from Washington DC
I don't know what class I am. I would say I'm probably at the very beginning of the upper middle because some of my background is decent: I had an uncle who served as a US ambassador to Malta and a maternal grandfather who had been the Chief Judge of the US Tax Court during the 1960s. Eisenhower had considered him for the Supreme Court, though he was turned down. My other grandfather had been a congressional lobbyist so he regularly mixed with the High and Mighty. One set of great-grandparents once bred horses in Virginia, while another great-grandfather once owned a brewery out in Ohio. But then the Depression wiped them all out. Most of the money was gone.
I have a brother who has become a Naval Commander. I, myself, was schooled at state schools and went to a well-known 'public Ivy.' My mother had gone to private day schools in Washington with the children of diplomats. I would say that I am what one could term a 'chameleon.'
Because my father was a doctor we moved away to a smaller town. We belonged to the local country club but it was merely a hang out for the local professional class. It was nowhere near as grand as my grandparents' club in Chevy Chase. I would say my own immediate upbringing was solidly middle class without any undue priviledges. We were 'well off' but I never was spoiled nor had a trust fund.
I would say my parents had middle class values and tastes. But I used to know people who were more 'old money.' They had inherited heirlooms and were often landed and horsy. They often had significant unearned income too. Most of them had been privately educated at boarding schools. They had a certain decadence and waspishness that our family and associates didn't quite have. This ineffible quality involved an innate sense of who they were, that they had nothing to prove to anyone and were quietly very proud of who they are.
To be honest, I envied their innate confidence. I knew of some families like this in Charleston, South Carolina, who could trace back their ancestry at least 250 years. This particular family didn't have a lot of money but the mother was well-known as an eccentric academic type. She'd served as the local archivist and her son was in the elite hereditary St. Cecilian Society, even though he was somewhat learning impaired. They owned priceless antiques which were to be left in trust to the local historica society and they had life interest in their property. They spoke with a patrician accent that sounded almost Bostonian rather than Southern.
We on the other hand were what I would term, affluent 'bourgeoisie'. My mother, for instance, is well-educated but not what I'd term elitely educated. Her grammar is impeccable but her accent is not quite 'spot-on.' I believe she picked up a touch of a Mid-western twang when schooled out in Ohio at another 'public Ivy.' Our family and associates seem to be similar in that there's often quite a lot of money but it's mostly self-made. Some of our family friends are properous businessmen who may have made it real estate or own restaurants or might be property developers but their backgrounds tended to be of Catholic Irish or Eastern European immigrant stock. People who didn't necessarily have a lot of 'class' but who got where they are by personal ambition.
They are millionaires but completely different from the sorts I know at my polo club or people I knew at University or at my course in Sotheby's. If anything, I shunned my family's materialism and meritocratic outlook and sought out people with a more bohemian outlook -- as a result, I often ended up having boyfriends who tended to be more 'posh.' Many went to prep schools and were more 'preppy' than my family.
It's very hard to quantify these things but I think my background is somewhere between these rich developers and this waspy 'blue blood' I encountered at school. We were more or less mid 19th century German immigrants who did well but that's about the extent of it. Even though my mother's father had been such an eminent judge and had been in the Green Book in Washington and had offered to let my mother be a Debutante, he was definitly not a snob. If anything, though conservative with a small 'c', his views were to the left of centre so he was not stuck up in a Waspy way. He had nothing against Catholics or Jews, for instance. He was against big business. My mother was similar in that she didn't want to come out and she never rushed for a sorority.
It's all rather hard to quantify. I would say my own adult life is impossible to fit into a box because I know live abroad in England and have been here for over 16 years. My accent as become more anglicized so, to an American ear, my accent may sound more as though I were privately educated. But my husband's background is working-class London. Our jobs are very humble and I have a much lower standard of living than my relations. But I have also gained culturally by my time here in Europe. I would actually say I have become truely 'classless' because I no longer play the game. I may belong to a polo club but I have dropped out of the rat race.
In a nutshell, I believe that class is more to do with background and taste rather than money/income, though I think is a positive correlation with wealth. I also think a lot of it has to do with whom you know and hang out with and whom you marry. My life would obviously have been completely different had I married a Baronet, for instance, etc.
I was raised in North West Texas. My father worked in the oilfield and we were known as "oilfield trash". My father went to the 12th grade and then quit school to get married. My mother only went to the 10th grade. They had 8 children and lived on less than $40K a year back in the late 70's.
Out of 8 children only 3 graduated high school. I was lucky enough to have graduated. To me I had to finish school. I had to make it out of that life style (class). I went to a junior college for 2 semesters then quit school to marry.
My husband makes $60k a year working in the oilfield industry and I make $20k a year as an clerk in an office.
We have 2 children and I want them to exceed where I failed. I want them to explore the world and not be caught in the social black hole that I am in. I would like more, but I also realize when you have more, you appreicate less.
Social class is only important for me, because it is so hurtful and restrictive to be lower class or make less than others around you. I want them to be able to be in what ever class they want to be and not feel they have to fit in a certain mold.
from Boston, MA
My grandfather came from a wealthy land owning family in Greece. To the horror of great grandmother he fell in love with and married a woman of a "lower class."
When grandfather returned from fighting in a war he found his wife out working in the fields with the laborers. Great grandmother just couldn't stand my grandmother and treated her according to her class. I'm sure it was a shame for the family and to this day they avoid the link to grandmother's family. My grandfather took his wife, left Greece and they never went back.
My grandparents really loved each other and my mother tells us all about their life together, which we are proud of.
As a young man I decided to join the military after high school. I come from a middle class town where most kids went right on to college without a second thought.
After my service I attended a private university in the Boston area. I met a lot of rather wealthy kids who couldn't fathom why anyone would join the military, and I was labeled with all the worst stereotypes of my "kind." I must hate gays, beat women, want to beat people up of kill them, carry a gun and wish to oppress minorities.
After people got to know me and found I didn't really fit into these stereotypes they had to find reasons why. So I was labeled as gay, because a gay guy might be in the military but would never be such a hate monger, of course. In dealing with that I had to chalk it up to the fact that my fellow students were actually young, inexperienced with the world, and had been in their private schools with kids just like them, which meant that they had not had access to strangers like me. I got over being upset about it.
I had to find a way to fit in with my fellow soldiers too. One fellow from the farmlands told me not to use 25 cent words around him, because I had used the word "endeavor" while talking with some of the guys about a mission we were preparing to perform.
Class has been a real issue for me since college. Being in the military and then attending college showed me two very different groups, and both had some ugly aspects to them. The classes clash, no doubt about it.
Race, gender and class are a real part of the American fabric. They stitch us together and are inescapable as some of us struggle to stay apart. We pretend that we are better than people like my great grandmother. I think we still have a long way to go.
from West Liberty, KY
I grew up in a small mountain town where everyone knows everyone else and you are judged based on not only who you are, but who your parents and family are. It is almost impossible to escape this. My parents are highly educated with master's degrees. I am a college graduate. This is an unusual situation here, believe me!
I have never really 'fit' into this place and I always planned to leave and never come back. This was my intention for as long as I can remember.
However, I discovered that my dreams and reality didn't quite jive with one another. I was always labeled as smart but dangerously so, an unabashed liberal and freethinker in a place which prizes conformity above all. I was the kind of kid that everyone blamed for mischief and whispered about, who was a dangerous companion and an instigator of rebellion against said conformity.
So, I left. In doing so, I discovered that the old cliche 'wherever you go,there you are' was painfully true. Once again, I didn't 'fit'. I was ridiculed and judged for my southern accent, unable to find jobs, make friends, or be taken seriously. I then found myself doing what I said I would never do- I came home. I don't live here, I just exist here.
I wish that the world would not impose these divisions on people, that we would get to know each other without judging worth and without assumptions. That has always been my philosophy, and I have paid for it dearly. I decided to be who I am and not worry about what others think. I like who I am and I now refuse to let others put me down. I am still misunderstood, but I am okay with that. I refuse to join in with the class obsessions that others have, and I don't judge people based on my half-baked impressions of them.
from Charleston, SC
Both of my parents grew up working class but were ambitious and very hard-working, so I grew up upper-middle class. They insisted I go to boarding school after 8th grade because they had both longed for that opportunity as teenagers.
