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So why does class, however you want to name it or slice it, matter?
It matters to sociologists because the fact that it exists reflects unequal access to rights, resources, and power in society—what we call social stratification.
To learn more about social class and why it matters, check out the fascinating study of how power and privilege are transmitted to the wealthy through elite boarding schools, titled "Preparing for Power: America's Elite Boarding Schools," a book published in 1985 by American sociologists Peter W.
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Very often when you hear it used, that is what it means.
However, it can also be used to refer specifically to social characteristics that are less likely to change, or harder to change, than one's economic status, which is potentially changeable over time.
Yet, by analyzing how individuals talked about themselves, their partners, and their marriages, I discovered that this was far from the truth. It’s also about how the amount of money and material things we used to have shape the type of people we become.
Class had shaped each spouse so much that the people I interviewed had more in common with strangers who shared their class background than with their husbands and wives. People who grew up in households without much money, predictability, or power, learn strategies to deal with the unexpected events that crop up in their lives.
Most couples maintained that their class differences were behind them after marriage, as they now shared a bank account, a home, and a life. From fairy tales to adult films, we are exposed to a repeated idea: that love, or at least lust, crosses class lines. Not surprisingly, their relationships had little in common with the romances we see in the movies.In fiction, cross-class relationships either end in marriage and happily-ever-after, or else in dissolution and even death. Most of the time, couples’ recognition of their different pasts was acknowledged in little more than a comment about their father’s job or a lavish family vacation.When someone uses "classy" as a descriptor, they are naming certain behaviors and lifestyle and framing them as superior to others.
In this sense, social class is determined strongly by one's level of cultural capital, a concept developed by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1930–2002), in his 1979 work "Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste." Bourdieu said that class was determined by the attainment of a specific set of knowledge, behaviors, and skills which allow a person to navigate in society.
Few people I spoke to reported having parents who plotted against their children’s relationships, or felt they were subject to social stigma for their cross-class relationship.