Class consciousness and social mobility

Kris and I have returned from three weeks traveling in Argentina and Chile with a group from our university alumni association.

My favorite parts of these trips are when we get to interact with the locals, not just because I can use my Spanish, but also because it's a chance to see how they live their lives. I did get to do some of that on this trip, but not as much as I would have liked. Most of the time, we were wrapped in a protective bubble — sometimes figuratively, sometimes almost literally as we traveled Patagonia in a giant tour bus.

Standing before Torres del Paine
I opted out of the tour bus one day for a hike into the stunning Torres del Paine.

Whenever I travel, I revisit certain recurring themes, such as:

  • The amount of Stuff I own. Even after downsizing to this apartment, I come home and wonder why I have so many things.
  • The quality of the food I eat. Even in the poorer countries I travel to, there's so much high-quality fresh food. Sure, there's processed food and junk food, but most people seem to eat lots of whole foods at every meal.
  • The relative costs of things. Gas is so cheap in the United States, which just encourages us to drive more. Junk food is cheap too, encouraging us to eat more of that. Entertainment is also cheap. But books and clothing and many other things seem expensive.
  • The nature of wealth. What does it mean to be rich? Most of us in the U.S. have a lot of money by world standards, yet we often seem poorer when it comes to family and friends. We've created a society that isolates us. We're short on social capital.

This trip, though, the theme that ran most strongly through our travels was the concept of class. I don't often write about class at Get Rich Slowly — I've only touched on it a couple of times in the six years this site has existed — because it's a complicated and sensitive subject. But during my trip to Patagonia, I thought about the subject a lot.

A Few Anecdotes

One night in Santiago, Chile, our group of fourteen split into two groups of seven. Each group went to a different local family's home for dinner.

The hosts for our dinner were lovely. They were smart and funny and charming. Their English was excellent. (The daughter-in-law of the family had taught herself English by watching Friends and by listening to English-language rock music.) But I'm not convinced this family was typical. They lived in downtown Santiago, near the top of a gated (and secure) high-rise apartment building. Their apartment contained many rooms and fancy furniture. I got the impression that this family was wealthy.

Family Dinner in Santiago

The other people from our group went further afield. They dined on the back patio of a home in the suburbs of Santiago. Over their meal, the conversation drifted to politics. The father of the family opined that Chile and Argentina and Uruguay are superior to the countries of northern Latin America because they're more European, there are fewer indigenous people.

I was shocked when I heard about this discussion. I loved Peru, and much of that was because the native population is prominent, the native culture is strong. I had just been complaining to Kris that one thing I didn't like about Argentina and Chile was the lack of personality. The countries do feel European, but a very vanilla sort of European. Besides, the man's comment seemed very classist, if not outright racist.

A few nights later, lounging under the tropical stars of Easter Island, I asked our guide, Ignacio, about the concept of class in South America. “The class system here is very strong,” he told me. “There's certainly a wealthy class, and everyone knows it. Not just in Chile, but in other countries too, even Peru. Especially Peru.”

Tangent: Our guide was full of little insights. We were talking about how most U.S. travelers seem to be retirees, and they're not very adventurous. Ignacio had an explanation: “When you're young, you have strength and ideas, and you want to see the world, but you don't have the money. When you're old, you have money, but all you want to do is lie down and rest.” Succinctly stated.

Moai on Easter IslandThe next morning, our local guide, Matu'a, talked a little about class as we rode the bus to the next set of moai. Matu'a told us that, like most kids from the island, he'd been sent to school in Santiago as a boy. He didn't like it.

“People in Santiago are rich,” he told us. “They have big houses but all they see are walls. Here on the island, you're surrounded by people, you have small houses filled with families: uncles, aunties, lots of kids. When I lived in Santiago, I cried every night. People were afraid to go outside because they'd be robbed. Here, people go anywhere they like. They're free.”

Matu'a's comments prompted Florence, a retired school teacher, to talk about her experience with class in India. Her husband was from India, and she's spent a lot of time there, and she says that although things seem to be slowly changing, the caste system is still a part of society.

By chance, on Friday (my first full day back from the trip) I listened to a Spanish-language podcast about social status in Spain.

One of the hosts noted that when people meet each other in many countries, it's common to ask, “What do you do?” In Spain, he says, that's not the case. Instead, people ask “How is your family?” This is partly because family is much more important in hispanic cultures, but it's also because of questions of class. When you ask what a person does for a living, you risk touching on class differences, and that's frowned upon.

Also on Friday, I asked my Spanish tutor a little about this subject. (But only a little — I hope to talk about it more with her tonight.) She confirmed that, in Peru at least, these class differences do exist, and that everyone is well aware to which class they belong. And often it's possible to tell to which class others belong.

“But, J.D., it's the same here in the U.S.,” she said, which I found interesting. I think many of us — including me — like to believe that there aren't huge class differences in the U.S. (despite the whole 99% vs. 1% thing). But deep down, I realize that's not the case, and my own experience is an example.

I grew up in a family that had always been poor, a family that had lived for nearly 100 years in rural Oregon, barely getting by. The things we had and said and did were “lower class”, even if I didn't know it at the time.

I grew up in this trailer house.

Even today, many of things I say and do are uncouth. And there are absolutely moments in my life where I feel out of place because I know I'm in a situation where class matters, that I'm out of my element. I might be with a friend, for instance, meeting his parents at their luxurious home, and suddenly become aware that there are tacit rules of engagement that I'm not following because I don't have the same class background. When these moments occur, I try to escape as soon as possible.

Example: One very clear example of class consciousness occurred on our trip to Peru last autumn. One night, Kris and I dined at Brujas de Cachiche, one of Lima's top restaurants. There was a huge celebration that evening, with all sorts of local celebrities in fancy dinner jackets and flowing dresses. Kris and I were wearing zip-off travel pants and t-shirts. I felt like a fool. We ate quickly and got out of there.

The Economic Mobility Project

Four years ago, I shared some info from the Economic Mobility Project, a nonpartisan group exploring “the ability to move up or down the income ladder within a lifetime, or from one generation to the next.”

Among the findings from the Economic Mobility Project's research are these:

  • “Across every income group, Americans are more likely to surpass their parents' income in absolute terms if they earn a college degree, reinforcing the conventional wisdom that higher education provides a means for opportunity.” You are four times more likely to move from poverty to wealth if you earn a college degree than if you do not.
  • “Family background plays an equally, if not more important, role than education.” If you are born into wealth, you have a 23% chance of remaining wealthy if you don't obtain an education. Yet if you're born into poverty, you only have an 19% chance of moving to the top, and that's if you earn a college degree. (There's only a 5% chance if you don't get an education.)
  • “Data show that…there is ‘stickiness' at the ends of the wealth distribution.” About one-third of those born into poverty remain in poverty. About one-third of those born into wealth remain wealthy. (There's a lot of movement up and down among the middle-class, however.)

I'm one of the fortunate few who's been able to move from poverty to wealth. I did this through education, hard work, and luck. (Yes, luck plays a role. No question.) But though I've made the switch on paper, mentally I'm still the same person I always was. I have the same habits and attitudes that I developed 30 or 35 years ago, growing up poor in a rural farming community. That's why I get uncomfortable when faced head-on with a situation that contains an element of class distinction.

Note: As I always do in these discussions, I'll point out that if you're reading this from the U.S., it's very likely that while you may be part of the 99% here, on a worldwide scale you're probably one of the 1%. Check out the Global Rich List for more info.

Conclusion

This is an article where I don't really have a thesis. I'm not trying to drive home any point, and there are no takeaways that you can put to use in your life. Instead, it's a sort of meditation. I don't often think about class differences, and yet there's no question they play a role in our lives.

I wonder if class generally seems invisible to me because of where I live. Portland is a unique city. For better or worse, people are, well, casual here. I don't think you can tell who is doing well and who is not. People dress and act casually, so that there's a subtle blending of classes. I think this frustrates many folks who move here from other parts of the country. I know a woman who moved here from Philadelphia. She gets dressed up to go out for fast food. Portlanders don't get dressed up even for a nice restaurant. And I know a fellow who grew up in a wealthy family in Houston, Texas. He seems amused by Portland's pathological casualness. When everyone dresses and acts the same, it's tough to play your class roles.

