Most societies, especially nation states, seem to have some notion of social class.. However, class is not a universal phenomenon. Many hunter-gatherer societies do not have social classes, often lack permanent leaders, and actively avoid dividing their members into hierarchical power structures.
The factors that determine class vary widely from one society to another. Even within a society, different people or groups may have very different ideas about what makes one "higher" or "lower" in the social hierarchy. The most basic class distinction between the two groups is between the powerful and the powerless. Social classes with more power usually subordinate classes with less power, while attempting to cement their own power positions in society. Social classes with a great deal of power are usually viewed as elites, at least within their own societies.
In the less complex societies, power/class hierarchies may or may not exist. In societies where they do exist, power may be linked to physical strength, and therefore age, gender, and physical health are common delineators of class. However, spiritual charisma and religious vision can be at least as important. Also, because different livelihoods are so closely intertwined in less complex societies, morality often ensures that the old, the young, the weak, and the sick maintain a relatively equal standard of living despite low class.
Determinants of class
In so-called non-stratified societies or acephalous societies, there is no concept of social class, power, or hierarchy beyond temporary or limited social statuses. In such societies, every individual has a roughly equal social standing in most situations.
In societies where classes exist, one's class is determined largely by:
- education and qualifications
- income, personal, household and per capita
- wealth or net worth, including the ownership of land, property, means of production, et cetera
Those who can attain a position of power in a society will often adopt distinctive lifestyles to emphasize their prestige and to further rank themselves within the powerful class. Often the adoption of these stylistic traits is as important as one's wealth in determining class status, at least at the higher levels:
- costume and grooming
- manners and cultural refinement. For example, Bourdieu suggests a notion of high and low classes with a distinction between bourgeois tastes and sensitivities and the working class tastes and sensitivities.
- political standing vis-à-vis the church, government, and/or social clubs, as well as the use of honorary titles
- reputation of honor or disgrace
- language, the distinction between elaborate code, which is seen as a criterion for "upper-class", and the restricted code, which is associated with "lower classes"
Finally, fluid notions such as race can have widely varying degrees of influence on class standing. Having characteristics of a particular ethnic group may improve one's class status in many societies. However, what is considered "racially superior" in one society can often be exactly the opposite in another. In situations where such factors are an issue, a minority ethnicity has often been hidden, or discreetly ignored if the person in question has otherwise attained the requirements to be of a higher class. Ethnicity is still often the single most overarching issue of class status in some societies (see the articles on apartheid, the Caste system in Africa, and the Japanese Burakumin ethnic minority for examples). However, a distinction should be made between causation and correlation when it comes to race and class. Some societies have a high correlation between particular classes and race, but this is not necessarily an indication that race is a factor in the determination of class.
The Middle Class
For most of recorded human history, societies have been agricultural and have existed with essentially two classes - those who owned productive agricultural land, and those who worked for them. The landowning class often arranged itself into a sometimes elaborate hierarchy based on the criteria listed in the previous section, without changing the essential power relationship of owner and worker. About the 1770s, when the term "social class" first entered the English lexicon, the concept of a "middle class" within that structure was also becoming very important. The Industrial Revolution was allowing a much greater portion of the population time for the kind of education and cultural refinement once restricted to the European leisure class of large landholders. Also, the far greater distribution of news and liberal arts knowledge was making workers question and rebel against the privileges and religious assumptions of the leisure class. Today, most talk of social class assumes three general categories: an upper class of powerful owners, a middle class of people who may not exert power over others but do control their own destiny to a certain extent through commerce or land ownership, and a lower class of people who own neither property nor stock in the corporate system, and who rely on wages from above for their livelihood. Since the Age of Revolution, Eurocentric governments have generally upheld the middle class as the ideal, and have at least claimed to be working toward expanding it. Especially in the United States, the ideal of a middle class reached via the American Dream is of central importance when discussing social class.
U.S. middle class
Today in the United States there are multiple theories as to what constitutes the middle class. As the vast majority of Americans identify as being middle class, the term has been used to describe people from all walks of life, from janitors to attorneys. As a result the middle class is often sub-divided into two or three groups. While one set of theories claim that the middle class is composed of those in the middle of the social strata, other theories maintain that professionals and managers who have a college degree make up most of the middle class. In 2005 roughly 35% of Americans worked in the professional/professional support or managerial field and 27% had a college degree. Sociologists such as Dennis Gilbert or Joseph Hickey argue that the middle class is divided into two sub-groups. The upper middle class consists of white collar professionals with advanced educations and constitutes roughly 15% of the population. In 2005 the top 15% of income earners (age 25+) had incomes exceeding $62,500. The lower middle class (or middle-middle class for those who divide the middle class into three segments) consists of other mostly white collar employees with less autonomy in their work, lower educational attainment, lower personal income and less prestige than those of the upper middle class. Sociologists such as Dennis Gilbert, James Henslin, William Thompson and Joseph Hickey have brought forth class models in which the middle class is divided into two sections which combine to represent 47% to 49% of the population. Economist Michael Zweig defines class as power relationships among the members of a society, rather than as a lifestyle or by income.  Zweig says that the middle class is only about 34% of the U.S. population, typically employed as managers, supervisors, small business owners and other professional people.
Class structure in various societies
Although class can be discerned in any society, some cultures have published specific guidelines to rank. In some cases, the ideologies presented in these rankings may not concur with the mainstream power dialectic of social class as it is understood in modern English use.
