Is Class Discrimination the New Racism?

Last May the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a study (PDF) showing that, basically, people classified as “upper class” think that poor people are poor because of a biological or genetic defect. In other words, the upper class thinks that poor people are poor because they are inferior. This rings of the justification for three-fifths compromise; black people needed to be slaves and are less than human because they were genetically inferior.

The study itself is riddled with problems. However, the problems reveal their own set of phenomenon. First, the study solicited people to take a survey by placing an ad on Craig’s List, offering Amazon gift cards to anyone who took the survey. The result was that 70% of the respondents were women. Second, most of the respondents were from the U.S. west coast. And lastly, n=162, hardly a representative population, even for the 1%. It does reveal however, that class bias seems to be geographically centered as well as gender specific.

But are they “social facts?” We simply cannot tell from this study. Social facts, however are more than a Durkheimian view that they are simply material and non-material social forces. As Marcel Mauss (Durkheim’s nephew) implied, Social facts have social consequences. W.I. Thomas said something similar in the Thomas Theorem, where a situation is real when it is real in its consequences.

So since we don’t know from this study if class discrimination is real, we can search for the consequences; sort of like looking for the wake of a ship in the water, when the ship has already passed. There are a lot of ripples to look at.

There is a little known paper (PDF) from Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies from 2010 (post economic apocalypse) that produced these data:



Now we can say that the underemployed are making less money because, well, they are underemployed. But let’s not forget the definition of “underemployed,” which is people who wish they could work more, but simply cannot find more work. That means that it is a Social Fact that people in the bottom fifth deciles face the highest rates of underemployment. It’s a consequence that is real – ripples on the water that tells us that something bigger is at work.

Now the question becomes “why?” This is where more studying needs to be done. We do however, know that discrimination is a social fact. We also know that income inequality is a social fact. We also know that there’s at least something gender based and geographic based prejudice & discrimination based on social class.

And as Paul Krugman points out, it’s an all out war over poverty right now. You cannot address poverty without addressing income inequality, which cannot be addressed without jobs.

But what if the ripples in the water – the social consequences point us toward the idea that employers (and others) will discriminate against lower income people? What if this is indeed a “Social Fact?”

Then it changes the landscape of sociology and economics. And it will be very, very ugly to look at.

This entry was posted in Economics, Labor, Socioeconomics, Sociological Theory, Sociology. Bookmark the permalink.

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