A person’s culture becomes a part of their group identity, something that defines them and people similar to them in concrete ways. Class, as it stands, is also part of a person’s identity. The influence of class on identity is more complex, and to understand it, one must first examine the connection between class and culture. Social class, in a basic sense, is one’s position within society, influenced by a variety of factors, including economic status and roles within a community (Benokraitis, 2018). Most often, people are divided into the lower, middle, and upper classes, most prominently based on their economic wealth. Such considerations as one’s job, living conditions, their pastime, among other things, can all be signifiers of class (Benokraitis, 2018). Class differences are invariably interconnected due to a variety of factors. Most notably, social class determines what activities people perform and their day-to-day activities, shaping their values and goals in life.
A person from the lower class, for example usually needs to save money or cut costs, making the use of cheaper items, food, and clothing a necessity. Alternatively, someone from an upper class is more likely to make bigger purchases and live exorbitantly. Such differences impact the identity of each social class as a whole, influencing what people expect to see from members of a particular social group. This relationship between class and identity also connects with the concept of pride, as one’s feelings of accomplishment or satisfaction from being a member of a particular group. Due to the relationship between particular socioeconomic conditions and social class, people from the middle and lower classes can often exhibit far less pride in their position in society. Research has shown that higher social standing is associated with higher self-image and happiness (Piff & Moskowitz, 2018). Social status is a signifier of success, and an absence of such is most often seen as something shameful or in need of change. This, in turn, means that lower social classes are ashamed of their status, while the upper class takes pride in their position.
On another note, culture serves as both a signifier of class and its biggest influence. The kinds of behaviors a person engages in, what they find to be part of their daily routine, and what they consider acceptable and unacceptable in large part determines their social class. A member of the middle or lower class is accustomed to the practices that help them navigate life within that group, including their choice of housing, entertainment, food, and clothing. While parts of their cultures help navigate the boundaries of their class, they can also serve as boundaries that keep certain types of people from higher socioeconomic status. To be recognized as a member of a specific social class, the behaviors and habits of a person, as well as the state of their life, must match the common public image of that particular class. This would mean that to “pass” as a member of the upper class, an individual coming from the middle or lower class would need to own their vehicle, possess a considerable amount of wealth, dress in a way that shows their status, and attend events designed for people from upper echelons. Alternatively, a person of high social standing would need to dress more simply, not own much property, and not spend a large amount of money.
As it can be noted, the bar of becoming, or “passing” as a member of a higher social class is more difficult than the other way around. The process requires not only a significant monetary investment but also lifestyle choices that are also connected with higher spending. For a person of the upper class, financial considerations often play a much lesser role in life, which someone trying to “pass” would need to imitate. The ability to fake being a member of another class involves changes in lifestyle and attitude most severe, in an upwards case often involving diametrically changing the way a person interacts with money. For a person trying to “pass” as a member of the lower class, however, the process would most certainly be much simpler. With the easier availability of resources and the connections that come from being rich, a person would have a much easier time radically changing their lifestyle, or at least the appearance of their lifestyle. It is, after all, a lot simpler to lose something than to gain it.
Connected with the discussion of class, one can also discuss considerations of upwards mobility. As mentioned previously, faking belonging to a higher social group is difficult, but becoming a part of such a group is even more complex. Most people tend to remain in the same class they were born into for the rest of their life, with low prospects of upward growth or change. This trend can be explained by how wealth is built. It is always easier to become rich when a person is already well off, as they have more opportunities presented before them in life. A person from a higher class can afford to take more risks, and most often has the safety net of both money and their parents as a means of maintaining their status. For a person from a less fortunate background, however, access to potential avenues of improvement is restricted by many factors, including the quality and access to education, skill level, recognition, monetary support, and even their physical location. People face strong innate resistance when trying to gain wealth and status, which often leaves them in the same spot they started at.
Benokraitis, N. V. (2018). Introduction to sociology (6th ed.). Cengage Learning.
Piff, P. K., & Moskowitz, J. P. (2018). Wealth, poverty, and happiness: Social class is differentially associated with positive emotions. Emotion, 18(6), 902–905. Web.