Class Survey, Part 2

In terms of professions of people’s parents, in total 48 people had parents with typically middle class jobs (doctor, lawyer, therapist, academic, engineer, religious leader, CEO). A whopping 72 of respondents’ parents had more typically working class type jobs, including government jobs (13), small business owner (12), service industry (15), administrative staff (14), military (4), tradesmen and women (7), manufacturing (6), and farming (1). One person also said their parent collected disability. This means that while 72 parents had working class jobs, only 22 people went on to continue in typically working class jobs themselves. This indicates a significant drop in the number of working class jobs represented by the sample of people who took the survey. One wonders if this is symptomatic of the drop in many of the working class type professions in this country: manufacturing has gone overseas, farms are dying, etc.

In terms of the education background of people’s parents, 40 out of 64 people responding to this question said at least one of their parents attended college. College education is widely known to correlate with middle class attitudes toward money and work and often (but not always) correlates with improved income and upwardly mobile class status. Parents who went to college late in life (10 respondents) or did not attend college (11 respondents), or who attended a trade or vocational program (3 respondents) would generally be more consistent with working class values. The fact that 48 people said their parents were middle class and 40 people said that their parents attended college means there is a slight discrepancy between what you would expect, but not huge. One wonders whether the 8 people who said their parents were middle class were labeling their parents this way based on income, when in fact their parents worked in working class jobs, or perhaps they have a different definition of what “middle class” is. Part of what makes the whole discussion about class difficult is that there is not a lot of clarity about definitions and terms. Given the vast number of people who report to me anecdotally that they are uncomfortable talking about money, I was surprised to see that 49 out of 65 people said they were either completely comfortable talking about money or simply felt it was “a little awkward but not too bad.” No one said they found it deeply uncomfortable, and only 13 people said “I do it if I absolutely had to.” One person wrote in “it’s rude” while another wrote in “quite happy to point out people’s privilege by disclosing my own situations.”

Finally, in the section in which people were asked to express their opinion on a 5-point Likert scale about certain statements, the results were a little hard to interpret. This is likely due to some of the statements being worded too ambiguously, and the tendency of people to wind up selecting the middle option. For example, in response to the statement “I believe unions are the only way to protect workers’ rights” 25 out of 66 people said they “sort of agree and sort of disagree” and it is not clear whether people were waffling because of the absolutism of “the only way” to protect workers’ rights or because they were unsure of how much they support unions in general. Interestingly, however, only 16 people said they agree with the statement while 25 people said they disagree with the statement. Considering that it is an undisputed fact that without a union a worker can, in fact, be fired for just about any reason an employer wants, this suggests unions need to do a better job at making their case for their value to the American public.

In response to the statement “If I didn’t have money I would choose not to work”, 21 people were again smack down in the middle, and it is not clear what the mitigating factors for these people might be if they were faced with this situation. However, only 16 people said they agree with this statement while 29 people said they disagree. This statement was intended to be an expression of a generally working class attitude toward work (work is utilitarian, it pays the bills) but the numbers don’t quite line up since only 12 people identified as poor or working class and 42 people identified themselves as middle or upper class.

The other statements had more clear answers in one direction or the other. The statement “I wound up in my job because I needed a job” – another statement intended as a typically working class attitude toward work and money — yielded 21 people saying they agreed with it and 32 people disagreeing with it. By contrast the statement “I chose to go into my current profession deliberately by attending a Master’s program or PhD program” – a statement intended as an expression of typically middle class attitudes toward work and money — yielded 25 people saying they agree and 39 people saying they disagree. This statement also yielded the most divergent opinions – 22 of the people who agreed “completely agreed” and 33 of the 39 people who disagreed “completely disagreed. Only 2 people said they “sort of agree and sort of disagree.”
The item with the highest votes of all five statements was the 48 people who “completely disagreed” with the statement “I chose to go into my current profession deliberately by attending a technical or trade school.” In total 53 people disagreed with this statement, 9 agreed, and 1 person was completely in the middle.

About an equal number of people disagreed (27) with the statement “I have changed jobs a lot in my lifetime” as agreed (25) with this statement. With 14 people squarely on the fence about this statement, it accounts for the most evenly distributed statement people rated. It may reflect the myriad of reasons people lose jobs or change jobs, which happens in both middle class and working class fields. On the other hand, a majority of people (35) said they disagreed with the statement “I would never want to have to hire or fire someone” while only 14 people said they agreed with this statement, which was intended to capture a generally anti-management attitude in many people with a typically working class attitude to money and work.

Finally, in terms of demographics of the respondents, of the 66 people who responded to this question, 29 people grew up with a stay at home parent, 46 people grew up with two parents who were married. This latter number is significant since it obviously flies in the face of the two-thirds divorce rate that has been widely documented in this country. 47 people grew up attending public schools, and 38 people said it was false or mostly false to say that they grew up in a place that was diverse economically and racially. 54 people said they found the statement “I grew up knowing a lot of adults who lost their jobs or couldn’t work” to be false or mostly false. 27 people said they agreed with the statement “the place where I grew up had only one public high school” while 37 people said they disagreed with this statement.

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~ by realsupergirl on September 1, 2010.

