National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council Vol. 10, No.1 (Spring/Summer 2009). ISSN 1559-0151 Copyright © 2009 by the National Collegiate Honors Council.


Like many other concepts in the sociological literature, social class is easier to discuss than to define. Nonetheless, define it we must in order to have some common ground for discussing it and for explaining it to our students. Aquick scan of basic textbooks, those defenders of sociology’s virtues, gives us a definition something like this: “A social class is a group of people [in sociology, it’s always safe to start this way] who share the same level of income and education and therefore share roughly the same norms, values, and lifestyle.” To be perfectly clear about this, sociologists aren’t saying that all people with the same income and education—say, high school English teachers—believe and act in lockstep ways. We understand and recognize the powerful effects of geography, upbringing, religion, personal choice, and the like. We are, however, saying that different incomes, values, and attitudes lead people to pursue different levels and types of education. In turn, different levels and types of education lead people to different levels of income and different lifestyles. Generally, more education is likely to lead to a job that doesn’t require heavy lifting and hence to higher income and to a lifestyle with more leisure time and discretionary funds.