I went to a very small, mostly white, extremely wealthy, "old money" prep school and immediately developed dozens of class neuroses without even realizing it. my clothes weren't nearly as nice as other girls', my parents drove a mid-price car, i had never been to europe. i lied to my friends about where i had bought my clothes and where my parents had honeymooned. by the end of high school, i was rebellious and class-confused.
I go to an un-prestigious college (very disappointing to my parents and also to my school, which expects most of its students to attend ivy league colleges) and now at 19, have acquired a fervent desire to NOT be wealthy. I feel guilty for not putting myself through college. i work at a health food store and am close to financial independence (my parents resist this idea because they have the resources to support me as their parents didn't at this age), which i romanticize and look forward to, when i can be "poor, young and happy."
My family is quite hurt by this, because they see it as distancing myself from them, and cannot understand why anyone would ever not want to have it easy.
from Fort Myers, FL
I grew up in Kentucky, very poor with nine siblings. We (the children) almost always had no money for lunch at school. I would pretend that I had a problem with my stomach most days so that I would not be embarrassed that I could not buy lunch. My parents kept me out of school for the entire month of September so that I could help with the crops. My teachers would not count me absent and gave me help to catch up with the other students when I returned. I had friends and did not feel the crunch of the social classes, but it was extremely painful for me every day to realize that I would not have the money for the class ring or the pretty white dress we were to have for graduation. Therefore, I left high school with only five months left before graduation. I was an honor roll student.
I left the area, married very young (17), then went back for my GED then on to college. I never completed a degree, but my self esteem was enhanced by the experience. My husband and I, working as a team, were fairly successful. He wanted very much to join the local, very staid, country club. I went along with the club because it was so important to him to play golf where, as a young man, he worked as a caddy. This is the first time during my lifetime that I realized what "class" means to certain people. I never knew that a group of people could be so wrapped up in this idea.
Country club upper class #1:this was second generation country clubbers (their parents were members). They considered themselves "blueblood" and held themselves apart.
Country club middle class #2: professional men that made over six figures and had wives that could afford to stay home and raise the children. Many of them were school teachers with their summers scheduled for the country club pool.
Country club lower class#3: this would describe my husband and myself. We were raised very poor, did not have a college degree and made our (very good) living in a less than desirable business (pest control). Even though we were well spoken, dressed as well as most and had beautiful children, we just did not make the grade. My husband had the ability to let remarks run off his back (or at least he pretended) because he wanted so much to be accepted. I could not accept the snubs and spoke up a few times (when I was late for my youngest child's swim meet and when I purchased a dress that was identical to another member's). The women were vicious and would embarrass you for what they felt was an infraction of their "rules".
When we sold our business and left that area I felt reborn. However, my husband was unhappy and returned to that area (and the country club) to marry a woman that plays golf and loves to "hobnob" at the "club".
from Atlanta, GA
I heard stories, when I was little, that at some point in time my
father's family had "money," in other words, they were upper class. They
were shipping merchants in New England or something. Over the years, bad
decisions by some black sheep branch of the tree led to my father, a hapless
ne'er do well with an affinity for drugs, alcahol, the sofa and TV.
My mom was a rebellious girl from a blue collar family who couldn't wait
to get away from her unhappy home life. She married my dad and ended up having
4 kids, that she had to support with various part time jobs while my father
disappeared for years at atime, never having a job himself. She worked as a
liquor store clerk and a laundromat attendant before finally taking classes
to become a medical secretary.
Though she did her best to support us, she never had time to teach us
anything about the ways of the world. Left to our own devices, my sisters and
I ran wild in the streets, pretty much. I was so miserable, a perpetual
outcast all through school due to my ragged thrift store clothes and lack of
social sophistication. I was determined to escape, and as soon as I could
left home. I managed to finish high school and college, working hard and making
sacrifices wasn't hard for someone who was used to being dirt poor. I managed
to build a respectable life for myself, and have friends now who are
decidedly upper crust, and accept me for who I am, even for what I was, but I
always feel like an invisible line is drawn between us.
My sisters back home have never finished high school and each have several
illegitimate children, and live exclusively on welfare. I have not spoken to
any of my family in over a year. I feel ashamed, but also guilty. In my desire to escape poverty and
ignorance, I felt I had to escape any association with them. Perhaps the
worst thing is that I don't even feel too guilty, and in the long run, don't
care what happens to them as long as I don't have to ever go back there.
from Providence RI
I work in a town close to where i live where many people live beyond their means for the benefit of appearances. I witness everyday how money will never buy intelligence or true experience and I have taken this a lesson that i incorporate into my own life.
My parents are Italian immigrants who have been in this country now for 25 years. Our Italian (or more accurately, Sicilian) neighborhood and their mostly Italian co-workers became a hindrance for them, I believe. Never truly having to learn the language, they find themeselves anxious over work in this newer economy of more affordable foreign labor. Through all this, though, they managed to buy a house, cars and pay for a wedding in cash. My parents still don't own any credit cards.
As a student who is trying to pay her own way through school, i have to work in a well-to-do area and, i notice, i'm constantly looked down upon. This comes through in the usual 'behind the counter' stigma where the person serving is also subjected to numerous disrespects. I admit, i was raised lower middle class. But i sincerely believe i'm probably brighter, more well read and most importantly, much more respectful of the person behind the counter, behind the wheel of the truck, behind the push broom, etc. This is an understanding of class, i believe. The kind of class a nice outfit exhumes, and class the way we consider our financial standings to be.
from Bloomfield Hills, MI
I grew up in suburban Detroit in a very "new money" community. My family was by no means wealthy like most of the families in "the Hills" and we live in a two story house in one of the older neighborhoods. My father is a mechanical engineer and very successful because most people do not do his type of job. My mother has been a secretary and a paraproffessional in the local school district, but mostly was a stay at home mom while my younger sister and I grew up.
My father went to college but partied hard and decided to quit with a semester left to finish. My mother could not afford to go beyond her first semester at college because her older sister had already been put through school to become a nurse. My sister and I attended the exemplary public schools, I was usually at the top of the class but i became more interested in things besides grades when i reached high school. I was an outsider growing up with a small group of BEST friends (we are still together!) and was friendly and outspoken. I was not, however, a member of the popular group and never chose to be, those kids were not people I ever wanted to befriend. My sister was the popular one through middle school but that changed (as it usually does) when she reached high school and both of us started to hang with the punk and skater kids. We both played sports (ice hockey, softball, basketball, lacrosse) and were very busy.
I made it through high school with decent grades and decided to study communications. Since i was tired of the snobby and rich area i grew up in and never seemed to fit into, i wanted to go to college out of state. Now I am a freshman at The Catholic University of America and am planning to major in media studies.
Watching this documentary for my intro to media class almost made me sick (although it was very well made!). I could relate to all kinds of situations, the exclusion from the upper class because i did not shop at Abercrombie or the Gap (yeah salvation army and kmart!), being on the border of one of the poorer cities in metro detroit, my family made less money than most of the kids parents i went to school with yet whenever i was asked about where i was from i would get the "oooh..." reply and the grin that said 'shes rich' even though i was far from it!
Social class sucks! who cares how much money you have or what color you are or who you're friends with?! No one should care, but everyone does. I try my best not to but even i can be hurt when someone looks down on me for the way i dress instead of my ideas and beliefs. I dress the way i do because i like it! not because other people do or because it's cool.
And for anyone who thinks moving to Washington D.C. or going to a private Catholic school will change the people that surround you, don't. It doesnt happen that way. Ignorant people are everywhere and you cannot escape it. But always be true to yourself, treat others like you wish to be treated, and be the best person you can be! that's all that's important! NOT where you come from or how much money you have.
from Denton, TX
I'm a middle class African American girl. I am now a
junior in college and aspire to be a Real Estate Developer in Commercial and
Residential Estates. I grew up in upper-middle class suburbs, Wheaton, IL and
SugarLand, TX. In my teens, I founded a strong social niche with other middle
class Blacks in Jack & Jill and Came out in Delta's Debutante. I travel
extensively and take exclusive vacations. I relize I am priveliged and accept
and appreciate it. But, I do not hold it above anyone's head or use my
experiences to exclude others. But, I found it difficult to relate to lower
class Blacks and Whites because of intense resentment. However, I always got
along great with middle and upper class people of all cultures.
