Social status

SOCIAL STATUS & CLASS

We are all of and in a social class, which might differ over the course of our lives.

Of

We are of the class of our parents, simply born into it. We don’t deserve it. It isn’t earned.

In

We are in the class that we rose or fell to as adults. It is our current state. Residual elements may remain from earlier positions.

Our social status is a major contributor to our sense of who we are – our identity.

Class and social status can include a person’s attitude, financial class, prestige or reputation. The differences can show up in daily interactions such as how people carry themselves socially, the work they do, the clothing they wear and the leisure activities they pursue. READ MORE

This is not a choice that people ponder over. “Hmmm. Which class would I prefer? To have access to power and resources or not to have access to power and resources?” All other things being equal, people naturally migrate toward classes above their own. Unless someone is already a king or queen.

Upper class culture is filled with indicators of belonging, including home and lifestyle, civic and artistic causes, a full range of highly stylized social activities and, of course designer fashion. Members can spot one another across a ballroom. And they can spot a “visitor” just as easily. Their lives are relatively secure and in their control. Upper class parents tend to emphasize self-directed values in their children. “You are special and deserve to be who you want to be.”

Middle class culture has it’s own indicators, including home & lifestyle (perhaps two working parents to make ends meet), sports team support and neighborhood engagement. They often invest heavily in education and attire for their children to insure access to more opportunities. They are somewhat in control, with access to savings, insurance and some investments. People tend to value independence and self-fulfillment for their children, sometimes prioritized over cooperation. “I’ve got to be me!”

Working class culture is rooted in dependence and insecurity. Hourly wages in uncertain jobs often don’t support home ownership, healthcare or education. Members of this culture are more interdependent as they deal with the ups and downs of employment and family issues. Helping one another – sticking together when the chips are down - is seen as vital. You don’t wander around taking what you want. There are dues to be paid. Working class parents often emphasize conformity, fitting in, as a way to survive. If you make waves, you risk expulsion from work or school.

When kids are in high school these class differences can be brutal. At the age when identity is a dream – a creation – they are exposed to a flood of stories and images promoting how to be cool. Woefully, 99% of what they see comes with high price tags. At the same time, “competition” is at its most intense, being surrounded by hundreds of other teens looking to belong and be special at the same time. It can feel like winners and losers every day. Evidence of social status too often wins the day.

It can be a tall ladder or a long slide. Just being the first in a small local group to get the new haircut can be enough – for a while. Or learning to behave like the group to which you want to belong can set you free. But, so often, when they return home, they are greeted by, “Who do you think you are!”
Let’s explore how people indicate either the status or class they are in or that they aspire to. The arts on full display.

THEATER/ACTING/RITUALS

Mealtime etiquette

Breaking bread together is considered a sacred activity around the globe. It’s when we take care of ourselves and each other. Coming to the table with personal urgency has never been okay. Even the very hungry must tend the group’s needs. Violate these expectations and you may not be invited back – which can be a risky proposition.

The more resources a group has access to, the more stylized the mealtime routine becomes. The concepts of aperitifs, or appetizers, salad course, entrees, or cheese course or ….. (You get the picture.) are only familiar to the middle and upper classes. Visitors who pick up the wrong fork – who chew with their mouth open – expose themselves. They don’t belong.

And these breaches of etiquette aren’t viewed passively or excused easily. They are often experienced as rude and disrespectful and a clear violation of group standards, despite the fact that lack of exposure is the real driver.

There are differences all the way up and down the status ladder. The bar that most career-oriented people need to clear is being able to successfully navigate through a relatively high-end restaurant experience. Potential employers need to trust that any potential employees can represent their organization well.

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Mealtime etiquette

Social etiquette

This can be tricky terrain as well. A standard cocktail party offers a litany of social tests. Some of the obvious elements are attire, how to work the buffet, how to manage holding a drink and a plate while having a conversation. All are acquired skills.

Social expectations require that you know how to approach a group of people you don’t know, handle introductions, demonstrate the appropriate deference and master the basics of appropriate small talk. This can be another proving ground – another gauntlet – for people to pass through on their way up in status.

