Thursday, April 28, 2011

Social Class Stereotypes

Using only the honest (and anonymous) responses to this opinion survey on social class, our students first placed themselves in the social hierarchy, and then proceeded to enumerate the characteristics of the three class divisions in American society.

I fed the responses into a Wordle, or "word cloud" which generated an image of the most commonly used words (50 max). Colors and fonts are irrelevant here. Certainly each image, corresponding to a single social class, could not be said to be a perfect measurement tool, but it does seem to suggest something. What do you make of these images?


David said...

I notice right away that everything seems to revolve around money. In the upper class wordle, it is very easy to find because a lot of items that require a lot of money are mentioned, like cars, vacations, etc. The lower class is easy to identify because of some euphemisms for poor, and references to having a hard time are mentioned. Seems like we all had the same general ideas about how classes are defined. While I didn't put anything about this on my vote, I don't notice anything about how happy each of the classes are. I mean, money can't buy happiness, so they shouldn't be very related, but different lifestyles yield different attitudes. My query would be if any one group is happier than another?

Nikita S. said...

Like David, I also noticed that money was mentioned most often in the description of each class. I think that it's very interesting that there's no mention of health in any of the classes. Money is supposed to be directly related to the quality of healthcare that is available, so shouldn't the quality of healthcare be mentioned somewhere? I think this leads to a larger question, why do we take our health care system for granted?

Kasia said...

I agree with David that everything in each class seems to revolve around money. I understand that, however I find it interesting that while we mentioned things such as behaviors and attitudes in class, none of these words make it into the wordle (such as the word 'snobby' for upper class). I'm wondering if we have come to the conclusion that social class depends exclusively on money and the material things that come with it.
Also, David, when you said you wonder if any one group is happier than another, that reminded me of my junior theme topic. I researched in depth on mental illness and found that one of the most at-risk groups for things such as depression and anxiety are upper class citizens. While prevention efforts used to be focused mostly on the lower class, the mental health of the upper class is the new major concern. I found that one of the major factors of this is anxiety in the upper class. However, this doesn't seem to make sense with many of the words I am seeing in the wordle for the upper class, which still bothers me. With words such as educated, vacations, money, and especially starbucks :) , shouldn't the upper class be the happiest?

Glenna said...

All very interesting points! Nikita I agree, health should be a high priority for all people- if you look on the right side of the lower class wordle it actually is listed, but it's small.

I am glad to see that not everyone listed themselves as upper class- some people identified as middle class. I often designate class by surrondings- if you live in a rich neighborhood, even if you yourself are not rich, then you are automatically associated with a higher social class. It's refreshing to see opposition to the common "North Shore" stereotype.

Chlo Scho said...

What I found interesting is that the usage of the word "work" goes down the higher the class gets. Clearly, it takes a lot of work for someone to become an upper class citizen in America, but we associated it most with lower class citizens. Maybe because lower class citizens do not reap the benefits of their hard work because they are given the short end of the stick in our society which makes it seem that they work that much harder than the next person.

Miles T-G said...

First off, it’s nice to see a new blog up on Amstud.

I agree with David that money is a prevalent word here, but I’m more interested in the words and themes that specifically address the individual classes.

In the lower class wordle, the words “hard”, “work”, “struggle” and “food” really stick out to me. It’s interesting to see this sample of NT students come to a consensus on the idea that the lower class struggles, has hardships, works and seemingly has problems with food. I further find these assumptions interesting due to the fact that none of the students listed themselves as members of the lower class.

The middle class wordle certainly differs from that of the lower classes. Words like “college’, “vacations”, “family” and especially “upper” seem to me to be brave claims. The idea that middle class individuals go to college and take vacations I’m fine with. However when you guys claim that members of the middle class are more family oriented and are actually in the upper echelon of society, it baffles me. The upper class assumption just doesn’t make sense, and I feel money has nothing to do with whether or not you have a family. Perhaps interaction within the family changes from class to class, but plainly stating “family” for middle class is dangerous in my mind.

