Sunday, December 24, 2006

Class Matters

Chapter 1: Shadowy Line That Still Divide

Today, in a country of all sorts are awash in luxuries, people’s status has become harder to read from their outward appearance. The contours of class have blurred; some said they have disappeared. But in fact, class is still a powerful force in American life. Education, child rearing, health, and life span are linked tightly to class. Although in America merit has replace the old system of inherited privilege, a paradox lies at the heart of this new American meritocracy is that merit is actually partly class-based. Parent with money, education, and connections cultivate in their children the habits that the meritocracy rewards.

New research on mobility – how readily people move up or down the ladder of prosperity and status – shows there is far less of it than most people believe. The mobility in America is lower than Britain, France, Canada, some Scandinavian countries. The rise in income inequality has widening the gulf between the rich and the poor. While most people think that American is the land of opportunity, they do not realize that the mobility seems to have stagnated – the have-mores are always rich; the have-nots are always poor.

Chapter 2: Health

Three New Yorkers with three different social classes (architect, utility worker, and maid) faced a single common threat – heart attack. But in the months that followed, their experiences diverged. Comparing to the maid, the architect and the utility worker spent lesser time to recuperate. Class informed everything from the circumstances of their heart attacks to the emergency care each received, the households they returned to, and the jobs they hoped to resume. In the United States, class is a potent force in health and longevity. The more education and income people have, the less likely they are to have and die of heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and many types of cancers. They are almost invariably in the best position to learn new information early, modify their behavior, take advantage of the latest treatments, and have the cost covered by insurance.

Chapter 3: Marriage

Marriage that cross class boundary is another interesting topic discussed in Class Matters. People who marry across class lines are actually moving outside their comfort zones, into the uncharted territory of partners with a different level of wealth and education, and often, a different set of assumptions about things like manners, food, and child-rearing. In cross-class marriages, one partner will usually have more money, more options, and, almost inevitably, more power in the relationship. While most of the marriages used to involve men marrying women with less education, in America, study have found, the pattern has flipped where more women marrying men with less schooling – the combination most likely to end in divorce.