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Upper class in modern societies is the
social class A social class is a set of concepts in the social sciences and political theory Political philosophy is the philosophical study of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, genera ...
composed of people who hold the highest social status, usually are the wealthiest members of
class society Class society or class-based society is an organizing principle society in which ownership of property, means of production, and wealth is the determining factor of the distribution of power, in which those with more property and wealth are strat ...
, and wield the greatest
political power In social science Social science is the Branches of science, branch of science devoted to the study of society, societies and the Social relation, relationships among individuals within those societies. The term was formerly used to refe ...
. According to this view, the upper class is generally distinguished by immense wealth which is passed on from generation to generation. Prior to the 20th century, the emphasis was on ''
aristocracy Aristocracy ( grc-gre, ἀριστοκρατία , from 'excellent', and , 'rule') is a form of government that places strength in the hands of a small, privileged ruling class, the aristocracy (class), aristocrats. The term derives from the G ...
'', which emphasized generations of inherited noble status, not just recent wealth. Because the upper classes of a society may no longer rule the society in which they are living, they are often referred to as the old upper classes, and they are often culturally distinct from the newly rich middle classes that tend to dominate public life in modern social democracies. According to the latter view held by the traditional upper classes, no amount of individual wealth or fame would make a person from an undistinguished background into a member of the upper class as one must be born into a family of that class and raised in a particular manner to understand and share upper class values, traditions, and cultural norms. The term is often used in conjunction with terms like
upper-middle class In sociology Sociology is the study of society, human social behaviour, patterns of social relationships, social interaction, and culture that surrounds everyday life. It is a social science that uses various methods of Empirical method, e ...
,
middle class The middle class is a class Class or The Class may refer to: Common uses not otherwise categorized * Class (biology), a taxonomic rank * Class (knowledge representation), a collection of individuals or objects * Class (philosophy), an ana ...
, and
working class The working class (or labouring class) comprises those engaged in manual-labour occupations or industrial work, who are remunerated via waged or salaried contracts. Working-class occupations (see also "Designation of workers by collar colorCo ...
as part of a model of
social stratification Social stratification refers to a society's categorization of its people into groups based on Socioeconomic status, socioeconomic factors like wealth, income, Race (human categorization), race, education, ethnicity, gender, Job, occupation, social ...
.


Historical meaning

Historically in some cultures, members of an upper class often did not have to work for a living, as they were supported by earned or inherited investments (often
real estate Real estate is property consisting of land and the buildings on it, along with its natural resource , Malaysia Malaysia ( ; ) is a country in Southeast Asia. The federation, federal constitutional monarchy consists of States and feder ...

real estate
), although members of the upper class may have had less actual money than merchants. Upper-class status commonly derived from the social position of one's family and not from one's own achievements or wealth. Much of the population that composed the upper class consisted of aristocrats, ruling families, titled people, and religious hierarchs. These people were usually born into their status and historically there was not much movement across class boundaries. In many countries, the term "upper class" was intimately associated with hereditary land ownership. Political power was often in the hands of the landowners in many
pre-industrial societies Pre-industrial society refers to social attributes and forms of political and cultural organization that were prevalent before the advent of the Industrial Revolution The Industrial Revolution was the transition to new manufacturing process ...
despite there being no legal barriers to land ownership for other social classes. Upper-class landowners in Europe were often also members of the titled
nobility Nobility is a social class normally ranked immediately below Royal family, royalty and found in some societies that have a formal aristocracy (class), aristocracy. Nobility has often been an Estates of the realm, estate of the realm that p ...
, though not necessarily: the prevalence of titles of nobility varied widely from country to country. Some upper classes were almost entirely untitled, for example, the
Szlachta The ''szlachta'' (Polish: , ) were the in the , the , and the who, as a , had the dominating position in the state, exercising . Szlachta as a class differed significantly from the of . The estate was officially abolished in 1921 by the . ...
of the
Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, formally known as the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and, after 1791, the Commonwealth of Poland, was a country and bi-federation A federation (also known as a federal state) is ...
.


Great Britain and Ireland

In the
United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain,Usage is mixed. The Guardian' and Telegraph' use Britain as a synonym for the United Kingdom. Some prefer to use Britain as shorth ...

United Kingdom
and
Republic of Ireland Ireland ( ga, Éire ), also known as the Republic of Ireland ('), is a in north-western consisting of 26 of the 32 of the island of . The capital and largest city is , on the eastern side of the island. Around 40% of the country's popula ...

