When studying social classes, the question naturally arises: Is it possible for people to move within a society's stratification system? In other words, is there some possibility of social mobility, or progression from one social level to another? Yes, but the degree to which this is possible varies considerably from society to society.
On the one hand, in a closed society with a caste system, mobility can be difficult or impossible. Social position in a caste system is decided by assignment rather than attainment. This means people are either born into or marry within their family's caste; changing caste systems is very rare. An example of the rigid segregation of caste systems occurs today in India, where people born into the lowest caste (the “untouchables”) and can never become members of a higher caste. South Africa also has a caste system.
On the other hand, in an open society with a class system, mobility is possible. The positions in this stratification system depend more on achieved status, like education, than on ascribed status, like gender.
A social class is a group of people of similar status, commonly sharing comparable levels of power and wealth. In sociology, social classes describe one form of social stratification. When a society is organized by social classes, as opposed to by castes, it is theoretically possible for people to attain a higher status than the status with which they started. This movement is possible because social classes are not based on birth but on factors such as education and professional success. For example, someone born into a low-income family can achieve a higher status through education, talent, and work, or perhaps through social connections. A society organized according to social classes, then, allows for some social mobility.
When sociologists talk of social class, they refer to a group of individuals who occupy a similar position in the economic system of production. Within that system occupation is very important because it provides financial rewards, stability and benefits like healthcare. Are people in similar positions, aware of each other? In broad terms, yes. Get information (cues) by type of job, neighborhood, clothing, cars, etc. Also get information by conversation – topics, style, grammar etc. Can people mislead or be misled? Of course. Is there a point of view specific to social class? Middle class values? Working class values? and The upper class values?
The lower class is typified by poverty, homelessness, and unemployment. People of this class, few of whom have finished high school, suffer from lack of medical care, adequate housing and food, decent clothing, safety, and vocational training. The media often stigmatize the lower class as “the underclass,” inaccurately characterizing poor people as welfare mothers who abuse the system by having more and more babies, welfare fathers who are able to work but do not, drug abusers, criminals, and societal “trash.”
The working class are those minimally educated people who engage in “manual labor” with little or no prestige. Unskilled workers in the class—dishwashers, cashiers, maids, and waitresses—usually are underpaid and have no opportunity for career advancement. They are often called the working poor. Skilled workers in this class—carpenters, plumbers, and electricians—are often called blue collar workers. They may make more money than workers in the middle class—secretaries, teachers, and computer technicians; however, their jobs are usually more physically taxing, and in some cases quite dangerous.
The middle class are the “sandwich” class. These white collar workers have more money than those below them on the “social ladder,” but less than those above them. They divide into two levels according to wealth, education, and prestige. The lower middle class is often made up of less educated people with lower incomes, such as managers, small business owners, teachers, and secretaries. The upper middle class is often made up of highly educated business and professional people with high incomes, such as doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers, and CEOs.
Lastly about upper class. This class divides into two groups: lower‐upper and upper‐upper. The lower‐upper class includes those with “new money,” or money made from investments, business ventures, and so forth. The upper‐upper class includes those aristocratic and “high‐society” families with “old money” who have been rich for generations. These extremely wealthy people live off the income from their inherited riches. The upper‐upper class is more prestigious than the lower‐upper class.
Wherever their money comes from, both segments of the upper class are exceptionally rich. Both groups have more money than they could possibly spend, which leaves them with much leisure time for cultivating a variety of interests. They live in exclusive neighborhoods, gather at expensive social clubs, and send their children to the finest schools. As might be expected, they also exercise a great deal of influence and power both nationally and globally.