Friday, November 30, 2012

What are upper-middle class people like?

Will Barratt, Ph.D.

Work: Management, Executive, business owner, professional

Education: College, graduate, or professional degree

Home:  Mostly homeowners

Money and money management: Have after-tax money and retirement money to manage, real estate investments, stocks, municipal bonds, T-notes, annuities, 529s, mutual funds, a home equity line of credit, a 401k, an IRA and other types of investments.  Older UMCs will have a personal or phone relationship with a broker, financial, or wealth manager. Younger UMCs trade on line, by phone, in person, and have a personal broker, financial, or wealth manager, and an online trading account.

Shop:,,,, Saks Fifth Ave, Nordstrom, Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Lands’ End, L. L. Bean, Lord and Taylor, J. Crew, Thomasville, Neiman Marcus, Talbots, Crate and Barrel

Read: The Economist, Details, Harper’s Bazar, The New Yorker, Barron’s, Wall Street Journal, Traditional Home, Bon Appetit, Wine Spectator, Condé Nast Traveler, Architectural Digest, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Coastal Living, Yachting, Skiing, American Hunter

Watch:  IFC, international videos, soccer, BBC America, PBS, The View, Masterpiece Theater, 60 Minutes, Saturday Night Live, Golf Channel, video on demand, pay-per-view, Ebert and Roeper, Washington Week, Bloomberg Television

Drive: Audi, VW, Lexus, Mercedes, Land Rover, Toyota Land Cruiser, Jaguar

Insurance: Have health insurance, retirement insurance, and travel insurance.

Vacation and travel: Europe, (Spain, Portugal, France), cruises, and frequent domestic travel for fun and business

Memberships: Country Club, Civic Club

Sports: Watch Horse racing, tennis, and golf, play tennis, go skiing, water skiing, and snorkeling


Market segmenting makes assumptions about consumption and creates clusters of people based on their consumer characteristics, age, and on where they live.  The Nielsen Company has identified 66 PRIZM market segments, 58 P$YCLE segments, and 53 ConneXions segments, and described people in them by demographics and lifestyle and media traits.

I have aggregated information from the 14 PRIZM market segments classified as Wealthy and Upscale to describe the upper-middle social class.  This collection of 14 market segments reflects a median family income range from slightly above $100,000 a year down to $50,000.  The six wealthy market segments represent millions of US households so I  included them in the upper-middle class based on the assumption that the elite upper class are few in number.


These are not stereotypes, these are consumer behaviors based on research on what people report about themselves.  These data are widely used by marketers in the US.  The underlying assumption here is that social class is reflected in consumer behaviors.  By looking closely it is clear that this group has money to invest and has accumulated retirement money.  This consumer assumption about social class does not reflect social class as culture or social class as identity.


What are upper-middle-middle class people like?

What are middle-middle class people like?

What are lower-middle-middle class people like?

What are poor and lower class people like?

Social class and cyborgs

Will Barratt, Ph.D.

If you are reading this you are already a cyborg, at least according to William Gibson.  You have augmented reality, peripherals, external memory, and arrays of information all at your fingertips, a mouse click or a voice command away.  Gibson outlined this idea of cyborg in his 2008 talk to the Vancouver Institute “Googling the Cyborg” (in Distrust that particular flavor).  I was taken by his idea that we don’t need to be hardwired to be a cybernetic organism.  We are not hardwired like the Borg or memory augmented like Johnny Mnemonic, but how we affect our peripherals and how they affect us is cybernetics. We can still unplug our broadband, tablet, laptop, cellphone, game console, and silicon based peripheral life.  Yet few of us unplug.

For me, the idea of the peripheral goes beyond silicon, and that is where social class comes in.  In the performance of our selves in everyday life (see Irving Goffman’s Performance of self in everyday life) we have all manner of personal identity peripherals.  People with more money will have more high quality, designer, high speed, maximum bandwidth silicon peripherals with obviously designer labeled cases.  You can get a Prada iPad case that costs more than an iPad mini.  A silicon peripheral can have a designer fashion peripheral, layering it all in complex ways.

