Taking Jeanne’s social class quiz

I usu­al­ly skip out on meme games but I thought I’d try out Jeanne’s class one. Bold are the priv­i­leges I can claim from my youth, ital­ics are ones that I’m unsure of or that are more “yes but” kind of priv­i­leges. My mom’s Luther­an pride kept her from want­i­ng us to look or feel poor. Yes, I didn’t have second-hand clothes but the rich kids often did. While they might wear scrubs from their parent’s doc­tor prac­tice or vin­tage clothes scored from a thrift-store out­ing, I was in striped button-down shirts from the respectable depart­ment store whose teen depart­ment was always emp­ty of teen cus­tomers. Yes, respectable peo­ple on TV sound like me but that’s because my mom dropped her child­hood Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch accent and was hyper-aware of non-standard accents (a trait I’ve unfor­tu­nate­ly picked up, I correct/mock Julie’s “wood­er” pro­nun­ci­a­tion for water before I can even think about it, it’s like I have a very speci­fic­Tourettes Syn­drome that only applies to non-standard accents). Julie tal­lied up and com­ment­ed on the quiz here in Jeanne’s com­ments. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing to real­ize that although I grew up sig­nif­i­cant­ly poor­er and have less than half Julie’s “steps” she’s much more cul­tur­al­ly work­ing class than I’ll ever be.

Father went to col­lege (he was secre­tive about past, he might have done a semes­ter at St Joe’s)
Father fin­ished col­lege
Moth­er went to col­lege (two year sec­re­tar­i­al pro­gram)
Moth­er fin­ished col­lege
Have any rel­a­tive who is an attor­ney, physi­cian, or pro­fes­sor.
Were the same or high­er class than your high school teach­ers
Had more than 50 books in your child­hood home
Had more than 500 books in your child­hood home
Were read children’s books by a par­ent
Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18
Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18
The peo­ple in the media who dress and talk like me are por­trayed pos­i­tive­ly (because we’re good assim­i­la­tion­ists)
Had a cred­it card with your name on it before you turned 18
Had to take out less than $5000 in stu­dent loans in order to go to col­lege
Didn’t need stu­dent loans to go to col­lege out of high school
Went to a pri­vate high school
Went to sum­mer camp (day camp at the Y for a few sum­mers)
Had a pri­vate tutor before you turned 18
Fam­i­ly vaca­tions involved stay­ing at hotels
Your cloth­ing was all bought new before you turned 18 (pride kept us out of second-hand stores until we lat­er crossed that class bound­ary where thrift­ing is cool pre­cise­ly because its not a neces­si­ty)
Your par­ents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
There was orig­i­nal art in your house when you were a child
Had a phone in your room before you turned 18
You and your fam­i­ly lived in a sin­gle fam­i­ly house
Your parent(s) owned their own house or apart­ment before you left home
You had your own room as a child (I was the only child at home after age 7)
Par­tic­i­pat­ed in an SAT/ACT prep course (my mom thought they were cheat­ing)
Had your own TV in your room in High School (most­ly as mon­i­tor for Radio Shack Col­or Com­put­er she bought me junior year of high school)
Owned a mutu­al fund or IRA in High School or Col­lege
Flew any­where on a com­mer­cial air­line before you turned 16
Went on a cruise with your fam­i­ly
Went on more than one cruise with your fam­i­ly
Your par­ents took you to muse­ums and art gal­leries as you grew up (we were more zoo/county fair/Independence Hall tour types (hey, they’re all free/low-cost!))
You were unaware of how much heat­ing bills were for your fam­i­ly (n/a: includ­ed in apt rent, besides my mom would nev­er let on that things were tight)

A list like this can nev­er be all inclu­sive but it seems there are some big omis­sions. Where’s any­thing about fam­i­ly struc­ture and finances, like “You had two parental fig­ures liv­ing in your house” and “Both par­ents con­tributed to fam­i­ly income” or “One par­ent stayed home or worked part-time”? In my own instance, my father had a secret oth­er fam­i­ly and nev­er paid for any­thing oth­er than the occa­sion­al trip to Roy Rogers (secret fam­i­ly to “Lit­tle Mar­ty” at least, the women and old­er chil­dren pre­sum­ably noitced he was only around half the time and con­struct­ed some men­tal run-around to explain it away).