I'm curious: Does the concept of class play a role in your life? When are you aware of class differences? All the time? Never? How do you feel when you become aware of these differences in any given situation? Also, I'm curious to hear from readers who identify themselves as upper class and readers who identify themselves as lower class. What makes you think of yourself in this way? (I believe most of us think of ourselves as middle class, so I'm curious about those who define themselves otherwise.)

Is class defined by your income? Is it defined by how much money you have? Both? Or is it something else entirely? Is it an attitude? A way of life? Or do you think that social status in the U.S. has vanished? (Also: How is class different than wealth? Or are they the same?)

More about...Psychology

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
241 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Petra
Petra
8 years ago

My father’s a farmer, my mother a school teacher. She climbed the social ladder since her parents had a very small farm and did farm work at other farms. I live in the Netherlands, and especially from say the 1970s to the 2000s university studies were sponsored by the government. So if you were poor but did well in school you could study at the university (which would be a bit harder than for richer kids since they probably were more stimulated by their parents, but still…). Brothers and sisters from my father were the first generation to profit from… Read more »

javier
javier
8 years ago
Reply to  Petra

I always thought the Netherlands was a more egalitarian society, like the nordic countries. In Spain you can see strong differences, although the welfare state of public health and schooling makes the differences smaller than in other countries. But there is a way for many people of hating the ones which have money. In the other hand, having money is a bit like having an “aura”. Many people try to show they have money buying expensive cars, branded clothing, gadgets, etc. But sometimes this people is the same that tells you that rich people are criminals, so it’s a bit… Read more »

Gerard
Gerard
8 years ago
Reply to  javier

Holland has class differences. Maybe not as much as in many other countries, but yes Holland has them. As do the Nordic countries.

Tito_El_Chihuahua
Tito_El_Chihuahua
8 years ago
Reply to  Petra

So, in summary, one can be rich but not necessarily “culture rich”. I like that concept because being rich (or wealthy for that matter) is a combination of factors, such as, education, lifestyle, profession (prestige) and, not least, income.
.
Suppose a person has a high income but much debt and a high consumption lifestyle?
.
Suppose I live in a country where 15K dollars per year give you the lifestyle of 100K in New York? By the way, I once read that 150K is working class in New York.

Get Rich Point
Get Rich Point
8 years ago

Class used to play a role when I was a child, but now it does not seem to exist anywhere in my life. A concept exists as long as it is given importance. The moment it loses its significance ,it loses its existence. There was a time when class was given importance and hence people were labelled accordingly. Some admitted their class in pride and some in shame and some never admitted it.But, now the society has changed to a great extent and most people don’t care about class. Even I don’t care about class. If someone asks me about… Read more »

BlueCollarWorkman
BlueCollarWorkman
8 years ago
Reply to  Get Rich Point

I like the idea of people not thinking of class and/or not making a big thing of it (like Get Rich Point’s post and how JD described Portland), and I hope that such a trend can continue. However, from where I stand, I find that often the people who don’t see class lines or don’t notice differences are of the upper class. This may not be true, I admit, but it feels like they have the money and resources to be able to ignore class and class rules, and people will accept this because they have money. But lower class… Read more »

EconomicallyHumble.com
EconomicallyHumble.com
8 years ago
Reply to  Get Rich Point

I agree, class is becoming much less obvious in ou society…but it does not mean it is not existant. As JD explained, “I wonder if class generally seems invisible to me because of where I live.” — In a nutshell, yes. When you live and associate with one group of people you do not see the other group of people. The same can be said of ethnicity (I do not use RACE because race is made up and not based on anything biological. Race-ism, however is very real). If you live in a community with a dominant ethnicity (and say… Read more »

Money Infant
Money Infant
8 years ago

First, welcome home JD. AS an expat living in Thailand I know the joys of travel, but also the comfort of coming home. Regarding class, it is also very strong here in Thailand and people are much less likely to shift classes than they are in the West. The majority of the country is agriculturally based and for most they are born, live and die as farmers. That is slowly changing as a middle class emerges in Bangkok, but elsewhere life is pretty similar to how it was at least 50, if not 100 years ago. Here I think you… Read more »

Anjelica
Anjelica
8 years ago
Reply to  Money Infant

@Money Infant: As someone who lives in SE Asia (Philippines!) I totally agree. It’s the same here. There’s definitely the 1% who controls the 90% of wealth alright. My family started out poor (parents married out of college, had zero means, predicted to fail, etc.) but now we’re part of the 1% (they started their own company and worked incredibly hard). It’s sometimes harder for us older kids to “mix” with what is supposed to be “our class” than it is for the younger kids (born much later when times were finally good and my parents felt that they could… Read more »

Roberta
Roberta
8 years ago

JD – Your class thing is showing in the comment about being improperly dressed in the Lima restaurant. Why were you so surprised about going to a “top restaurant” and finding everyone else was dressed formally? Would you wear tourist tshirts and zipoff pants to the French Laundry or Per Se or whatever the “top restaurant” in Portland is? Didn’t you realize when you made reservations that very casual American-tourist clothes would not be appropriate there? My experience is that while the tourist dollar is always welcome, the tourist attitude that “I’m traveling and its fine to wear whatever” especially… Read more »

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
8 years ago
Reply to  Roberta

Roberta, I would happily go to top restaurants in Portland wearing tourist clothes. I’ve done so in the past, and will do so in the future. It’s Portland. Nobody cares. Or if they do care, I don’t care.

Also, we didn’t realize this particular restaurant in Lima was so fancy when we went there. Our local guide had recommended it, so we made reservations. It seemed like a fun thing to do…

Peter
Peter
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

JD-

While I understand your mindset (I grew up in the pacific northwest too), I don’t think it is necessarily appropriate. I think there is a good middle ground. Some folks seem to care too little while others care too much about their appearance when going out.

Barb
Barb
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

And there’s the rub, to me. and its not a class thing. its the -there ais appropriate attire for appropirate events kind of thing. While i do nto do formal, I would NEVER wear shorts or zip pants to an expensive, upscale restaurant. If only because part of the point of going to an expensive, upscale restaurant is the ambiance, and yes the attire.

And I know of few countries in the world where you could go in zip pants to a nice restaurant and not be considered an ugly american.

Karawynn
Karawynn
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Seattle is the same way, and it’s one of the things I love about it. If you want to get fancied up, you can, but jeans are appropriate pretty much everywhere. After fifteen years here I can definitely imagine forgetting how much importance people can put on appearances in other places.

Waverly
Waverly
8 years ago
Reply to  Karawynn

I’m also from Seattle and am used to the “jeans, fleece, and sandals” everywhere dress code. But, on the few occassions that I’ve eaten at Canlis, I’ve appreciated the dress code. Sometimes it’s nice to not have to look at fleece and denim when you’re in a gorgeous place eating fancy food.

Mrs Random
Mrs Random
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, I’m accustomed to our “formal-wear optional” attitude. Class (or financial status) is not obvious by looking at what someone is wearing. I wonder if the requirement/expectation for dressing up is an effect of the local attitude toward class? The more important it is, the more important it is to dress the part?

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Mrs Random

I lived in Anchorage, Alaska for 17 years. You’d see people in tuxedos and formal gowns at the opera — standing next to people in jeans and flannel shirts. I always say that it spoiled me for the rest of the world. When I moved to Chicago for a job at the Chicago Tribune, I had to wear real clothes to work every day vs. the jeans and T-shirts I wore while working at the Anchorage Daily News. Hated having to do stuff like iron blouses. Now I live in Seattle and work at home so it doesn’t matter what… Read more »

Kristi
Kristi
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Just an observation … I grew up in Oregon still go back once or twice a year to visit family. Moved to NYC in my 30’s. When you talk about class in Oregon, and dressing casually, I think you’re talking about a certain age of people, a certain mind-set–a class talking about a class, so to speak–and excluding a large population of people who are very concerned with wealth and showing it. There’s a Portland and NW myth that’s perpetuated by the people who embrace it but it’s not the whole story.

Jadzia@Toddlerisms
8 years ago
Reply to  Kristi

My Oregon experience was that classism is alive and well there, at least in my profession, the law. If you look at who gets promoted in the law firms, you see a LOT of names that have been there since pioneer times. (You can tell because they are also the names of streets and that kind of thing.) If your last name is Smith? Well, hopefully you’ll enjoy being an associate your entire career, if you’re not up-and-outed by your ten year class reunion. And now with the economy so bad, it seems like the kids just coming out of… Read more »

PawPrint
PawPrint
8 years ago
Reply to  Kristi

Age and generation certainly has something to do with it, IMHO. I grew up in Seattle, and we wore white gloves and dresses to go shopping at Fredrick & Nelsons downtown and have lunch in their tea room. Now if I were going to a fancy restaurant, I would dress a bit nicer than my usual jeans and fleece vest, but I’m happier when I don’t have to.