According to Wikipedia, the most excellent source to use in this particular blog, “Cybernetics is a transdisciplinary approach for exploring regulatory systems, their structures, constraints, and possibilities.”  “A cyborg, short for "cybernetic organism", is a being with both biological and artificial (i.e. electronic, mechanical, or robotic) parts.”  Do peripherals not hard wired to you count as part of you?  Yes, according to Gibson.  You rely on sensory input (glowing screens) and physical output (typing) to use peripherals, the hard wiring is irrelevant.  If silicon-based input and output peripherals are part of our cybernetic organism selves, then our other peripherals are equally part of our cybernetic “regulatory systems, . . . structures, constraints, and possibilities”.

Our fashion and accessory peripherals help us in the performance of our gender, our ethnicity, our social class, and the myriad identities we have on public display.  Dan Ariely in The (honest) truth about dishonesty explores honesty and counterfeit fashion.  His, and others’, research tells us that knowingly wearing real high prestige designer sunglasses makes us slightly more honest and knowingly wearing counterfeit high prestige designer sunglasses makes us slightly more dishonest.  This makes knowledge about a fashion peripheral part of a person’s regulatory system, structure, constraints, and possibilities.  Sunglasses are a fashion peripheral and affect your perception of the world, as well as affect your honesty.

Cybernetic analyses is exploring regulatory systems, structures, constraints, and possibilities.  Thinking of cell phones as silicon technology peripherals makes us cybernetic organisms in a more traditional sense.  We are linked to technology is a systemic way which affects both the technology and us.   Thinking of fashion as a peripheral also makes us cyborgs, linked to our manufactured clothing and accessories which in turn affects our self-image and behaviors, which in turn affects those around us who in turn affect us. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

What is my social class?

Will Barratt, Ph.D.

People are curious about their social class.  Multiple web sites will assist you with a quiz or a checklist grounded in some idea of social class.  Most of these groundings, these ideas about social class, are not explicit and we need to read with critical analysis to understand what idea of class is being promoted or reflected.  I am curious as to why we want some quiz or checklist to tell us our social class?  What is it about us and what is it about social class that brings this question up?  There is a simple question here: “What social class am I?”  and there is a complex question here: “What is being (insert social class here) like?”.  I think both of these questions drive us to know more.

What is my social class?

The New York Times has an interactive graphic that will help you identify your social class based on occupation, education, and income.  The illusion of certainty is obtained through the use of objective measures without asking the question if occupation, education, and income are the right questions to ask, or if the rankings on the scale are accurate.  This is probably the most sophisticated measure available on line.

PBS provides an entertaining quiz and links to material covered as a supplement to their excellent People Like Us video.  This is an excellent and informative, research based, complex view of social class designed to stimulate conversation.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a quiz based on Paul Fussell’s “The Living Room Scale” that asks questions about what you have, or don’t have, in your living room.  For example, you get points for having an old oriental carpet and lose points for having a new one.  Even asking that question shows a clear bias toward making distinctions at the upper end of the social class scale.  On the third hand, what market share is the quiz directed at?  This is interesting and uses a questionable model of social class as their measure, but it is a fun and interesting checklist.

Quizfarm has a quiz developed by gonewiththegale based on questions about stuff, attitudes, and values that compares your answers to individuals in various social class groups, and of course my favorite social class group and my highest score; alternative.  This quiz reflects a complex view of class, and uses class stereotypes to create questions. has the quick quiz Determine Your Social Class Based on What You Drink, with three class options that is also based on Paul Fussell’s work.  While amusing, this is based solely on class stereotypes and reflects no research.  A critical look at liquor advertising will reveal the flaws in both Fussell’s work and this quiz.

Tim Sheard posted a quiz for a University course in 2008 based on Ruby Payne’s work.  While the quiz is an excellent reflection of Payne’s work, reading the questions brings into clear question Payne’s assumptions about class groups.  For example, the lower class items involve weapons and crime and the upper class items reflect an imaginary group personified by Donald Trump.  This is an ideological and stereotyped view of social class that should be read very critically.