Republic of Ireland
(before and after its independence from the United Kingdom in 1922), the "upper class" traditionally comprised the
landed gentry The landed gentry, or the ''gentry'', is a largely historical British social class of landowners who could live entirely from rental income Renting, also known as hiring or letting, is an agreement where a payment is made for the tem ...
and the
aristocracy Aristocracy ( grc-gre, ἀριστοκρατία , from 'excellent', and , 'rule') is a form of government that places strength in the hands of a small, privileged ruling class, the aristocracy (class), aristocrats. The term derives from the G ...
of noble families with hereditary titles. The vast majority of post-medieval aristocratic families originated in the merchant class and were ennobled between the 14th and 19th centuries while intermarrying with the old nobility and gentry. Since the
Second World War World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved —including all of the great powers—forming two opposing s: the and the . In a total war directly involving m ...
, the term has come to encompass rich and powerful members of the managerial and professional classes as well.


United States

In the
United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country in . It consists of 50 , a , five major , 326 , and some . At , it is the world's . The United States shares significan ...

United States
, the upper class, as distinguished from the rich, is often considered to consist of those families that have for many generations enjoyed top social status based on their leadership in society. In this respect, the US differs little from countries such as the UK where membership of the 'upper class' is also dependent on other factors. In the United Kingdom, it has been said that class is relative to where you have come from, similar to the United States where class is more defined by ''who'' as opposed to ''how much''; that is, in the UK and the US people are born into the upper class. The American upper class is estimated to constitute less than 1% of the population. By self-identification, according to this 2001–2012 Gallup Poll data, 98% of Americans identify with the 5 other class terms used, 48–50% identifying as "middle class". The main distinguishing feature of the upper class is its ability to derive enormous incomes from
wealth Wealth is the abundance of Value (economics), valuable financial assets or property, physical possessions which can be converted into a form that can be used for financial transaction, transactions. This includes the core meaning as held in the o ...
through techniques such as money management and investing, rather than engaging in wage-labor salaried employment. Successful
entrepreneur Entrepreneurship is the creation or extraction of value. With this definition, entrepreneurship is viewed as change, generally entailing risk beyond what is normally encountered in starting a business, which may include other values than simply ...

entrepreneur
s,
CEO A chief executive officer (CEO), chief administrator officer, or just chief executive (CE), is one of a number of Corporate Executive, corporate executives in charge of managing an organization especially an independent Legal person, legal entity ...

CEO
s,
politician A politician is a person active in party politics A political party is an organization that coordinates candidate A candidate, or nominee, is the prospective recipient of an award or honor, or a person seeking or being considered for some ...

politician
s,
investment banker An investment bank is a financial services Financial services are the Service (economics), economic services provided by the finance industry, which encompasses a broad range of businesses that manage money, including credit unions, banks, credit ...
s,
venture capitalist Venture capital (VC) is a form of private equity Private equity (PE) typically refers to investment funds, generally organized as limited partnerships, that buy and restructure companies that are not publicly traded. Private equity is a ty ...
s,
heir Inheritance is the practice of passing on private property Private property is a legal designation for the ownership of property by non-governmental Legal personality, legal entities. Private property is distinguishable from public property ...
s to fortunes,
celebrities Celebrity is a condition of wikt:fame, fame and broad public recognition of an individual or group, or occasionally a character or animal, as a result of the attention given to them by mass media. A person may attain a celebrity status from hav ...

celebrities
, and a few number of
professionals A professional is a member of a profession A Profession is a disciplined group of individuals who adhere to ethical standards and who hold themselves out as, and are accepted by the public as possessing special knowledge and skills in a widel ...
, are considered members of this class by contemporary sociologists, such as James Henslin or Dennis Gilbert. There may be prestige differences between different upper-class households. An
A-list An A-list actor is a major movie star, or one of the most bankable star, bankable actors in the Cinema of the United States, Hollywood film industry. The A-list is part of a larger guide called ''The Hot List'', which ranks the bankability of 1 ...
actor, for example, might not be accorded as much prestige as a former
U.S. President The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state A head of state (or chief of state) is the public persona who officially embodies a state (polity), state#Foakes, Foakes, pp. 110–11 " he head of statebeing an embodime ...