Amy F
Amy F
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Great post JD. But just to play devil’s advocate, if part of the travel experience is living like a local, wouldn’t that include respecting dining traditions that include attire and a particular set of manners? My travel philosophy is much like yours, in that I immerse myself in the culture of the people; however, I would also have to challenge myself to respect their customs when it comes to fine dining (and not those of casual Portland). Just my two cents :-).

jim
jim
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I agree with JD on the dress code of Portland. You really can dress casual at nice restaurants and its no big deal.
The Northwest in general has a particularly casual attitude when it comes to dress.

Mary
Mary
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Although I don’t doubt that you can wear anything to a top restaurant in your area and not feel out of place I would present a little challenge to see if class does still matter and you are just not noticing it. If there is a top restaurant where you have dressed very casually in the past (or an upscale store) try going back there dressed a little nicer. Not overly formal, just a step or two above your normal attire. As long as you have not been there often enough that the staff would recognize you I would bet… Read more »

jim
jim
8 years ago
Reply to  Mary

Sure if you show up driving a porcshe and wearing designer clothes then the hostess and waiter may give you better service. I think that would just demonstrate that wait staff may expect they could get better tips from people who look like they have more money. People who work on tips may judge a book by the cover if they’re trying to hussle for better tips.

JD didn’t say that class doesn’t exist in Portland. He wondered if it was less visible cause people tend to dress casually.

Kai Jones
Kai Jones
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Class exists in Portland, it’s just more subtly shown in clothing. And Portland had, when I was a child in the 1960s, a long-standing rich-people’s code, the first rule of which was “Don’t show off.” Don’t wear fur in public, don’t dress too nicely (even if you buy all your clothes in San Francisco), no fancy cars (certainly no chauffeured limos). It’s only new money that does those things. 🙂 So, you wear jeans to dinner or the opera but with a silk t-shirt (no band name or pithy slogan) and nice shoes. And there’s still a difference between gardening… Read more »

Christy
Christy
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Sorry, but that is not a class issue, but one of laziness for not assuming that a nice restaurant might be, well nice. And actually arrogant to pass that off as them making you uncomfortable for your gaffe. And then further to compare standards to “back home”! So many things wrong with that, too bad because this detracts from good points you made.

Charlotte
Charlotte
8 years ago
Reply to  Roberta

Exactly. You can have class or be classy without being wealthy and you can be wealthy and unclassy.

Megan
Megan
8 years ago

What a great post!

I feel there is “class” whenever I step out my front door. Where I live, you can usualyy tell who has money and who doesn’t. It is not like some cities, where everyone drives a beater nd wears old clothes, and you do not reslly know who is wealthy and who is not.

I think that in my area, people seem to think everyone has the same privileges, and that is just not true.

Kate
Kate
8 years ago

As a non-American, the thing that always strikes me about the US is that people are proud of being middle class, and will go out of their way to tell you that they aren’t upper-class ( but their neighbors are) or try to out-compete each other with who came from a poorer, more hard-luck background, whereas elsewhere those topics usually aren’t discussed. It results in some really weird (to me) discussions, with the guy earning 26,000 a year in a ex-urban house claiming he’s middle class, and the guy from New Yok claiming earning 250,000 a year doesn’t make him… Read more »

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
8 years ago
Reply to  Kate

Kate, I think you’re right. I’ve noticed this too. It’s somehow very important for Americans to be thought of as middle class, probably because that puts them with almost everyone else. I’m not sure why this is important, but it’s part of our national psychology.

Suri
Suri
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I am living this situation right now, I am from India and have been in US for 10 years, I found a new car I love (Mercedes) but I am afraid of loosing friends(public sector) at work and looking for less flashy but comfortable ride.If I were in India would have bought Mercedes and flaunt it. Learned through experience here that showing off would drive people away.

Cgirl
Cgirl
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I think the fact that everyone wants to be middle class is due in part to the “American Dream”–that if you work hard enough, you’ll make a lot of money. The flip side to that is that if you don’t make a lot of money, you’re obviously lazy. I distinctly remember my first encounter with the difference in social class. I was taking an intro to Sociology course, where social class was discussed. I always assumed that my folks where lower middle class: we had two cars, the farm was paid off, we didn’t buy “spendy” clothes but I always… Read more »

olga
olga
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Personally, and I haven’t read all the comments, I find it always rather odd that American people point fingers on former socialistic countries and call them not standing out, trying to hide in even-outness and not promoting differences, yet here, yes, majority is quite happy to be a middle class, afraid to show they are striving for better (and I am not even talking about money), and kids in school entered a generation where “everybody gets the same trophy”. I’ll have to think how to word my answers to the questions at the end of the post, but there is… Read more »

Adam
Adam
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

It’s important to be middle class because of the utter demonization of wealthy people in this country (and the looking down on “the poors”). Especially since the rise of the progressive movement, being rich has made you a huge political target. For example, FDR pushed to tax people at 100% over $25K in income. Today you see similar strands of thought with current tax and budgetary proposals (“soak the rich”). Factor in the whole 99ers vs the 1% thing and you can easily see why people don’t want to be “rich” today. When being something is a political and cultural… Read more »

Jane
Jane
8 years ago
Reply to  Kate

One of my former professors often told this anecdote from his teaching. In a discussion of class in America, he asked his class to raise their hand if they were upper class. Only a couple in a class of one hundred raised their hand. Then he ask them to raise their hand if they were lower class – again only a few hands. Then he ask them to raise their hands if they considered themselves middle class – a groundswell of hands. And this was at an elite private school that costs a fortune to attend. Unless you’re Paris Hilton,… Read more »

Sara
Sara
8 years ago
Reply to  Jane

I think it may be hard for people in the US to admit they are rich precisely because so much of society demonizes them. Whether the complaint is they’re greedy, they don’t work hard, they were handed everything they have, they don’t pay their fair share, etc. — true or not true — that’s a tough label to bear. Conversely, when you hear those characterizations of the “rich,” if they do not describe you (e.g., you work very hard for long hours, you scrimped, saved, and invested to get ahead), you tend to deny that you are rich. It’s a… Read more »

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
8 years ago
Reply to  Sara

I agree, Sara. When I returned from Peru and Bolivia, I wrote a post that touched on some these same ideas (and some of the ideas in my own post today). I called it America’s love-hate relationship with wealth. I really think we send and receive mixed messages about money in this country. On the one hand, we worship and aspire to it. On the other, nobody wants to believe they’re rich…

Morgan
Morgan
8 years ago
Reply to  Kate

“or try to out-compete each other with who came from a poorer, more hard-luck background, whereas elsewhere those topics usually aren’t discussed.”

That’s an interesting point, that Americans find a source of pride in upward class mobility. It may have to do with our insistence that we are all “equal;” even if we do not all have access to the same opportunities, we all have the freedom to work toward the American dream (which, in this day and age, is difficult to define). This freedom of opportunity promotes the competitive spirit necessary for capitalism to thrive.

Christine Wilson
Christine Wilson
8 years ago
Reply to  Kate
Felix
Felix
8 years ago

Interesting post, JD. I always wish you’d talk more about class here, but fully understand why you (largely) avoid it. Have you read Limbo: blue-collar roots, white-collar dreams by Alfred Lubrano? My parents (and their parents) have solid working class backgrounds, but my father managed to work his way up in a small company and ultimately get an executive position and, essentially, move us to middle class. I went to college and graduate school, and ultimately I travel in circles very different from those in which I was raised. Reading Limbo was an eye opener for me. It’s comprised with… Read more »

Mel
Mel
8 years ago
Reply to  Felix

Thanks for mentioning this book. I’ve been dealing with a lot of those issues and they can be a really dividing force in a family.