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Social etiquette

Coming of age rituals

The importance of milestones as kids grow up is the same across classes. The difference is how expensive the events are. Attending classmates’ parties is a critical part of the school community and it is often a student’s first introduction to parties on a scale that is different from what they are used to. These events can range from a gathering of eight friends at the bowling alley to a private concert at a huge venue.

For lower or working class parents, these milestones can be filled with pressure. They know how important it is for their child’s social standing, so they frequently spend more than they know they should to ensure their child can fit in. Of course, the class difference is all too obvious anyway.

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Coming of age rituals

Greetings and overall demeanor

Sometimes class is shown as a series of gracious gestures. Welcoming people, stepping aside, holding the door, immediately relieving them of coats, etc. People with wealth are often highly skilled in the mechanics of introducing guests, tending their immediate needs and helping them navigate.

All learned behaviors.

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Greetings and overall demeanor

Theater Overview

Our lives are filled with scripts we follow. All the basics of ETIQUETTE and PROTOCOL keep things running smoothly and reduce social friction. RITUALS, like marriages or holidays, are repeatable ways people participate in their cultures’ values. We all adjust how we ACT in different situations. Picture how people act differently at a string quartet concert vs at an outdoor music festival. We are in control of our conduct and our cultures establish the rules. We send signals to the groups to which we want to belong by honoring their expectations. Most cultures have preferred approaches to DISPLAY OF EMOTIONS. We are able to adjust how we express ourselves and recognize that lack of adherence brings some risk. Some religious services are fully participative and emotional and others are quiet and contemplative. Children practice and prepare for adulthood in our communities by PRETENDING. Gender roles, particularly, are taught and reinforced in cultures by encouraging little mommies or daddies – or soldiers or teachers.

Theater Overview

MUSIC, DANCING & BODY LANGUAGE

High end musical genres

We all have the potential to enjoy any musical genre. We begin at home and broaden our portfolios from there. Nearly endless possibilities.

Historically, musicians (all artists) have been supported by nobility and royalty. There was appreciation that an artist needed relief from the daily grind to develop mastery and to create masterworks. Courtly music became more and more refined – offering works on a grand scale requiring scores of artists and production support. At the same time the rest of the world was working the fields, the barns and the smithy shops.

Orchestral, chamber music, ballet and opera all have their roots among the privileged classes. The relationship continues. Attend a performance and you will see tuxedoes and gowns, expensive jewelry – and champagne.

The cost of entry into this musical world is still quite high. It requires a considerable investment in time to understand (to appreciate) the genres. And the cost to attend (ticket price and attire) is out of range for many.

It can feel like pretending for those not accustomed.

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High end musical genres

Learning an instrument

Being able to learn a musical instrument can make a big difference in a child’s life. Early on in a student’s school life, social status makes a difference.

Private music lessons and tutors can be costly. The experience of owning your own instrument can contribute to commitment. Having the time to practice can be a benefit. Even concert attire can be a challenge for working class parents.

Working class kids’ desire to belong and participate is as strong as those from a more privileged background. But the landscape is different. It is way too easy for them to feel inferior in an uneven playing field.

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Learning an instrument

Music Overview

Humans are musical creatures. It has been proposed that SINGING evolved to facilitate social cohesion. It promotes fast connection among strangers and deeper connection with a known community. When we sing or DANCE, we SYNCHRONIZE with one another. Not just our voices or movements but our heart rates. Our breathing. We experience ourselves well beyond the confines of our individual bodies. In our brains, the boundaries between us blur. Music captures CULTURES. We need only hear a few bars to recognize genre or nationality or generation. Children are bathed in the music of their heritage from before they are born. It will always feel like home. It helps tell the stories and establish the uniqueness of the community. Each culture has its own unique choreography and dance movements that communicate history, values and life lessons. Movie SOUNDTRACKS often drive the emotional trajectory of a story. A view of the ocean is just water until you hear the two notes from Jaws. HARMONY and DISSONANCE are experienced physically. We hold our breath - together - until the phrase is resolved.

