The American Class Structure

By Joseph A. Kahl | Go to book overview

CONCLUSIONS

In the previous chapter it was said that personal prestige in small cities seems to be determined primarily by consumption behavior. In this chapter it has been emphasized that occupation is at the root of prestige. The quotation given above from the Lynds supplies the link: "A leading citizen said . . . in discussing the almost universal local custom of 'placing' newcomers in terms of where they live, how they live, the kind of car they drive, and similar externals: 'It's perfectly natural. You see, they know money, and they don't know you.'"

Summing up the data in an abstract way, we can arrive at this synthesis: In small groups the prestige of an individual is determined by his behavior in living up to the common standards of the group. The activity that is most important to Americans is occupation. A man is successful and earns honor from his fellows to the extent that he does a good job at work (esteem) and that his work is significant (prestige). The significance of work is best measured by those who understand it: a man's colleagues on the job. They use such criteria as the skill the job demands, the talent and training necessary to produce the skill, the responsibility and authority over other men that the job entails, the pay it brings, and the nature of the product. The pay has a double function: it is granted as recognition of skill, responsibility, and authority, but it soon becomes an index of them and assumes symbolic value in its own right. The product is judged in terms of the general values of the community: it is more important to save fife than to beautify it; thus the man behind the prescription counter in the drugstore has higher prestige than the man behind the cosmetics counter. Similarly, administrative positions of high influence over the entire society are viewed with high respect.

In a small community it is quite likely that some of these occupational positions will grant universal prestige that spreads to all spheres of life. The doctor and the factory owner become the leading citizens and may run the church and the town hall. People generalize from their one role and assume that they are worthy men in all roles. It is thought just and proper that those who occupy the most significant occupational niches become the richest and most powerful men in town.

But this direct judgment of occupational qualifications becomes more difficult as the division of labor becomes more complicated. People do not know much about the activities in spheres beyond their own immediate bailiwick. They seize upon money income as the common denominator of occupational success, and begin to judge a man by it [34]. The assumption becomes a part of the culture that a rich man is rich because he occupies an important position. But of course money

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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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