Dangerman
Dangerman
8 years ago
Reply to  Felix

That book is great, “Limbo” was very helpful to my wife in understanding the transition from her blue-collar roots to the white collar world of being a doctor.

eemusings
eemusings
8 years ago
Reply to  Felix

That is a fantastic book. Highly recommend it. I would definitely identify as lower middle class (perhaps normal middle class in Malaysia where I was born, where we had a large house and a maid – I recall an exercise at school when I was about 5, being asked to draw the house in which I lived and describe it. I had no idea how to judge so said I lived in a small house, and I still remember my mother’s surprise when I brought it home and showed her – she pretty quickly told me we lived in a… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago

Of course it does. I spent all my life wanting to be upper middle class like my aunt and uncle the lawyers who lived in the ritzy suburb of a big city. To not have to have lower middle class worries and to be able to partake in upper middle class advantages. My husband’s family is from a rural small town where they have lived since the 1800s. Although he’s like a vampire in that he has to sleep in his home soil at least once a year, he can never go back to that life and lack of opportunity.… Read more »

MC
MC
8 years ago

I love this topic and it will get politicized. When perusing the Economic Mobility Project you stumble upon: “The results show that in the United States, there is a stronger link between parents’ education and children’s economic, educational, and socio-emotional outcomes than in any other country investigated.” Yet in these times, we have an educational financing system under attack. The rising costs to the individual make it so that our system is trending toward a caste. We even have a current presidential candidate that call’s Obama a “snob” for thinking everyone should aspire for a college education. It amazes me… Read more »

sjw
sjw
8 years ago

I suspect that there is a class stratification in Portland. It could be that you either are privileged enough to ignore it (the president at my company thinks the IT support is great, he never has to wait two weeks for a fix), or because you don’t twig on it as class, but instead ‘interests’.

mwd
mwd
8 years ago
Reply to  sjw

I’ve read these comments with great interest. I live in Baltimore, but my business is modeled after an acupuncture clinic conceived in that eclectic Portland being described here. As an acupuncturist working in Portland, the founder noticed that most clients were either upper middle class (had lots of money to spend on private treatments) or below working class (qualified for treatments at subsidized public health centers). Neither of these environments felt comfortable to her. She decided to found a clinic for her friends and neighbors. She called it Working Class Acupuncture. Her definition of class encompasses many of the ideas… Read more »

sarah
sarah
8 years ago

I don’t think you’ll find many people who claim to be upper OR lower class. Both phrases have connotations of judgment and are somewhat taboo to use. To me the most obvious difference between poverty/wealth and “class” is stigma or judgment, typically of mannerisms and language. A person raised middle-class who becomes poor can “pass” but if you grew up in the projects or a trailer park, chances are that you will stick out like a sore thumb in a middle class situation. The reason we can’t really talk about class is that we don’t have it in this country,… Read more »

April
April
8 years ago
Reply to  sarah

“…what we have is an amalgamation of a lot of things — culture, race, ethnicity, language/accents, education, wealth/poverty — that in certain combinations can come to define someone in a stereotyped way or allow them special access.” So true. My mother is Latina and my father is Caucasian. I guess we were lower middle class when I was growing up, though I’m not sure how that’s really defined. I mean, I never went without, but we weren’t rich. When I moved into my first apartment, the movers, who were also Latino, wanted to know “how a Mexican girl affords a… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  April

My mom was from a “white trash” (her words) family of folks who worked in fields and factories and never got anywhere. She was the first person in her family to finish high school. My dad’s family was solidly blue-collar: farmers, carpenters, factory workers. He was the first person in his family to go to college — after marrying at 18, fathering four kids in five years and doing jobs like driving tractors and trucks and working in the glass factory. He’d gone to electrician school but couldn’t pass the exam for some reason, so his longest-running job was repairing… Read more »

April Dykman
8 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Yes, in many ways it does feel like playing a role. If I talk a certain way or express certain opinions, some members of my Latino family think I’m acting “white.” And if I ask my Caucasian family to pass the Cholula, they’re gonna look at me like I’m nuts. I’m in two worlds. It’s the same with wealth, too. My parents started out poor, my family is middle class now, but I’ve been in many situations where the people I’m around are wealthy. I suppose I could say whatever and act however I wanted, but that’s just not me.… Read more »

Lauren {Adventures in Flip Flops}
Lauren {Adventures in Flip Flops}
8 years ago

I like to *think* it doesn’t play a role, but I’ve become recently aware that it does. For one thing, I have some family (not parents thank goodness) where money, house location and job are everything. I was quite literally told I am ruining my life several times when I chose to pursue some internships (and now a job) that they don’t think are “good enough.” Second, in an effort to make some extra cash (your advice at work), I took a part-time job as a tutor for a company who caters to people who have a LOT of money.… Read more »

Savvy Scot
Savvy Scot
8 years ago

Here in the UK class if very much defined by what school you went to – if it was a private or not. That is how most people look at you and your family. Especially at University – the private school crowd are only friends with privately schooled people.

javier
javier
8 years ago
Reply to  Savvy Scot

Definitely Britain is a hotspot of social class. What is interesting is that you are not in one class or other regarding your income, you’re regarding your birth, social values and accent.

Morgan
Morgan
8 years ago
Reply to  Savvy Scot

I’m living in the UK for the year and get a much different reaction here than in the US when I tell people that I went to a boarding school. In the US, people ask me what I did to deserve it (assuming I was trouble and my parents shipped me off so they wouldn’t have to deal with me), whereas in the UK I get the impression people assume I’m upper class, and perhaps a snob. This explains it!

Savvy Scot
Savvy Scot
8 years ago
Reply to  Savvy Scot

You are 100% right. Boarding School usually means private school and a LOT of people judge you on that.
You could be an elite Doctor/Banker/Lawyer yet people will always ask where you went to school. It’s a legacy you cannot kick!

Ms Life
Ms Life
8 years ago

I am an African and lived in the US for a few years before moving to a northern European country. The one thing I noticed in the European country was that there seemed to be no class – everybody seemed to be on the same level. I was shocked to hear that one family friend was a millionaire but you could have never guessed it by looking at or hearing him talk. One thing that I also learnt was that you do not ask what someone does for a living because that would be trying to classify somebody. I found… Read more »

Mom of five
Mom of five
8 years ago

My very first thought was if you really grew up unaware of class then you weren’t as poor as you thought OR you were very insulated with your particular class all around you. My husband and I grew up very aware of class. Largely, I think, because our parents valued education and many people with similar financial situations didn’t. So, when you’re the kid on scholarship at a top notch school, your bad teeth and cheap clothes slap a giant “P” for poor on your head. Also, the inability to participate in the activities of your peers due to lack… Read more »

Dan M53
Dan M53
8 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

Awesome and wise last paragraph.

Janice
Janice
8 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

Amen to that. As a baby boomer, I’ve enjoyed the move up from my parent’s working class background until recently, when I moved back down. Along the round trip (I guess that’s social mobility…ha!), I, too, observed the Golden Rule, tried to keep my head down, eyes and ears open and my mouth shut, so I could learn as much as I could about anything or anyone who interested me. So, now, and like Mom of Five, I don’t know if it’s a result of aging and not caring, but I define class as those who value themselves and others… Read more »

Jay
Jay
8 years ago

JD, Thank you for this article. I grew up in the upper class. I am the third generation on both sides of my family to go to college. My father’s income has moved up and down from the high six figures to the low seven figures all of my life. We’ve traveled, lived overseas and with this “lifestyle,” comes a complete understanding of all the unspoken rules that exist in upper class societies. I see class differences most clearly when the upper and lower classes interact. People from my class background appear to be stupid, selfish boors when interacting with… Read more »

Laura
Laura
8 years ago
Reply to  Jay

Jay, I think you have wonderful insights on class.

Reading your response made me think vividly of the scene in the movie “Titanic” where Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) attends the first-class dinner in a borrowed tux, and Rose narrates that he passed for money, but adds, “New money, to be sure,” probably from the railroads – meaning he had money but his mannerisms and lack of grasping the subtle social cues of the upper class meant he’d clearly come from a lower-class background.

Jay
Jay
8 years ago
Reply to  Laura

Hi Laura,

Yes, this is exactly what I’m describing. Thank you for helping me to remember this scene from Titanic.

It’s also a great example because it shows what I know to be true from my own experiences, that class is about mannerisms such as word choice, word pronunciation and even voice modulation.