This has caused me to constantly try to befriend everyone from all
classes and all races because, I hate feeling left out and leaving anyone
left out and because I believe I was brought up naively to love and befriend
anyone. However, the real world opens your eyes and you quickly have to find
your own niche in this world.
I have found my place and it is among all peoples of all origins, races,
classes. Yes, I have gone back to my mother's beliefs and have learned again
to love all people despite unchangeable factors.
from Portland, OR
I'm the son of working class parents who attended college and graduate
school - and had successful careers and led a frugal lifestyle. They are now
comfortably retired and enjoying life to the fullest.
My parents paid for my college education, and helped me a bit in graduate
school as well. Now I have an MBA, and am still looking for work more than a
year after graduating. My hopes to find an exciting and fulfilling career
have evaporated, and I find myself imagining working at Starbucks or driving
a truck. I feel like I've wasted so much time on my education, and that I
might have been better served learning a trade or starting a business.
I'm now 30, unemployed, and scared about the future.
from Herndon, VA
When I just came to this country as a young Chinese immigrant I didn't
even try fit in to whatever class in high school. The language barrier and
just plain not really understanding the culture forced me to stay close with the
newly immigrant like myself. I worked my way up during the entire time when
I was in school. Washed dishes, bussed table and waited on customers at the
restaurant, I done it all.
After college I joined the Army and met lots of interesting people. I think
now I am a sucessful computer nerd in the middle class but there is something
missing in life. I still miss those close relationship I had with many
soldiers. During those years, everyone knows exactly how much everyone makes
in pay which is not much. We didn't have fancy car or fancy clothes. Living
in the barracks was rough, and on or off post housing wasn't much nicer
In that environment, we were closer to each other than you can find in any
relationship. You depend on each other for most basic things such as driving
to work. Things we did most of the time was just drinking and talking. That
brought us closer because we knew exactly what the other thought. I am not to
say there is no conflicts and stress between different races and ranks. But
all the hardship brought us closer than you can ever imagine. Money and
material things wasn't a barrier to communicate with each other.
I did really had a good time in the lower class, people were real and the
trust and comradeship was there. It is something I can't find in civilian
life. The bond, the fun and joy in that class is something I think everyone
It is sad to separate ourselves by the material things and social status. I
wish everyone were able to experience all that happiness in their life time.
from Wakefield, MA
I grew in a blue-collar neighborhood until my parents got divorced and
then my mom bought a house in a mixed white-collar neighborhood with good
schools. My mom exposed us, my sister and myself, to culture all while attending night
school to earn her bachelor's degree.
I didn't fit in the blue-collar neighborhood because I was bookish and
uncoordinated, but when we moved I didn't fit in the white-collar
neighborhood because we just didn't have the money to keep up with the joneses.
I always looked towards the upper crust kids in school because of their
polish. I even ended up dating (and falling in love with) a woman who
appeared to me to be the epitome of well-off. Of course I broke up with her
because I wasn't good enough for her.
I chose a "bohemian" path after high school before finally attending college
as a journalism major. Upon graduation I found my training and education were
worth very little in a depressed job market. So I joined the Navy as an
enlisted man with a degree. Something of a rarity.
Of course I still didn't fit in because I was as well educated as the
officers but my job as a petty officer didn't care about my years studying
philosophy. I finally fell into the technology field by sheer luck.
Now I earn more money then either of my parents and yet it doesn't seem to go
very far. I never thought I could multiply my income by a factor of 5 or 6 and
still feel like I am barely keeping my head above water.
I live in fear, a mild fear but real, of being 75 and having to go to work at
Walmart just to live.
Although now I am the stereotypical white-collar tech success (and a white
male to boot) I've been a dishwasher, ditch-digger, busboy, waiter, sailor,
Kelly girl, and many other low-skill jobs. I worked but mostly because I
needed a paycheck.
One day I want the option to not work or to work in a job where the paycheck
is an afterthought at best. Not needing to work is my definition of being
Hopefully I'll get there one day.
from Escondido, CA
My family is what you'd call middle class, my dad runs his own
company (generator repair) and my mom was a "stay at home" type when I was
growing up. Both of my parents have a college education and I'm working my
way through jr college. Class has never been an issue w/th me and I've never
seen life from a few rungs up till I met my girfriend (and now life partner).
It started out as a on line friendship two and a half years ago that slowly
evolved into meeting in real life; both of us our college students and had
alot in common;it wasn't till we started a realtionship and she moved in with
me last fall that I realized just how different her life had been from mine.
She was born and raised in Montery,CA; she's 21 years old and both of her
parents are college educated (with MBA's); she spent summers in Lake
Tahoe,vacations to LA to visit relatives, a two week trip to NYC when she was
17, two weeks in Hawaii for her mother's 50th birthday just to name a few
activites she enjoyed.
All that really didn't mean alot to me other than to underscore the huge gap
she was enduring in living with me in suburban San Diego County; desperately
trying to stay one step ahead of the rent and food bills (it was the first
time on our own for both of us). Amazingly she quckly outgrew what little
"airs" she had about living down here and now a year later you wouldn't
notice the difference.
Having had to struggle just to keep the necessities on the table has made both
of us not look down at people that are poor; I have alot of respect for those
people who are trying just to get by and live their lives.
When I was growing up I never felt ashamed that my dad ran his own business,
I was very proud of what he did; even though some of the kids at my
high school made fun of me because I didn't have a car or dressed a certain way.
Those are lessons that have stayed with me ever since.
from Oakland, CA
Where do I fit in? I was raised in the upper middle class. My father was a successful surgeon. My husband was raised as middle class--his father was a bookkeeper. I graduated with a masters in history, my husband has a degree in mathematics. We are "reconstructed hippies". My husband is a JAVA programmer and makes over $100,000.00 per year--plus benefits. I do not work--except at various part time activities that are interesting to me.
We are ex-hippies. We have tons of school loans we are still repaying, so we don't have a lot of extra money, even though my husband makes a high salary.
We live in a small apartment. We are sort of bohemian. What class is ex-hippie? We are not middle class, not lower class, and certainly not upper class. We live in Oakland, CA, right near Berkeley. I think people like us are a class in themselves--aging hippies.
We have a high income, but we are not yuppies--not social climbers. Where DO we fit in?
from Seattle, WA
I grew up in a new-money upper middle class home. Mom & Dad came from
dirt-poor families and earned their way through college and into medical and
educational professions. They were very concerned about staying middle class,
doing middle class things and hanging out with middle class people. They
actually expressed this. It confused me because we lived in a pretty large
fancy house, drove Cadillacs and had a boat at the yaught club, but we
dressed in cheap polyester clothes from the sale bin, and the kids wore
hand-me-down handmade clothes from the neighbors.
By every economic indicator I am Middle Class (combined income just over 240K), but went from Working Poor (my parents were both unemployed at my birth) to Working Class (my dad worked as a porter and sheet metal worker) in less than a generation. Dad died when I was 12-13, and my mom moved the 7 of us to our own home from the insurance money. She did the best she could do as a maid and cook, but alas her only dream was for her kids was to get a job any job after the high school diploma. Her obligations stopped at our 18th year. You either pulled your own weight or you moved out, or you had hell to pay.
I got an offer to attend Harvard, but could not afford to attend. I went to the best state university the tax payers could buy, and later I went to a very Catholic graduate school. While I can not afford the material objects or the life style of the rich, I do know rich based upon my classical education and personal observation. I earned my education the old fashioned way - scholarship, grants loans and hard work. Good taste is something I think you either have or you do not, but quality is something you can buy.
I passed your simple test with a score as some one of the Old Rich, which made me smile. Now that I passed the test I must show THEM the money to attend a country club breakfast or WASP house of worship.
Well back to my sweaty job of writing code and technical books so that America can do electronic business as usual.
from Grandview, WA
I grew up in a farm family in the Upper South with my father and
stepmother having ninth grade educations. All five of the children went to
college and four of us went for advanced degrees. Books, music, family
history and storytelling were valued. We were poor but smart and
hardworking. Two of us achieved professional fame and were blessed with material goods.
