The American Class Structure

By Joseph A. Kahl | Go to book overview
The American class structure is not a completely closed one, for between one half and three quarters of the men who are in professional, business, clerical, or skilled jobs have climbed relative to their fathers. No wonder they feel that our society is open, for if they look around them they find that most of their colleagues have moved up in the occupational (and thus the class) hierarchy.The two most important factors in creating mobility have been the technological change which redistributed the labor force, opening up many new jobs in upper levels, and the fact that some sons moved down in the hierarchy, allowing others to move up. These two forces appear to have been operating at relatively constant rates, at least for the space of the last thirty or forty years. A smaller contribution to mobility has been made by differential reproduction and (for the native- born) by immigration. These two factors have been declining in importance in recent decades. Consequently, a small decline in over-all mobility has probably been taking place. The amount of mobility that has occurred has been multiplied by the fact that most sons who move do so by only one or two steps in the hierarchy; thus one new job at the top may make it possible for two or three sons to have an advance.Although there has been tremendous mobility, the American class structure is not completely open. Particularly at the extremes--the professional and top businessmen, the unskilled workers--there is much more succession or inheritance of position than would be the case under random placement. Indeed, the sons of men at the top of the system have from five to eight times more opportunity to succeed their fathers than would be the case if the structure were completely open.*Except for the relatively few sons who inherit either their fathers' businesses or enough capital to buy businesses, the advantages of being born into an elite family are indirect. Such a family shapes a boy's motivations so that he seeks occupational success, and it gives him a good education. In other words, an elite family gives its son a favorable handicap, and then sends him out into the world to compete without further help. The next chapter examines the handicapping process.
REFERENCES
Both quotations are from my interview files.
Figures for 1920 from Alba M. Edwards, U.S. Census of Population, 1940: Comparative Occupation Statistics, 1870-1940 ( Washington: Gov
____________________
*
This statement (and the work of Rogoff and of Warner and Abegglin upon which it is based) assumes no inheritance of innate talent. Because there is some inheritance, the degree of succession relative to the model of a completely open society is less than the ratios suggest.

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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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