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Social Class

Categories, Measurement, EffectsConclusion

Social class is a concept that has been discussed and argued about throughout the ages. Many different theories exist concerning a workable definition. The basis often used for describing social class comes from nineteenth-century German theorist Karl Marx. He believed in a three-class system consisting of capitalists, workers, and petty bourgeoisie. Since then, sociologists have provided new conceptualizations of social class. These conceptualizations include social class as more than just an economic measure. Many define social class as more of a social status, meaning people in a specific class share similar experiences, background, and position in society. Other factors that influence social class rankings are occupational prestige and general opinion of others in the community. The concept of social status from German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) is used by a number of American sociologists when explaining social class. Weber saw property, skills, and education all contributing to the concept of social class. His view is similar to and sometimes used interchangeably with socioeconomic status.

Classes are apparent in every large, complex society, such as the United States. In this type of society, roles are divided so that the group may function efficiently. Social classes continue to exist within society because people have learned how to live within them and have passed this knowledge on to the next generation. People, or families, often associate with those who are similar. They may have similar careers, incomes, and goals in life. By sticking together, people reinforce the presence of social classes. These classes extend across generations because social class is somewhat inherited. A middle-class family cannot give birth to an upper-class baby. The child is born into the social class of the parents. As the child grows, he will most likely form friendships with others similar to him, once again reinforcing the social class system.

Although it may be difficult to get a universal definition for social class and the inconsistency surrounding it is abundant, there are reasons to continue researching this concept. Social class has a large impact on how children are raised, how they are schooled, and even whom they are friends with. For these reasons, it is important that social class be taken into account when studying child development, as long as the limitations are understood.


Argyle, Michael. The Psychology of Social Class. London: Routledge, 1994.

Brantlinger, Ellen A. The Politics of Social Class in Secondary School: Views of Affluent and Impoverished Youth. New York: Teachers College Press, 1993.

Levine, Rhonda F. Social Class and Stratification: Classical Statements and Theoretical Debates. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998.

Warner, W. Lloyd, Marchia Meeker, and Kenneth Eells. Social Class in America: A Manual of Procedure for the Measurement of Social Status. Chicago: Science Research Associates, 1949.

Linda K. McCampbell

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Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 7