Along with Andrew Lurker, Angela Carlen, Meagan Cahill, Minnette Huck, and Stacy Ploskonka I produced a group experience quiz called the Social Class Cultural Capital Knowledge Quiz that used Bourdieu’s idea of cultural capital to look at two social class groups.  The assumption was that cultural capital – knowledge – was an effective way to make people aware of the distinctions between social classes.  This quiz was designed to stimulate conversation and self-exploration of social class stereotypes.

Reality check

In reality, most people identify as middle class according to the Pew study Inside the middle class: Bad times hit the good life.  So why do I ask “What class am I?” when I already know?  The middle class is a huge group — 91% of the respondents in the Pew study identified as lower-middle class, middle class, or upper-middle class — so the question becomes “What kind of middle class am I?” or “How am I middle class?”

How am I middle class?

I believe that this is the question that people want answered.  We want to know more about our performance of their class.  We also want to know what others in our social class do and we want to be entertained by what people in other social classes do.  You can, and probably should, take each of the quizzes and checklists listed above and then think about the model of social class that each one reflects.  You should also continue reading this to explore a totally different model and of social class and an assessment based on consumer habits.

The myth of the homogeneous social class is as ubiquitous as it is untrue.  The myth of class descriptions based on living rooms contents or on the ability to acquire handguns or bail money is untrue.  There are general trends, but social class is a complex social construct.  Social class identity and the performance of social class must be learned.  Messages of how people in each social class are supposed to behave are transmitted by the media in order to make money on the trappings of social class.  You are a social class market segment and the advertisements in your media outlets are a social class gold mine – literally.  Look at the advertisements in the magazines that you read and in the media that you watch.  Advertisers spend a lot of money trying to understand the buying habits of people who see their ads.  We are all a social class market segment, even if we are in an alternative social class according to an on-line quiz.

Social Class Self-Assessment

First, we need to understand that each of us applies a social class value to nearly everything from beverages (Is Miller brand beer lower class, middle class, or upper class?) to education (Which is a higher social class university; Michigan State University or Harvard University?).  Second, we need to understand that there are two social class values for everything; one assigned by you or me and one assigned by people in the prestige social class.

Use the two scales below in your quest to find your social class based on your consumer habits.

My assignment of social class
Low Prestige

Middle Prestige

High Prestige

Prestige social class assignment of social class
Low Prestige

Middle Prestige

High Prestige

For every full page advertisement you read or 1 minute TV ad you see make a mark on the scale based on how you would assign prestige value from within your social class.  Second, make a mark on the second scale based on how you think the prestige social class would rank the item in the advertisement.  

Example 1:  If there is an advertisement for a Daiwa Goldcast reel you may, because of your social class and cultural capital, rate it as a 4 or 5.  After all, they are really nice.  However, someone from the prestige social class would rank all fishing equipment as a 2.  People in the prestige social class don’t fish for Bass much.  Fly fishing is another story.

Example 2: You may rate an advertisement about vacations to Paris or safaris to Kenya as a 5, as would someone from the prestige social class.  In this case both ratings would be a 5.
Once you have 20-30 marks, you will know what marketers think of your social class based on your consumer habits.

The assumption about consumption

This is a consumer model of social class, and the assumption is that consumption reflects social class.  It is true that some upper-middle class people go Bass fishing, and some lower-middle class people fly fish.  Some working class people go to Paris.  In general, the marketers know a lot about our performance of social class through shopping.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Social Class Cultural Capital Knowledge Quiz

Will Barratt, Andrew Lurker, Angela Carlen, Meagan Cahill, Minnette Huck, Stacy Ploskonka
Indiana State University
2007 (re-posted here)

The following is a quiz about knowledge that is related to social class. No one is expected to get a perfect score for either the Blue or the Red questions, and most people know the answers to more questions in one column or the other.   

