In the world today, there are those people who own a lot of wealth and therefore live prestigious lives. These people are normally accorded respect in the regions where they live. Wealthy people can afford anything that they desire ranging from medical care, education, prestigious jobs, and security (Lizardo, 2006). However, there are people who live under abject poverty and their living conditions are also miserable. As a result they cannot manage to provide themselves with basic human needs (Moss, n.d). Such people are also neglected by the other members of the society since no one wishes to be associated with them.
The difference in the accumulation of wealth among people is an issue that has been in existence in the history of mankind. The status hierarchy is therefore a concept that mankind has believed in for a long time. People are ranked depending on the amount of wealth that they have accumulated. In the modern world however, the gap between the rich and the poor is continuing to widen. The rich people are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer (Anderson, 2004). Any effort to bridge the gap between the two classes has been fruitless. The concept of social class is therefore a continuous phenomenon because it will continue to govern the way human beings relate with each other for a long time.
Social class describes the hierarchical structure which groups people according to their socio-economic status. The concept of social class is an issue that is very significant to anthropologists, sociologists, historians, economists and political scientists. These people apply this concept to understand the human behavior as it is characterized by their socio-economic state (Rothbard, 2006). However, all these people have differing opinions on how the word class should be defined to ensure that every aspect of the human race is incorporated into any of the different social classes. Many people tend to agree with the idea that social classes should reflect the socio-economic classes of people. This way, it would be possible to identify people who are on the same social class based on their education or economic status.
The term class originated from the Latin people who used the term to classify the citizens based on the amount of wealth that they had accumulated. The classification of people was mostly carried out during census in order to make it easy for the military to serve the members of the public (Lizardo, 2006). In the late 18th century, social classes were categorized based on the rank of a person in the society. This served as the new way of organizing people into hierarchical classes. It reduced the worth that was allocated to hereditary traits and instead made wealth and income to serve as the indicators of socio-economic status (Moss, n.d). The amount of wealth that a person owned was therefore used to determine the social class that he belonged to.
The manner in which social class is defined reflects several sociological viewpoints. The main areas where social class has had great impact on include sociology, anthropology, psychology, and economics. The impact of the social class in historical terms is well illustrated by the Marxist theory. This theory divides a society into three classes. These classes include the upper class, the middle class and the working class. However, many academicians today adopt two broad definitions of the term “social class”. There are those academicians who define class based on the 20th century understanding of the term “social class”, while there are those who define class based on the 19th century Marxists approach (US Constitution Online, 2011). It is therefore evident that there are different ways of defining the term “social class”. In addition, the socio-economic status approach has been an effective way of defining “social class” because it lays emphasis on education and income. However, this approach does not rely on any theory to define social class. It analyses the real world observations and classifies people based on their socio-economic and education status.
However, the main models which social class is based on include the Marxist and Weberian theories. These theories serve as the foundation of the social class. They were the first to classify people according to classes before the 19th century (Saunders, 1990). They identified that people adopted different lifestyles based on their level of income and education.
The Marxist approach argues that social class is a group of people who share a common connection. For example, a common means of production is used to reflect a group of people who are in a common social class. In this perspective, people who share a common means of production have a perception that they share a similar interest. As a result, such people become conscious that they belong to a common class (Meir & Gerro, 2010). In this context therefore, once people realize that they belong to a common class, they are then able to share their opinions on how they can organize their society. For example, they can come together and form agreements on how they can organize their society based on cultural, legal, political, and social terms (Rothbard, 2006).
The Marxist theory demonstrates a situation where the owners of the factors of production get into conflicts with the working class. The conflicts emerge because the working class people are forced to sell their labor thereby introducing a situation whereby a state of inequality emerges.
