You Need More Than Money To Join the Upper Class

upper class

I used to think that social class was directly tied to wealth — if you were rich, you were upper class; if you were poor, you were lower class. If you were neither rich nor poor, you were middle class. Of course, even then I had a sense that because “rich” and “poor” are such relative terms — a rich person has more money than I do, a poor person has less — that most of us think of ourselves as middle class even if we’re not.

My parents own a home in a retirement community in Florida. The people there dress down, get involved in all kinds of activities — everything from a kitchen band (whose members play utensils like instruments) to

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28 Responses to You Need More Than Money To Join the Upper Class

  1. Lisa says:

    In my sociology class in college they address this very issue. There are actually 9 classes and 3 each belong to lower, middle and upper class. Each has it own social skills and expectations. A person can move up comfortably only 2 levels. Money has little to do with it. Thats why the terms “genteel poverty” and “nouveau riche” came about to describe those who jump up or down 2 levels.

  2. Lisa says:

    Sorry, jump up or down more than 2 levels.

  3. I think this whole social class thing is something overrated…why can’t we all just be friends?

  4. pjmama says:

    This is quite (unfortunate and) true. I come from a very middle class family… one that jumped from the lower class when I was still very young. I dated a guy that I would consider to be in the “upper class” spectrum. His ideas about money and spending were very different from mine, and he changed my tastes considerably. But I found myself really uncomfortable around his family (though I loved his immediate family like they were my own) because I never felt like I measured up. My clothes were never nice enough, I didn’t drive an expensive car (I didn’t even own a car!). I’m happy to say I’m back to my middle-class self, with my middle class boyfriend, and I feel right at home :)

  5. Courtney says:

    I don’t understand this “jumping two levels” thing. Especially when it comes to marriage and generational differences.

    My father was born to poor immigrants, a one-income manual labor family. They started out lower-class and worked their way to owning a small home (I suppose they could then be considered lower-middle or middle-lower class).

    When he grew up he made some wise career choices and is now in the top 1% of earners in the US. However he doesn’t “act” like it (for example, doesn’t purchase things he thinks are wasteful, like individual servings). He married my mom, a woman who grew up with a family with a large inheritance, but since her parents grew up in the Depression they were even more frugal (not throwing away string, never buying anything at full price, etc). We never guessed they were millionaires until my grandfather passed away and we executed his will.

    I moved out from my parent’s home and have almost nothing. Though they would support me if I needed it, they prefer not to use money that way. So I jumped from an upper class household to a lower-middle class one by moving out.

    Then, I married a man who grew up in a lower-class immigrant household and was even homeless for a time, and his class jumped up a notch by marrying me.

    He is going through school, so right now we have one income, and when he is done we will be in at least a middle-upper income bracket.

    And, of course, once we get there, if a medical emergency occurs or nursing home care is needed, we could so easily fall back down to lower class.

    My point here is that I think many people jump up and down levels of money many times throughout their lives. Education and initiative are the key to this mobility. In my neighborhood, I see generations of poverty and single-parent, uneducated families – and the simple fact is that the parents don’t know or don’t care about the education and social mobility of their children.

  6. Alexandria says:

    I agree with Courtney.

    Likewise, as I read this, I Was kind of thinking the author has been watching too much MTV. Hehe. No offense, but I have hob nobbed with some very wealthy. I admit the Real HouseWives of New York (& other upper class people portrayed on TV) would probably not give me the time of day. But that is quite a stereotype. I have plenty of upper class friends and acquaintances.

    Upper class people aren’t as nice? What the hell does that mean?

    My own family is quite a hodge podge of poor, middle and upper class.

    Reminds me, my SIL married a man who comes from an extremely wealthy family (Top 1%, indeed). My MIL is very obsessed with class and has always felt very uncomfortable around them. Anyway, my spouse’s family goes to Hawaii just about every other year. We were at a family gathering and my BIL’s most wealthy mother was there. Someone mentioned Hawaii and she sighed she had never been there. She turned to a young child in the family and asked if she had been to Hawaii. She said, “Yes, about 5 times!” Ms. Upper Class found this very impressive. I was just giggling to myself that my MIL did not hear this conversation. She is always comparing herself and worried they don’t quite fit. Ms. Rich over here is jealous how often they have been to Hawaii.