The Indian caste system is one of the oldest and most important systems of social class with peculiar rigidity (in the sense that it lacks upward or downward mobility between castes). It differs from Varnashrama Dharma found in Hinduism, which allowed people born into a certain Varna to move upward or downwards depending on their qualification. It divided society based on skill and qualifications. Briefly, the Brahmin varna was idealized as a leisurely priest class devoted to religious ceremonies, while the Kshatriya defended them as military princes. The modern concept of the middle class was represented by the Vaishya varna artisans, farmers, and merchants, and the lower varna were the Shudra laborers. Within this basic framework were arranged a huge number of jatis, or subcastes. Despite being notorious for its rigidity, it should be recognised not as a religious system (as Varnashrama Dharma prescribed in Hinduism), but a social system, which evolved from Varnashrama Dharma.
In pre-Confucian China, the feudal system divided the population into 6 classes. 4 noble classes with the king (王) at the top, followed by the dukes (諸侯), then the great men (大夫) and finally the scholars (士). Below the noble classes were commoners (庶民) and slaves (奴隸). Confucian doctrine later minimized the importance of the nobles (except the emperor), abolished great men and scholars as noble classes, and further divided commoner workers based on the perceived usefulness of their work. Scholars (now not exclusively nobles) ranked the highest because the opportunity to conceive clear ideas in a state of leisure would lead them to wise laws (an idea that has much in common with Plato's ideal of a philosopher king). Under them were the farmers, who produced necessary food, and the artisans who produced useful objects. Merchants ranked at the bottom because they did not actually produce anything, while soldiers were sometimes ranked even lower because of the destruction they caused. The Confucian model is notably different from the modern European view of social class, since merchants could attain great wealth without reaching the social status accorded to a poor farmer. In practice, a rich merchant might purchase land to reach farmer status, or even buy a good education for his heirs in the hopes that they would attain scholar status and go into the imperial civil service. The Chinese model was widely disseminated throughout east Asia. 
The Japanese class structure, while influenced by the Chinese, was based on a much more feudal environment. The Emperor, as a deity, was unquestionably at the pinnacle of the Japanese class structure (and still is, despite no longer being considered a god). However, for most of Japanese history the emperor was not allowed outside the palace grounds and his will was "interpreted" by a shogun, or military dictator. Beneath the shogun, daimyos or regional lords, administered the provinces through their samurai lieutenants. Perhaps through Chinese influence, and perhaps springing from a lack of arable land, the Japanese class structure also ranked farmers above merchants and other bourgeois.
Under the Qajar dynasty of Iran, the class structure was set up as follows:
- the permanent hereditary class of Qajar princes
- an upper class of "nobles and notables"
- religious leaders and students of theology
- merchants (note the difference from east Asian models)
- agricultural landowners
- master artisans and shopkeepers
As in many official class structures, the laborers who made up the majority of the population but owned no land and relied on wages were not even considered part of the structure at all. 
France was an absolute monarchy for most of its history, with the king at the pinnacle of the class structure. However, the French States-General, established in 1302, provided a sort of legislative assembly with its members ranked according to hereditary class. The First Estate consisted of the highborn sons of great families who had devoted themselves to religion (compare to the Indian Brahmins, Confucian scholars, and Qajar theology students). The Second Estate consisted of all other members of the nobility, who constituted approximately two percent of the total population. The Third Estate consisted, technically, of everyone else, but was represented only by the richest members of the bourgeoisie. In truth, the peasantry had no voice at all in the system, as contrasted with the ideologically high status of farmers in Confucian China. The rigidity of the French hereditary system has been suggested as a major cause of the French Revolution.
In some countries like Mexico, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Brazil and Chile access to positions of power and wealth were delineated by race. Accordingly, Peninsulars (Spaniards born in Spain) held the top ranks- including titles such as Viceroy, Captain General, etc. They were followed by Criollos (Those directly descended from Spaniards but born in America), who held considerable power and class but were barred from the highest decision-making posts. After these there was a system of castes, listed in order of rank, there were around a hundred castes, one of these were:
- Mestizo (Mixed Amerindian and Spaniard);
- Mulatto (Mixed Spaniard and African)
- Zambo (Mixed Amerindian and African)
It is to be noted that even today there is a strong correlation between class and ethnicity. In some countries.
The Parliament of the United Kingdom still contains a vestige of the European class structure undone in France by the Revolution. The Queen maintains her status at the top of the social class structure, with the House of Lords up until very recently still representing the hereditary upper class and the House of Commons technically representing everyone else. Because of the electoral rules, however, the House of Commons historically (until the late 19th, early 20th centuries) represented the Landed classes. In the Victorian era of the United Kingdom, social class became a national obsession, with nouveau riche industrialists in the House of Commons trying to attain the status of House of Lords landowners through attempts to dress, eat, and talk in an upper class manner, marriages arranged to achieve titles, and the purchase of grand country houses built to emulate the old aristocracy's feudal castles. It was the Victorian middle class who tried to distance themselves from the lower class with terms such as "working class", which seemed to imply that their new white collar positions couldn't really be considered "work" since they were so clean, modern, and safe.
It was also in 19th century Britain that the term Fourth Estate was used to describe the press. Thomas Carlyle equated the Queen to France's First Estate of clergy, the House of Lords to France's Second Estate of hereditary aristocracy, and the House of Commons to France's Third Estate of rich bourgeoisie. But he then pointed out that the editors of newspapers in Britain's booming Industrial Revolution (similar to the pamphleteers before and during the French Revolution) held powerful sway over public opinion, making them equally important players in the political arena. The political role of the media has become ever more important as technology has blossomed in the 20th and 21st centuries, but few academic models today set aside the media as a specific class.