The rest of us have more modest achievements and are less sophisticated. I
don't know what "class" we belong to now, but I would say it is more
intellectual than cultural. We are successful nerds.
from San Diego, CA
My story is interesting because class distinctions can be found within
my immediate family. I was born into a middle class single-parent home. My
mother was an investment banker, and my father was to be found only
occasionally. My grandfather, though, was a very rich man, who left me a
substantial trust fund. I have always been to the best schools, treated to
the finest things, and exposed to upper-middle class people. My mother,
however, had much more low-class, to low middle-class exposure. Because of
the difference in our exposure, and the difference in our financial worth, my
mother and I have a large disparity in tastes.
For instance, I tend to be more interested in antique furniture, expensive
designer labels, and a variety of breads, cheeses, and wines. However, my
mother definitely prefers "wonder bread", tract housing, and Ethan Allen.
Despite these differences though, (and perhaps because she is my mother), we
get along fabulously, and can appreciate, and respect the tastes and
viewpoints of each other. I wonder if this mutual respect is possible of all
classes? Probably not.
Just as ethnocentrism affects the cultures of the world, so does
"class-centrism", to coin a phrase.
from Atlanta, GA
I have had the opportunity to make some observations of all parts of
the US class system. I was born into a middle class family, that is now
decidedly upper-middle class. My situation is somewhat odd in that my
parents do not really reflect that difference. They live a frugal
and practical lifestyle, beneath their means...my father drives an a 97
oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, my mother a newer Nissan Maxima, when some folks
with half of their income drive BMW's, etc. I attended a large middle class
suburban high school, a large public university, and am now in private
I was never conscious of my own class until I was in college. I had never
been materialistic or shallow before, but I found myself feeling self
conscious of my not having an SUV, etc, because so many kids acted as if you
were inferior if you did not. Another poster is indeed correct in that the
middle class kids are the most shallow, the most judgemental on superficial
things. Even now, I find myself reflecting some of those attitudes, like
making a comment on keeping up with someone for the purpose of
connections...I don't feel that way, nor was I taught that by my parents.
I have friends who live in a trailer, I have friends with multi-million
dollar trust funds, I had a friend who was a debutante, but whose parents
could not afford a car for her...things really aren't as they seem in many cases.
As my parents and grandparents advocate, the quality of a person is not
determined by their posessions. Now that I am separated from my previous
environment, I hope I can unlearn that middle class, status-seeking obsession
and unhappiness that started to creep in on my soul.
from Hopewell, VA
I am a non working, working class person. Each of my grandfathers
acted as sole bread winner for the families of my parents. One grandfather
was a career enlisted military man (Master Sergeant), the other a lifer at a
local chemical plant. My grandmothers each had the task of home care and
seven children to raise. My father is a self taught general contractor, my
mother heads a church preschool.
I never cared much for work or fully accepted that I was a working class
person. I attended college briefly, worked low level service industry jobs
until I was 29. Finally a chemical imbalance set me free of work. Now I am
aware of my status as working class, but I don't work because of my
disability. I am a non-working, working class person. My lifestyle is
meager, yet very comfortable.
from Baltimore, MD
Neither one of my parents graduated from High school. Dad never from Junior
High. He was a union man. A truck driver and former share cropper. Mom did
clerical work when she was younger. My parents were the first generation to
own their own home. I was the third of 40 cousins to graduate from college.
I grew up in a working class neighborhood, but realized at about age 16 that
I did not speak like my schoolmates, I like classical music, foreign
languages, theater, politics. All my life there has been this not quite in
one class and not rich enough or educated enough for the other, so I feel not
comfortable totally in either one. This is definitely a big life issue for
me. Well see how it all pans out. Thanks.
from New York, NY
My father is third generation Irish on his mother's side and second on
his father's Sicilian side. He like his grandfather was an electrical engineer.
He was self-educated in the Air Force during the Korean conflict being
stationed in Scotland where he met my mother. His mission was tapping Russian
encryption code at the age of 18. A natural genius he never attended college
other than a one year computer course in the early 70´s. My story is about
the so called American dream and how it destoyed my father and therefore my
family. My father worked for and was succesful when he consulted for all the
biggest corporations but utterly failed with his own inventions. Not because
the inventions/prototypes weren´t brilliant but because of rich dominating
corporations would beat him to the punch. Granted, my fathers short temper
and impatience with people of average intelligence, business leaders who
inherit their positions did not help matters with his endeavors.
Our family was mostly middle class with dips here and there. But my situation is not unique. As we speak, people like your white collar
parents are being down sized by the thousands. You are probably working 50 to
60 hours a week for much less than you´d like to make but PBS is cool so you
deal with it. Well guess what? There no guarantees any more in the American
work force. Unless your related to the CEO. It doesn´t matter if your white
either. Don´t fool yourself. I am a Socialist and feel if people want to be
rich , fine but we should keep the middle class healthy. Mentally and
physically. We are the back bone of society. Socialism ensures this. More
quality time for family and things that are more important than making lots
of money to buy useless crap that pollutes the earth. Better yet, enough just
to take care of business nowadays.
from North Carolina
I grew up in a upper class family with access to the exclusive clubs
and so forth yet my family associated w/ all different classes and races of
people. In college I got a job as a waiter at an exclusive club far away from
where I was from and I saw first hand the condescension of some of the country
clubbers. Yet many wer very nice to us servants. Later I would open a
restaraunt in the town I attended college. Many of our customers were
professors and administration elites. These people were much more condescending
than country club people yet some were terrific. Later I would manage a fast
food deli in research triangle park, this was the height of the dot com era
and our customers made alot of money. This was not old country club money but
it was dot com wealth that included every race. These people were no
different than the country clubers some were nice some were complete asses.
The same is true in some country diner. Every class of people have good and
from Kelsey, MN
I was born in 1949, in Minneapolis, MN. We were real poor. We moved
to Bemidji in 1950. My dad took odd jobs, whatever he could get. My mother
had a mental breakdown in 1955. My sister and 2 brothers were sent to a
boarding school. My dad was a drunk and could not take care of us.The school
was hell, run by Catholic Nuns. They were real mean, picked me up by my ears.
We moved to several foster homes until we went home in 1963. I got odd jobs
anything to earn some money. After graduating from high School I went in the
Army, no choice. We had no money for school. The draft board picked on the
poor, if you had no money you went. After I got out I got a job working for
USS in Mt. Iron, MN. My wife and I did quite well. We never got rich, but had
enough. I think some of the most unhappy people are people who worry about
what other people have. I don't envy what other people have.
from Orem, UT
I came from a lower class family in Indiana. My parents always
fought over money. Expectations were extremely low. If my sister or I were
to go to college it was going to be by our own efforts.
Not only was there no assistance there was mental abuse and some physical
abuse. Self esteem was non existent.
It never occurred to me that there were class distinctions, college funds,
My neighborhood was a slum of individual houses where 8 of 10 yards had no
grass and every one of the grassed areas was 50% weeds.
Having moved to Utah, earned a couple of degrees, and moved into the upper
middle class I have a couple of statements to make relating to class
structure in the U.S. First of all, there is only one great equalizer and
that is Cash. The minority who have it have power and the rest are
powerless. There is an overwhelming majority of, so called, middle class
people who live from paycheck to paycheck or are on the verge of bankruptcy.
These people act like they are superior but in fact are living in the
exact state as the poor. These people are generally nasty, mean, self
centered, and soooo status conscious.
The primary problem with the poor is that of self esteem. They pull each
other down by theft, by politics, and by intimidation. You destruction is an
attempt to make them feel better about themselves. Their goals have a short
horizon and they are afraid of everything. Can't invest because they may lose the money. Can't go into business because
it's too difficult or too much work or they would have to give up
"friendships" with people of their own ilk.
The upper class is represented by the Fiddler on the Roof. Always on the
verge of falling from their lofty position, they act as though they were
placed there by God. These people are so removed from the real world that the
only way you can talk to them is to speak to them in a language I call "wealth." This language is concerned with cash flow, rates of return,
ownership, and sheltered income. If you can speak "wealth," you may
communicate with those who have cash. Otherwise they will not even attempt to
talk to you.