    She doesn’t bite either. ;)

  7. ben says:

    If you have to worry about what class you are part of, you don’t know much about personal finances. it should be a non issue and if it is an issue, you probably live a pretty insecure life.

  8. Hilary says:

    Courtney, I think you missed the point of the article. The point was that class does not necessarily relate to wealth level, and your story fits in nicely. Your father and grandparents never “acted” like upper class people even though they could have. That’s precisely the point, not a counter-argument.

    Jumping up and down notches of wealth has little to do with class, but rather how you conduct yourself and how you spend your money. Yes, everyone’s wealth level changes throughout life (that’s why we save!), but that doesn’t mean your class changes.

    As for the article, I must say I am uncomfortable with all the stereotyping and negativity. It sort of seems like the author is bitter she didn’t fit in with the upper-crust crowd.

  9. wealthman says:

    I don’t buy it. If you make enough money, you can belong to any class you want. Old money and new money is still the same money. The only people that will try and keep you out of the upper class are the old money people who have lost their edge. Their attempt will always fail because in the end, money is money.

  10. America is still the land of opportunity, and regardless of the truths discussed, we root for the underdog bettering their lives.

  11. vsjhoc says:

    “Class and wealth are closely related, and it

  12. bRobert says:

    I have my own class. If you want to socialize with me, you have to be a decent and unassuming person. Do justly, love mercy, and be humble. All happy, easy going, and friendly people are welcome.

  13. Shannon Christman says:

    Alexandra, a clarification –

    I did not say that upper-class people are not nice, but simply that the people in that particular neighborhood were not as friendly as those in my parents’ neighborhood.

    “Friendly” is not quite the same as “nice.” I did NOT mean that upper-class people are more rude, snobby, mocking, unkind, or otherwise mean-spirited than people of other classes. In fact, I have met both nice and mean people from all classes. Rather, I meant that people of classes other than my own (both upper and lower) are often less friendly — i.e. less likely to greet or strike up a conversation with me, a stranger.

    Though I have no studies to cite to back up my opinion, I believe that most of us (including me) are less likely to chat with strangers whose class appears to be different from our own. That doesn’t mean we can’t get along with people of different classes, just that we tend to be introduced to those people more formally — through mutual friends or through work — than by striking up conversations on the street.

    I apologize if I was unclear on my meaning — I thought a longer explanation in the article would have gotten too far off track.

  14. Sally says:

    This upper class community wouldn’t happen to be The Villages, Florida, would it?

  15. Shannon Christman says:

    Sally —

    Yes! We always liked to eat at the Italian restaurant/brewery at the corner in the old square, but this year when we visited it was gone.

  16. It seems to me the tricky thing, when mixing with other groups, is knowing what to talk about for social chit-chat.

    We’re following different sports, different celebrities, watching different TV programs.

    It would be useful, if you frequently do run into people who are out of your social circle, to stay informed on current events in a variety of topics. (Easy enough to do these days with the help of the Internet)

  17. Heidi says:

    A good example of this is Britney Spears. Despite the fact she has earned more money than all of us reading this blog will earn in our lifetimes combined, she is still ‘white trash’ /lower class… with stereotypical issues associated with them… child support disputes, lost visitation with her children, estranged husband and mother, pregnant teenage sister, etc.

    I also have a relation who graduated Summa Cum Laude from college and is still on public assistance. It is very difficult to get off…once on it. It seems easier to keep income low to qualify for the government checks, low income housing and free healthcare through Medicaid…rather than work a decent job to bring oneself into the often struggling middle class.

    It is not easy to move up in class. I agree.

  18. Kris says:

    Anyone who enjoys this article and wishes to learn more about the differences between “upper” and “lower” class should read “The Millionaire Next Door.” The book was written about a decade ago, but I think the principles illustrated still apply.

  19. Lola says:

    When you boil it right down, there are only two classes, those who work and those who don’t have to.

    I’m not poor, but I really don’t enjoy socializing with moneyed, privileged people.

    Been there, done that. Its BORING.

    I don’t give a crap what kind of wine you like, what art shows you attended or that you can afford a watch that costs $80k.

