Social Class Differences in Behavior

The higher a person's social class or socioeconomic status is seen as being, the greater his or her social prestige and expectation on the part of other people that the person is more knowledgeable and possesses habits and attitudes that are different from those of the common folk. Though there is a great deal of variability among the behaviors of individuals in a particular social class, there are significant between-class differences as well. Some social scientists have characterized persons of lower social status as behaving according to the "philosophy of immediate gratification," and those of higher social status as behaving according to the "philosophy of delayed gratification." Because the socioeconomic status of Asian- and Caucasian-Americans is generally higher than that of African- and Hispanic-Americans, ethnicity should be taken into account in interpreting the results of studies of behavioral differences between social classes. To the extent that attitudes, values, and expectations differentiate between people of upper and lower social status, they are most certainly shaped by differences in child-rearing practices. In any event, middle-class children are seen as striving primarily for the sake of succeeding and without the necessity of immediate material rewards, whereas the reverse is true of lower-class children. This is the reason, it is argued, that middle-class children are more likely that lower-class children to succeed in school, where rewards are less tangible and more delayed.

Differences also exist between the behaviors and attitudes of upper, middle, and lower-class adults. For example, greater percentages of people in the middle and upper social classes hold conservative viewpoints on political issues, and hence are more apt to vote Republican than those in the lower social classes (Lazarsfeld, Berelson, & Gaudet, 1944). Violence and mental illness are also more common in the working and lower classes than in the middle and upper classes. Personal health and happiness, however, are higher in members of higher social classes (Berger, Cohen, & Zelditch, 1973; Markides et al., 1990; Srole, Langer, Michael, Opler, & Rennie, 1962).

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