Sociology Index


The term social class is used in many ways in sociology. Social class implies a group of individuals sharing a common situation within a social structure.

Social class may refer to groups of individuals with a shared characteristic relevant in some socio-economic status measurement like individuals earning a particular sum in a year. Social class then has a statistical meaning rather than being defined by social relationships. Sociologists define social class as a grouping based on similar social factors like wealth, income, education, and occupation.

Social class is used in discussing social structure and sociologists rely on the concept of status in which individuals within a class can be seen as having quite differentiated social situations. Social class has both a strictly material quality relating to a group’s structural position within the economic system, and a social quality relating to the formation of status gradations, political divisions in society, and class-based lifestyles and consumption patterns. Social class has at least three objective components: a group’s position in the occupational structure, a group’s position in the authority structure, and a group’s position in the property structure.

Social class has both a strictly material quality relating to definitions of individuals’ positions within a given economic system, and a social quality relating to the formation of common class interests, political divisions in society, sites of conflict and compromise, life styles and consumption patterns, and what Max Weber called different “life chances” (1969). Whether defined by material or social characteristics, the main social outcome of the class structure is inequality in society.

A class system is based on both social factors and individual achievement. A class consists of a set of people who have the same relationship to the means of production or productive property. In Karl Marx’s analysis, class systems form around the institution of private property, dividing those who own or control productive property from those who do not, who survive on the basis of their labour.

A social class is a group of people that have similar social status.

Karl Marx distinguished four social classes in capitalist societies:

a bourgeoisie class who own and control the means of production,

a petite Bourgeoisie of small business and professionals,

a proletariat of wage workers and

a lumpenproletariat of people in poverty and social disorganization.

Class consciousness is associated with the development of a ‘class-for-itself’ where individuals within the class unite to pursue their shared interests.

The concept assumes that there is an objective ‘class interest’ of which its members are unaware.

When divisions between social classes become obvious it is difficult for individuals to change their social class because status is shaped by their class location.

This is a useful concept in avoiding the simplistic view that the ‘corporate class’ is a necessarily unified group.

A class of individuals conscious of sharing a common social situation and who unite to pursue common interests.

A social class composed of individuals who objectively share class membership.

Social Class Abstracts

Inequalities in health related to social class in women: What is the effect of the measure used. BORRELL, Carme; ROHLFS, Izabella; ARTAZCOZ, Lucia and MUNTANER, Carles.
Abstract: Classical theories of social stratification share the assumption that the family is the unit of stratification, using the man's occupation as a measure of social class. These theories were criticized by feminism, which claimed that women were not visible in class analysis.

Migration and Endogamy According to Social Class: France, 1803–1986.
International Review of Social History (2005), 50:219-246 Cambridge University Press.
Abstract: Does intra-national migration matter for partner choice? A number of conflicting hypotheses on the effects of migration on the likelihood of endogamy according to social class of origin are formulated and tested on the French historical record over the past two centuries.

Social Classes in Classical and Marxist Political Economy. - John Milios - Abstract - The notion social class attains a well-defined theoretical content in the works of the classical political economists, who defined classes on the basis of the specific income form that each category of people (class) obtains. This approach to social class constitutes a first form of a "friendly merger" between political economy and sociology.

Social Class and the Spirit of Capitalism - Matthias Doepke, Fabrizio Zilibotti, Journal of the European Economic Association. Abstract: One of the key social transformations that accompanied the British Industrial Revolution was the economic decline of the aristocracy. We discuss recent research based on a model of endogenous preferences that is consistent with the demise of aristocracy.

Lifestyle and Social Class. Mark Tomlinson.
ESRC Centre for Research on Innovation and Competition, Devonshire House, University of Manchester. European Sociological Review 19:97-111 (2003).
Abstract. The analysis shows the clustering of behavioral patterns, and that these clusterings tend to be strongly associated with traditional social categories such as social class and gender.

Globalisation, Youth Expectations and Social Class: The Case of Sri Lanka
Angela W. Little, University of London - Institute of Education
Ricardo Sabatas, Centre for International Education.
Abstract: Whether economic globalisation is associated with a narrowing or a widening of the social class gap between the education and occupation expectations of Sri Lankan youth is examined through a test of four hypotheses.

The Cultures of Social Class and Religious Educational Practice
Katherine Turpin - Religious Education, Volume 104, Issue 3 May 2009.
Abstract: This article describes social class as a largely unarticulated and embodied performance of identity inflected through hierarchical practices of race, gender, and commodity consumption. The author provides examples of the impact of social class bias on the practice of Religious Education in the context of youth ministry.

Ethnic and social class factors in residential segregation: some implications for dispersal - T R Lee - Environment and Planning 5(4) 477 – 490.
Abstract. Although the social class characteristics of coloured immigrants in Britain are clearly defined, and while social class groups within the majority population display distinctive spatial patterns, very little recognition of the role of social class has been incorporated into studies of immigrant concentration and dispersal. This paper seeks to evaluate the spatial constraints on the dispersal of West Indians in London which are imposed by social class segregation within the wider population.