For the upper class, in which the majority of the students consider themselves members of, we see “houses”, “class”, “high” and “large”. I don’t know if you guys have started the Great Gatsby quite yet, but I find your ideas on the upper class parallel to those of Fitzgerald’s. That is, Fitzgerald described the upper class scene of New York as high class, with large houses and tons of wealth.

Overall, I think some of the words are interesting choices, but thought provoking nonetheless.

Ian F. said...

Just to clarify, the survey did not have us pick words to describe each class, but rather write sentences about our views of the classes. Mr. Bolos generated these word clouds using the passages we wrote, so if you see family appear it means that many students used the word family in their description, not that they used only that word to describe the middle class.

Leland L. said...

It is also important to relate this information to the rest of the globe. Other nations' upper-classes may be characterized by different qualifiers, such as political clout and and access to family treasures.

This first chart is particularly interesting, where the US appears third with a median household income of $37,500.,_Illinois

Now, if you notice the median household income of Winnetka, Illinois on the right side of its Wikipedia page, you'll clearly see that the value of $277,371 per household is well above the worldwide norm.

While this is "An American Studies" class, it is imperative to keep a worldly perspective when we refer to ourselves as members of a "class."

Emma said...

I definitely agree with Leland when he says that we need to look beyond the North Shore when we talk about class. When I asked my parents what class they considered us, they where a little bit baffled that I even had to ask. They said that they hope that I realize that not everyone in the world lives the way people do in the North Shore, and they are trying to make me realize that we are extremely lucky that we live the way we do. If we were to divide the North Shore up into classes, I definitely would not be upper class, but in relation to the world almost everyone here is upper class (if we are defining it mostly by wealth like David mentioned), no matter what town they live in.

ReedKO said...

I was curious about the same thing as you: the level of happiness within the families. In my response to the descriptions of the three classes, I said that the middle class has the most tightly knit families. This is not to say that the upper and lower classes cannot have happy families that enjoy each others company. One reason that the middle class may have tightly-knit families is that middle class Americans, in my opinion, are the families that live in a small house together, eat family meals together, and spend time together. Upper class residents live in larger houses, parents might work constantly and rarely be home, and upper class residents can afford to partake in activities independently of their family. On the other end of the spectrum, the lower class might have family issues which contributed to their classification as lower class. Also, economic troubles may tear lower class families apart. This is why I feel that middle class families are happier and more tightly knit than any other type. I hope maybe this gets you thinking about what YOU would consider a happy family to be.

Carolyn A. said...

This is a really great post. However, I don't believe that it is right nor accurate to generalize how happy or how "tightly-knit" a family is based on what class they fall into. To say that middle class families are the happiest is really hard to support, and I don't believe that one class is "happier" than another. Every family and person within a class is extremely different. The commonalities between them seem to be what are markers of class (such as income, spending, education, work/jobs, lifestyle-including vacations, etc.). I believe emotional states or familial relationships can not be generalized to determine what class one falls into.

Sarah said...

I wasn't in class on friday, but wow it seems like I missed a lot!!!! These three wurldes are quite interesting in many ways.

First, I was honestly suprised that almost 30% of our class belived they were middle class. Coming from one of the wealthiest public highschools in the country, along with the 2nd most wealthy town in the NATION, I assumed that percentage would be smaller. But theres my problem right there, I assumed. Some of the words within each wurlde I feel are exaggerations, and stretches to what reality is. We truly do live in, as some may say, a "bubble" in the Northshore. I think it is important to recognize that when filling out these surveys. Miles said it perfectly...NONE of us put ourselves as lower class, so how would we acctually know that the lower class, as some of the words were: "struggles," is in "gangs," "lacks," is "poor" and has it "hard." It sure isn't what we see around us! I think its fair to say that wealth encompasses the New Trier Township. Is it the media that fed us these words? Our parents? Our experiences? I really am curious to know the most direct answer.