Middle Class Identity in the Modern World: How Politics and Economics Matter

By Curtis, Josh | Canadian Review of Sociology, May 2013 | Go to article overview

Middle Class Identity in the Modern World: How Politics and Economics Matter


Curtis, Josh, Canadian Review of Sociology


ALTHOUGH THE STUDY of class identity has a strong tradition in research on politics and inequality (Centers 1949; Davis and Robinson 1988; Hodge and Treiman 1968; Jackman and Jackman 1983; Kelley and Evans 1995; Vanneman and Pampel 1977; Wright 1997), it has received little attention in recent years. The recent work focuses on either individual countries (Davis and Robinson 1998; Goldman, Cornman, and Chang 2006; Hayes and Jones 1992; Oddsson 2010; Shirahase 2010; Surridge 2007) or small groups of countries (e.g., Baxter 1994; Evans, Kelley, and Kolosi 1992; Johnston and Baer 1993; Wright 1997), making it difficult to uncover systematic cross-national differences in people's perceptions of their class position. In short, a rigorous analysis of data from many countries is necessary in order to systematically test the influence of national context on class identity. This article attempts to fill this gap.

Using World Values Survey data, the present paper explores the correlates of class identity in 15 modern societies. My purpose is to uncover the ways individual-level economic conditions, political ideology, and economic context interact in their effects on class identity. The ultimate goal is to demonstrate the conditions under which middle class identity bias--that is, identifying with the middle class regardless of objective class position--is most common.

MIDDLE CLASS IDENTITY BLAS

Research on class identification evolved from the work of Cantril (1943; 1944), Centers (1949), and others (Hodge and Trieman 1968; Ossowski 1963). Research typically finds that most people understand class labels and believe that social classes still exist (Argule 1994; Gilbert 2003; Jackman and Jackman 1983; Popitz et al. [1957] 1969; Reid 1998; Vanneman and Cannon 1987). Yet, it is also commonly found that people's self-reports of social class can be poor measures of actual class positions (Evans and Kelley 2004; Kelley and Evans 1995; Oddsson 2010; Rothman 2002). In fact, people often identify with the middle classes, regardless of their position in the social structure (Evans and Kelley 2004; Kelley and Evans 1995). Dominant middle class identities have been reported to occur in both affluent Western countries (Kelley and Evans 1995; Oddsson 2010) and former Communist countries (Evans and Kelley 2004; Evans et al. 1992).

This bias is often explained by "reference group theory," which suggests that many people cannot distinguish between classes, and for various reasons develop a dominant "middle class" consensus (Evans and Kelley 2004; Kelley and Evans 1995). This is alleged to occur because people consider themselves in relation to those around them. The homogeneity of references groups distorts people's perception of the class structure. If has also been suggested that when people refer to the "middle class" they tend to consider similarities in consumption patterns rather than production relations, income, or wealth (Clement and Myles 1994). This process of embourgeoisement is a common explanation for declining class consciousness, which is influenced by postindustrial economic change (Goldthorpe and Lockwood, 1963).

Reference group theory gets us part of the way to understanding dominant middle class identification, but it fails to explain cross-national differences. Factors at the national-level may influence the ways that people think about class and where they perceive their fit in the class structure to be. For example, some argue that when people feel that they share common interests, typically associated with economic experiences, their class identities are strengthened (Weakliem 1993). This can occur as a result of the political climate within countries or the ways in which income and wealth are distributed (Wright 1985).

Several studies argue that there is very little difference in class identity and awareness across the modern world (Evans and Kelley 2004; Kelley and Evans 1995). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Middle Class Identity in the Modern World: How Politics and Economics Matter
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.