Blue Questions
Red Questions

  1. What does Dooney and Burke make?
    1. Hats
    2. Gloves
    3. Shoes
    4. Handbags

  1. What is the Ryder Cup?
    1. A Polo championship
    2. A horse race
    3. A golf tournament
    4. A sailboat race

  1. What is Zabars?
    1. A haberdasher
    2. A delicatessen
    3. A hotel
    4. A resort

  1. What is a “Double Windsor”?
    1. A shotgun
    2. A mixed drink
    3. Pleats in trousers
    4. A tie knot

  1. Where does the fish fork go?
    1. Above your plate
    2. With the forks on the outside
    3. With the forks in the middle
    4. With the forks on the inside

  1. Who wrote “The Four Seasons”?
    1. Vivaldi
    2. Beethoven
    3. Mozart
    4. Verdi

  1. What is a Purdy Over and Under?
    1. A bunk bed at camp
    2. A commercial grade stove
    3. A double cam motor
    4. A shotgun

  1. What are Kona and Blue Mountain?
    1. Resorts
    2. Hotels
    3. Islands
    4. Coffee

  1. What glass is used for Pinot Noir?
    1. White wine
    2. Red wine
    3. Goblet
    4. Tumbler

  1. What are Damsels, Nymphs and Streamers?
    1. Women’s’ clubs
    2. Drugs
    3. Fishing flies
    4. Exotic dancers

  1. What does a shop steward do?
    1. Cleans and serves
    2. Collects union dues
    3. Represents workers
    4. Represents management

  1. White clothing is washed in:
    1. Hot water
    2. Warm water
    3. Cold water
    4. Any temperature water

  1. Who is number 8?
    1. Jeff Gordon
    2. Jeff Gordon Jr.
    3. Dale Earnhart
    4. Dale Earnhart, Jr.

  1. Who sang “Achy breaky heart”?
    1. Johnny Cash
    2. Robert Johnson
    3. Billy Ray Cyrus
    4. Billy Bob Johnson

  1. What does DeWalt make?
    1. Boats
    2. Power tools
    3. Fishing rods
    4. Wheel rims

  1. BOGO is a:
    1. Laundry term
    2. Sale term
    3. Fishing term
    4. BBQ term

  1. What are spinners and wobblers?
    1. Drunks
    2. Drinks
    3. Fishing lures
    4. Exotic dancers

  1. What is a funnel cake?
    1. A bundt cake
    2. Fair food
    3. A birthday cake
    4. An elephant ear

  1. What is a ‘full pull’?
    1. A tool term
    2. A tractor term
    3. A drug term
    4. A drag race term

  1. What is used in Snipe hunting?
    1. No. 8 shot
    2. .22 rifles
    3. Trot line
    4. Bag and a stick

Blue Question Points ________

Red Question Points _______

Group experience facilitator directions to be read to the group.

Please take a few minutes to take the quiz. Circle what you think is the best answer for each question. When you are done I will read the answers and you will score your own quiz.

Scoring: Read this to the group
First I am going to read the answers to the Blue Questions answers and then the answers to the Red Questions. When we are done scoring your quiz add up the number of correct answers in each column.  

Blue Question Answer Key

  1. D - handbags
  2. C - a golf tournament
  3. B - a delicatessen
  4. D - a tie knot
  5. C - with the forks in the middle
  6. A - Vivaldi
  7. D - a shotgun
  8. D - coffee
  9. B - red wine
  10. C - fishing flies

Red Question Answer Key

  1. C - represents workers
  2. A - hot water
  3. D - Dale Earnhart Jr.
  4. C - Billy Ray Cyrus
  5. B - Power Tools
  6. B - Sale term
  7. C - fishing lures
  8. B - fair food
  9. B - a tractor tern
  10. D - bag and a stick