In this theory, the political power is said to act as the intermediary between the social classes. Weber believed that the skills and education of a person served as the key players in classifying a person to a certain social class. In this context, the most skillful and educated people were the ones who occupied the upper class. However, the relationship that people had with the means of production was not considered in this theory (Saunders, 1990). Though Marx and Weber argued that social stratification was not a good way of classifying people, Weber believed that providing equal opportunities to people within the capitalism system would be effective in enhancing equality between the rich and the poor. On the other hand, Marx argued that equality between the two classes would only be realized if social stratification was not allowed to disappear together with the capitalism system (Stiglitz, 2012). However, Weber did not agree with Marx’s idea when he said that socio-economic classifications were based on the ownership of capital. After a study of the German social structure, Weber concluded that social stratification was influenced by much stronger forces other than the ownership of capital. Weber’s argument was regarded as valid since there were very many people in Germany who lacked wealth yet they were strong politically (Garrett, 2011).
Social Classes in the modern world
In the modern world, social class is tied to three main categories. There is a class of very powerful people who are responsible for controlling the means of production. The middle class comprises of professional workers and people who own small businesses. The lower class comprises of people who work for organizations which are low paying. This class of people is also subjected to poverty more often (Stiglitz, 2012).
The people who belong to the upper class are usually well-born and wealthy. In the modern world, the wealthiest people are the ones who have the greatest political influence. There are certain countries whereby wealth is regarded as a major factor which allows people to enter into the upper class. There are other countries whereby a person is only allowed to be in the upper class if he is born from a wealthy family. In this perspective therefore, the people who accumulate wealth through commercial business practices are not allowed to enter the upper class (Lizardo, 2006).
In the UK for example, wealth does not enable a person to enter the upper class. The Upper class here comprises of the royal family and the aristocrats. However, in order for a person to be regarded as an aristocrat, he needs wealth to enable him to acquire estates and land. However, this is not the case in America. The upper class belongs to those people who are extremely wealthy. However, there have been instances whereby those people who own family wealth tend to look down upon those people who earn their money through business activities (Garrett, 2011).
Many people in different societies belong to the middle class. With the rate at which people are becoming educated, the number of people who are entering the middle class is rising significantly. For example, most developed nations are transferring their low-level labor force into the developing nations while at the same time they are absorbing the highly qualified people from the developing nations (Devine, 1997). As a result, the developed nations are accumulating many people into the middle class while the developing nations are accumulating many people in the lower class.
The people who belong to the lower class are often regarded as the working class. This class comprises of those people who are employed in low-paying jobs. Such jobs have very little economic security and the people who are employed in such jobs are often subjected to poverty whenever a disaster strikes. The lower class comprises of those people who are employed but they do not have financial security. It also comprises of those people who are unemployed (Devine, 1997).
Therefore, it is true that the three social classes are effective in demonstrating the manner in which people live in the world today. However, no efforts have been fruitful in trying to bring a balance between the three classes. As a result, many people appreciate the three social classes as means of livelihood thereby making them to live very comfortable lives.
Effects of class position
A person’s social class influences his way of living. In this context, a social class plays a very important role in determining the type of jobs that people get, the kind of schools they can manage to attend, and the manner in which they are treated in courts and by the police.
With regard to education, people who belong to wealthy families are able to attend exclusive schools while poor people attend poor performing schools. As a result, when people do not attend good schools, they cannot manage to raise their socio-economic status. The wealthy people are also able to provide themselves with adequate medical care and healthy food. As a result, their life expectancy remains high. Many people belonging to the lower class encounter many health problems because they normally consume poor quality food and they cannot manage to provide themselves with adequate health care (Meir & Gerro, 2010).
The conditions that a person is exposed to in the workplace also depend on his social class. In this context, the people who belong to the upper class have more freedom in their places of work unlike the lower-class people who face very heavy restrictions in their workplaces (US Constitution Online, 2011). It is also true that the lower class people are not likely to receive fair trials in courts.
From this analysis therefore, it is true that a person’s social class plays a very important role in determining the kind of life that he adopts. The upper class people can afford to live luxurious lifestyles and acquire anything that they desire from the society. However, people in the lower class cannot influence the society in any way and they are therefore subject to unfair treatment. The only mechanism that would influence the manner in which people live is intervention by the state. The state should uplift the lower class people by advocating for equal distribution of wealth.
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