    People who are born in the lap of luxury have NO CLUE about what ordinary people have to go through to survive. And they DON’T CARE.
    They ALL want a discount even though they can easily afford to pay their own way.

    I’d rather eat a PB&J with a poor family who SHARES what little they have with a stranger, than waste 5 minutes with the other side.

    The bible says it is harder for a rich man to get into heaven than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. Boy God wasn’t kidding.

  20. Ian says:

    I agree that class dose not have to do with money and I also agree that sometimes it is harder to deal with higher class people (not insulting higher class but you will understand in a second). I think that class is unimportant I dont care who you are I will still be glad to help you out. I am a middle class person.(well I assume so anyway) But I am dating a girl whos mother considers herself upper class. The girl was raised as a member of the upper class but she prefers to be around people of more middle class ways. But because I act and dress like I am middle class her mom dose not like me dating her And oddly i dont mind being around or hanging out with anyone from andy class and its frequently the same the other way around. But I am curious if i could sort of “fake” the apperence of upper class for her mother and still be middle class with out a problem.

  21. Jason says:

    When an upper class dame would only
    marry down if He were good looking.

    You have to be accepted into the upper
    class, otherwise you stay upper middle
    class.

    Yacht, Jet, Spago, West Edmonton Mall.

  22. RJ says:

    Heavens! I’ll assume that your dealings with them didn’t go so well. Yes, I might agree that many upper class people are like that but you’re generalizing. Tell me, do you know all the “people who are born in the lap of luxury”? And regarding you’re comment about “kind of wine, art shows, watches”. Is there really something wrong about that? If I dispute over what kind of beer I like or what genre of literature or whatever, is it wrong? You automatically assume that these people are being indifferent just because they talk about these. These are mainly their interests and if they seem snobbish we can just surmise that these were influenced by their class. Lastly, rich people are NOT indifferent to other classes. Many of them give and are philanthropists.

  23. Ivona says:

    That is because you associate class purely with wealth – typical for lower classes

  24. Über me says:

    People like your relative make me sick. Anything to milk the system, i.e. taxpayers that work hard like I do. If they can get an education that we pay for, they should be required to work and be denied any sort of welfare.

  25. Lizbeth says:

    I have seen and met people on all levels of society. I find the only difference in any of them is the “price of their toys”. We all know one “celebrity/royal” that was considered one of the finest, kindest, most humanitarian beings to have lived and her name was Diana. We also have all known of middle and low class people who are snobbish and even look down on their own socio-economic group. What matters isn’t the money, it’s often in the attitude with which you were raised. The poorest beggar who shows concern for his fellow man and many rich who are extremely philanthropic are all equal in worth and value. The middle class snob and the rich tight-wad are all equally obnoxious. The key to it all is attitude and appreciation and I have seen both the good and bad in all segments. Those who look down on the rich because of what they have are no better than those who look down on the poor because of what they don’t have. I agree that the best place to be is where you are comfortable with at any given time and for most of us, that’s where we grow up.

  26. Bruce Colev says:

    Lower Class = Present or past oriented. Focuses on the here and now and the “good ol’ days.”

    Middle Class = Future oriented. Focuses on creating a better life. For themselves and their children.

    Upper Class = Ummm … not sure.

    Income simply changes the level of hierarchy in each group.

  27. mytbean says:

    I believe you might be taking for granted the built-in comfort of a fall-back cushion of family wealth. While they don’t encourage you to consider it an option and you’ve been raised with the character not to feel entitled to it, on a level you do know it is there in the worst case scenario. And you may also know that, in the long run, there is inheritance in your future. These are things that make you more apt to take risks and make decisions that will have an impact on your financial future (like marrying someone poor and even considering college a wise pursuit).

  28. Uber Reply says:

    Uber,

    As someone with advanced degrees, and worked so many hours (basically 3 jobs worth of hours at one time for several years)of which my health caved, your response is hostile.

    I payed taxes for years and paid into the system so to receive classes from the state.

    Too poor to go to school, taking care of the folks, the state kindly offered to pay for some classes so that I could return to work and resume paying double and quadruple taxes on a 80,000 to 100,000 dollar salary, upon which others can also benefit.

    Obviously not YOU.

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