Take care,
Jay

Mom of five
Mom of five
8 years ago
Reply to  Jay

Well, I think those people who ask “why don’t you take it to the mechanic” ARE (for the most part) stupid, selfish boors. There are plenty of uppper class people who wouldn’t say something so foolish. I’m also wondering and I’m asking in all sincerity without a hint of sarcasm – do you think you’d always be upper class in attitude if you didn’t have your parents’ or grandparents’ money to fall back on in a worst case scenario? And do you think you’d still have the upper class attitude after living without an escape hatch, year after year, crisis… Read more »

Jay
Jay
8 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

Thanks for the question, Mom of Five. If I’m understanding your questions correctly, I think we are in agreement. Class is inseparable from money, as you suggest in your final comment. I agree with you. I will always be upper class, in part because I have always had escape hatches, and I believe I always will. Escape hatches exist not only as money from my parents, but their contacts, the knowledge I have about how to best present myself in a room of wealthy people – essentially my people. That’s part of accessing my class standing that other classes don’t… Read more »

Megan
Megan
8 years ago
Reply to  Jay

“I will always be upper class, in part because I have always had escape hatches, and I believe I always will. Escape hatches exist not only as money from my parents, but their contacts, the knowledge I have about how to best present myself in a room of wealthy people — essentially my people.” That’s very interesting, and you’re lucky to have those back-up plans and contacts. (I am not saying this with bitterness or sarcasm; it’s merely an observation.) I can see now why Bill Gates once said that his offspring won’t really inherit much from him – he’s… Read more »

Ely
Ely
8 years ago
Reply to  Jay

This is absolutely true. No matter how poor or unemployed or ill I may get, I always have my family to fall back on. No matter how well I do or how wealthy I may get, it will always be because of the opportunities they afforded me and the values they instilled.

Paris
Paris
8 years ago

As an American, my education about class came from living in England. In the US, we really like to pretend that class is strictly defined by economics. If you have enough money, you “become” upper class. This is not true – J.D.’s restaurant story is very apt in that just because one can afford to eat wherever you want does not mean that you are attuned to expectations of eating at fancy restaurant that often go beyond being able to afford it. I think class is very much about culture. One can exercise some choice in the matter (moving into… Read more »

betsy22
betsy22
8 years ago
Reply to  Paris

There was a great scene in season 4 of the Wire where Bunny (an ex-cop working with a group of troubled high school students) took 3-4 students out for dinner at a fancy, white-tablecloth type of restaurant. At first the kids were excited to get a really great meal, but they quickly shut-down and became quiet…it was really obvious that they were incredibly uncomfortable in the upscale setting.

This is just a TV show, but I think that it was a realistic portrayal.

Minerva
Minerva
8 years ago

Everywhere I’ve gone in the US, I’ve felt the class issue (or maybe it’s more of a race issue, but the lines seem to blur in my opinion). Where I have felt it the least is in San Antonio. I think the reason I feel it a lot is because my husband and I are from different cultures. So if we go into a Spanish speaking working class community, I blend in, unless I’m standing next to my 6’3″ blond hubby. Everyone just stares and sometimes they make rude comments in Spanish. If we go to a predominantly non-Spanish speaking… Read more »

Ms Life
Ms Life
8 years ago
Reply to  Minerva

Your experience in the bakery reminds me of two incidents in ‘upper class’ stores when I was in the US. I was the only black customer and the security guards (black men both times, if I might add) immediately started following me when I went into the store. I was not sure at first if they were monitoring me and so I took quick turns in the store and sure enough, they were hot on my heels. This annoyed me no end and I just walked out of the store though I wanted to buy some items. I assumed they… Read more »

Amber
Amber
8 years ago
Reply to  Ms Life

Pretty Woman!

TitoChihuahua
TitoChihuahua
8 years ago
Reply to  Amber

Huge mistake.

Becky+P.
Becky+P.
8 years ago
Reply to  Ms Life

It is frustrating to be followed around like that! They used to do it here in Poland a lot! Thankfully I think wages have risen so much that they can’t afford to pay 2 or 3 people just to stand around in the aisles watching us. I had the same feelings–1. I don’t steal, and 2. I can afford to pay for what I want–just leave me alone!

My only consolation is that they seemed to do it to just about anyone but I’m sure if you were more dressed up, then they would look less askance at you.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Ms Life

Been there, Ms. Life. The worst was when I was chased down the street by an unmarked “guard” because he thought I put something in my purse though I literally didn’t touch a thing inside the store. Ironically before I left, I saw three white kids robbing the store blind (pocketing loot right before the employees eyes, etc)…

Bonnie
Bonnie
8 years ago
Reply to  Minerva

Minerva – Your experience in Hawaii is highly unusual. I can guarantee the woman you spoke with who assumed you cleaned houses was not from Hawaii. First of all, most of us can’t afford house cleaners (we have the highest ratio of COL to avg wages in the U.S.). Second, there are few Mexicans living in Hawaii, so almost all house cleaners are various other ethnicities, predominantly Filipino (because 25% of the population of Hawaii is at least part Filipino). If I ever see a Mexican in Hawaii, I generally assume they’re tourists (unless they have a “Hawaii” accent). Also,… Read more »

Dan M53
Dan M53
8 years ago

The only person who can make you feel uncomfortable in social situations is YOU. I believe that’s true, but I have certainly felt the way you mention. My wife’s work environment frequently puts us in social situations with well-paid physicians, and there are times when I feel a little left out in the small talk in groups when the conversation turns to family vacations in Tuscany or the latest country club gossip. However when you get a lot of these folks one-on-one, you realize that they’re from standard middle-class backgrounds, but were the smartest kids at school and college and… Read more »

PFM
PFM
8 years ago

Thanks for the insight J.D., I really enjoy the posts that make you think. I’ve been in a few situations where I felt uncomfortable, coming from just above the poverty line to hanging out with multi-millionaires made me act much more reserved. I would watch what I said and how I said it. I would hold back my comments when I heard something that was classist or stereotyping. I was intimidated and wanted to fit in. Now that I’m a bit older I don’t act differently and will call someone know if I disagree with their comments. I think it’s… Read more »

Mom of five
Mom of five
8 years ago
Reply to  PFM

I agree. For me, I also think raising kids was integral in helping me feel comfortable in my own shoes.

Anna
Anna
8 years ago

The Class system is very much alive and well in the U.S. I grew up in the “poor”(we were solidly middleclass) side of a wealthy suburb. The more well to do landscaped around their property well enough that they did not have to look at us on a regular basis. The cliques in school were defined by economics almost exclusively. As an adult I moved into a growing suburb that was once very rural. There is a very interesting mix of economics and social class. There is a very wide range of class here both economically and socially. There is… Read more »

SmartMoneyHelp
SmartMoneyHelp
8 years ago

Good article, JD. I had similar feelings when I spent time in China with a group. We went to Suzhou, Shanghai, Qingdao, and Beijing. In addition to the differences in class that were apparent it exposed us to a new way of thinking. New traditions, thoughts, and customs. Visiting another part of the world can change the way we think about things. I wish everyone would have the opportunity to visit somewhere outside of the US for the experience. I like the link to the global rich list. We really do have a lot to be thankful for and I… Read more »

Holly
Holly
8 years ago

I was aware this is an issue in South America, but only because my husband is latino and spent a lot of time working in South America. My husband has a strong indigenous and African heritage which gives him a darker complexion and non-European features. He said in some countries it was not unlikley that people would be very dismissive of him because they considered him to be of low social status. Minerva, my husband and I have found it varies from community to community. The town where we live now is somewhat heterogeneous so we don’t stand out as… Read more »

Dan M53
Dan M53
8 years ago

One last thought: Class is as class does. Or maybe “class” does not equal “classy”.

Barb
Barb
8 years ago

well first, there are a few generalities ther about us retiree travelers dont you think? Everyonce in awhile there are these assumptions that once you retire you fall apart and have no life. Absurd! As to your restaurant experience, I would simply suggest that its inapprorpate to eat in zipped off pants in a high quailtiy restaurant in the us as well. I guess im saying would you have had the same behavior back home or were you assuming that because you were travling it would be different. I agree that it can be difficult when you move up that… Read more »

Merinda
Merinda
8 years ago

For me, I consider my upbringing middle to upper middle class. My parents were certainly not rich, but my mom was able to stay home with us and they did try to give us every opportunity. But they were old school in that if we wanted to go to college, we had to figure out how to pay, and at 18 the choices were college, military or get a job and pay rent. I went military and through a combination of poor choices I would call myself lower class these days, though I’m trying to get back into school. My… Read more »

Steven
Steven
8 years ago

I am well aware of class differences here in America (Atlanta, GA). However, I use class division to motivate myself and drive my family up the socioeconomic ladder.

