The Architecture of Stratification: Social Class and Inequality
the issue of class consciousness, sociologist Susan Ostrander conducted in-depth
interviews with 38 upper-class women in a large midwestern city.1
These women belonged to distinctly upper-class clubs, lived in the wealthiest areas of the
city, had husbands who worked in the top echelons of business, and sent their children to
The women who
were interviewed showed an obvious sense of "we-ness": a sense of belonging and
a feeling of cohesiveness with other wealthy individuals. Their daily activities, which
included volunteer and charity work, were clearly organized around class-related behaviors
when asked directly whether they considered themselves upper class, these women quickly
rejected the use of the term, with comments like these:
I hate [the term] upper
class. It's so non-upper class to use it. I just call it "all of us," those of
us who are well-born.
I hate to use the word
"class." We're responsible, fortunate people, old families, the people who have
I wouldn't classify anyone
as upper class, just as productive, worthwhile people.
We're not supposed to have
layers [in our society]. I'm embarrassed to admit to you that we do, and that I feel
superior at my social level. I like being part of the upper crust.
concluded that class consciousness is not a matter of how people identify themselves but a
matter of how people act. Despite an unwillingness to call themselves upper class, the
activities of these wealthy women clearly indicate that they are.
implications are profoundly important: If those at the top are reluctant to acknowledge
that a class structure exists, then any strategy to eliminate class inequality will be
seen by those with the power to make changes as unnecessary and will therefore receive
1Ostrander, S. 1980. "Upper class women:
Class consciousness as conduct and meaning." In G. W. Domhoff (Ed.), Power
structure research. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
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