Since I now speak Wealth my opportunities to make money have improved by
leaps and bounds. People who have it not only talk to me, they assist me in
creating income. At one time talking to these folks was like getting water
from a rock, now making money is as easy as writing a letter. Even the
wealthy bow before the mighty Dollar.
from Charleston, SC
My parents were both public school teachers -
implying "middle class" (in income, at least). However, they are both also
professional musicians - implying a taste and appreciation for high art and
it's attendant costliness. lastly, they both hold masters or higher
degrees - leading to the exposure to the world that is a product of
extensive higher ed. The result - me, their kid - can be a combination of
practicality, a la the "middle middle", appreciation for high quality and
more esoteric qualitites, a la "old money" - and sometimes a sense of pure
fun and crass commercial silliness, a la "trailer".
Viva la difference!
Nikos M. from Hyannis, MA
Unfortunately, I was born into a family of 8 children with not a whole lot of money. Mom worked at a diner most of her life to support us, and dad was an off the boat greek immigrant who waited tables at fancy hotels and loved to gamble his paychecks at the horse-track.
Not many of us kids really had the opportunity or the drive to attend college. We learned to survive because we had to. And some of us were more adaptive to that than others. Me, I was a stay at home kinda guy. Only recently, after having worked in the restaurant industry for half of my life, did I decide to go back to college.
The idea was to go to school, but I also had to grow away from my home life if I was going to be able to free myself from the social constructs that were available to me. So I left my mom's basement apartment in Chicago and traveled to the beautiful edge of Cape Cod, MA. There are very few places that were reasonably priced, so I took on a job as a housekeeper by day, and a waiter by night. The summers were full of people, and the winters were lonely. I decided to try to get into the Dental Hygiene program at the local community college.
For the first time back to school in almost 10 years, I managed to maintain good grades, and for the first time since kindergarten, I made the dean's list. Unfortunately, as great as I did, I didn't do well enough. With them only accepting 22 applicants, and receiving 95 applications, I didn't make the cut. So, my 3 year plan of finishing this program just turned into a 4 year plan.
Dental Hygienists make upwards of $30 an hour and there is a huge demand for them. I just happened to check out the program because I didn't want to work in the restaurant industry all my life for nothing. And years ago I investigated a future in Dentistry. I quickly abandoned that idea when I found out that after finishing school I would be in debt with no way of paying it off without an established practice.
How does one cross the divide while there are so many obstacles? It seems we are only allowed access to something if we have a name or some kind of golden spoon in our mouth sometimes. I do believe that you can make your own destiny, but only to an extent. I can't pave the way as easily as someone who is living at home, able to devote more time to study, while I spend my nights and weekends working to pay the rent and put food in my stomach. The people who do have that opportunity tend to take this opportunity for granted, and it makes me ill. But I guess that is what I am working towards, a chance to give my children something that I didn't have, a better chance for them to make something of themselves, without having to work so hard.
from Cranesville WV
I've had a chance to see a few different rungs on the middle class ladder. My family certainly doesn't have "old money," but we get by the best we can. My dad's side of the family was from northern Louisiana. His father was an Army officer, and he grew up on bases around the world.
My mother's family goes back four or five generations within five miles of her current home. They were farmers, and you can still see the foundation holes at their old homestead on the backside of the mountain behind the house I grew up in.
My parents met while they were both going to state universities in Virginia in the early sixties. They graduated, married in 1964, and led a fairly bohemian life. They lived on Maui for many years, teaching in a private school. When I started to come along, they realized that they wouldn't be able to make ends meet with a child on that expensive island, so they moved back to the mainland.
They tried their hands at a few things in a few places after they got back to the mainland, but some little-talked about bad decisions landed them back in Cranesville, the small (and I do mean small--now it has about 25 people, when I was growing up there were less than 20) town where my mother's parents lived.
They purchased a house two doors down from my grandparents, who financed the home for them out of their retirement savings. My father went to work again as a high school teacher, and my mother, a few years later, as a community college librarian in nearby Maryland. They would divorce when I was in elementary school, but they remained friends, both owned homes, and lived close enough to one another that I could spend time with them pretty much equally.
We never really talked about money growing up, but I know that neither of my parents made much. After all, how much does a rural teacher get, anyway. The funny thing is that we were better off than most of my friends, even though my parents made a pittance compared to what most of the people I met later in life would. I didn't notice the difference that much, because I was a country boy too, and I was involved in the same outdoorsy activities as my peers.
Well, I ended up being a good student and getting great grades. That, combined with my parents' incomes and the "geographical diversity" quotient of my hometown got me a great package of scholarships and financial aid to attend a better than average (but not great) private university in Boston.
When I moved to Boston, the class differences I saw between myself and my peers became a gulf. Unlike most of my classmates, I was working to support myself, rather than for a few bucks to buy beer on weekends. Mommy and daddy didn't buy me a shiny new SUV; I drive an 18 year old pickup with more than a few dents and rust holes. I'd rather spend a weekend hunting or fishing or hiking or, dare I say it, four-wheeling than go out to a trendy nightclub, and I can afford gas, ammo, a six pack, and hiking boots a lot easier than I could seven dollar drinks.
I find myself in an unusual and ironic position now. I worked several different jobs going through college, most recently as head bouncer at a fairly trendy club. On paper, I make significantly more a year than either of my parents, but the cost of living keeps me in a much lower real standard of living than they enjoy. I was able to move out of the Mission Hill neighborhood (ghetto?), where I started in Boston, into Somerville, an up and coming blue-collar suburb. I pay about $500 a month in rent, and the bills seem to keep on piling up. I try not to drive too much so I can keep gas costs and car repairs down. I shop at a Shaws, just like the one Burlington didn't get on the show, and I try to cook as many meals as possible, only eating out once or twice a month. By being frugal, I can barely get by with more money than my parents, and they have mortgages, car payments, medical bills (I don't have insurance, so I just try not to get sick), and all the other expenses of a comfortable middle class lif
I don't have any real spending money here, but when I go back home on vacations, I can live for a week on what I'd usually spend in a few days just on incidentals.
I had an experience recently that I felt was really echoed in the People like Us show. My freshman roommate, from the affluent Boston suburb called Hingham, came to visit me in Somerville with a few of his friends I was acquainted with. We went to one of my neighborhood bars to catch up, and before long I was really embarrassed by them. They seemed incredibly out of place, and I felt guilty to have brought these nice, but incredibly snobbish, people into one of my favorite hangouts. I couldn't help but think of that when I saw the segment on the "slumming" kids in Baltimore.
I recently got laid off, and now I'm collecting Massachusetts state unemployment. I could barely make ends meet when I was working, and now things just keep getting worse. I don't want to move back to the ghetto, so I'm cutting as many corners as I can. I've lived on white rice and pasta for the past two months. I stopped buying a subway pass, because I just can't part with $50 all at once at the beginning of the month anymore. I only drive in emergencies now, and I only do maintainance and repairs on my truck that can complete myself. Talk about a class difference between myself and my schoolmates. I've conditioned myself to fixing a quick cup of coffee in the morning, then not eating until six or seven in the evening when I can get home and cook. None of my classmates seem to be looking for work so they can afford to buy groceries and pay rent in the same week. They just seem to be daydreaming about the great career that they're going to get by hooking up with daddy's golf buddy's cousin's roommate.
I graduate from college in two months into a depressed job market. I know I can't afford to stay in Boston, but where should I go? I feel a real attachment to West Virginia, deep roots that keep drawing me back. My parents can't understand this urge to come back. They are a product of a different mindset, a sixties idea that you had to distance yourself from your roots, that coming home again was failing. The friends I grew up with and still keep in touch with just don't understand why I ever left in the first place. I would love to move back to Cranesville, or somewhere nearby, but there aren't any jobs and my parents would be crushed.