How Social Class Differences Affect Students' Experience of University
RICHARD COOKE; MICHAEL BARKHAM; KERRY AUDIN; MARGARET BRADLEY. Journal of Further and Higher Education, Volume 28, Number 4, 2004 , pp. 407-421(15). - Routledge, part of the Taylor & Francis Group.
Abstract: The present paper outlines the experiences reported by students from different social class backgrounds who have recently graduated from university. Students from manual skilled and partly skilled backgrounds were classed as disadvantaged, while students from professional or intermediate backgrounds were classed as advantaged. There were no social class differences in ratings of teaching quality and all students reported high levels of financial concern.

Social class differences in social support among older adults
N Krause and E Borawski-Clark, Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, University of Michigan, School of Public Health. - The Gerontologist, Vol 35, Issue 4 498-508.
The purpose of this study is to test for social class differences in social support among older adults. Data on a comprehensive range of social support measures provided by a nationwide sample of elderly people suggests that social class differences emerge when measures of contact with friends, support provided to others, and satisfaction with support are examined.

The influence of social class background on childhood sport involvement.
Hasbrook, C. A.
Abstract: Two theoretical constructs of social class: life chances-economic opportunity set; and life-styles-social psychological opportunity set were operationalized within the context of sport participation and tested to determine how well they explain the social class/sport participation linkage.

Embodying social class - The link between poverty, income inequality and health
Stephen M. Rose, Stephanie Hatzenbuehler, School of Social Work at the University of New England - International Social Work, Vol. 52, No. 4, 459-471 (2009).
Abstract: Poverty, income inequality and the inequitable distribution of health invariably co-occur. The strength of the relationship between wealth and health holds even in countries with universal health care.

The relationship between social class and childrearing behaviors: parents' perspective taking and value orientations
Dekovic, Maja, Gerris, Jan R.M., Janssens, Jan M.A.M.
National Council of Family Relations, Journal of Marriage and the Family
Abstract: Researchers developed a model to give insight into the relationship between social class and parenting behaviors. The study revealed that parental perspective mediates between social class and childrearing behavior whilst also influencing parental value orientation.

Social Class Influences on Black American Ideological Beliefs from 1980 to 2003.
Destin, Mesmin. and Griffin, Tiffany - Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ISPP 31st Annual Scientific Meeting.
Abstract: Social class differences in the ideological orientations of Black Americans have been examined empirically over the past fifty years. Together these analyses suggest that the qualitatively different experiences of relatively high and low socio-economic status Black Americans over the last quarter of the 20th century may have contributed to a growing significance of social class in demarcating different ideological positions among the population.

Social Class and Undergraduate Degree Subject in the UK
Massimiliano Bratti, University degli Studi di Milano.
Abstract: Although past research has found strong social class effects on the decision to undertake higher education in the UK, there is only sparse empirical work investigating social class influences on the choice of degree subject at the undergraduate level. Using Universities' Statistical Record data for the period 1981-1991, we find no social class effect on students' undergraduate degree subjects enrolled.

Reducing Racial And Social-Class Inequalities In Health: The Need For A New Approach. S. Leonard Syme - Health Affairs, 27, no. 2 (2008): 456-459.
It is well known that people in racial and ethnic minority groups and in lower social-class positions have higher morbidity and mortality rates from virtually every disease.

Social class in childhood and general health in adulthood: questionnaire study of contribution of psychological attributes. Hans Bosma, senior researcher, H Dike van de Mheen, senior researcher, Johan P Mackenbach, professor. Erasmus University Rotterdam, Department of Public Health.
Objective: To determine the contribution of psychological attributes to the association between social class in childhood and adult health among men and women.
Conclusions: A higher prevalence of negative personality profiles and adverse coping styles in subjects who grew up in lower social classes explains part of the association between social class in childhood and adult health.

Social Class and Ageing Bodies: Understanding Physical Activity in Later Life
Alex Dumasa and Suzanne Labergeb - Social Theory & Health (2005) 3, 183–205.
Abstract: Pierre Bourdieu's theory was useful both in understanding how social class and age are important structuring principles of health behaviour in later life, and in conceptualizing the shifting effects of structural inequalities on health dispositions in life.

Social Class Journals

Race & Class - A Journal for Black and Third World Liberation - Published on behalf of The Institute of Race Relations - A. Sivanandan, Hazel Waters Institute of Race Relations. Race & Class is the foremost English language journal on racism and imperialism in the world today.

Series: Journal of Social Issues - Psychological Meanings of Social Class in the Context of Education - Edited by: JOAN M OSTROVE and ELIZABETH COLE - ISBN: 9781405118842 
Description: This issue of JSI is an effort to engage psychologists in a critical study of social class; that is, a systematic, research-based literature focused on the exploration of the psychological meaning of social class to diverse groups of people. Brings attention to the implications of a critical psychology of social class for both educational policy and practice.

Books On Social Class

Psychological Meanings of Social Class in the Context of Education Book by Joan Ostrove, Elizabeth R. Cole, Joan M. Ostrove

The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq : by Hanna Batatu

Talk That Counts: Age, Gender, and Social Class Differences in Discourse Ronald K. S. MacAulay

Social Mobility In Europe Book by Richard Breen (Editor)

Adolescent Lives in Transition: How Social Class Influences the Adjustment to Middle School Book by Donna Marie San Antonio

"Social Class in America" - Bob Millar, (1995).

Bushnell, D. (1994) ‘Priority Rules for Imputing SEG and Social Class’, Mimeo. London: ONS Social Survey Division.