climbing. In my personal opinion, this route is highly gender-selective towards women. Social dynamics for women versus men are different. Women tend to bond with other women for social climbing and networking. Traditionally, women are the ones who host the parties, choose the invitations, set other men up with their friends, etc. Men tend to use power dynamics to step over other men to the top of the pyramid. They occasionally use their women to reap the benefits of the woman’s hosting skills, networks, child-rearing, etc. We will go into further detail in another post.

Class Structures

All of these routes develop into class structures and separation. Today, the class structures between the middle and lower classes are spreading. Functionalist sociologists measure class structures, which determine a person’s status through education, income, and occupation. It is known as socioeconomic status (SES)The separation of class can be broken down into four general tiers:

  1. Upper Class
  2. Middle Class
  3. Working Class
  4. Lower Class

The Upper class is split into two sections: upper-upper class with the old money generations and upper-lower class with new money. According to this study by Pew Research Center, this class is considered 19% of the American population who live in upper-income households. Other studies think outside of traditional occupation income with real estate, stocks and bonds, and other investments added. These citizens include the infamous 1% of America, who live an extremely different lifestyle than the rest of the classes. They operate in communities with a high lifestyle creep and are consumption-oriented. See below for a video example. In a future blog post, we will get into class behaviors.

Middle Class is the following category and where there has been much shift happening in the last two decades in American society. According to Pew Research Center’s study, 52% of the US population live in middle-income households. This category is split into two sections: upper middle class and lower middle class, whose incomes range from $48,500 to $145,500 (2018).

Working-class have incomes less than $48,500, and they are usually grouped with the lower class. This label has changed over the years because of increased income inequality, the Boomer generation retiring, etc. This category is sometimes called the working poor.

The lower class is on the shallow end of the system to gain federal benefits as they are on the national poverty level. It was $25,624. Currently, the lower-income households are at 29%, including the working class.

Each of these levels has its behaviors and belief systems. In the next chapter, we will be discussing class beliefs, including luxury beliefs, and how class structures have changed based on new premises..