University of Maryland

The American Perception of Class and Status

Vanneman, Reeve and Fred C. Pampel. 1977. "The American Perception of Class and Status" American Sociological Review 42 (June) 422-437.


Most American sociological research has conceptualized the occupational structure as a continuous prestige hierarchy. The research reported here questions the generality of that conceptualization by examining the relative importance of manual-nonmanual class differences and prestige differences for several attitudes and behaviors. First, the perception of "working class" and "middle class" more closely reflects a manual-nonmanual dichotomy than a continuous prestige scale. Voting behavior and party identification are also better predicted by the dichotomy. Second, the relevance of bounded class and continuous status models varies according to the issues involved. Thus, some interpersonal behaviors and individual satisfactions are patterned according to continuous prestige rankings while opinions on societal issues reflect dichotomous class differences. Third, individuals vary in their propensity to use class or status models according to social structural influences. For instance, a prestige orientation is fostered by small, traditional industries while the class dichotomy is more important in large, bureaucratic industries. The evidence also indicates that occupational prestige is more a middle-class concern, with little importance for manual workers.

Last updated September 7, 1999
comments to: Reeve Vanneman.