The American Class Structure

By Joseph A. Kahl | Go to book overview

CONCLUSIONS

We started with a query about individuals and families in American small towns: could they be placed in a rank order which reflected the prestige given them by their townsmen--and if so, what criteria were used for granting prestige?

The evidence is clear that in a rough way such a rank order exists. People do judge their neighbors according to a mental scale of prestige. There seems to be a general consensus among the townspeople: they tend to agree as to who should be placed high and who low. Furthermore, they tend to group people in clusters--in ordinary situations it is difficult to make minute comparisons that give every person a precise and unique rank; people are thus lumped together into categories of equivalent position: "the high-ups," "the in-betweens," and "the low- downs." But there seems to be less consensus regarding the way these clusters are formed than about the relative ranking of persons.

In making ratings there are both group and individual variations that reflect differences in sensitivity of perception toward various stratification behaviors and differences regarding the relative importance of those behaviors. All of these variations among informants create a problem for the investigator in synthesizing their reports: he must summarize them in a scheme that is simple enough to be useful but not so much so that it violates reality. The scheme he uses will reflect not only his own values and purposes but the technical procedures he uses to get his data.

What criteria do people use to rate each other in the context of the local community? The most accurate answer is a vague one: the way people live. Everyone recognizes that some people live in crowded slums, are lucky to get menial jobs from week to week in which they do what they are told, and have values that stress the enjoyment of the moment, whereas other people live in large houses surrounded by manicured lawns, own or manage businesses that provide steady incomes and the opportunity to tell other people what to do, and have values stressing long-run planning. Various elements are combined to make up a life pattern, though in reality the elements fit together into a functioning whole; it is therefore not surprising that informants intermix them when the investigator stands at the door demanding an answer.

The most conspicuous aspect of class behavior is consumption pattern; thus people most readily judge their neighbors by the way they spend their money. Consumption behavior, in turn, depends on income, but not on that alone, for personal values influence the spending of money: two people with pay checks of the same size may use them for

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The American Class Structure
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Introduction v
  • Preface ix
  • Contents xiii
  • Tables xvii
  • Figures xviii
  • I - The Dimensions of Class 1
  • References 16
  • II - Position and Prestige 19
  • Conclusions 47
  • References 49
  • III - Occupational Prestige and Social Change 53
  • Conclusions 85
  • References 87
  • IV - Income, Wealth, and Style of Life 91
  • Conclusions 119
  • References 122
  • V - The Web of Interaction 127
  • Conclusions 153
  • References 154
  • VI - Class Consciousness and Political Ideology 157
  • Conclusions 180
  • References 181
  • VII - Classes as Ideal Types: Emergent Values 184
  • Conclusions 215
  • References 218
  • VIII - Ethnic and Race Barriers 221
  • Conclusions 247
  • References 248
  • IX - Succession and Mobility: the Occupational Base 251
  • Conclusions 271
  • References 272
  • X - Succession and Mobility: Motivation and Education 276
  • Conclusions 293
  • References 294
  • Index 301
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