It remains important in any analysis of social class in the UK to allow for regional variations. What may be true of England may be untrue or at least less true of Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales. Attempts to assume a 'British' class system rarely produce useful or reliable results. Scotland's population's inter-class relations are (from an English point of view) confused by the vestiges of the clan system. Wales had most of its nobility killed off in a series of conflicts between different families and different centres of power, and of course with England. The upshot of this, according to historian Gwyn Alf Williams in his book When Was Wales, has been a country which thinks of itself as being of a single class, like Czechoslovakia.
The social structure of the United States is a vaguely defined concept which includes several commonly used terms that use educational attainment, income and occupational prestige as the main determinants of class. While it is possible to create dozens of social classes within the confines of American society, most Americans employ a six or five class system. The most commonly applied class concepts used in regards to contemporary American society are:
- Upper class; Those with great influence, wealth and prestige. Members of this group tend to act as the grand-conceptualizers and have tremendous influence of the nation's institutions.
- Upper middle class; The upper middle class consists of white collar professionals with advanced post-secondary educational degrees and comfortable personal incomes. Upper middle class professionals have large amounts of autonomy in the workplace and therefore enjoy high job satisfaction. In terms of income and considering the 15% figure used by Thompson, Hickey and Gilber, upper middle class professionals earn roughly $62,500 or more and tend to reside in households with six figure incomes.
- (Lower) middle class; Semi-professionals, non-retail salespeople and craftsmen who have some college education. Out-sourcing tends to be a prominent problem among those in this class who often suffer from a lack of job security. Households in this class may need two income earners to make ends meet and therefore may have household incomes rivaling the personal incomes of upper middle class professionals such as attorneys.
- Working class; According to some experts such Michael Zweig, this class may constitute the majority of Americans and include those otherwise referred to as lower middle. It includes blue as well as white collar workers who have relatively low personal incomes and lack college degrees with many being among the 45% of Americans who have never attended college.
- Lower class; This class includes the poor, alienated and marginalized members of society. While most individuals in this class work, they commonly drift in and out of poverty throughout the year.
It was in Victorian Britain that Karl Marx became the first person to critically attack the privileges not just of a hereditary upper class, but of anyone whose labor output could not begin to cover their consumption of luxury. The majority proletariat which had previously been relegated to an unimportant compartment at the bottom of most hierarchies, or ignored completely, became Marx's focal point. He recognized the traditional European ruling class ("We rule you"), supported by the religious ("We fool you") and military ("We shoot at you") élites, but the French Revolution had already shown that these classes could be removed. Marx looked forward to a time when the new capitalist upper class could also be removed and everyone could work as they were able, and receive as they needed.
Karl Marx defined class in terms of the extent to which an individual or social group has control over the means of production. In Marxist terms a class is a group of people defined by their relationship to the means of production. The prerequisite for classes is existence of sufficient surplus product. Marxists explain the history of "civilized" societies in terms of a war of classes between those who control production and those who produce the goods or services in society. In the Marxist view of capitalism, this is a conflict between capitalists (bourgeoisie) and wage-workers (the proletariat). For Marxists, class antagonism is rooted in the situation that control over social production necessarily entails control over the class which produces goods -- in capitalism this is the exploitation of workers by the bourgeosie.
Marx himself argued that it was the goal of the proletariat itself to displace the capitalist system with socialism, changing the social relationships underpinning the class system and then developing into a future communist society in which: "..the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all." (Communist Manifesto).
Vladimir Lenin has defined classes as "large groups of people differing from each other by the place they occupy in a historically determined system of social production, by their relation (in most cases fixed and formulated in law) to the means of production, by their role in the social organisation of labour, and, consequently, by the dimensions of the share of social wealth of which they dispose and the mode of acquiring it." A Great Beginning
The most important transformation of society for Marxists has been the massive and rapid growth of the proletariat in the world population during the last two hundred and fifty years. Starting with agricultural and domestic textile labourers in England and Flanders, more and more occupations only provide a living through wages or salaries. Private enterprise or self-employment in a variety of occupations is no longer as viable as it once was, and so many people who once controlled their own labour-time are converted into proletarians. Today groups which in the past subsisted on stipends or private wealth -- like doctors, academics or lawyers -- are now increasingly working as wage labourers. Marxists call this process proletarianisation, and point to it as the major factor in the proletariat being the largest class in current societies in the rich countries of the "first world." However, only in the strongly social-democratic societies such as Sweden is there much long-term evidence of the weakening of the consequences of social class.
The increasing dissolution of the peasant-lord relationship (see pre-capitalist societies), initially in the commercially active and industrialising countries, and then in the unindustrialised countries as well, has virtually eliminated the class of peasants. Poor rural labourers still exist, but their current relationship with production is predominantly as landless wage labourers or rural proletarians. The destruction of the peasantry, and its conversion into a rural proletariat, is largely a result of the general proletarianisation of all work. This process is today largely complete, although it was arguably incomplete in the 1960s and 1970s.
Dialectics, or historical materialism, in Marxist class
Marx saw class categories as defined by continuing historical processes. Classes, in Marxism, are not static entities, but are regenerated daily through the productive process. Marxism views classes as human social relationships which change over time, with historical commonality created through shared productive processes. A 17th century farm labourer who worked for day wages shares a similar relationship to production as an average office worker of the 21st century. In this example, it is the shared structure of wage labour that makes both of these individuals "working class."
