Since ancient times there has always been social differentiation assuming that one class was dominant over the other. The exact dimensions of what defines social class in society have changed over time; however, the principle of dividing the population into different strata has remained intact. Today, society is represented by the lower, middle, and upper classes. Therefore, it is vital to understand why the middle class prevails, why income and wealth are not the same concepts, and identify different approaches to defining social class.
Income refers to the regular inflow of funds made available to a person, organization, or other market entity due to their activities. Wealth is the value that a person possesses in an amount that exceeds the everyday needs of life. Comparing these two concepts, it should be noted that income is closely related to both quantity and time; meanwhile, wealth is associated with something more. Income shows the degree of increase in purchasing power, wealth-its fixed volume. These concepts are vital for understanding the meaning of social class. In this case, wealth plays an essential role in setting the boundaries between the middle and upper class. In addition, because wealth generates income, it is a crucial factor in income inequality.
Income and wealth are the critical determinants of societal differentiation. Weber claimed that social classes are groups of people with similar social status, education, and income levels (Bratton & Denham, 2019). The major strength is that the theory defines the division into classes not only by the presence or absence of control over the means of production but also by economic differences not related to property. However, there is also the problem of the relationship between these criteria, and therefore between the types of social differences. Karl Marx distinguished a kind of society from another depending on the mode of production (Bratton & Denham, 2019). In contrast, the other class is the direct producer and the service provider for the dominant class. The main benefit of his approach is that planning is the basis for the economy; yet, the materialistic side of the theory is the weakness.
Social classes in the United States are groups of people with similar social status, material well-being, and education. The specifics of defining social class in each culture are conveyed by identifying areas where people’s similarities are essential, such as education, work, wages, and others. Some people tend to change their status, which is termed as social mobility – the movement of groups or individuals in the social structure of society, the change in their position. For example, vertical mobility occurs when a person gets promoted, while horizontal mobility implies moving from one state to another. The most prevalent type of mobility in the U.S. is vertical since individuals try to outlearn and outperform previous generations and achieve more goals.
Most United States citizens consider themselves a middle class because they believe that their wages are sharply different from those of the lower and upper levels. In addition, they can pay off loans and mortgages, travel within the country, and lead a lifestyle without strict limitations. Hence, the primary appeal of the middle class is that it is the foundation of a stable society and support for any government. This stratum will be the last to start revolutions and revolts, unlike both the poor and the rich. These are taxpayers, law-abiding citizens; if there are no or very few of them in our society, the state loses its positions. Middle-class people tend to talk less about their income since it is private information; yet, they are willing to speak about their class as it encompasses a range of subtopics.
In conclusion, a social class can be defined as a group of people who have a similar socio-economic status. Different people have suggested different approaches to understanding this concept. However, society is a constantly changing system, and each culture puts certain aspects into a social class. Today, the most common class is the middle class because it ensures the stability of society.
Bratton, J., & Denham, D. (2019). Capitalism and classical social theory. University of Toronto Press.