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Upper class

From Academic Kids

The term upper class refers to a group of people at the top of a social hierarchy. Often members of an upper class do not have to work for a living, as they are supported by earned or inherited investments. Members of an upper class often have power over other people as employers or landlords. or sometimes as members of a government. The term "upper class" has had a complex range of meanings and usages, and in the 21st century many people are uncomfortable with it as a term and as a concept. Apologists for an upper class say that being upper class is reflected by thinking, tastes and breeding, not the amount of money one has.

In many countries the term "upper class" was long intimately associated with land ownership. Political power was in the hands of landowners for many centuries, often to the exclusion of other rich people (which was one of the causes of the French Revolution). Upper class landowners in Europe were often also members of the titled nobility, but not necessarily so: the prevalence of titles of nobility varied widely from country to country. In the United Kingdom "upper class" is now almost always used pejoratively, and British people are much more anxious to avoid being labelled "upper class" (or even "upper middle class") than their American equivalents.

In the U.S. in the 18th and 19th centuries the term "upper class" referred to an elite which combined wealth and social power, but the connection with landownership was far weaker than in Europe; in the Northern states it was almost non-existent. This usage of "upper class" lingered into the 20th century to some degree, associated with the WASP elite and the power of the graduates of the Ivy League. The U.S is now arguably more socially stratified than the UK, albeit that some individuals move up a class by making money. This reflects the absence in America of the embarrassment that many Europeans feel about their societies' socially stratified pasts.

The high level of inequality in the U.S. compared to other developed countries (see Gini coefficient) seems to be blotted out by the power of rhetoric that the U.S. is a unique "land of opportunity". There is a widespread assumption that inequality is simply based on some people working harder than others. Generally this is unaccompanied by any analysis of how common social advancement actually is in the U.S. compared to other developed countries, and it is sometimes supported by a wildly inaccurate assumption that class divisions in Europe, and especially in the UK, have hardly loosened since the American Revolution.

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