So here I am, twenty three years old, unemployed, running out of savings, about to be a college graduate without prospects, and with no idea what comes next. I seem to have moved down the social ladder, up, and back down again. I wonder which way I'll move next.
from Plainsboro, NJ
I grew up in the most crime-ridden town in one of the 10 richest
counties in America. To the rest of Somerset County, Franklinites were pure
unadulterated untermenchen scum, who were to be feared because we lived in a
minority-majority community. For my friends in South Bound Brook, I was the
epitome of a patrician. One man's patrician is a another man's white trash. I
was in the National Honors Society, borne to a teenage mother and was the
first in my family to go to a four year college, but was denied admission to the
state university. As an Italian-American faced with an anti-intellectual
stereotype, affirmative action did not work for me the way it benefited my
African-American classmates and friends.
from Edwardsville, IL
I have always liked dolls. As my children are older, I want to learn about my hobby. I
like buying less than perfect dolls, and restoring them. I have a lot to
learn. I have been looking for local doll clubs to join. Last spring, went
to a local doll club's convention on public day and sent several SASE to
local contact people listed in national doll magazines. I have finally heard
from one club. Have since talked to several people involved in the local
clubs. They are all very friendly people on the phone. The clubs are
sponsored by the UFDC. To become a member, I have to make 3 meetings, before
the membership votes on my application. One of the clubs has decided to do
home visits before accepting anyone new. When asked why, the answer was
unclear. I had the feeling only higher income people would be wanted in that
club. It is subtle, but class distinction is there. I will most likely join
an online club.
from Glendale, CA
My father was in the military and my mother worked sporadically as a
legal secretary. Although I had the advantage of travel and living abroad,
we lived a lower middle class lifestyle - no books, no classical music,
homemade clothes, camping. I dropped out of high school in the 10th grade.
I am a single parent (two daughters), and have slaved to provide my children
with an upper class lifestyle. I now manage a company and make 85K a year,
not much but considering I was on welfare 20 years ago with a bleak future I
think I've done very well. My youngest daughter, who is 13, is enrolled in a
prestigious private school in Los Angeles. She's planning on Harvard for
university. My oldest daughter is married to a wealthy entrepenuer.
I think class resentment stems mostly from the lower classes towards the
upper. I usually edit my interactions with people from the working and
middle class to avoid conflict - I don't mention my car, lifestyle, shopping
preferences, etc. The most difficult part in improving my life has been the
resentment of some relatives and friends. I've worked (sometimes two
full-time jobs) for everything I have and I think I deserve a Lexus,
vacations at the Plaza and Hilton Head, a four hundred book library, art, and
shopping sprees at Neiman Marcus. I think they would be happier if I were
still a waitress living in a mobile home!
I have taught my daughters taste and discernment, etiquette, respect for the
rights of others, the work ethic, and the value of an education. The purpose
of life should be improvement, and I hope to see my children and
grandchildren benefit from what I have been able to achieve.
from Peoria, IL
I grew up in a middle class neighborhood of Peoria, IL. My father
is an Asian immigrant and an engineer at a large corporation; my Caucasian
mother is a service worker. I feel I have had vast exposure to the wide range
of classes, from poor to upper, and have actively observed the differences in
their social views. Now, as a 24-year-old, upwardly mobile professional and
grad student, it is my firm belief that it is the middle class in this
society (not the rich or the poor) who are the most superficial and
materialistic. Since they are the largest segment they therefore explain why
our mass-society is largely materialistic and class-conscious.
Growing up, my father ran a very frugal household. This taught me the
value of money and that there are opportunities to save and "get ahead." He
instilled the value of education and how rewarding it can be. So I have never
perceived class to be (nor has it been) a barrier to any of my goals. I had
exposure to upper-middle class children largely because I attended a private
grade school and my high school is in the upper-income part of town.
During college I worked a part-time job at a distribution warehouse in
Champaign, IL. In the job interview, the interviewer asked jokingly, "So, you
want to see how the other half lives?" The people at the warehouse work
strenuous, literally backbreaking hours, to bring home a decent
middle-class-like paycheck. These people were, however, supportive, friendly,
and humorous. As hard as their job was, the warehouse laborers gained
satisfaction from being paid in exchange for real work, instead of having to
hustle others or be a cubicle-dwelling, sell-out corporate parasite. One of
the workers even went out of his way to talk to me to make sure that I wasn't
giving up my college/professional life to settle for his job. That is
something I'll never forget.
Nor will I forget the some of the disgustingly materialistic
class-related comments I've heard from people of the middle/upper-middle
class. Like the time a female friend of mine was telling me about a guy she
was dating. She started the description by saying, "He has a Beamer, and just
bought a condo." She quickly critiqued herself saying, "I probably sounded so
materialistic right there." Now that I think about it, when I picked her up I
had a brief conversation with her mother. After the mother inquired about my
occupation, she said that she likes to see her daughter stay connected with
people like me for the potential career building connections. So it is easy
to see where my friend got her values. Passed down from one
middle/upper-middle class generation to the next.
Another, disturbing class related comment was made to me by a friend in
my profession (engineering). This person was 30-years-old and was saving and
investing, albeit slowly and painfully. I was talking about my plans after
grad school, and how the economic situation is extraordinarily favorable for
people entering my future profession (patent law). His response, "Just don't
become one of them." (Them, meaning rich snobs.) He said this as if to say
that being successful and making a lot more money than him would change me
into "one of them." But what he doesn't realize is that he, himself, is the
snobbish materialistic "one of them." He is the middle-class person going
around feeling better than others because he can bring home a decent 50k
paycheck year after year, while at the same time becoming greedy and feeling
inferior because he see others having more.
I feel the people of the middle class are more materialistic and
superficial than most because they see the upper class at attainable to them.
At the same time they see the lower class below them and have a need to prove
that they are better. This causes some of them to spend as if they are upper
class thereby perpetuating their dependant situation.
In my experience the people who are the least materialistic/superficial
and therefore the most genuine and compassionate are those who were born
comfortably into the upper class. The "trust-fund boys (and girls)." These
are the people have never had to work for it and never had to worry about it.
Since they never really thought about money growing up, it doesn't shape
their values and aspirations, thereby leaving a lot of room for a real life.
The general public (middle class) likes to think of these people as rich,
snobbish, free-spending, daddy's boys, but they are actually more likely to
adopt the spending habits and values of their parents. One of these people is
my best friend G . Born into a family that leveraged education and prudence
into a decent fortune; he doesn't care much about the fact that his family is
rich. Of course he wants to have a high income, but only to the extent that
he can live comfortably, not so that he can put it in people's faces and
pretend to be superior. He doesn't pla
The majority of middle class people in America need to stop pretending
to be rich snobs, and start living a real life.
from Del Mar, CA
I grew up in a large Massachusetts town in what has been
statistically defined as the middle class of the middle class in the United
States. While both my parents are college educated, there are definite
social barriers that exist that keep them from socializing with anyone who
is too successful. I grew up very middle/upper middle class with many
affluent friends, but I myself was not given too much to be spoiled.
In college, I met my now husband who worked 3 jobs to put himself through
school. We both went on to get graduate degrees and have enjoyed a good deal
of (financial) success in the last couple of years. (Still have the years
and years of student loan payments ahead of us.)
I think that the greatest barrier now is relating to old friends who only
seem to notice your money. We have worked for absolutely everything, yet we
sometimes get callous remarks like we have some benefactor... This is tough.
We are young, and were very much struggling up until a few years ago; and
even now, we work very hard everyday. This is the American dream right?
from Sam Francisco, CA
In 1967 I was born into a lower middle class family in a suburb of San
Francisco. My parents divorced when I was two and although my mother had a
job in management, we had a very tough time surviving. Several years later,
my mother remarried a local real estate broker who worked hard and provided
our extended family with a good upper-middle class lifestyle (private
school/multiple homes/vacations/social standing). They divorced when I was 14
and my mother, brother and I were "cut off". My mom was terrified of losing
her upper middle class standing and worked non-stop and put herself through
college to afford a "normal" lifestyle.
I am now 33 and have real issues with class. I never finished college (until
now!) for monetary reasons and because my mother insisted I work. I am a
successful manager in a large brokerage Firm. I feel class pressure because
most of my co-workers are the business elite or blue bloods and I feel like a
from Rehoboth, DE
I think I probably come from an upper-middle class background. Our parents and grandparents were 'comfortable' but I wouldn't say we were rich. My father was a doctor and uncle was once an ambassador. My maternal grandfather was a judge. My mother inherited enough to become independent but she has middle class values. Her background is hard to place because her parents were in the 'green book' of Washington (the social register) encouraged her to be a debutante. Many of her friends were. Her maternal family owned a farm in Virginia and her grandparents bred horses while the paternal side had a brewery in Ohio but both sides lost their money during Prohibition and the Depression. There were academics on both sides of my family.
