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One sociological perspective distinguishes the classes, in part, according to their relative power and control over their lives. The upper class not only have power and control over their own lives but also their social status gives them power and control over others’ lives. The middle class doesn’t generally control other strata of society, but its members do exert control over their own lives. In contrast, the lower class has little control over their work or lives. Below, we will explore the major divisions of U.S. social class and their key subcategories.

Upper class

A luxurious house and grounds.
Members of the upper class can afford to live, work, and play in exclusive places designed for luxury and comfort. (Photo courtesy of PrimeImageMedia.com/flickr)

The upper class is considered the top, and only the powerful elite get to see the view from there. In the United States, people with extreme wealth make up 1 percent of the population, and they own one-third of the country’s wealth (Beeghley 2008).

Money provides not just access to material goods, but also access to a lot of power. As corporate leaders, members of the upper class make decisions that affect the job status of millions of people. As media owners, they influence the collective identity of the nation. They run the major network television stations, radio broadcasts, newspapers, magazines, publishing houses, and sports franchises. As board members of the most influential colleges and universities, they influence cultural attitudes and values. As philanthropists, they establish foundations to support social causes they believe in. As campaign contributors, they sway politicians and fund campaigns, sometimes to protect their own economic interests.

U.S. society has historically distinguished between “old money” (inherited wealth passed from one generation to the next) and “new money” (wealth you have earned and built yourself). While both types may have equal net worth, they have traditionally held different social standings. People of old money, firmly situated in the upper class for generations, have held high prestige. Their families have socialized them to know the customs, norms, and expectations that come with wealth. Often, the very wealthy don’t work for wages. Some study business or become lawyers in order to manage the family fortune. Others, such as Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, capitalize on being a rich socialite and transform that into celebrity status, flaunting a wealthy lifestyle.

However, new-money members of the upper class are not oriented to the customs and mores of the elite. They haven’t gone to the most exclusive schools. They have not established old-money social ties. People with new money might flaunt their wealth, buying sports cars and mansions, but they might still exhibit behaviors attributed to the middle and lower classes.

The middle class

A group of women are shown talking and eating.
These members of a club likely consider themselves middle class. (Photo courtesy of United Way Canada-Centraide Canada/flickr)

Many people consider themselves middle class, but there are differing ideas about what that means. People with annual incomes of $150,000 call themselves middle class, as do people who annually earn $30,000. That helps explain why, in the United States, the middle class is broken into upper and lower subcategories.

Questions & Answers

Change in society during French and industrial revolution
Rubal Reply
what is the generally accepted definition of marriage
Onyeka Reply
marriage is the legal union between two people
JAYz
according to beathis(1980) marriage is the union between a man and women such that the children born to the woman are the legimate offsprings of both partners
Bamshak
what about socratic method
VICTOR
Victor I don't understand your question
Bamshak
I mean the current authorities who defined the Socratic method?
VICTOR
social stratifaction
Alabi Reply
definition of culture
Hassan Reply
what are the effect of poverty in education
Chileshe
poverty effects education and our children. Children living in poverty tend to be exposed to more stress, more intense & longer lasting stress that negatively impact attention, focus, cognition, IQ and social skills.
Sonasa
underachievement
Sarmin
living Style of the people is known as culture
Qudrat
Why we need social interaction?
Qudrat Reply
what is norms and beliefs
Aabid Reply
what is norms
Prince
behaviour and attitudes which are considered normal
Chileshe
what are the causes of poverty?
Chileshe
capitalism
Sarmin
what is social stratification?
Keeper
what is the difference between values. norms. and belief
Qudrat
which is most desiminated religion in the world
ahmed
Trust me I'm not too sure about the "most disseminated religion", but for my money Christianity somehow dominates...
Athenkosi
Why study sociology
mohamed Reply
I need an enlightenment on the course the military and the state?
onoja Reply
what does the open system approach in education looks at as whole?
Beau Reply
it is the vave of feminism in which feminist want to equal education for male and female
Muhmmad
of what relevance is sociology towards understanding African social thought
Abubakar Reply
What is population studies?
onoja Reply
it's the study of population the population can be family, fertility, mortality e.t.c
Abubakar
What are the subjective reality of mass communications
isah Reply
preconditions that give rise to deviance behavior
James Reply
what is group
Nazir
a collectivity of people that are United for one common purpose
Asif
what do you mean by "power to constraint"?
Chisom Reply
can someone please elaborate the main elements of ethnicity.
Tinya
What is social thought? And the difference between social thought and sociological thought
onoja Reply
social thought : these are those thoughts which belongs to the practical life of an individual mean : A man is a social animal . he learn from the society sociological thoughts : it means theoretical thoughts which are related to a book or which are taken from a book<> 📖 or which are taught in
Qudrat
social thought: has do with. our daily exchanges of ideas from one person to another. while, sociological thought: derives from the attributes of social thought and social ideology.
Keeper

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Source:  OpenStax, Introduction to sociology 2e. OpenStax CNX. Jan 20, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11762/1.6
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