I want my family to live and enjoy the benefits of an upper class life, but I do not allow class distinctions to cultivate resentment or disapproval that would belittle the lower classes.

Becoming wealthy and living a high class lifestyle should always be a positive shift.

Emma
Emma
8 years ago

Up until college, I thought my family wasn’t rich. I didn’t think much about classes, but knew that my parents budgeted; that we only had one car until my mother got a job far away that required a commute; that we had a big mortgage; etc. But in college I dated a guy from a lower-class background, and he surprised me by how much he VALUED having money & a good income. For me, money wasn’t something to be chased; experiences and knowledge were more important. I realized that this was a “rich” mindset– if you think yourself “above money,”… Read more »

Mom of five
Mom of five
8 years ago
Reply to  Emma

I love this observation you’ve made:

“For me, money wasn’t something to be chased; experiences and knowledge were more important. I realized that this was a “rich” mindset— if you think yourself “above money,” it might be because you never had to SERIOUSLY worry about it. “

Kingston
Kingston
8 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

This is interesting to me, as a person who has always been arts- and liberal arts-oriented. I was oriented that way because my family’s middle-class background gave me the freedom to be. But now that I’m feeling a lot less economically and socially secure — I’m truly afraid of falling out of the middle class permanently — I find myself encouraging my history-loving teenage sons to consider careers in STEM fields. I feel like a classic striving immigrant mom (and I’m NOT bashing immigrants here, just talking about a survival mindset), pushing the kids to be engineers. It seems to… Read more »

Tania
Tania
8 years ago
Reply to  Kingston

Me too. As someone who has worked in non profits for 20 years, I really feel I can no longer ‘afford’ to work for them. I have to start chasing the money rather then work in social justice fields.

Andrea
Andrea
8 years ago

JD, thank you for this great post. I still struggle to identify my spot in the US class system. I grew up in Germany were I really can say, class systems do not exist anymore. My parents were not poor, but also far from being rich. I was the first one in my family to get a college degree, but I never felt that people looked differently at me. My husband however is Indian and comes from a culture that values classe (or cast) a lot. We live now in the US and when it comes to income I guess… Read more »

Beth
Beth
8 years ago

I have always thought of myself as middle class. One day at the gym, a man was griping about his bills and how everything is so expensive. He looked at me and said, ” I don’t know how someone like you makes it”. I was a little taken aback, do I look poor, do people see me that way?, do I look too stupid to earn a decent wage?. Wow, he really made me think. Then, I doubted myself, I must be poor!! Little does he know, I am totally debt free, I paid off my house in 8 years,… Read more »

Sam
Sam
8 years ago
Reply to  Beth

However much money that man may have, his rude remark shows that he has no class whatsoever!

Morgan
Morgan
8 years ago

Class is in the eye of the beholder.

I don’t think it’s definable by an income level, education level, comfort level in various social settings, taste in clothes or furniture, table manners, etc.

Perhaps it could have more to do with one’s sense of personal responsibility to meaningfully contribute to a community. I think of a lower class person as one who expects the world to provide for them, a middle class person as one who expects to earn what they have, and an upper class person as one who gives (time? money?) to those who have less (opportunity? money?).

Laura
Laura
8 years ago

J.D., this is such a timely post. I’m reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers: The Story of Success” (HIGHLY recommended) – the premise is that the biggest indicator of success is not hard work or talent (although those are definitely part of the mix), but having unearned, often hidden, advantages of circumstance. One of these is coming from a background of privilege, which provides access to opportunities that those of lower classes often don’t get. Another way of thinking of this is called the Matthew Effect – essentially the rich use their extra opportunities to get richer, and the poor who are… Read more »

Panda
Panda
8 years ago

I find it interesting that anyone from Houston would comment/notice on Portland’s casualness, as Houston is also one of the most casual cities there is. Comes from a long history in oil – the wealthiest guy in the room was often in jeans and boots.

Wilson
Wilson
8 years ago
Reply to  Panda

There is truth to that but it presents an incomplete picture of Houston How many of those jeans are pressed, the boots are top shelf alligator, and the outfit is finished with a fancy sport coat? I will grant you that the oppressive heat and humidity naturally precludes itself to overdressing, but those casual clothes surely aren’t from KMart. Appearances are very important and carefully thought out. As a native Houstonian I knew many girls in school whose mothers wouldn’t let them leave the house without make up. It reminds me of the post from the Eastern European commenter about… Read more »

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  Wilson

This is one place where women have an advantage – I have a nice wrap dress that packs up as small as a t-shirt, and a pair of flats that pack pretty small. It won’t be impressive at a nice restaurant, but it will pass well enough. Men’s dress clothes are bulkier.

Tom
Tom
8 years ago

Thanks for bringing up this very interesting subject, which seems to be one of the subjects that we are least comfortable talking about. I have found that, as a teacher, it would make people more uncomfortable to talk about money than almost any other subject. But of course there is more to class than money, and I think that education and manners (including unspoken assumptions and shared experiences) are just as important. My parents gave me access to education and in academia I have often felt my lack of a shared class consciousness more than my (relative) lack of money.… Read more »

John | Married (with Debt)
John | Married (with Debt)
8 years ago

I really like the idea of turning the concepts of class on their heads. In fact, I enjoy being that guy in a fancy restaurant looking more casual than everyone else. It makes them wonder if you are MORE rich and MORE comfortable than they.

onifa
onifa
8 years ago

lol
i’m with you.
throw race in the mix and then you will see a very interesting evening!

Roberta
Roberta
8 years ago

John – no, I don’t think you have more money than anyone else. I think you’re a slob who doesn’t know how to respect other people and places, like the kids who wear pajama pants everywhere. Tshirts and shorts are for the gym, polos and dockers are for casual Fridays, jacket and or tie as a minimum for church, suit for wedddings and funerals, black tie for the opera.
Unless of course you’re a callow 20ish tech type who thinks a beer tshirt and cargo shorts is the last word in male apparel.

John | Married (with Debt)
John | Married (with Debt)
8 years ago
Reply to  Roberta

Hey Roberta – you can make the rules and spend your life worrying about what others think.

I’ll wear what I want, where I want, and be happy.

Deal?

YAAM
YAAM
8 years ago

Well Said, John!

Vanessa
Vanessa
8 years ago

I consider myself lower class, though anyone interacting with me probably wouldn’t. Raised in public housing by a single mother who dropped out of high school. Our values were definitely lower class: life is a struggle, will always be a struggle, don’t try. Avoid risk at all costs. She was born in the 40s raised by sharecropper parents and I think life beat her down at an early age. I wouldn’t have said I was lower class growing up but I had some inkling we were poor. Mom was very religious and I noticed none of the other congregants lived… Read more »

elah42
elah42
8 years ago
Reply to  Vanessa

This rings so true.

If you can find it, I highly recommend Bridges Out of Poverty by Dr. Ruby Payne. I don’t agree with everything in the book, but it does go through the mindset of people in poverty, in middle-class and upper-class. The perceived helplessness is definitely something that sticks out among people who are poor.

Christy
Christy
8 years ago
Reply to  elah42

I recommend See Poverty…Be the Difference by Dr. Donna Beegle. Donna’s story is unusual and inspiring. She comes from a family with a history of generational poverty.

Vanessa
Vanessa
8 years ago
Reply to  elah42

Thank you for your suggestions. I will have to try to ILL both of them since neither is at my local library.

I don’t know if I’ve ever been in poverty. I never considered it the same as being poor. To me, poverty is extreme poorness, to put it clumsily. If you’re poor, you had very little to eat today. If you’re in poverty, you haven’t had anything to eat at all. That type of thing.

I.N.
I.N.
8 years ago
Reply to  Vanessa

Something struck me when I read your words: “life is a struggle, will always be a struggle, don’t try. Avoid risk at all costs”. You say these are lower class values, and this attitude is hard to fight. It definitely is hard to fight! Because I am not sure this has anything to do with human values or attitudes. This may be related to something a lot more ancient and primal than that, a basic biology of mood. There has been a lot of research on both human and animal behaviour that good things and good moods increase risk taking… Read more »

Vanessa
Vanessa
8 years ago
Reply to  I.N.