6 Responses to “Class Survey, Part 2”

  1. Interesting! A note: a few jobs you listed as “Working class” may not be depending on the circumstance: government jobs (13), small business owner (12) and administrative. I listed myself as administrative because it was the closest thing that fit, but doubt many would consider my job a “working class” job–it requires a BA/BA at minimum, for example. Also, Sarah W. has a “government job,” but it requires a MA and pays very well, etc.

    • Interesting points. Yeah, your job is a little hard to classify. Administrative is probably a good classification, but it really needs a new category: “nonprofit management” perhaps.

      In general, education level and salary don’t necessarily correlate to whether people work in “middle class” jobs or “working class” jobs, which is part of the problem, IMO.

      On a side note, I recently met a woman who has a BS in Archeology but has worked as a bartender for the last 10 years because the starting salary for jobs that require a BA in that field pay so poorly. This is so symptomatic of a larger systemic problem. And she is another example of someone working in a working class job (who happens to come from a working class family) with a middle class education and middle class career aspirations. Ironically, I think being from a working class family is actually PROTECTIVE in some ways because it makes her SLIGHTLY less unhappy with her current situation. If she came from a middle class family the impact of being “downgraded” to a working class job with her education would likely be bigger.

      • I’m curious what you see as The Problem. Is it that the middle class is shrinking? Or that middle class jobs don’t correlate to middle class salaries? In looking into non-profit jobs overseas, it does appear that they pay better than they do in the US, but this may be an issue of sample bias.

        As for the bartender with the Archeology degree: Most entry level jobs pay a lower wage and one gains salary with experience. If she made the point that an advanced archeology job also paid poorly (which may well be true), she might manage to justify her decision. If not, she’s taken a job with diminishing salary expectations in favor of a job with growing salary expectations. Many BA students go on to jobs unrelated to their undergrad field of study. The bartender could have, for example, found a carer with expectations for a growing salary in marketing, operations, government, etc.

        Growing up, a friend of mine’s family refused to help pay for her college education because her step sister’s history degree didn’t get her a job. Another friend who was the first of her family to go to college talked about how she felt that she worked her butt off in college while her upper middle class classmates dedicated their lives to drinking, getting stoned and trying to act & dress like they were poor.

        • “I’m curious what you see as The Problem. Is it that the middle class is shrinking? Or that middle class jobs don’t correlate to middle class salaries?”
          >>Yes. And yes.

          The bartender archeologist is just one of many, many examples of fields where the schooling required is expensive, and the pay on the other end is not that great — journalism, museums, libraries all come to mind as other fields where this is true. The reason why it is true is because we don’t publicly subsidize our news, our museums, and our libraries in many places, which they do in other countries (Europe).

          • First, we do publicly fund museums through the National Endowment for the Arts, miscellaneous grants and other measures. We fund also fund journalism – or at least the Public Broadcast system, though probably to lesser extent than many other wealthy countries, but to make this assertion, determining the per capita extent to which they are government funded would be necessary. Despite this, unless I am grossly underestimating the percent of these countries GDP that goes to journalism or museum funding, I have no reason to believe that increasing funding would provide enough living wage jobs to somehow prop up the middle class.

            Second, many of your comments and your categorizations (like putting small business owners and government employees into ‘working class’) seem to reflect more your (or the source you used to make the distinctions) view of these professions than any objective idea of the class associated with the job. Government jobs often require more education than non-government jobs and are often seen as a lifelong career choice. In the past, government jobs were a way of both finding a lifelong career and giving back to one’s community. Small business owners typically require a tremendous variety of skills including marketing, accounting, personnel management, inventory control, etc. While manufacturing has ceased to be a middle class job, before it became apparent that doing these jobs overseas was more cost effective, manufacturing was considered a middle class occupation. So the definition is flexible.

            So I have to ask, if The Problem you’re trying to understand or improve or whatever is the shrinking middle class, or the downward income pressure on the middle class, what difference should the type of job make? Is it acceptable that someone who doesn’t have a college degree live in squalor, but if your job requires one, it’s not?

            Finally, I must admit I find the idea that anyone should care that there is shortage of good paying entry level jobs for archeologists laughable. The societal contribution from archeologists seems to be pretty well covered by the folks who have stuck with the field despite the initial low pay. Those who choose not to continue could easily apply their skills to a variety of better paying professions more useful both in terms of societal value and economic impact.

            • Whether a job is a “life long career choice” is actually not relevant in whether job is “working class” or not. Many middle class folk (therapists, doctors, teachers) change job (though not profession) repeatedly.

              Government workers often stay in their jobs for life because the benefits are excellent. Yes, they often require a BA, but people are usually drawn to these positions because they value having a stable income with good benefits and guaranteed raises. This is what makes MOST (though not all) government jobs “working class.” Small business owners are working class for different reasons – I’m thinking about the people who own liquor stores and their own housepainting business – but rarely would most people view them as “middle class.”

              The purpose of the survey was to try and get a sense of people’s understanding of class and see whether that is uniform (it’s not) and whether views are affected by their education or their job field (it is, to some extent). Your questions imply there is some sort of judgment being imposed on any of the respondents – there wasn’t.

              I don’t particularly think policy should come out of this survey, it was far too limited, and not even statistically validated. It was purely for my own education and interest.

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