Objective and subjective factors in class in Marxism
Marxism has a rather heavily defined dialectic between objective factors (i.e., material conditions, the social structure) and subjective factors (i.e. the conscious organization of class members). While most Marxism analyses people's class based on objective factors (class structure), major Marxist trends have made greater use of subjective factors in understanding the history of the working class. E.P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class is a definitive example of this "subjective" Marxist trend. Thompson analyses the English working class as a group of people with shared material conditions coming to a positive self-consciousness of their social position. This feature of social class is commonly termed class consciousness in Marxism, a concept which became famous with Georg Lukacs's History and Class Consciousness (1923). It is seen as the process of a "class in itself" moving in the direction of a "class for itself," a collective agent that changes history rather than simply being a victim of the historical process. In Lukacs' words, the proletariat was the "subject-object of history", and the first class which could separate false consciousness (inherent to the bourgeois's consciousness), which reified economic laws as universal (whereas they are only a consequence of historic capitalism).
The seminal sociological interpretation of class was advanced by Max Weber. Weber formulated a three-component theory of stratification, with class, status and party (or politics) as subordinate to the ownership of the means of production, but for Weber how they interact is a contingent question and one that will vary from society to society. Weber is also known for his six "American Dream" Values which are: 1) Hard work, 2) Universalism, 3) Individualism, 4) Wealth, 5) Activism, and 6) Rationality.
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There have been fierce debates in the area of sociology about whether or not social class has become relevant in terms of shaping identity. The arguments suggesting that it is no longer relevant are brought forward by supporters of postmodernism. One argument for class being unimportant follows:
Arguments against relevance of class today
- Mode of consumption is much more important than actually earning the means of income (Clarke and Saunders, 1991).
- French sociologist Mattei Dogan has argued in his "From Social Class and Religious Identity to Status Incongruence in Post-Industrial Societies" (Comparative Sociology, 2004) that the relevance of social class has declined, giving way to a different form of social identification that is largely cultural and religious, and which raises identity conflicts called status incongruence. This can be observed, in particular, in the developing countries, but even in many post-industrial societies.
Arguments for relevance of class today
However, there has been a lot of criticism from other sociologists who claim that class still develops the individual's identity. Although a lot of arguments come from Marxism, there is still a lot of evidence that suggests that class still affects almost everyone. Some ideas from different sociologists follow:
- Jordan suggested that those in poverty had the same attitudes on work and family as those in other classes, this being backed up with surveys expressing that the poor/working class/lower class feel almost shame about their position in society.
- MacIntosh and Mooney noted that there was still an upper-class which seems to isolate itself from other classes. It is almost impossible to get into the upper-class. They (upper-class) kept their activities (marriage, education, peer groups) as a closed system.
- Marshall et al noted that many manual class workers are still aware of many class issues. They believed in a possible conflict of interest, and saw themselves as working class. This counters the postmodern claims that it is consumption which defines an individual.
- Andrew Adonis and Stephen Pollard (1998) discovered a new super class, which consisted of elite professionals and managers, which held high salaries and share ownership.
- Chapman noted there was still an existence of a self-recruiting upper-class identity.
- Dennis Gilbert argues that class is bound to exist in any complex society as not all occupations are equal and that households do form pattern of interaction that give rise to social classes.
Schools of sociology differ in how they conceptualise class. A distinction can be drawn between analytical concepts of social class, such as the Marxian and Weberian traditions, and the more empirical traditions such as socio-economic status approach, which notes the correlation of income, education and wealth with social outcomes without necessarily implying a particular theory of social structure. The Warnerian approach can be considered empirical in the sense that it is more descriptive than analytical.
The traditional `pigeon-holing' mainstay of much of the advertising industry used to be that of social class. Recently, however, as affluence has become more widespread, the process has become much less clear. It is now argued that the new `opinion leaders' come from within the same social class. The class groupings that were traditionally used by advertising agencies (for example in the NRS social grade schema were: AB - Managerial and professional, C1 -Supervisory and clerical, C2- Skilled manual, DE-Unskilled manual and unemployed.) have been reported to be of decreasing value in recent decades, especially in the distinction between clerical workers and manual workers in education and disposable income. Whereas some four decades ago, when these groupings were first widely used, the numbers in each of the main categories (C, D and E) were reasonably well balanced, today the C group in total (although now usually split to give C1 and C2) forms such a large sector that it dominates the whole classification system and offers less in terms of usable concentration of marketing effort. 
William Lloyd Warner
An early example of a stratum class model was developed by the sociologist William Lloyd Warner in his 1949 book, Social Class in America. For many decades, the Warnerian theory was dominant in U.S. sociological theory.
Based on social anthropology, Warner divided Americans into three classes (upper, middle, and lower), then further subdivided each of these into an "upper" and "lower" segment, with the following postulates:
- Upper-upper class. "Old money." People who have been born into and raised with wealth; mostly consists of old "noble" or prestigious families (e.g., Earl of Shrewsbury, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller).
- Lower-upper class. "New money." Individuals who have become rich within their own lifetimes (e.g., entrepreneurs, movie stars, as well as some prominent professionals).
- Upper-middle class. Professionals with a college education (e.g., doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, professors, and corporate executives).
- Lower-middle class. Lower-paid white collar workers, but not manual laborers (e.g., police officers, school-teachers, non-management office workers, small business owners).
- Upper-lower class. Blue-collar workers and manual labourers. Also known as the "working class."