Discussion questions

  1. Who got 5 or more blue points? How many did you get? How many red points did you get?
  2. Who got 5 or more red points? How many did you get? How many blue points did you get?
  3. Who got 5 or more points on the blue and 5 or more on the blue?
  4. Did completing this quiz make you feel more upscale or down scale?
  5. Did you score higher or lower than you expected?
  6. What are some examples of other types of social class cultural capital that you or others might have?
  7. How did you feel about not knowing certain things from your group, or from the other group.
  8. Did this increase your awareness of the kinds of cultural capital that other social class groups have?
 Note:  This material was developed as a group experience in 2007.  Feel free to use this but please reference the authors when you copy or use this. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Step into Social Class 2.0

A Social Class Awareness Experience
Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka
Indiana State University
© 2008

Introduction: An activity designed to help the participants gain awareness of the vast range of social class that exists within themselves and others.  This has been updated based on the wide range of feedback we received as this was becoming a popular experience.

Explanations and Notes:
All of the ‘step taking’ is about things not requiring effort on the students’ part, that were things done by others. While some of these are important to some people, others will be important to others. The list includes experiences, objects, and other things which reflect social class. 

A big room with space to move for all participants
Chairs to sit for discussion

Pay attention to how you feel. Angry, sad, happy, winner, loser . . . 
No talking – we will talk about this a lot when it is over
Line up here and take a step forward of about 1 (one) foot or one foot length

Take a step: 
If your father went to college before you started
If your father finished college before you started
If your mother went to college before you started 
If your mother finished college before you started
If you have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.
If your family was the same or higher class than your high school teachers
If you had a computer at home when you were growing up 
If you had your own computer at home when you were growing up
If you had more than 50 books at home when you were growing up
If you had more than 500 books at home when you were growing up
If were read children's books by a parent when you were growing up
If you ever had lessons of any kind as a child or a teen
If you had more than two kinds of lessons as a child or a teen 
If the people in the media who dress and talk like you were portrayed positively
If you had a credit card with your name on it before college
If you had or will have less than $5000 in student loans when you graduate
If you had or will have no student loans when you graduate
If you went to a private high school
If you went to summer camp
If you had a private tutor
(US students only) If you have been to Europe more than once as a child or teen
(International question) If you have been to the US more than once as a child or teen
If your family vacations involved staying at hotels rather than KOA or at relatives homes
If all of your clothing has been new 
If your parents gave you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
If there was original art in your house as a child or teen
If you had a phone in your room
If your parent owned their own house or apartment when you were a child or teen
If you had your own room as a child or teen
If you participated in an SAT/ACT prep course
If you had your own cell phone in High School
If you had your own TV as a child or teen
If you opened a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College
If you have ever flown anywhere on a commercial airline
If you ever went on a cruise with your family
If your parents took you to museums and art galleries as a child or teen
If you were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family

Now everyone recognize that you are at the same place academically.
Everyone turn around.
Everyone has permission to talk. 
No one has permission to accuse any one or any group of anything. 
Everyone must use “I” statements. 
Note that the people on one end of the room had to work harder to be here today than the people at the other end of the room. Some of you had lives of more privilege than others. There is no one to blame, it is just the way it is. Some have privilege and some don’t.
 (this can be said now or later, I don’t know where it will be appropriate)

What were the feelings that you had during this experience? Who was angry? 
(Anger will be a primary emotion at this point.)
What, specifically, makes you angry?
Who are you angry at?
Who was happy?
Which item do you want to argue about most? Why? Do you want more or fewer steps?

Summary Statement
This experience was about creating awareness of privilege. What it is, what it does, and what it means. Having privilege does not mean that you worked less hard. All it means is that you had a head start, so maybe it does mean you didn’t have to work as hard . . . .

During the next week notice how your high school years helped or didn’t help your experience in school/at work . . . .