The oth­er omis­sion is social net­works. I have no mem­o­ry of fam­i­ly friends. I can­not name one friend of my father and my mother’s friends were lim­it­ed to a hand­ful of “girls” at the office. By the time I got to high school I start­ed to see how cer­tain class­mates were able to work the sys­tem to get the best teach­ers and class­es and this was most­ly accom­plished by par­ents swap­ping notes after Hew­brew class or at church or at hock­ey prac­tice. Friends are right­ly not­ed for the strength of their social net­works and I sus­pect these pro­vide a social priv­i­lege that is far more valu­able than parental salary.

Jeanne promis­es to write a part two to her post explain­ing what this all means to Friends. I’m look­ing for­ward to it though I’m unsure just what easy gen­er­al­iza­tion can be made if we’re look­ing at ori­gins. One of the few sur­veys try­ing to be com­pre­hen­sive found Philadelphia-area Friends don’t reflect Amer­i­can aver­ages yet for many con­vinced Friends our par­tic­i­pa­tion has mir­rored (and per­haps been uncon­scious­ly moti­vat­ed by) an upward class mobil­i­ty. Keep an eye on Social Class & Quak­ers for more!

  • Mar­tin,
    Thanks for point­ing out the sur­vey. I hope to do one of my one some­time in the future.
    Just so you know, the list is sup­posed to show just some of the advan­tages peo­ple get as a child, rather than things they earned them­selves. You’re right, it isn’t a com­plete list.
    Your point about cloth­ing is a good one. My moth­er, too, would nev­er “low­er her­self” to go to second-hand cloth­ing stores. She made many of our clothes when we were very young, until I was out of ele­men­tary school. After then, they used Sears lay-away to buy new school clothes for us every year. My broth­er and I had a paper route and I babysat. I bought things I want­ed with that mon­ey, includ­ing clothes. And the first thing I bought with my first actu­al pay check was new clothes.
    Inter­est­ing about the dif­fer­ences between you and Julie. I won­der about how each of your fam­i­lies felt about your sit­u­a­tion. My moth­er dis­dained her roots (her father was a coal min­er in KY) and also our family’s sit­u­a­tion (in a work­ing class neigh­bor­hood). Peo­ple I’ve talked to whose fam­i­ly were proud of their her­itage have a very dif­fer­ent cul­tur­al per­sona than I do (I feel like was less cul­tur­al­ly work­ing class than my neigh­bors and class­mates). I read an inter­est­ing arti­cle recent­ly on some of these dif­fer­ences in an aca­d­e­m­ic set­ting. PDF arti­cle is here. Before read­ing it, I hadn’t thought about my own family’s atti­tudes and the dif­fer­ence that made in my life.

  • Hi Jeanne: yes I’m more “gener­ic Amer­i­can” than Julie. I think the ten­den­cy goes back some generations.
    My mater­nal grand­moth­er appar­ent­ly start­ed going to the Luther­an church in town sim­ply because the “good peo­ple” all went there and was com­plete­ly mor­ti­fied when­ev­er I did any­thing hippy’ish. There’s pret­ty clear­ly some Lenape mixed in on that side too – Colonial-era Mora­vian mis­sion­ar­ies in the area encour­aged the Lenape to essen­tial­ly become white by adopt­ing Chris­tian­i­ty, Ger­man names and the farm­ing lifestyle. I’d pub­lish some hilar­i­ous­ly in-denial fam­i­ly his­to­ries (“Seneca Bry­fo­gel” of Indiantown, PA whose fam­i­ly must have come from south­ern Ger­many because everyone’s so dark-skinned) except I don’t want to be one of those whitey’s claim­ing an Chero­kee great grand­moth­er. What­ev­er DNA’s back there is pret­ty much a moot point, as the assimilation’s pret­ty com­plete and my child­hood cul­tur­al influ­ences are much more indebt­ed to Gilligan’s Island, Star Trek and Doc­tor Who than any­thing learned on my grandmother’s knee.
    So yes, in one of those odd­i­ties that make the world so inter­est­ing, Julie gets more points on the priv­i­lege scale than I, but grew up much more cul­tur­al­ly work­ing class and is less able to deal with Quaker’s large­ly unex­am­ined class issues.