Put people with “upper class values” into circumstances that they interpret similarly (interpretation is very important), and they will be similarly affected. But I believe that what distinguishes the upper class is that they don’t interpret situations the same as the rest of us. If they did, they wouldn’t be upper class. Even when they lose everything, it is only a short while before they become successful once again. Risk aversion may be human nature, but their upbringing has rewired them to think differently. I think overcoming risk is much more complicated than just being in a good mood, but… Read more »

suzy
suzy
8 years ago

I also grew up lower class, managed to get into an Ivy League college, and now do quite well and run in a somewhat upper-class circle. I also felt like our friends were working from a rulebook I hadn’t been given, so I went and bought one; Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior. I found it very helpful (and hilarious at times), and now I feel fairly confident that I at least know many of the “rules” in social settings, even if I don’t always choose to follow them.

suzy
suzy
8 years ago

Also, we live in Portland as well… and as I tell my determinedly casual husband, wearing nice clothes to a restaurant or theater is a sign of respect to the other diners/patrons. Even if you don’t give a damn about what you’re wearing, it’s rude to subject everyone around you to your hairy legs and ratty t-shirt when they’ve gone to a lot of trouble and expense to enjoy a special evening. Or that’s what I tell him, at least. 🙂 If you can’t be bothered to put a little effort into your appearance before dining at a fancy restaurant,… Read more »

Republic Of Zen
Republic Of Zen
8 years ago

“The nature of wealth. What does it mean to be rich? Most of us in the U.S. have a lot of money by world standards, yet we often seem poorer when it comes to family and friends. We’ve created a society that isolates us. We’re short on social capital.” This is sort of thing that makes me unsubscribe to your blog. There is no such thing as “social capital”. I shouldnt have to tell an adult that anything that is imaginary does not exist. Same with class. Also nothing is cheap or expensive, it subjective to what you value. Like… Read more »

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
8 years ago

I disagree. Social capital is very real, and it’s very powerful. Just because you can’t quantify it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Republic Of Zen
Republic Of Zen
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

If it doesnt occupy physical space it isnt real. Quantifying things is how we manage physical space. So if we cant quantify it, it very possible it doesnt exist.

shalom
shalom
8 years ago

Republic of Zen, I doubt you really believe that if something “doesn’t occupy physical space it isn’t real,” as that would mean your ideas themselves do not exist.

Marsha
Marsha
8 years ago

So, love isn’t real?

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago

More like Republic of Denial! If you don’t have any social capital (e.g., cave dwellers, the Unabomber, etc.), it doesn’t mean nobody else has it. There’s a reason country clubs and such other places exist– to grease the wheels of commerce. Also, there’s a reason people in certain industries form communities in particular locations –artists and financial experts in New York, film people in Hollywood, businesses that deal with Latin America in Miami, and so forth– beyond obvious geographic advantages, there is a high value of having personal relationships with people who can further your business. I have a group… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago

Okay, to put it in a geekier way since you want to define the real in terms of physics (I’m down with that, just want to expand on a limited definition): You think that only things that occupy space are real. But “space” — space really is a dimension of matter, isn’t it? Together with time? So we can agree that matter, which occupies space in time, is real, yes? So we have matter in spacetime. Real. Then we have a 2nd type of matter known as energy, if Einstein is correct, yes? Energy exists in spacetime too. So far… Read more »

SmartMoneyHelp
SmartMoneyHelp
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I agree with JD. Social capital is very real. def: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_capital This reminds me of a blog that has provided a wealth of information on social capital. Thomas Sanders, Executive Director of the Saguaro Seminar at Harvard has been kind enough to post his research here: http://socialcapital.wordpress.com Here is one example of many: Consider an employee that has an idea for the betterment of his corporation. The employee can go at it alone trying to get the corporation invested in the idea. However if the employee is able to get a Vice President to champion his work, he will have… Read more »

Republic Of Zen
Republic Of Zen
8 years ago
Reply to  SmartMoneyHelp

my ideas themselves exist, but what they represent may not exist.

Love is a chemical, thus exists.

Information as data exists physically as bumps on gel, I have no idea how information is stored in organisms, but I will look this up.

Nate
Nate
8 years ago

Oh my friend it is very real indeed. I found out 2 weeks ago that the contract on a project I was working on was not going to be extended (i.e. it was time to find other work). Very calmly and confidently I made a couple phone calls and had 2 high six figure positions lined up to choose from 3 days later. I am not telling you this to brag — but I assure you that exchange had everything in the world to do with social capital (predicated on hard work, exceptional results and [likely most of all] great… Read more »

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Nate

” I had to learn early on that hard work will only get you so far. At some point you really have to master meaningful relationships to get traction.”

I am learning that lesson the hard way. As a loner and introvert, it takes real work and effort to step outside of my box and make meaningful contacts. It gets even harder with age. Though I am only 33, most people are already well-established with their contacts – and generally the people I hang and converse with are at least 10 years my senior.

BD
BD
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Carla, you’re the only one I’ve ever seen in a financial forum that I can relate to. I’m the exact same way…loner, introverted, but a hard worker, who is learning from her successful slacker brother that hard work will get you nowhere without people-schmoozing skills (he graduated with a 2.5 gpa, and is now making close to six figures as a real estate manager, due to his charisma).
It is hard to break out of that loner, introvert pattern, especially when life keeps handing us hard knocks. But, we gotta keep trying,

Nate
Nate
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Carla it is NOT to late! I was very introverted as well growing up. I hate the cultural perception of “networking” — and all the quick-wrist stereo types that come with it. Focus on a general interest in people and their lives — and how you can create value for THEM. Focus on QUALITY over quantity. It is much more valuable (profitable, career advancing or otherwise) to befriend ONE senior level executive in your company then 10 middle managers running around trying to cut each other’s heads off before the next layoff. If you can’t get time with them FIND… Read more »

Vanessa
Vanessa
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Nate, this is where I think we run into the issue of class again. The upper class purposely choose activities that limit their accessibility. Playing golf on private courses with exorbitant fees, for example. Maybe Carla doesn’t have kids or like sports. If she shows up at some executive’s kid’s soccer game, how will she explain her presence? I think her motives would be quite transparent, especially if she is not white or male, as executives tend to be.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Nate

@BD – Thank you so much for your feedback! I’m always open to new ideas. @Nate & Vanessa – Nate I love the feedback, and it brings me back to square one: how do I break into an already very established group of people? Vanessa is right, I am a single, childless, woman of color. In terms of activities (especially ones that cost a large amount of money), there is not much I have in common that would make it easy for me to blend in. The one thing I have going for me that I can think of right… Read more »

Vanessa
Vanessa
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Carla, I am also a woman of color and a bit of a loner and felt I could relate to you as well. I’m also a bit geeky and goofy which surprisingly makes it hard to relate to people who share my background. So I don’t really fit in anywhere. I’m sorry to hear about the creepy old men you have to deal with. How do you turn down their advances? I imagine you have to be very delicate about it, as these men are often in powerful positions and could close a lot of doors to you if they… Read more »

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Hey Vanessa,

I play the flattered, friendly “thanks, but no thanks role”. I let them down easy so that I wont risk shooting myself in the foot. Word gets around if you’re mean or nice and it could cost me a contact (maybe not him, but a colleague of his). I know woman who play into it and take advantage, especially financially, but they are only hurting themselves.

I guess if you’re a young woman you have to be cautious depending on the industry you want to network in.

Peter Brülls
Peter Brülls
8 years ago

So money doesn’t exist?

Because most of what we call “money” has been pulled from thin air – a bank just *claims* that it exist.

Republic Of Zen
Republic Of Zen
8 years ago

Money, as a strict term, exists. Its value is imaginary. Coins have a function other than buying things, you can melt them down for industrial purposes. Now the may most currencies are created out of debt is fraudulent, as the data they manipulate is trying to represent things which are not physically there.

I havea stock pile of silver coins which definitely do exist.

