Saturday, June 18, 2011

18 June 1957 “Social Class in America”

I have always been fascinated by class structure. Many, to this day, believe America has never had a European style class structure, but honestly that is not completely true.

As many in this country are aware, our own division of middle and upper class is vastly changing. Even those who were once on that threshold of upper middle and lower upper class are finding a divide. The current trend towards globalization and the marriage of a few very powerful corporations are continuing to decrease the value of the American dollar. Therefore those who felt themselves comfortably upper middle or solid upper class will begin to see their blue chip stock/real estate based wealth, which was a solid foundation for years, begin to crumble. In a way they may even become a new type of middle class, those who once had a sold wealth finding its very foundation rocked. As real estate is devalued and the currency also lowers its worth,  a millionaire may suddenly find his millions worth half of what they once were. And they will be more aware of the purse strings.

The middle class, which grew intensely after WWII, has seen much change. That white collar job with good mobility has been decreasing over the past decade. Even the lower middle class move of bank clerk or retail store manager is beginning to lose its mobility as retail continually moves towards the internet and the need for sales decreases. The production of course, also has moved out. This affects all classes, except the uber upper class, I call them. Those few families whose wealth began with the huge move towards industrialization at the end of the 1900’s. Those families, Johnsons, Rockefellers, and the like now have grown and connected their fortunes so much of our countries wealth and production is in the hands of about 7 major combined corporations. This makes the possible local ‘upper class’ (as in the following film ) with a man with a company/factory in town almost impossible.

It is still all fascinating to me and the division of class is rather a descriptive view of our times. Here you can watch this 1957 American view of the lower, middle, and upper class of a local town. Enjoy and do you think class structure still exists? Do you believe our own middle class is disappearing? Are you aware that recently our U.S. poverty level numbers have risen and those who were on the border last year might now be firmly living below the poverty level?

Happy Homemaking.


  1. Wow! How sad! I can't believe they came right out and said all this in the movie. The message that comes out loud and clear is that if you want upward mobility and out of your social class, you must move to a big city. It is true that in small towns, you have the haves and the have nots, and nobody forgets where you came from. After college we moved back to our small town and we were back down where we started. We couldn't stay.

    I once read a book called Social Class in America (I forget the author), and he says that social class does exist in America, but that it is changing, namely in that higher class people are beginning to act like lower class people, so that no matter how much money or education people have, they still act low class. I would concur with this finding. He called it "proletariat drift," or "prole drift." I think the movies and other media have caused this. Movies frequently glamorize low-life people and now everybody wants to act like that.

  2. I feel like the class system they discuss in the movie where our children can do better than us is disappearing in America. I worry that my children will have it much worse than we did. My family has been feeling the pinch of the economy very much in the last 5 years. Seems we take one step ahead financially and two steps back.

  3. I have to agree with Mary's take on things...her impressions of the book she read, "Social Class in America". There is a turnabout in the way we see class distinctions anymore; this isn't limited, however, to an academic discussion. It's a weird (to me, anyhow!) way that we've acquired, as a nation & a culture, of holding up for ridicule what used to define goodness in the character of a man or woman. Or, put a different way, what was once considered upper class behavior (and what would be fair to say other classes aspired to emulate)has all but disappeared, and what remains is scorned & branded as snobbish, looked on as a kind of "you-think-you're-better-than-me" behavior.

    And so, those who are the "haves" of society don't want to be seen as being so different from everyone else....hence, they take on the mannerisms & habits of what they believe define the "have nots". They want, desperately, to be seen as "regular guys", & if poor grammar, rowdy behavior, schlepping along instead of walking properly, & indulging in trashy entertainment will do the trick, be it.

    Until self-control is valued & practiced again as a matter of course I don't see that we'll make much headway, & things will continue to degenerate. Something in me wants this to hurry up & happen, reach "bottom" so to speak, just so we can begin the process of rebuilding in earnest; but frankly, it's going to be terrible when it does happen. I know I can't change all of society, just the society of my home. Truly, reclaiming any good for our world begins one family at a time.


  4. Yes, you encapsulated that very well, Brenda. Sometimes I feel like I wish the degeneration would hurry up and happen so that we could see it is not grand and glorious and start wanting decent values and behavior again.

    I had some friends who refused teach their children to say please and thank-you, because "they'll be geeky." We must be cool at any cost.

    I agree with Living Vintage, also, when she says that our children perhaps will not do as well as we did. That concept of each generation doing better than the last seems to be slipping. Everybody is beginning to feel the pinch now.

  5. One should bear in mind that there is a difference between social class and financial class. This is why an impoverished descendent of a Mayflower passenger will always be welcomed at The Country Club in Brookline, and a up-from-his-bootstraps billionaire never will.

  6. anon-very true. The old guard, the Brahmans, even the poorer cousins who have had to see their families wealth squandered, still have some 'class clout' but it is much more diluted. At least the general populace is not much aware and therefore it has not as much import into the overall perceived class structure.
    For example, Trump (to be a true snob, he is everything noveau riche' is meant to be:vulgar and ill bred)bought up Mara Largo and many of his type now populate that once more exclusive well bred winter watering hole. One would be more likely to find the 'old money' in an old volvo station wagon there, while he and his kind race about in over priced sports cars, trophy wives faces taught from the surgeon and skirts riding high. There are some places (though now very far and few between) where money cannot buy. It seems even the latest marriage of the British royal family is embracing the class system in a new way. Certainly, even in his father's time, a 'princess' such as Kate would be unthinkable. I am not saying one way is good or bad, but I do agree that what was once perceived as 'upper class' behavior that one aspired too (particularly the middle class) is leaving. Though, the middle class was always more socially and personally conservative. The upper classes at various times (the Georgians and then the Edwardian's) upper classes were notorious 'bed hoppers', though usually within their own class (at least for women).
    Still, it is all very fascinating.
    I have always thought too, that the old dowager duchess whose blood might be so blue to be almost thin, is one to look up to when she knows how to don her wellies and dig in the dirt of the garden, much out the chickens, ride and hunt and still be regal in her moth eaten old made over dress from Worth's that her grandmother came out in than any Hollywood starlet or 'Housewives of NYC' would ever be.

  7. And then Ted changed his name to Don Draper...


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