- Lower-lower class. The homeless and permanently unemployed, as well as the "working poor."
To Warner, American social class was based more on attitudes than on the actual amount of money an individual made. For example, the richest people in America would belong to the "lower-upper class" since many of them created their own fortunes; one can only be born into the highest class. Nonetheless, members of the wealthy upper-upper class tend to be more powerful, as a simple survey of U.S. presidents may demonstrate (i.e., the Roosevelts; Kennedys; Bushes).
Another observation: members of the upper-lower class might make more money than members of the lower-middle class (i.e., a well-salaried factory worker vs. a secretarial worker), but the class difference is based on the type of work they perform.
In his research, findings, Warner observed that American social class was largely based on these shared attitudes. For example, he noted that the lower-middle class tended to be the most conservative group of all, since very little separated them from the working class. The upper-middle class, while a relatively small section of the population, usually "set the standard" for proper American behavior, as reflected in the mass media.
Professionals with salaries and educational attainment higher than those found near the middle of the income strata (e.g. bottom rung professors, managerial office workers, architects) may also be considered as being true middle class.
Coleman and Rainwater
In 1978 sociologists Coleman and Rainwater conceived the "Metropolitan Class Structure" consisting of three social classes, each with a number sub-classes.
- Upper Americans
- Upper-upper class; (ca. 1%) Old money stemming from inherited wealth. Persons in this class typically have an "Ivy league college degree." Their household income in 1978 was over $60,000 ($183,000 in 2005 dollars)
- Lower-upper class; (ca. 1%) This is the "Success elite" consisting of "Top professionals [and] senior corporate executives." People in this class have degrees from "Good colleges." Their household income was also commonly in excess of $60,000 ($183,000 in 2005 dollars).
- Upper-middle class; (ca. 19%) Also called the "Professional and Managerial" class, it consists of "Middle professionals and managers" with a college and often graduate degrees. Household incomes for this group lay between $20,000 ($60,000 in 2005 dollars) and $60,000 ($183,000 in 2005 dollars)
- Middle Americans
- Middle-class; (ca. 31%) This class consists of "Lower-level managers; small-business owners; lower-status professionals (pharmacists, teachers); sales and clerical" workers. Middle class persons had a high school and some college education. Their household incomes commonly ranged between $10,000 and $20,000 ($30,000 - $60,000 in 2005 dollars)
- Working class; (ca. 35%) This class consists of "Higher blue collar (craftsman, truck drivers); lowest-paid sales and clerical" workers. Younger individuals in 1978 who were members of this class had a high school education. Their household income lay in between $7,500 and $15,000 ($23,000 - $45,000 in 2005 dollars)
- Lower Americans (ca. 13%)
- Semipoor; This class had a partial high school education and consisted of "Unskilled labor and service" workers with household incomes ranging from $4,500 to $6,000 ($14,000 - $18,000 in 2005 dollars)
- The bottom; Those who are "Often unemployed" or rely on welfare payments. These individuals typically lack a high school education and had household incomes of less than $4,500 ($14,000 in 2005 dollars)
Thompson & Hickey
In their 2005 sociology textbook, Society in Focus, sociologists William Thompson and Joseph Hickey present a five class model in which the middle class is divided into two sections and the term working class is applied to clerical and pink collar workers. Their class system goes as follows:
- Upper class, (ca. 1%-5%) individuals with considerable power over the nation's economic and political institutions. This group owns a disproportionate share of the nation's resources. The top 1% had incomes exceeding $250,000 with the top 5% having household incomes exceeding $140,000. This group features strong group solidarity and is largely consitituted by the heirs to multi-generational fortunes. Prominent government officials, CEOs and successful entrepreneurs are among the upper class even if not of elite background.
- Upper middle class, (ca. 15%) white collar professionals with advanced post-secondary education such as physicians, professors, lawyers, corporate executives, and other management. While households commonly have six figure incomes in this group, the majority of income earners do not. Only 6% of persons had six figure incomes while 15% were upper middle class. While high educational attainment commonly serves as the staple mark of this group, entrepreneurs and business owners may also be upper middle class even if lacking advanced educational attainment.
- Lower middle class, (ca. 33%) individuals who worked their way through college and commonly have a Bachelor's degree or some college education. School teachers, sales-employees and lower to mid level supervisors rank among those in this particular group. Household income is generally in the range of $30,000 to $75,000. Workers in this group are mostly white collar but have less autonomy in their work than do upper middle class professionals. Members of this class often attempt to emulate those in the two higher classes and have recently become overly indebted by their desire to have a comfortable lifestyle.
- Working class, (ca. 30%) individuals who occupy both blue and white collar occupations. Pink collar workers in predominantely female clerical positions are common in this class. Job security tends to be low for this group and unemployment as well as losing health insurance remain potent economic threats. Household incomes typically range from $16,000 to $30,000.
- Lower class, repeated cycles of unemployment, working multiple low-level part-time jobs are common among this group. Many families fall below the poverty line from time to time when employment opportunities are scarce.
Gilbert & Kahl
In The American Class Structure, 6th edition (Wadsworth 2002) as well the preceding 5th edition, Dennis Gilbert lays out an even more precise breakdown of American social classes. Dennis Gilbert stresses that "there is really no way to establish that a particular model is 'true' and another 'false.'" He furthermore states that his "model emphasizes sources of income" and that household income, being very dependent on the number of income earners, varies greatly within each social class. The class descriptions in quotes below are lifted from the 5th edition, pages 284 and 285.
