Class Consciousness

One of the problems for Sociologists analyzing social data is that people tend to “false report” when surveyed. One perfect example is that people tend to put themselves into a higher socioeconomic status than what they are really in. People like to say that they are “middle class” when their income just doesn’t support such a conclusion. Getting to define their own situation, people feel better about their status when they false report. The result is that Sociologists often have to rely on economic data to determine social facts.

For example, since 2000 we’ve known that people with less than a Bachelor’s degree were likely to work in service jobs paying minimum wage. This definitely makes them lower class. Yet in 2008, 76% of such people reported being “middle class.”

Now it seems, that people are waking up to his or her own situation. A Pew Research report shows that more people are identifying themselves as lower class. Young people in particular have doubled the rate of classifying themselves as lower class from 2008. And those 76% of service workers with less than a Bachelor’s degree claiming that they were middle class has dropped to 51%.

Here’s what the overall trend looks like:


And in this Pew survey from last summer, 85% of those who identified themselves as middle class said that it was more difficult to maintain their standard of living – which was pretty poor to begin with because of false reporting.

Marx posed the idea that the proletariat had a false consciousness because the Bourgeoisie commanded the class-consciousness. The owners of production were aware of their class, and the workers were not. His idea was that revolution happened (in part) when the workers became aware that they were being exploited; class consciousness.

I do not agree with Marx that revolution is inevitable. As history has shown us, there’s no such thing as a “sure thing” in sociology or economics when predicting human behavior. However, a large number of people are waking up to their own condition, as a result of very real personal consequences. The owners of capital are losing control of class consciousness, and reality is setting in.

As an academic, I do love the scent of a paradigm shift in the air.

This entry was posted in Economics, Labor, Political Economy, Socioeconomics, Sociology. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Class Consciousness

  1. DanielBerry says:

    It is my experience that there is also a strong culture of pride in being working-class and promoting the aspects of this within ourselves which we see as positive.

    I come from a family who, despite going through periods of owning large houses and having substantial income, have always classified themselves as working-class and taken pride in the attributes this conveys.

    The main reason that false consciousness works and will continue to work is that all classes buy into the consumerist ideology of a meritocratic society and the mantra that the material gains that they desire can be theirs if they work hard enough.

    • Dave Ashelman says:

      There’s a lot of reasons for false consciousness, and certainly consumerism is one of them. There is so much that goes into it, that it simply cannot be one cause.

      Entire dissertations have been written as to “why” false consciousness takes root, from Social Psychology to Microeconomics to Social Structures.

      I make no judgement on those who engage in false reporting, or consciousness because there is no one single cause. However, once one places themselves in the other person’s shoes, it’s easy to see how “dignity” comes into play, and how dignity has been lost as a result of the current economic conditions in society as a whole.

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