Music Overview

STORYTELLING / LITERATURE/ LANGUAGE

Access to literature

One of the biggest class differences is children’s access to books. Having exposure to a broader range of stories about cultures and challenges increases a child’s vocabulary and makes it easier for them to navigate through the world.

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Access to literature

Storytelling

The dream of being liberated from the constraints of class is a common feature of fairytales. The Prince and the Pauper is a great twist on the constraints of any class. But most often the lower class protagonist is presented as a diamond in the rough. If only …..

Life is lived yearning, depending on the kindness of those whose status is above yours. If only …

Overcoming hardships is often the work of lower class heroes.

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Storytelling

Language, grammar and accents

Often a “proper” accent evolves in a country, scrubbed clean of regional or ethnic dialects and local colloquialisms. It represents the standard. It can be used as an identifier of belonging – or not – to the upper classes.

People who aspire to belong to a more privileged class may work hard to abide by the proper standard, but real upper classers can tell the difference.

Sometimes people can switch how they speak as they cross back and forth between worlds. Sounding too posh for your family can get tricky.

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Language, grammar and accents

Storytelling Overview

GOSSIP is, perhaps, the most ubiquitous form of storytelling. What and who gets talked about (and why) feeds us all a steady stream of warnings about straying from what our culture accepts as appropriate. It makes many of us run away from our home groups to find ourselves reflected in a positive way with others. Fictional HEROES and protagonists help us understand the challenges we will all face by modeling a culture’s core values. Western stories tend to celebrate a ‘might makes right’ approach, which is contrary to some eastern sensibilities. Whoever gets celebrated in our stories serves as role models. We all want to be celebrated. CHILDREN’S BOOKS may seem to be about hungry bunnies or silly chickens, but kids pick up on all the powerful cultural messaging going on in the background. Gender roles. Consideration of others. Consequences for misbehaving (isolation?). TELLING (and retelling) THE STORY about how a group began, or how the world began, is a powerful way to induct new generations into a group. Consistent MYTHS, heroes and journeys give us frameworks for today. RELIGIONS have SACRED TEXTS where the words themselves – touching the words – is like touching lightning. Reading also broadens our understanding of the world and of ourselves. We see we are not alone which can help us heal and hold on for better days. We develop empathy for those who are different from us. We can live in their skin for a while. And, finally, MEDIA. Everywhere we turn we are exposed to stories about people who flew too close to the sun or who put themselves above others and paid the price. And endless stories about SPORTS and ENTERTAINMENT STARS – the most common heroes today.

Storytelling Overview

FASHION & APPEARANCE

Fashion

Fashion is the primary communicator of class. It has always been that way. In many ways, it is the purpose of fashion – a visual display of who is in what station in life.

Evidence of higher class? The design. Actually this is where what is in vogue begins. Fashion starts here. The cut is tailored to fit, no bulging or gaps to be found. The fabric is of highest quality. Tiny details signal to those in the know.

Middle class fashion gets close. Often particular brand names speak to the quality (and price). Certain logos are ubiquitous. People in the know understand how brands fit in the status hierarchy.

Showing brand savvy is important to working class people too, but they obviously don’t have the resources necessary to even stay on top of trends let alone to be able to purchase them. So they do the next best thing. They avail themselves of approximations, knock-off brands – mass produced and affordable. Because they recognize that certain brands carry status, they often use bigger logos.

When working class people step into the upper class world, they know the stakes. They may overspend, and perhaps not wisely, for those occasions.

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Fashion

Basic anatomical features

Children from the upper classes have access to better health care, which includes tools such as orthotic shoes, orthodontic treatments and support for a variety of other irregularities often not covered by insurance. Lower class families go without.

Many in the upper classes work with trainers and coaches to develop personal gym and yoga routines. This takes time and money, neither of which are abundant for those in the working class.

As adults, plastic surgery and botox treatments are beyond what most working class people can afford.

Access to a healthy diet and lifestyle can also be a challenge.