- Capitalist class; (ca. 1%) "Subdivided into nationals and locals, whose income is derived largely from return on assets." Yet is should be noted that the top 1.5% of households made $250,000 or more with only 146,000, 0.01% of households having incomes of $1,600,000 or more.
- Upper middle class; (ca. 14%) "...college trained professionals and managers (a few of whom ascend to such heights of bureaucratic dominance or accumulated wealth that they become part of the capitalist class)." Educational attainment is the main feature of this class. They enjoy great job autonomy and economic security. Household incomes vary greatly depending of the number of income earners." Considering US Census Bureau According to the 2005 Economic Survey, the top 15% of income earners made $62,500 or more with the top 15% of households having six figure incomes.
- Middle class; (ca. 30%) "...members have significant skills and perform varied tasks at work, under loose supervision. They earn enough to afford a comfortable, mainstream lifestyle. Most wear white collars, but some wear blue." In 2005 incomes for this group would have ranged from $50,000 to $90,000 for households and $27,500 to $52,500 for individuals.
- Working class; (ca. 30%) "People who are less skilled than members of the middle class and work at highly routinized, closely supervised manual and clerical jobs. Their work provides them with a relatively stable income sufficient to maintain a living standard just below the mainstream." Incomes in 2005 would have ranged from $10,000 to $27,500 for individuals and $20,000 to $50,000 for households.
- Working poor; (ca. 13%) "...people employed in low-skill jobs, often at marginal firms. The members of this class are typically laborers, service workers, or low-paid operators. Their incomes leave them well below mainstream living standards. Moreover, they cannot depend on steady employment." In 2004 the bottom 12.2% of households made less than $12,500.
- Underclass (ca. 12%) "...members have limited participation in the labor force and do not have wealth to fall back on. Many depend on government transfers." The average household income is $12,000 a year, and the class makes up 12% of the population.
In the Structure and Evolution of Chinese Social Stratification, sociologist Li Yi lays out a detailed model of Chinese social stratification after 1949. In China today, there is a peasant class, a working class (urban state worker and urban collective worker, urban non-state worker, and peasant worker), a capitalist class (about 15 million), and a class of cadre (about 40 million) and quasi-cadre (about 27 million).
Farhad Nomani and Sohrab Behdad in their book Class and Labor in Iran; Did the Revolution Matter? (Syracuse University Press, 2006) define and quantify social classes in Iran and examine the changes in the configuration of social classes in the post-revolutionary Iran. Nomani and Behdad base their analysis (à la Erik Olin Wright 1 ) on three dimensions of (1) property ownership, (2) possession of scarce skills/credentials, and (3) organizational assets/authority. They recognize four distinct class categories and the ambiguous category of political functionaries of the state:
1-Capitalists: Owners of physical and financial means of economic activities, who employ workers. Capitalists are divided into modern and traditional occupational categories.
2-Petty bourgeoisie: Self-employed persons who do not hire any paid worker but may rely on unpaid family labor. They, too, consist of modern and traditional categories.
3-The middle class: Employees of the state or the private sector, in administrative-managerial and professional-technical positions. They exercise some authority and enjoy relative autonomy. In this category are those who are employed in economic activities and social services of the state. Those employed in the administrative or managerial position in the political apparatus of the state are not included here.
4-The working class: Workers who do not own the means of economic activity and do not benefit from the authority and autonomy of those in the middle class. They are employees of the state or the private sector, excluding those in the lower ranks of the political apparatus of the state.
Those employed in the political apparatus of the state, engaged in political administration, national defense and domestic surveillance, constitute the ambiguous class category of political functionaries. This category includes higher rank of state administrators, managers, and military and para-military officers, the rank file of the political apparatus, and the lower rank members of the coercive forces (including the military draftees).
The post 1979 revolutionary turmoil had notable impacts on the class reconfiguration of Iran (see table below). The disruption of the accumulation process in the first revolutionary decade (Khomeini period) retarded the capitalist relations of production (structural involution ). This condition gave rise to deproletarianization of labor and peasantization of agriculture, and a general expansion in petty-commodity activities and a rise of the petty bourgeoisie, along side a huge expansion of state activities. In the post-Khomeini period, the effort toward reconstitution of capitalist relations of production via an economic liberalization policy (deinvolutionary process) reversed some of the previous trends. In the second post-revolutionary period an increase in proletarianization of labor and de-peasantization of agriculture is observed. The first (involutionary ²) period promoted traditional capitalists and the petty bourgeoisie, whereas in the second (deinvolutionary) period the number of modern capitalists, modern petty bourgeoisie, and the middle class (especially those employed by the private sector) increased significantly.
In a comparison of the class structure in 1996 with that in 1976 one can observe that in spite of some peculiar differences, there are striking similarities between the two periods. If the changes between 1986 and 1996 may be regarded as a trend, there is a pattern toward reconstruction of the 1976 class configuration of Iran in the years ahead.
1- Wright, Erik Olin (1997) Class Counts: Comparative Studies in Class Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
2- Nomani and Behdad (2006). Class and Labor in Iran; Did the Revolution Matter? Syracuse University Press, Chapter 3.
Problems with the models
Some would argue that any conception of class based on power models is too narrow, since so much of quality of life cannot be expressed in terms of dollars or acres owned. A retired teacher living on a small, but adequate, stipend or a "struggling" artist living a life of bohemianism and voluntary poverty may actually enjoy a great deal more freedom, health, and social respect than an overworked executive making a six figure income at a discredited corporation.
