Rethinking Social Class

by Dual Income No Kids on April 18, 2008 · 0 comments

Hello All,

Both my wife and I recently returned from a wedding in Eugene, Oregon. The trip was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect family, as well as a chance to celebrate the life journey that our friends were about to undergo with their new marriage.

For me however, the trip has been cause for some reevaluation of my thoughts on social class in America.

A part of me would like to believe that America is a meritocracy, and that one’s wealth and social position in life depend largely on their own merits. This is a strong theme in American society, as evidenced by the popularity of Horatio Alger stories and our celebration of great personalities who have come from nothing to achieve wealth or fame. There is also a lot of variability in social mobility, so one might be forgiven for assuming that wealth comes from merit, rather than class background.

However, my trip to Oregon has given me cause for reevaluating the importance of class. In Oregon, I was struck by the differences in wealth and class background of our respective social and family circles. For example, the married couple both come from west coast entrepreneurial families. Their parents tended to spend more time on business and maintained close associations among their respective business communities. On the other hand, my parents are a doctor and an attorney, but they socialize mostly with other professionals. Finally, my wife’s family is more working class from a rural part of Oregon and enjoy outdoor activities like target shooting or fishing.

What was striking about the contrasts of the trip was how similar we had all become to our parents. For example our friends were both small business owners. I am on my way to a professional academic career and my wife, while a professional still, shows her country roots sometimes. The parallels between this and building wealth are obvious, so I won’t say much about them here, save to note that if you have same job as your parents, you’ll likely have the same level of wealth.

Finally, I have to conclude that although merit plays an important part in building wealth, my experiences on our most recent trip suggested that social class reasserts itself in consistent ways, even in a small town in Oregon.

Best,

James

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