In discussing American society and its structure, first of all I’m going to define social stratification itself and the bases on which this concept is founded. Then I’m going to discus which category is more applicable to the American society.
To give a general description, social stratification is ranking social groups based on the things they have in common and the things that are different among them. This categorization is basically made in three different ways:
1) State systems,
2) Caste systems, and
3) Class system.
In a state system the authority and power is monopolized in the hands of a narrow elite. In such society, the elites rule and the rest of people are bent to their will; like the feudal societies. In a caste system, a person’s place in society is given to him/her based on birth and ancestry. Thus the person cannot change his/her place throughout his/her life. And finally in a class society people are given status based on birth and also personal achievements and backgrounds. In other word people of such societies can change their status through their lives. Having said all this, we can now discuss the concept of social stratification in American society.
The history of America bears no sign of feudalism in it. Besides, as people of America were immigrants from other countries so the matter of birth was almost of low significance. Of course there were a number of British elite among the first settlers but they could not be proud of their ancestry in their new home as they were in their homelands; because every one had to work hard if s/he wanted to survive.
Therefore the conditions of young America were not suitable for the foundation of a feudal or caste system. So America took the form of a class system. But it’s clear that we can not relate the formation of a class society in America only to conditions America had in early ages. Some other factors have also contributed to the continuation of this system even to today America. Among these factors are: individualism, industry and job opportunities, and a tendency toward mobility.
In America the idea of individualism is so profound that it can be seen in every aspect of peoples’ lives. Individuals are preferred to societies and in this way personal achievement becomes the measure for giving a person his/her status in society. it is the individual who is responsible for his/her success and failure- it is interesting to know that 43 percent of people polled by Gallup believed “lack of effort as a reason people are poor” and “53 percent” believed “”strong effort” as a reason some people are rich” ¹.
We can conclude that most of the people believe in he class society values and features. The next tow factors are actually interrelated. Even we can trace the effects if individualism in these two. For an American finding a good job is one of the main priorities. They easily leave their homes and houses in hope to have better jobs and therefore better opportunities and conditions. As an effect of individualism, they feel less sense of belonging to family or homeland. In other words a good job opportunity is most of the times preferred over being near one’s family and homeland. Again the matter of birth loses its significance because of this condition and each person is taken accountable for his/her status, thus reaffirming the class system in America.
Like other class societies, America consists of three basic classes: higher class, middle class and lower class. But some thing is different in America. Unlike in other class systems, in America class consciousness is actually absent ², which means people are not aware of their place in the social ranking. Actually most of them consider themselves as middle-class but they don’t know where the boundaries of the three classes meet each other. However if we want to give an income- based definition of the middle class, according to statistics it ranges from”$ 32,653 to $ 48,979″ ³.
The overlapping of classes in America is caused somehow the concept of credit shopping. In this way, even a person of a lower class income group can buy things that people of the middle class afford to buy through credit shopping. So s/he sees little difference between people of middle class and herself/himself. So he also thinks he belongs to middle class. I think that through such economical system, American government has been able to promote the standard of living among the citizens, spreading a sense of satisfaction among people. That’s why most of Americans still consider their country the best place to live.
-1 and 2 from: http://www.pbs.org/peoplelikeus/resources/stats.html