In addition, many people can be difficult to fit into the above models. There is the question, for instance, of whether the wife of an upper class man is automatically upper class herself, even if her education, manners, and her own net worth would place her in a lower class status. Additionally, children, who usually enjoy the comfort and prestige related to their parent's social class, may actually live very poorly with abusive high class parents or at a very high level of consumption and income if their low class parents spoil them. Some youth rights activists would argue that all minors are lower class due to their lack of choice in where they live, how they spend their time, and who makes the laws affecting them. Similar arguments could be made concerning women in many parts of the World.
Aside from these issues, within class distinctions, particularly the "upper middle class", there is a hierarchy within the class designation that discriminates against those whose "upper middle class" status arose from their own efforts within their own lifetimes, versus those who claim upper middle class status because of family position (such as family members of high-profile doctors or lawyers or judges who expect their family connections to bring them greater opportunity or reward than those whose success results from their own hard work and achievement).
- Class conflict
- Class consciousness
- Class in the contemporary United States
- Folk culture
- Gilbert Model
- Household income in the United States
- Market segment
- Marriage gap
- Chattering classes
- Ottoman Millet system
- Poverty in the United States
- Race and Inequality
- Reverse snobbery
- Second-class citizen
- Social class in American history
- Social exclusion
- Social mobility
- Social structure of the United States
- Social status
- Social hierarchy
- Social stratification
- Archer, Louise et al. Higher Education and Social Class: Issues of Exclusion and Inclusion (RoutledgeFalmer, 2003) (ISBN 0-4152-7644-6)
- Barbrook, Richard (2006). The Class of the New (paperback ed.). London: OpenMute. 0-9550664-7-6.
- Bertaux, Daniel & Thomson, Paul; Pathways to Social Class: A Qualitative Approach to Social Mobility (Clarendon Press, 1997)
- Bisson, Thomas N.; Cultures of Power: Lordship, Status, and Process in Twelfth-Century Europe (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995)
- Blau, Peter & Duncan Otis D.; The American Occupational Structure (1967) classic study of structure and mobility
- Brady, David "Rethinking the Sociological Measurement of Poverty" Social Forces Vol. 81 No.3, (March 2003), pp. 715-751 (abstract online in Project Muse).
- Broom, Leonard & Jones, F. Lancaster; Opportunity and Attainment in Australia (1977)
- Cohen, Lizabeth; Consumer's Republic, (Knopf, 2003) (ISBN 0-375-40750-2). (Historical analysis of the working out of class in the United States).
- Croix, Geoffrey de Ste.; "Class in Marx's Conception of History, Ancient and Modern", New Left Review, No. 146, (1984), pp. 94-111 (good study of Marx's concept).
- Dargin, Justin http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Central_Asia/IL06Ag01.html "The Birth of Russia's Energy Class" [Asia Times] (2007) (good study of contemporary class formation in Russia, post communism)
- Day, Gary; Class, (Routledge, 2001) (ISBN 0-415-18222-0)
- Eichar, Douglas M.; Occupation and Class Consciousness in America (Greenwood Press, 1989)
- Fantasia, Rick; Levine, Rhonda F.; McNall, Scott G., eds.; Bringing Class Back in Contemporary and Historical Perspectives (Westview Press, 1991)
- Featherman, David L. & Hauser Robert M.; Opportunity and Change (1978).
- Fotopoulos, Takis, Class Divisions Today: The Inclusive Democracy approach, Democracy & Nature, Vol. 6, No. 2, (July 2000)
- Fussell, Paul; Class (a painfully accurate guide through the American status system), (1983) (ISBN 0-345-31816-1)
- Giddens, Anthony; The Class Structure of the Advanced Societies, (London: Hutchinson, 1981).
- Giddens, Anthony & Mackenzie, Gavin (Eds.), Social Class and the Division of Labour. Essays in Honour of Ilya Neustadt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).
- Goldthorne, John & Erikson Robert; The Constant Flux: A Study of Class Mobility in Industrial Society (1992)
- Grusky, David B. ed.; Social Stratification: Class, Race, and Gender in Sociological Perspective (2001) scholarly articles
- Hazelrigg, Lawrence E. & Lopreato, Joseph; Class, Conflict, and Mobility: Theories and Studies of Class Structure (1972).
- Hymowitz, Kay; Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age (2006) ISBN 1566637090
- Kaeble, Helmut; Social Mobility in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: Europe and America in Comparative Perspective (1985)
- Mahalingam, Ramaswami; "Essentialism, Culture, and Power: Representations of Social Class" Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 59, (2003), pp. 733+ on India
- Mahony, Pat & Zmroczek, Christine; Class Matters: 'Working-Class' Women's Perspectives on Social Class (Taylor & Francis, 1997)
- Manza, Jeff & Brooks, Clem; Social Cleavages and Political Change: Voter Alignments and U.S. Party Coalitions (Oxford University Press, 1999).
- Manza, Jeff; "Political Sociological Models of the U.S. New Deal" Annual Review of Sociology, (2000) pp. 297+
- Manza, Jeff; Hout, Michael & Brooks Clem; "Class Voting in Capitalist Democracies since World War II: Dealignment, Realignment, or Trendless Fluctuation?" Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 21, (1995)
- Marmot, Michael; The Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects Our Health and Longevity (2004)
- Marx, Karl & Engels, Frederick; The Communist Manifesto, (1848). (The key statement of class conflict as the driver of historical change).
