University of California, Los Angeles, USA

DOI: 10.1002/9781118989463.wbeccs042

Social class is an essential focus of analysis for scholars in multiple academic fields, including sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, and history. The term “class” refers to a mode of social stratification by which people are grouped into a set of hierarchical social categories. The word stems from the sixteenth-century Latin word classis, used by census takers to categorize Roman citizens by wealth. Groups of people have been categorized along many different lines throughout history and across cultures, such as by culture, caste, politics, nobility, or land ownership. However, by the late eighteenth century, the term “class” had largely replaced other classifications as the primary means of organizing society into hierarchical divisions.

Today, the term “social class” is commonly understood in vertical, relative terms of socioeconomic status, such as through the common three-stratum model, which includes (1) a very wealthy and powerful upper class of elites; (2) a middle class of professional workers, small business owners, and low-level managers; and (3) a lower class, who rely on frequently unstable and/or dangerous low-paying wage jobs for their livelihood, and who often experience poverty.


Theoretical and analytical conceptions of class generally align with one of two classic sociological perspectives: that of Marxism, which is associated ...

Get The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Consumption and Consumer Studies now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience books, live events, courses curated by job role, and more from O’Reilly and nearly 200 top publishers.