Note.  This was developed a while ago and the server where it resided is no longer available so I am posting it here.  This became the basis for the 'privilege meme' posted here: 

Permission to use this is granted to all but please acknowledge our copyright on this work. 
Will Barratt, 11/19/2012

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Talking about social class on campus

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
NASPA Net Results (2007)

Social class gets little attention as a diversity issue on campus yet is often at the center of many current campus issues. The Spellings Report (Commission on the Future of Higher Education, 2006) and Lumina Foundation (2007) concerns with student access and academic success are at their core class issues. First generation students and millennial students on campus present class issues. Student involvement and student leadership are class issues. Yet access, success, students, involvement, and leadership are not discussed as they relate to class issues.

One barrier to talking about class on campus is that we don’t have the language to talk about it. Developing a language to talk about class is the first step along the path to awareness, knowledge, and skill. Another barrier to talking about class is that it makes people uncomfortable and raises many objections. Cline (2007) has a nice collection of “25 things you will hear if you try to talk about class”. “A Touchy Subject” is the name of the first chapter in Class by Fussell (1983).

Class as Capital

There are multiple metaphors of class that come to us from economics, sociology, and psychology. Class as economic capital is the classic metaphor. Using this definition class is seen as money, and the issues of class are economic, the barriers to class movement are economic and the interventions are economic. Money is an incomplete metaphor for class.

Pierre Bourdieu (1983) in The forms of capital expanded the discussion of capital to include economic capital, social capital, and cultural capital. Social capital, also used by the World Bank, was best captured by Cuyjet (2002) as “It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you”. Social capital is a durable social network, and this takes time and skill to build. Cultural capital is knowledge, skills, objects, and educational attainment, and these take time and skill to accumulate. I add academic capital to these three forms of capital, and capital becomes a richer metaphor for class on campus. Academic capital is the knowledge base and skill set necessary to be successful in school, and it takes time and skill to accumulate.

First generation students’ access and academic success can be seen as more than money issues when we use this richer metaphor for class as capital. First generation students have less economic, social, cultural, and academic capital than do second generation students. When we use this metaphor, class barriers and remedial actions can be seen more clearly. The accumulation of capital begins at home, and first generation students come from low capital homes.

To complicate this capital metaphor one important step further, we must include the idea of prestige, which is at the heart of social class. There is high prestige cultural and social capital and low prestige social and cultural capital. First generation students may come to campus with low prestige cultural capital that is not valued by the prestige class on campus. Similarly, first generation students may not accumulate social capital with members of the prestige groups on campus and rely on the social capital from High School friends on campus.

Class as Identity

Another metaphor for class is identity. At an early age we all develop a gender identity, an ethnic identity, a social class identity, and other identities. We learn who and what we are, and who and what we are not. While gender and ethnic identity may shift in time to more mature models, social class identity can be more complicated. Seen complexly social class identity has three parts; we all have a social class of origin, a current felt social class, and an attributed social class. A shift in attributed social class may or may not correspond to a shift in current felt social class identity.

For example, Jane is a first-generation student who succeeds in accumulating economic capital, prestige cultural capital, prestige social capital, and academic capital on campus. This wealth will not change her social class of origin, may or may not change her current felt social class, and will definitely change her attributed social class. On coming to campus, especially a selective campus, a first generation student experiences high social class contrast between campus social class culture and the student’s social class of origin. If she is successful on campus through the process of acculturation and assimilation, then her social class contrast on campus is reduced. Concurrently, her experience of social class contrast at home may become an important issue as she assimilates into a higher social class campus culture. Social class contrast is similar to gender and ethnic contrast and may be part of the reason that first generation students fail to persist on a campus.

Changing current felt social class means becoming a different identity, something we learned that we were not during our identity development. Changing to a more mature model of masculinity does not change Ahmed’s basic gender identity. Changing between social classes can be disintegrative when Ahmed moves away from his social class of origin identity by aligning his current felt social class and attributed social class. Changing social class can be integrative when Ahmed embraces multiple social class identities retaining his social class of origin, developing a new current felt social class, and recognizing his attributed social class.

