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Globally, people have been grouped to belong to certain social classes depending on their educational background, income level, cultural background, race and ethnicity as well as on the type of their career. America is no exception in such social stratification groupings whereby in most cases Americans have been grouped into three main social classes of the rich, middle class and the poor (low class). However, these groups can be subdivided into upper class, which includes the rich and powerful people, upper middle class, which is composed of highly literate professionals, middle class, which consists of moderately educated individuals who are white collar employees, lower middle class, working class, which is composed of mainly blue collar workforce, and lower class, which is mainly composed of employed and unemployed poor people. This division of social classes has been proposed by several sociologists. Though there have been disputes on whether American society is socially stratified, it is evident that class division on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, education background, career type as well as level of income exists in American society. Relying on Domhoff (1998), Americans belong to social classes depending on their educational level, occupation as well as income levels (p. 257).
In his studies on upper and upper middle classes, Domhoff found out that there are social institutions that are suitable only for these classes. These institutions include educational centers and large corporate firms. The upper/capitalist class in American society is composed of top executives and politicians as well as heirs who are billionaires. According to Domhoff (1998), representatives of this highest social class in the United States get their education in the best private institutions. This helps them to build prestigious careers in law, business, and finance (p. 258-259). The upper middle class is usually composed of highly-educated professionals who are considered to be rich. This class is composed of people who have worked hard to get here as they had to receive the best and highest level of education possible to get the best jobs in large corporations. On the other hand, the lower middle class consists of college-educated individuals, who have above average living standards. The working class group is composed mainly of blue collar employees with high school level education. This class experiences low economic security since living standards per household are determined by the number of working individuals in the family.
The lower class, which consists of the working poor and people living below welfare standards, is faced with high economic insecurities. Self experimentation in the lower class by Ehrenreich shows that individuals in this social class work in order to meet their everyday needs and are in most cases required to work two jobs to earn a living. This class of people is mostly composed of African Americans who have high school education and hence are forced to work in the unskilled labor industry to earn hourly wages. Ehrenreich found out that it is a struggle for people in this class and, therefore, they need to be under the welfare program. Studies on social class in American society show that there is social inequality in this society that has been portrayed by the unequal distribution of wealth, power, and education. A good example of such inequality is shown by low wages earned by lower class individuals who work hard in their duty stations. The question here is why do these people earn less and yet work so hard? This question is based on the common belief that ‘the harder you work the wealthier you become’. However, this does not seem to reflect the life of lower class individuals. Should not they be wealthy due to their hard work? This, therefore, clearly demonstrates that social stratification is acompanied by inequality.
However, Domhoff (1998, p. 257) argues that though there exists a social class system in the United States, social mobility is evident where people can either ascend or descend the social ladder. For instance, people from the middle class can work hard, accumulate wealth, and later ascend to the upper middle class. This proves that American social class system is not rigid since both intra-generational social mobility and intergenerational social mobility may be experienced in one’s lifetime due to change of circumstances or heredity.
Gender equality is a major subject of discussion among human right activists all over the world. The argument presented is that women are in most cases discriminated in terms of distribution of power and wealth in the society. The issue of gender inequality has also been widely studied in the social class system with the aim of establishing social statuses of both women and men. This was also done with a purpose to answer a question who belongs to a higher social class and why? Studies conducted by several sociologists such as Risman and Loe suggest that gender plays an important role in achieving the American dream. Gender in itself defines opportunities and constraints that are faced by females and males (Risman 1998, p.301).
To achieve the American dream, people are required to work hard and use resources that are available to them to make this dream come true. This has been supported by Risman (1998), who acknowledges that socialization that is mostly shaped by gender helps individuals in using available resources to maintain their social status/identity (p. 298). Loe in her study of local bars and restaurants found out that men tend to hold managerial positions while women are often subordinates (p.332). The most surprising thing is that even in workplaces that are dominated by women, the top management is composed of males. From my personal observation, I have been able to conclude that women take jobs that pay less most probably because they are brought up with the thought that they only do well in these particular jobs. Additionally, I have found out that even in ‘women jobs’ males tend to dominate as they often are managers, who decide how women subordinates should dress and behave. This is a clear illustration that gender plays a critical role in the pursuit of the American dream whereby due to gender inequality, males seem to be living the American dream. On the other hand, women are discriminated against in most workplaces and are given only subordinate positions, which are not secure as male management can at any time decide to dismiss them. This has, therefore, led to women living in poverty hence the feminization of poverty in the American society.
Moreover, women do not live the American dream because in most cases they are not given a chance to socialize like their male counterparts. This, according to Risman (1998), prevents them from building networks of success that could help them to achieve the American dream (p. 299). In addition, gender stratification also determines the level of education that women receive. In most cases women are unlikely to pursue higher levels of education. This in turn affects their occupation and income levels, consequently determining their achievement of the American dream. However, there are some women who have been able to go against these gender rules to achieve success just like their male counterparts. These women have good education as well as successful careers that have led them to live the American dream.
Being a male Arab living in America, I consider my chances of living the American dream high due to my high level of education as well as my family background. It is commonly assumed that anyone can make it big in America. That is, America is the land of opportunities. From the knowledge I have acquired from my studies about social class system in America, I believe that I belong to the middle class. Being a male has given me the advantage which is further strengthened by the fact that my parents have supported my pursuit of higher education. In my ethnic group, women are not given priority particularly in education. They usually receive basic education, which does not give them a competitive advantage in American job market. Conversely, being a male gives me an opportunity to pursue university education after which I will get a well paying job or even become self employed like my parents. With my high education level, I believe in achieving the American dream by climbing the social ladder to the upper class. Family background and education level are important factors in propelling an individual to achieve the American dream. It is my hope that I will be well equipped to successfully pursue the American dream since I have a strong family background, which acts as my stepping stone in social mobility. In addition, I possess the right type of knowledge and skills, which are vital formy social mobility.
Conclusively, the above discussion clearly shows that though there is social stratification in American society, the situation is not permanent since people can experience social mobility. This is to say that people in lower hierarchy levels can work hard to rise to higher hierarchy levels. Similarly, circumstances can force people from high social class to move to lower hierarchies. It is, therefore, right to say that in American society anybody can belong to any social class. Moreover, the American dream can be achieved by anybody who has sufficient tools such as education and strong economic family background.