I know we were probably a cut above the average but I also sensed that there were still people above us socially. They seemed more waspy. Sent their kids to boarding schools. Trust funds. We didn't enjoy all that. I used to know people from the old families in Charleston, S.C. and they enjoyed a sense of who they are that we don't. The upper classes enjoy intangibles that the upper middles do not. They may not have any more money than the upper middles but they tend to enjoy long lineages with a particular locale and often live in inherited property with antiques. They're often horsey too. I knew these sorts of people on my course with Sotheby's but I didn't quite fit in with them.
There is a subtle difference in outlook between the upper middles and the uppers. The uppers tend to be more idealistic and/or more cavalier in their approach to life. As they're socially secure they don't worry so much about what others think. They have nothing to prove.
I also knew people who were rich but who lacked 'class'. I think women are more socially mobile than men. They can marry up or down. (I've married down!) It's not straightforward and it's all very relative...
from Virginia Beach, VA
When I was growing up, my parents worked two each to pay the minimum
mortage payment every month along with payments on a couple credit cards.
For dinner we would eat fish sticks and french fries. Going to Wendy's salad
bar on Sunday was going out to eat. My clothes was mostly passed down from
my older sister or friends of my mother who had children who were older than
I. Now that I am a senior all that has changed. My parents work one job a
piece. We vacation in teh Outer Banks every summer; My parents went to the
Bahamas this past spring. I buy expenisve clothes and don't have to eat fish
sticks anymore. I liked my childhood because now I can afford the nicer side
of life, but I still value a dollar and understand hard work will pay off.
from Lomita, CA
I was raised in a upper-middle class family. I married a lower
middle-class man cause I didn't think that there was anything good about
upper-middle class life. My husband began corporate climbing and I became
more and more unhappy as our life began to replacate my parents. I left my
husband and I am now living a super-simple life. I live in a small trailer
park with my middle child, she works and goes to school and so do I.I am
connected to my neighborhood and feel as if I am living a life that is
authentic. Someday we would like to have a small house. I DO miss having a
house, but I don't miss keeping up appearences and feeling as if I am stuck
and never going to have any fun anymore. I began getting tattoos when I left
and I have become a knowledgeable collector. My older child (daughter) is
married and she and her husband are expecting their first child and are
buying a house. Sometimes she feels strange about the choices that I've made, but I have never regretted them.
from Dallas, TX
I am an African-American from St. Louis, MO, a VERY materialistic and
status-conscious city, and now reside in Dallas, TX. The class/race lines
are very definite in St. Louis.
My father is a second-chair violinist for a major symphony and my mother is a
I initally attended a public school where I was teased and picked on by
lower-class blacks for "talking white" and "acting white." Since I was
smarter than them, I would get chased home from school regularly, and became
very afraid of them. Finally, my mother placed in a private school, where I felt safe from the
black kids who I felt mistreated me.
My mother taught in the public school while my sister and I attended private
school, which led me to believe that public school attendees were inferior. Without realizing it, in the 6th grade, I began look down on all blacks who
did not speak proper english and behaved in a refined manner, and whites with
southern accents, regardless of their income, education, or level of
Two years ago, I married a black woman "like me," who speaks standard english
impeccably, and shares the same values and tastes. She admitted to me that
she feels more comfortable around "blacks like us" and whites of a certain
Politically, we are touchy-feely, tree-hugging Liberals, but I still struggle
with some of my old demons. A black at my job said he knew I was a
Republican. When I told him I was very Liberal, he was shocked.
The blacks my wife and I associate with now are still limited to those who
speak standard english effortlessly, and of a particular level of refinement
and taste. Although I may sound lofty, even in my adult life, when I reach
out to blacks "not like me," more often than not, I sense that they do not
fully accept me, and see me as different, or an outsider. When they go to
lunch, they never invite me, only the whites do. I recently overheard a
black co-worker say to another, in reference to me, "I can tell he's black by
looking at him, but other than that, I don't know...". They talk to each
other in black slang, but try to speak proper english when talking to me,
which leads me to believe that they do not see me as "one of them."
Conclusion: In my opinion, class has nothing to do with money. I would
rather see my son become an 80k computer analyst than a multi-million rap
star or athlete. It more pertains to values and preferences. My experience
is that class discrimination occurrs in both directions.
from Mission Viejo, CA
I come from what is called an "old money" family where there has been
a large inheritance passed down through a couple generations. But I have found the worst form of ugly, petty snobbery among the middle-class, who seem to have something to prove.
Let me elaborate. I married a man from a middle-class, blue-collar based
family that has done pretty well for the small, rural town they are from.
His family has always made a point to brag and show off their possesions and
look down on other people. What I have learned about classes, is that the upper class don't have this need. In fact, its very taboo and rude. Also, its just natural to us, so why
would we feel the need to brag? Rather its the middle-class snobs who are trying to promote themselves to feel like somebody. I see quite a range in middle-class, the largest class. But very few actual upper class members. Its much more than income and that is lost on some people.
from Washington, DC
I grew up in an upper-middle class suburb of Milwaukee (not aware,
until years later, that many people consider Milwaukee or the Midwest as a
whole a "backwater")that my parents had bought a plot of land in and put up a
ranch home back in the 1950's when the area was first subdivided from farm
land. As the years advanced dermatologists and middle managers kept moving
in, raising the property values and expectations of folks. Additional areas
started being further subdivided and the resulting communities being given
names: "Lamp Lighter Park" or "Ikey's Pond," for example. My struggling
outside insurance agent/factory working father and hair dresser Mom had moved
there to get out of "the rat race" of city life, but they kept strictly to
their Great Depression Era ways, and Dad kept most of his clothes from the
70's, even 20 years later. My Mom used to buy most of my clothes from rummage
sales or she'd get hand-me-downs from other families (since I was an only
child). I would get heckled, about once a day.
Today, I live in North East Washington DC, not far from where I did a term in
grad school, and my wife finished her M.A. there: Catholic University. I
frequently get a quick look or question about, "Why are you living THERE??"
by co-workers in Alexandria, VA at PBS HQ. Ostensibly, the questions are
about, "the length of my commute," however, with the 40-minute train ride I
make, it's not taking me terribly much longer than people in suburban VA or
MD need to reach work by car. The more bold and familiar co-workers ask
about, "All the crime" or "all of the poverty" there in NE DC and question
why I'd want to live "in that." A lawyer couple who are friends of a friend
of mine even found excuses on two occasions not to come visit my apartment at
night, despite there being open parking for their car, steps away from the
apartment complex's front door, and other friends of ours already attending
the same party.
from Denver, CO
I am a French immigrant and arrived 3 years ago in Boulder Colorado. I left
France because it is a silent dictatorship in my opinion. We are from old
money but my Dad, who is a doctor, was more interested in intellectual
fulfillments rather than the ones associated with money. My mother's family is
more of the gentry type. The family mansion was sold at my grandparents'
death, and I used to organise lavish parties there. It was filled with
beautifull antiques from the 19th Century.
I moved to the US because I love what it represents and it's also a
beautiful place to be in all aspects of life. I am a post graduate in
Political Science and International Finance. I work for
a private Hedge Fund with an amazing group of Boulder people. I just turned 30 and bought a great condo in Down Town Denver. I think I dread the loss of my social status and the social network I could enjoy in Paris. I thought I understood the American people but am not sure
anymore. I am having a hard time forgetting my bourgeois references which have
always helped me shape the world. They could apply here, but I am not a
bourgeois yet over here, and may never be.
But I have not been here 3 years yet. I could do better still. I am a bit of a snob trapped inside a class-unconscious
crowd. I love them anyway.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to say thoses words. Could you help
me understand what is going on in this country?
from Olathe, KS
I grew up in an upper middle class home. My high school was mixed pretty evenly between upper and lower middle class, with no real problems. Mostly the upper middle class didn't flash the little extra money they had and everyone was about the same. Most of the students had a car, but the car was about 10 yrs old. When I was a senior in 1985, my parents traded in my 1972 Monte Carlo for a 1983 Cavalier. Classmates thought we were showing off because my car was so new.