Class as Culture

Social class can be seen as a collection of subcultures arranged in a hierarchy of prestige. This class metaphor includes multiple forms of capital and, multiple identities, and it provides for a cultural view of class in which the barriers are economic, cultural, social, academic, and identity. Using a “yes, and . . . “ metaphor of class leads to social justices for class inequity that are cultural, social, academic, and identity based, not just money based.

When we use a culture and identity metaphor for class, then each campus has a social class culture. A social class cultural analysis of the campus majority culture yields productive ways to explore the experiences of social class minority students and to discover appropriate interventions.  

Using the Language of Social Class

Applying this language of class to college access, to first generation students, to millennial students, to student involvement, to leadership, to campus programming gives us insight into what we do and what we don’t do on campus. The ideal student has the resources to purchase recommended readings in class and the time to be involved in organizations and activities. The real student may be employed 20 hours a week to pay for tuition. The ideal student knows something about the world so when the residence hall association constitution gets written, the student knows how constitutions work. The real student may not have been involved in high school or know about these types of organizations. The ideal student has good social skills and can make connections to the right people, quickly becoming involved. The real student may have limited social skills and a circle of friends from high school only. The ideal student can read well, write well, study effectively, and think critically. The real student may not have gone to a high school with a strong emphasis on college preparation.

The accumulation of economic, cultural, social, and academic capital begins at home and is fostered in elementary and secondary schools. Some students come to campus wealthy, and some do not. Economically, culturally, socially, and academically wealthy students will do better on our campuses than will lower class students.

Access to post secondary education should be seen as more than an economic capital issue. Barriers to access and success are economic, and cultural, and social, and academic, and identity. First generation students come to campus with little cultural capital about how colleges work and few social skills to develop social capital with prestige people who have resources. Millennial students, as they have been described, come to campus with economic, cultural, social, and academic capital. While this may describe students on many campuses, it does not describe the first generation students on my campus.

Student involvement, so crucial on campus, requires social capital and the skills to build social relationships with people who have resources. Student leadership positions go to the students who come to campus with student leadership experience capital that they accumulated at home, in clubs and organizations, and in school before they came to campus. Students whose parents went to college are more likely to know about and use resources on campus.

Campus as a Classing Experience

In The forms of capital (1983) Bourdieu described how higher education in France is a vehicle to reproduce social class. Highly selective campuses in the US reproduce social class by admitting mostly students who have more economic, cultural, social, and academic capital. “The relationship between income and selectivity is clear and consistent” (Postsecondary Education Opportunity, 2002).

We also have social class access institutions in the US. My campus has 60% first generation students, more than twice the percentage of the prestige institutions in my state. Community colleges play an access roll by providing the first two undergraduate years and they play a role in reproducing social class by providing skills training for the working classes. The transfer rates from community colleges to four year institutions are interesting when viewed through a social class lens.
As might be expected, some campuses do well and others do poorly with students from the lower social classes (Pell Institute, 2004). A discussion of these issues in student affairs has been lacking and is necessary for us to better serve all the students on our campus. Language is an important part of our beginning this discussion. Using the language discussed here, as well as the more complex understandings of class can guide the discussion and help us identify campus-based challenges and supports for all students.

Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital.  Pp. 241-258 in Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, edited by J. Richardson. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Cline, C. (n.d.). 25 things you will hear if you try to talk about class. Retrieved April 20, 2007, from
Commission on the Future of Higher Education. (2006). A test of leadership: Charting the future of U.S. higher education. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Education.
Cuyjet, M. (2002). Personal communication
Fussel, P. (1983) Class: A guide through the American status system. New York: Touchstone
Lumnia Foundation. (2007). About Us. Retrieved April 20, 2007, from
Pell Instutute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, (2004). Raising the graduation rates of low-income college students. Retrieved April 20, 2007, from
Postsecondary Education Opportunity, (2002). Institutional Graduation Rates by Control, Academic Selectivity and Degree Level 1983 to 2001, Postsecondary Education OPPORTUNITY Number 117, March 2002. 

This material first appeared in NASPA NetResults in 2007 and I used to host a copy on my campus web site, which is now gone, and NASPA archives require a password.