Class Stratification in the United States

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Like all state-organized societies, the United States is a stratified and has a complex system of classes, minorities and other hierarchical groups. Emic (subjective) versions of US stratification hierarchies differ from one class to another and bear little resemblance to etic (objective) accounts. James West (1945), who studied class relations in a small Midwestern community he called plainville, concluded that there were different class hierarchies, depending on whether one took the viewpoint of the upper "crust", "good religious people", "non-church people", "all us good honest working people", Methodists, Baptists, and so on. At the bottom of all these hierarchies there was a category called "people who live like animals".

Lloyd Warner (1949) attempted to study the class structure of Yankee City (pseudonym for Newburyport, Massachusetts) by classifying people according to occupation, source of income, house type, and dwelling area. Warner's picture of Yankee City's classes represents a mixture of emic and etic criteria. There is no doubt that the United States is a highly stratified society. In terms of income, the poorest 10 percent of US families account for only 1 percent of aggregate family income, while the wealthiest 10 percent account for 33 percent; the poorest 20 percent account for only 4.7 percent of aggregate family income, while the wealthiest 20 percent account for 43 percent.