- Merriman, John M.; Consciousness and Class Experience in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1979)
- Ostrander, Susan A.; Women of the Upper Class (Temple University Press, 1984).
- Owensby, Brian P.; Intimate Ironies: Modernity and the Making of Middle-Class Lives in Brazil (Stanford University, 1999).
- Pakulski, Jan & Waters, Malcolm; The Death of Class (Sage, 1996). (rejection of the relevance of class for modern societies)
- Payne, Geoff; The Social Mobility of Women: Beyond Male Mobility Models (1990)
- Raico, Ralph; "Classical Liberal Exploitation Theory: A Comment on Professor Liggio's Paper", Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol.1, No.3, pp. 179-183, (1977).
- Savage, Mike; Class Analysis and Social Transformation (London: Open University Press, 2000).
- Sennett, Richard & Cobb, Jonathan; The Hidden Injuries of Class, (Vintage, 1972) (classic study of the subjective experience of class).
- Siegelbaum, Lewis H. & Suny, Ronald; eds.; Making Workers Soviet: Power, Class, and Identity. (Cornell University Press, 1994). Russia 1870-1940
- Sorokin, Pitrim; Social Mobility (New York, 1927)
- Warner, W. Lloyd et al. Social Class in America: A Manual of Procedure for the Measurement of Social Status (1949).
- Wlkowitz, Daniel J.; Working with Class: Social Workers and the Politics of Middle-Class Identity (University of North Carolina Press, 1999).
- "Class, Status and Party", Max Weber, in e.g. Gerth, Hans and C. Wright Mills, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, (Oxford University Press, 1958). (Weber's key statement of the multiple nature of stratification).
- Weinburg, Mark; "The Social Analysis of Three Early 19th century French liberals: Say, Comte, and Dunoyer", Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp.45-63, (1978).
- Wood, Ellen Meiksins; The Retreat from Class: A New 'True' Socialism, (Schocken Books, 1986) (ISBN 0-8052-7280-1) and (Verso Classics, January 1999) reprint with new introduction (ISBN 1-8598-4270-4).
- Wood, Ellen Meiksins; "Labor, the State, and Class Struggle", Monthly Review, Vol. 49, No. 3, (1997).
- Wouters, Cas.; "The Integration of Social Classes." Journal of Social History. Voloume 29, Issue 1, (1995). pp 107+. (on social manners)
- Wright, Erik Olin; The Debate on Classes (Verso, 1990). (neo-Marxist)
- Wright, Erik Olin; Class Counts: Comparative Studies in Class Analysis (Cambridge University Press, 1997)
- Wright, Erik Olin ed. Approaches to Class Analysis (2005). (scholarly articles)
- Zmroczek, Christine & Mahony, Pat (Eds.), Women and Social Class: International Feminist Perspectives. (London: UCL Press 1999)
- Class Action:
- http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Central_Asia/IL06Ag01.html Dargin, Justin, The Birth of Russia's New Energy Class. The Asia Times (Dec. 6, 2007)
- Dictionary of the history of ideas: Class
- Charles Dunoyer And The Theory Of Industrialism and Comte And Dunoyer After The 1830 Revolution: The Impact Of Their Ideas in The Radical Liberalism Of Charles Comte And Charles Dunoyer by David M. Hart.
- Marxist and Austrian Class Analysis (PDF) by Hans-Hermann Hoppe
- Classical Liberal Roots of the Marxist Doctrine of Classes (PDF document), Classical Liberal Roots of Marxist Class Analysis (MP3 audio file), lecture by Ralph Raico.
- Rethinking Cultural and Economic Capital - Jan Rupp
- Gowdy, John (2006) "Hunter-gatherers and the mythology of the market," in Richard B. Lee and Richard H. Daly (eds.), The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers, pp.391-394. New York: Cambridge University Press
- "Christian Science Monitor on What is Middle Class". Retrieved 2006-09-11.
- "About TheMiddleClass.org". Retrieved 2008-01-18.
- Ehrenreich, Barbara (1989). Fear of Falling, The Inner Life of the Middle Class. New York, NY: Harper Collins. 0-06-0973331.
- "US Census Bureau report on educational attainment in the United States, 2003" (PDF). Retrieved 2006-07-31.
- "US Census Bureau, distribution of personal income, 2006". Retrieved 2006-12-09.
- Thompson, William (2005). Society in Focus. Boston, MA: Pearson. 0-205-41365-X. Unknown parameter
- Gilbert, Dennis (1997). American Class Structure in an Age of Growing Inequality. Wadsworth. 978-0534505202.
- Williams, Brian (2005). Marriages, Families & Intimate Relationships. Boston, MA: Pearson. 0-205-36674-0. Unknown parameter
- Zweig, Michael (2000). The Working Class Majority: America's Best Kept Secret. Ithaca, NY; London, England: Cornell University Press. 0-8014-8727-7.
- "US Census Bureau, personal income distribution, age 25+, 2006". Retrieved 2006-12-28.
- Eichar, Douglas (1989). Occupation and Class Consciousness in America. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. 0-313-26111-3.
- "Middle income can't buy Middle class lifestyle". Retrieved 2006-12-28.
- Vanneman, Reeve (1988). The American Perception of Class. New York, NY: Temple University Press. 0877225931. Unknown parameter
- Gilbert, Dennis (1998). The American Class Structure. New York: Wadsworth Publishing. 0-534-50520-1.
- "US Census Bureau, overall household income distribution, 2006". Retrieved 2006-12-28.
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