Unless you’re a sociologist or economist, writing about social class can be difficult because information about non-technical, correct, and respectful language can be hard to come by. While the last few years have given rise to more conversations around race, gender, and sexuality, discussions of socioeconomic differences have been comparatively lacking. Socioeconomic status is an important topic in many social sciences and relates to a variety of identities people may hold such as being a first-generation college student, being homeless, or being rich or poor.
Although American individualism and the Protestant work ethic suggest that both affluence and poverty are the responsibility of the individual, the reality is that socioeconomic status is largely structural and linked to opportunities in education, employment, home ownership, and so on. As such, it is important to note that inequities in socioeconomic status are often intertwined with identities like race, gender, and sexuality. Disparities in education and employment, moreover, produce and reproduce structures of poverty and affluence.
Example6.2.17.Inherited Socioeconomic Status.
College-educated parents are likely to be able to afford to live in a neighborhood with an adequately funded, high-functioning school—or to be able to send their children to an adequately funded, high-functioning school. Their children are likely to learn and internalize language and mannerisms at home that are consistent with the language and mannerisms at school, and thus are more likely to succeed—and, if they don’t succeed initially, their parents are likely in a good position to advocate for them or to help them strategize ways to succeed.
Alternatively, parents who are not college-educated are less likely to be able to send their children to an adequately funded, high-functioning school. Their children are less likely to go to school already knowing the language and mannerisms that are expected in school, and so those children must work harder in school to learn the things that schools expect. The farther along the children go in school, the more important it is that their hard work pays off, and if they don’t succeed initially, their parents are likely not to know from experience how to advocate for them or to help them strategize ways to succeed.
While vastly un-nuanced, this example demonstrates how social class embodies generations of oppression and oppressing. Statistically, people in the United States tend to end up in socioeconomic positions similar to those of their parents, so both affluence and poverty tend to be cyclical.
Writing about socioeconomic status or class without acknowledging inequalities in opportunities does injustice to the people that those inequalities affect. Avoiding classist language is an important step toward changing the classist ideologies that underlie and reproduce the structural inequalities that lead to economic disparity.
Please consider this section as a starting point rather than a comprehensive guide, and please continue to grow your awareness in your life and education outside this book! Taking courses in Sociology, Anthropology, or Social Psychology would be a good way to continue learning, as would getting involved in programs through your school’s student diversity center.