Welcome to Module 6: Families and Social Class (Oct 17-23). For this section, we will read Chapter 4: Families and Social Class, p. 112-145 and watch two documentaries: Born Rich and Inequality for All.

Assignment: Due Oct 23. Abstract and list of 5 academic references for your research website on WordPress.com. Abstract 150 words outlining the social issue related to the family, your argument, the significance of the issue. Include 5 academic sources listed properly in Chicago, MLA or APA style. Post on discussion board thread with title of your topic.

(As always, you are encouraged to work ahead of the schedule, in order to build a buffer into your schedule for the semester. Late work will not be accepted, no matter the reason. Therefore, try to turn assignments in early, in case something comes up with your other classes or in your personal life.

Chapter 4: Families and Social Class

The chapter starts out with the documentary by Jamie Johnson called Born Rich (2003). The heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical empire, Jamie Johnson, points his documentary lens in the direction of some privileged children who stand to inherit millions in the not-so-distant future. Johnson manages to pry revelations from heirs with some famous last names – Trump, Bloomberg and Vanderbilt, to name a few. They speak frankly about money, family pressure and their often extravagant lifestyle. Please watch the entire documentary on YouTube or on google for a small fee.

What are the complicated relationship to social class and mobility among the various family members? The author, Philip Cohen states that if a doctor marries a nurse, or a wealthy man married a woman from a lower economic background, do they share the same class level and power within the family? What happens after divorce?

How do the two different theories–consensus and conflict perspective–rectify our understanding of social class in the U.S.? Which theory do most sociologists use to understand the social divisions around us?

Families in their Social Classes


Philip Cohen describes two different families to present a portrait of the rich and the working poor. He cites Katherine S. Newman’s book No Shame in My Game: The Working Poor in the Inner City. You can see a video of her discussing her research here. How do these portraits demonstrate how social relationships keep individuals within the web of their social class? How do family and peer influences lead you to choose the college you attend, or the job you pick, or actually get? How did these social class webs impact the lives of your parents and grandparents? Which generation do you see had more upward mobility potential? And how do these individual family examples relate to the larger picture of social class in the United States? Are things getting more or less equal now compared to the last 100 years? Look up statics to understand this larger context.

The chapter overviews and provides examples for key words, which are important for us to understand. Social class is more than just one’s income level. What other factors are significant in expressing social class location? Be sure to understand and be able to define the following key terms:

  • class identity
  • the Gini index
  • poverty line
  • social class persistence
  • social mobility
  • concerted cultivation
  • accomplishment of natural growth
  • division of labor
  • exploitation
  • social capital

Please also watch the feature length movie Inequality for All (2013), a documentary that follows former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich as he looks to raise awareness of the country’s widening economic gap. This movie will overview and describe in detail the concepts overviewed in the latter half of the chapter and really help our understanding of rising inequality and social class persistence.

Compare and contrast the two documentaries and the information in the chapter. In the comments section below, leave an optional comment about your thoughts on this material. How does this apply to your own family life? What information on social class would  you add to your sociological autobiography? How do you see social class in the world around you? What social class worlds are you navigating in your own life?