Now that I am an adult, married, a parent, and work for my money, I find myself living in a county that is VERY class conscious. We live in a suburb of Kansas City, MO called Olathe. Even though we are a 'burb of KC, we are in Kansas and in a county (Johnson),that I was told when we moved here in 1991 was one of the five or ten riches per capita counties in the country. While we have been married, we have gone from struggling for money, to actually getting public assistance (WIC), to now being home owners who are at last not struggling all the time. The problem with living in Johnson County is that there are so many people who are trying to keep up with the few that truly have the money, that it has become a contest and I see so many who live beyond their means to just to try to appear like they have it all. Fortunately our children are still young so we don't have our children wanting and needing everything that their friends have. I have a coworker who moved 45 minutes out into the country to just get away from all the "keeping up." It is like everyone on the Kansas side is trying to keep themselves "above" the people on the Missouri side.
from Charleston, SC
Growing up I lived in a household that was living the American Dream. My father was from an immigrant family that lived and worked in the big steel mills in Pittsburgh, PA. My father went to college on the GI bill after WWII. In college he met and married a middle class woman. By the time my brother and I were teenagers my father had climbed from the working class to the upper middle class. We lived in a beautiful home on the shores of a large lake. Of course I took my class privilege for granted, that is until I met and married a carpenter. We used the cash we got as wedding presents to make a down payment on a house. Three months married, only half way through college, with a 30 year mortgage, my husband came home proudly announcing they had finished the building he was working on and oh, by the way he had been laid off! My middle class reality did not include losing a job because you had successfully done your job. Suddenly the difference between the working and middle class became terrifying. For me it was the beginning of a life long fascination with social class.
From that day on I became a serious student. I switched my major to sociology and eventually earned my PhD. Today I am an associate professor of sociology at the College of Charleston, but I am still married to my carpenter. Our daughter followed in her mother's footsteps. She was raised middle class, but married a working class man. Grandmother, mother and daughter - three generations of hypogamous marriages in a Prometheian climb from the working class to middle class.
from Jersey City, NJ
My maternal grandmother (from a Polish/German immigrant family) married beneath her when she married my grandfather, a poor Polish immigrant who was a typical "ne'er do well" type. While he was born into poverty and arrived in this country with nothing (like so many others), he also had an aversion to holding down a steady job, instead choosing to make philandering his life's work. My mother and her four sisters grew up with a very narrow set of expecations of life, even though they are all very bright, capable human beings. All but one married and they basically achieved a middle-class lifestyle for themselves and their families. Nevertheless, they tend to look at life as a series of limitations or obstacles, rather than as a series of opportunities.
Unfortunately, my siblings (all quite a bit older than me) seem to have inherited this world view from my mom. Because of their innate fear of, well, poverty I guess, they have been unwilling to take any risks in life, always playing it safe. As a consequence they are all, in some way, dissatisfied with their lives (even my sister, who married a very wealthy man).
Fortunately, perhaps because I am so much younger, I was able to recognize this pattern and fight this tendency in myself. Even so, I spent the first part of my adult life overcoming the urge to keep my head down and go with the flow. It has only recently sunk in that, if I try something and fail, in all likelihood I won't end up in the gutter.
So, even though we have never personally experienced poverty, the poverty our mother endured growing up still affects us today. It's still "nipping at our heels" decades later!
from Madison, WI
My birthfather and mother grew up during the depression in rural Missouri. My birthfather did not go to junior high or high school. My mother did not go to high school. But my birthfather got a GED during WWII, then went to school on the GI bill. Eventually he earned a PhD. My mother lied all her life about her education and many things related to social class. She was obsessed with looks and how she and we were perceived. I didn't learn about her lack of education until a few years before she died (learned form a relative not her). My birth parents divorced when I was about 5 and at 7 1/2 I got a wonderful step-family, probably lower middle class as far as material things, but middle middle in values. My Dad (real Dad and step-father) emmigrated to US when he was about 5. He earned a EdD by attending a summer program at Penn State for many years. I grew up entirely in a university community. I didn't figure out the class stuff until I worked in a Sociology dept as a secretary.
from Baltimore, MD
I never thought much about class until I got to college. both of my parents are teachers; they made good money, but we never seemed to have any to spare--a combination of credit card debts and twelve years of Catholic school tuition for me and my sister. But we weren't poor. We just didn't live extravagantly. My sister and I both needed financial aid to go to college. I chose to attend an ivy league school in Massachusetts. It was a shock for me. I expected lines out the door at the financial aid office--but most of my friends didn't even know where it was. I was the only one of my five freshman roommates on aid. My roommates lived on fifth avenue, had apartments in Paris, vacationed in Morocco and Hawaii, jaunted off to New York for shopping trips. I worked at starbucks on weekends so i could pay my phone bills (I had a boyfriend back home).
But then again, I wasn't poor. I was luckier than some of my classmates who had to work not for extra money but for actual tuition money. I didn't come from a working-class neighborhood or a ghetto. I had barbie dolls and toys and trendy clothes when I wanted them. I felt like I had little right to feel sorry for myself around my wealthier classmates because I didn't have it as bad as some others. Sometimes I didn't know where I belonged. I hated being around the rich kids with their tailored clothes and their tendency to look down on someone who didn't mind shopping at Wal-mart. and I couldn't relate to the struggles of the truly down-and-out.
I know my school choice puts me in line for a good job with a fat salary. I find myself drifting closer to where the rich kids are, and that worries me. so I think, to keep myself grounded in what's real and what really matters, I'll become a high-school teacher. Not really a fat salary, but I wasn't raised to really need one. When i was young, there wasn't much money to throw around on expensive vacations and such, and i was taught that there were more important things that money and what you could do with it.
Thanks mom and dad.
from Bellingham, WA
I have lived between two different classes from the time I was born. My father is Native American and my mother is White Caucasian of European decent. I learned from both the cultures I was brought up in and learned how to function within each. Society has a problem with the fact that I have a foot in two different classes - the poor Native American and the working middle class. At times I have been denied acceptance into each of these cultures. I belong to two different classes - the poor and the middle class. I have a regular 40 hour a week job and I earn enough income to be considered middle class. Yet there are times I am looked at as poor because of my heritage. Some of my family members on my Dad's side see me as an outsider to the poor class because I have a regular job and treat me as different from them.
Susan from Port Townsend, WA
I fell in love with a guy when I was 22. We were head over heels and he asked me to marry him. THEN I met his parents. I'm from the midwestern working-class, semi-rural set. His father was a corporate lawyer in Minneapolis. They were polite, but treated me like a freak of nature. I was questioned extensively on my family and plans for the future and was met with frequent silences at my responses. He met my mother: divorced, well-educated, living in a rental unit. Things fell apart after that. He left me with no explanation. It was a rude introduction to the importance of class in life. I have paid close attention to it ever since.
Adia from Ft Washington, MD
People always think that I'm really rich or fairly poor. I guess it depends on who is looking. Some upper-middle class white people that have never met their black equivalent are shocked when they find out we live in a house bigger than theirs and have a white cleaning lady (whom we all like). They are the ones that assume I'm poor. Many blacks think I'm rich because I travel a lot, live an area known for rich blacks and wear nice jewelry sometimes. I travel at a discount because I'm a student and I used work in a fine jewelry store so I got a discount. My parents moved here long before this town was a 'hot spot so' it wasn't that expensive. But they don't think to ask me that.
When I go into nice stores they usually help me. My friend says it's because I sound smart, educated, and grounded. Other's say it's because I sound white.
I can tell low-class black people because they tend to talk too much about material things like Prada shoes or Kate Spade handbags. Some of them get mad when they realize that you have had a diverse life and they have never left their hometown.
Let's look at the word 'France'. If you mentioned it to...
A lower class black person, they would brag about her $700 Vuitton purse.
An upper-middle class black person like me, they will get excited and tell how they went to Paris in the off-season and stayed in a youth hotel for the entire week of spring break.
A rich black person, they will sip their imported coffee and mention they have a cottage near Bordeaux. Then they'll ask you to pass the gray poupon.
I can only speak for Blacks. I don't know much about white people, except for the fact that their rich people and our rich people act a lot alike. Not sure about the middle and lower class.