All of these physical advantages have a noticeable cumulative effect.

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Basic anatomical features

The pampered look

A routine of spa treatments, facials, trimmed brows, massages, manicures and pedicures contributes to a nearly flawless look. Perfect grooming – hair that is colored with care and cut with precision in a clear contemporary style. All takes time. All done by professionals.

This all shows. For those who want to be accepted into a higher status, there are at-home versions – but the difference is clear.

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The pampered look

Jewelry

This goes without saying. Almost everyone wears jewelry. The difference is easy to spot. Plus, in many middle and upper class families, jewelry is handed down through generations, a reflection of an established class.

Costume jewelry – accent on costume – fills in the void for the working class. Often, if they have real precious jewelry, they end up selling it for less than it is worth in order to get through an urgent financial crisis. Working class neighborhoods are loaded with pawn shops.

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Jewelry

Fashion Overview

Our bodies come pre-wired to connect. They are on high alert and ready to respond and build connections. But with billions of people milling around us, how do we increase the odds that we can find a real connection? Welcome to the world of connection marketing. We are all in the business of telling passers-by who we are. Something as simple as ATTIRE is actually never simple. It speaks volumes about our financial status or age or ethnicity. Our HAIR. Our own unique texture and curliness is ready to be fashioned (and ready to resist our best efforts to control it). We put on faces – sometimes enhanced with GROOMING or MAKEUP.  We dress to belong, following DRESS CODES, UNIFORMS and CULTURAL EXPECTATIONS. Wearing flipflops to a baptism might send a message that we didn’t respect the ceremony and the values it represents. BODY ART, including tattoos and piercings, is often an ‘in your face’ statement about resistance or belonging. Cultural expectations related to gender can dominate and intimidate. Each step into non-binary fashion invites curiosity and, in some cultures, the wearer can risk marginalization. Teens, as they work to find their niches, sort out into identifiable styles, from low-slung jeans to popular logos to $1000 sneakers. To belong means to honor the ‘code’ to the extent that you can.

Fashion Overview

VISUAL ARTS

Art on display

A key difference between the classes is the interest and ability to purchase – and even collect – art.

Homes are larger – wall space is abundant – and art is on display. Many of the world’s masterpieces are privately owned, even if they are on display in museums and galleries. Often members of the upper classes have an extensive knowledge of all of the arts and thus serve as benefactors and supporters. Art is an investment, not just in value, but in establishing oneself as an arbiter of good taste. This is reminiscent of the patronage systems of long ago.

For working class people, unfortunately, fine art is simply out of reach. It can be seen as posh and irrelevant. Art works are more likely to be treated as decorative, a statement of taste for visitors to see.

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Art on display

Visual Arts Overview

It’s easy to think of appreciating the visual arts as a passive activity. Looking. Not touching. Not engaging with it. But, as fast as they eye can see, we absorb the IMAGES and the stories that imagery tells. Recent research has shown how subtle an element in a picture might be and yet it can have a profound effect. Toddlers were shown a picture with an activity in the foreground and a bookcase in the background. On that bookcase, when there is an image of two people happily facing one another, these toddlers are significantly more likely to help the researcher pick up spilled toys than those who had a different picture on the shelf. What we see can affect what we do. Many religions have recognizable SYMBOLS, (the Star and Crescent, the Cross, the Star of David) which not only inform all the rituals, but also identify one’s faith to others in the community. LOGOS & BRANDS are designed to represent a company’s values, and people often wear or drive or drink the products they feel represent the group with which they want to be identified.  Some ILLUSTRATIONS & PICTURE BOOKS teach children that moms carry purses and dads have fun– even if no word is written. FLAGS symbolize what is important about nations or schools or clubs. Any damage to these symbols can stir controversy and anger.  Who and what gets hung on our walls are seen as being worthy and important. And, finally, we have FAVORITE THINGS in our lives, memorabilia – like mini-sculptures – that continue to carry warm feelings and memories for us. Simply seeing them in our space helps us feel connected to the moments and the people they represent.

Visual Arts Overview [gs-fb-comments]