In Dennis Condron’s new ASR article on academic achievement he writes:
“The second contribution [of this article] lies in conceptualizing and analyzing social class rather than socioeconomic status (SES). This reflects the view that children growing up in different positions in the stratification hierarchy have categorically unequal and qualitatively different (rather than continuously graded) life and educational experiences.”
What evidence exists for this claim? To me, this is the sort of claim that the paper should explore empirically, but let’s go ahead and see how he measures social class:
“I [Condron] code children as middle/upper class if either parent has a bachelor’s degree or higher or works in an executive, administrative, or managerial position and their household income is above the federal poverty line. Children are coded working class if both parents have less than a bachelor’s degree and do not work in an executive, administrative, or managerial position and their household income is above the poverty line. Finally, I code students as poor if their household income is below the poverty line, regardless of parents’ education levels and job positions.”
Then he examines the relationship between the class categories he created and academic achievement.
The standard objection to this approach is that it is throwing away data, the class categories hide important differences. Whether you have one or two parents with a B.A. does not enter the analysis. If your parents’ income is under the poverty line, their education is ignored. Income differences above the poverty line are ignored, etc.
If I reanalyzed the data using parental income, education, and occupation, instead of class, I would be able to explain more variation in academic achievement. There are times when I am more willing to “throw away” data, for example when I’m desperate for more degrees of freedom, but even then I feel bad about it.
This provocative blog post title: “Does class exist?” drew inspiration from Daniel Little. I’m curious to see if it attracts more clicks. It would probably be more to the point to ask whether the concept of discrete social classes is useful. If it does not help one predict outcomes of interest, then I think not.