Jill
Jill
8 years ago

Great post 🙂 It’s funny because I grew up poor but in my head I’ve always been rich lol. My parents split up and my sister and I were raised by my mom who ended up in a lot of debt due to the divorce/custody battle while my dad is fairly wealthy. So we were poor…sometimes very poor and on welfare, but because we had had money and because my mom was used to having money, I ended up as a bit of a snob! I have experienced a lot of “rich people stuff” like summers in Nantucket and VIP… Read more »

Katy+@+The+Non-Consumer+Advocate
[email protected]+The+Non-Consumer+Advocate
8 years ago

Interesting post, J.D. I grew up middle class, with an English professor as a father and a writer as a mother. However, my father came from an extremely wealthy family and never had to work a day in his life until he was a professor. My mother, on the other hand grew up poor and worked from the time she was old enough. As an RN married to an emergency services worker, I consider myself to be solidly middle class. But I do think about class, and here’s why: I live in a large, somewhat formally decorated house in a… Read more »

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago

I hate that, when the kids (or parents) come over and start either apologizing for their own places, or making stuff up about how they have a big house somewhere we just can’t visit… on the other side, our relatives and some work friends are afraid to visit our neighborhood (really, it’s safe! I even ride the bus here, it’s fine!) or assume we’re just about to remodel/refurnish with new stuff. We both come from mixed-class (working & middle) families, so I don’t know how we ended up in such an awkward middle place – this neighborhood is just like… Read more »

Karawynn @ Pocketmint
Karawynn @ Pocketmint
8 years ago

Katy, this sounds like an opportunity. Could you find occasional ways to mention, in front of your kids and their friends, where your stuff is coming from? In a natural-seeming way, like “We’ve got those video games we picked up at Goodwill last week, if you guys want to try them out,” or “Here’s a box of nail polishes we’ve been collecting from garage sales — you girls could give each other manicures.” It might take some doing, but it seems like it could go a ways towards making the friends more comfortable, and could also provide some important context… Read more »

Katy+@+The+Non-Consumer+Advocate
[email protected]+The+Non-Consumer+Advocate
8 years ago

Believe me, I do! I am always talking about how my furniture are curbside and thrift store finds and how our vacations are free or almost-free. I point out how the movies we watch are from the library, and when it comes times for birthday gifts, I give gift cards to the used video game store. (Look, you can get three for the price of buying one new one!)

I am a one woman frugality publicity machine. Probably to a fault.

Katy

Joe
Joe
8 years ago

*Rushes off to register “GetMarxistSlowly.org”*

Carla
Carla
8 years ago

I too live in Portland (transplant from the Bay Area) and in a lot of cases, I am the most “formally” dressed; even when I have to testify in court as as a CASA amid a room full of lawyers. I’ve always been conscious about my appearance to the outside world. In my case its more about race and less about class or social economic status. Face it, I believe Caucasians can get away with being more casual, even borderline sloppy without getting the “side eye” than someone of color could. Just going by my personal experience and the way… Read more »

onifa
onifa
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

i agree.

imelda
imelda
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

“I believe Caucasians can get away with being more casual, even borderline sloppy without getting the “side eye” than someone of color could.”

No question about it! See that picture of JD’s Santiago family dinner above? See that guy in the background with the scruffy hair and tshirt? (sorry if that’s you, JD; I can’t tell!) Now imagine if he were black! What would we or the Chilean family think of him then?

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
8 years ago
Reply to  imelda

That’s the member of the Chilean family who cooked for us. 🙂

Amanda
Amanda
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

I’ve come to the sad conclusion that no matter where you work or live women need to dress a step ahead of others in order to be respected.

onifa
onifa
8 years ago

good morning, hilarious in part-but let me break down how class looks in the pacific northwest. i’m in seattle and definitely a transplant from other environs, so here is it-how to tell the class differences in the oregon, washington state areas. 1. the type of car that they drive. doesn’t matter if they buy it new or used, there are certain types that certain classes buy. 2. where they vacation. 3. what they do on vacation. 4. believe it or not, the grocery stores that they shop at. 5. the places they go out to eat. 6. the neighborhoods that… Read more »

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  onifa

I agree with you 100%! In terms of cars, if you drive a Suburau, you’re one of the cool outdoorsy types, not a couch potato by any means. You’re the ultimate god(dess) if you don’t have a car, but ride a bike everywhere. Do you shop at Winco vs New Seasons? Do you frequent the east vs the west side (you’re a snob if you prefer west Portland). Beer vs wine? What kind of coffee do you drink? Food carts vs. sit down restaurants? Zupans vs. Trader Joes? In some ways I see these subtle class wars here more than… Read more »

onifa
onifa
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

you know the first car that came to mind was a subaru when i was writing that post! and going to rei for things to walk through the woods in! and the most telling of all WHAT TYPE OF COFFEE YOU DRINK! and don’t even begin to get me started on Trader Joes, because some folks who wouldn’t be caught DEAD due to their politics in Whole Foods will hurt old ladies and small children who get in the way of them getting to Trader Joes! and then follow up by having their organic foods delivered to their homes from… Read more »

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  onifa

Racism is a whole ‘nother post. Of course it not like parts of the south of Midwest, but its there in a different way. When you’re only 6% of the population, you feel it and constantly reminded of it, even in a liberal city.

Amanda
Amanda
8 years ago

You mention education, hard work and luck as factors that helped you to move up. While I wouldn’t say my husband and I are rich we certainly live a more stable life financially than his family. I have a degree and in addition I feel I’ve financially educated myself, which I think is different. (There are stupid -unwise- people with degrees.) DH “only” got a certificate in his field. However, an additional factor played in his “success”. In his company they focus on building indigenous leadership. Because he fit into that category he moved into supervisory and management positions early… Read more »

Kate
Kate
8 years ago

I remember my dad saying he was so poor growing up he couldn’t afford the steam off a free lunch. Of course, he was a product of the Great Depression (born 1918). I think he used to like saying that because he really managed to make something of his life. He started by driving a truck and then he bought trucks and hired other people to drive them. He was a high school graduate as was my mother(also the daughter of a truck driver), but that’s as far as they got with their education. They both worked at the family… Read more »

Samantha
Samantha
8 years ago

I am from a country where strong caste system shaped and formed the society. If you are a daughter or a son of a doctor, you will most likely be a doctor. Likewise, if you are the child of a farmer, you will likely be a farmer. Classism along with racism is also very strong. I grew up in a tight community where I was not exposed or interacted much with the other ethnic groups. Since I grew up in a bubble, I used to think racism do not exist since I wasn’t exposed to other races until my family… Read more »

BrokeElizabeth
BrokeElizabeth
8 years ago

I think there was a clear divide between classes here in the UK, but it is slowly starting to improve. There is still a definite ‘working class’ attitude and some snobbery from the middle and upper classes.

KM
KM
8 years ago

Interesting. I live in the US and class is something I’ve been thinking about lately, after denying it for years. I grew up lower-middle/rural poor in the US but my family was very aspirational, always emphasizing education, culture, and behaving, talking, and dressing like the upper-middle class (or trying to). As a teenager I resented this; I thought it was snobbish and out of touch, and I happily went off to live my life as if class didn’t matter. Years later, I’m middle aged and I can no longer deny that class is real in the US. I also can’t… Read more »

Samantha
Samantha
8 years ago
Reply to  KM

I agree. People from different social background do not value the same things. In your case, your career and education. It is more difficult for a women. I have experienced the similar situation when my ex boyfriend did not understand the value of education and my motives to become successful. I guess that is why he is my ex now.

Ally
Ally
8 years ago
Reply to  Samantha

I completely agree. I was raised in an upper-middle class family where education was considered normal and expected. Both my parents have college degrees. Although my mother’s father was pretty worthless, my maternal ancestors were quite wealthy. My great-great grandfather was a college dean (Virginia Tech). There was never a question that my sister and I would go to college. On the other hand, my husband’s family of origin would be considered lower class. My husband is the only one with more than a high school diploma. His mother’s grammar is horrible, and she took no interest whatsoever in her… Read more »

imelda
imelda
8 years ago
Reply to  KM

Wow, yes, yes, yes. I came to the same decision, too. It surprised me because I was raised in a low-income family, and never would’ve expected it of myself. But after dating guys from different classes, I’ve realized that it really does make a difference. Like you say, the expected roles, how conscious/educated people are about feminism and things like class or religious differences…. It’s quite stark. It’s made me realize that I probably belong to the upper class or upper-middle-class. Then again, I’m a biracial gal raised in a middle-class community, sent by my low-income parents to (very) upper-class… Read more »

brooklyn money
brooklyn money
8 years ago

Racism, classism — of course they are prevalent in LatAm, just like they are here and in many other countries! I’ve lived in Chile and have friends and family there. Class and racism is very complicated topic there, that often is wrapped up in politics as well which then gets into topics like Pinochet and the dictatorship.

shares