U.S. President
, yet all members of this class are so influential and wealthy as to be considered members of the upper class. At the pinnacle of U.S wealth, 2004 saw a dramatic increase in the numbers of billionaires. According to ''
Forbes Magazine ''Forbes'' () is an American business Business is the activity of making one's living or making money by producing or buying and selling Product (business), products (such as goods and services). Simply put, it is "any activity or enterp ...
'', there are now 374 U.S. billionaires. The growth in billionaires took a dramatic leap since the early 1980s, when the average net worth of the individuals on the Forbes 400 list was $400 million. Today, the average net worth is $2.8 billion. Since the 1970s
income inequality in the United States Income inequality in the United States is the extent to which income is distributed in differing amounts among the American population. It has fluctuated considerably since measurements began around 1915, moving in an arc between peaks in th ...
has been increasing, with the top 1% (largely because of the top 0.1%) experiencing significantly larger gains in income than the rest of society.
Alan Greenspan Alan Greenspan (; born March 6, 1926) is an American economist An economist is a practitioner in the social sciences, social science discipline of economics. The individual may also study, develop, and apply theories and concepts from economi ...

Alan Greenspan
, former chair of the
Federal Reserve The Federal Reserve System (also known as the Federal Reserve or simply the Fed) is the central banking system of the United States of America. It was created on December 23, 1913, with the enactment of the Federal Reserve Act, after a series ...
, sees it as a problem for society, calling it a "very disturbing trend". According to the book ''
Who Rules America? ''Who Rules America?'' is a book by research psychologist and sociologist, G. William Domhoff, Ph.D., first published in 1967 as a best-seller (#12), with six subsequent editions including ''Who Rules America Now?'' (1983, #43), ''Who Rules America ...
'' by William Domhoff, the distribution of wealth in America is the primary highlight of the influence of the upper class. The top 1% of Americans own around 34% of the wealth in the U.S. while the bottom 80% own only approximately 16% of the wealth. This large disparity displays the unequal distribution of wealth in America in absolute terms. In 1998,
Bob Herbert Robert Herbert (born March 7, 1945) is an American journalist, who has been an op-ed columnist for ''The New York Times ''The New York Times'' (''NYT'' or ''NY Times'') is an American daily newspaper based in New York City with a world ...
of ''
The New York Times ''The New York Times'' (''NYT'' or ''NY Times'') is an American daily newspaper based in New York City with a worldwide readership. Founded in 1851, the ''Times'' has since won List of Pulitzer Prizes awarded to The New York Times, 130 Pulit ...

The New York Times
'' referred to as "
The Donor Class A plutocracy ( el, πλοῦτος, ', 'wealth' and , ', 'power') or plutarchy is a society that is ruled or controlled by people of great wealth Wealth is the abundance (economics), abundance of Value (economics), valuable financial asse ...
" (list of top donors) and defined the class, for the first time, as "a tiny group – just one-quarter of 1 percent of the population – and it is not representative of the rest of the nation. But its money buys plenty of access".


See also

*
Aristocracy (class) The aristocracy is a social class A social class is a set of concepts in the social sciences and political theory Political philosophy is the philosophical study of government A government is the system or group of people g ...
* Bildungsbürgertum * Black elite * Corporate class *
Debutante A debutante ( ; from french: débutante , "female beginner") or deb is a young woman of aristocratic or Upper class, upper-class family background who has reached maturity and, as a new adult, comes out into society at a formal "debut" ( , ; f ...
* Donor Class * Fat cat (term) *
Gentry Gentry (from Old French Old French (, , ; Modern French French ( or ) is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gal ...
*
Grand Burgher Grand Burgher aleor Grand Burgheress emale(from German: Großbürger ale Großbürgerin emale is a specific conferred or inherited title A title is one or more words used before or after a person's name, in certain contexts. It may signify eit ...
(German ''Großbürger'') *
High society (social class) High society, also called in some contexts simply "society", is the behavior and lifestyle of people with the highest levels of wealth and social status Social status is the level of social value a person is considered to hold. More specifically, ...
*
Honour Honour (British English British English (BrE) is the standard dialect of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, whi ...
*
International Debutante Ball The International Debutante Ball is an invitation-only, formal debutante ball, to officially present well-connected young ladies of distinction from upper-class Upper class in modern societies is the social class composed of people who hold the ...
*
La Distinction ''Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste'' (french: La distinction : Critique sociale du jugement) is a 1979 book by Pierre Bourdieu, based upon the author's empirical research from 1963 until 1968. A sociological report abo ...
*
Landed gentry The landed gentry, or the ''gentry'', is a largely historical British social class of landowners who could live entirely from rental income Renting, also known as hiring or letting, is an agreement where a payment is made for the tem ...
* Mentifact *
Nobility Nobility is a social class normally ranked immediately below Royal family, royalty and found in some societies that have a formal aristocracy (class), aristocracy. Nobility has often been an Estates of the realm, estate of the realm that p ...
*
Nouveau riche Nouveau riche refers to a social class. Nouveau Riche may also refer to: * Nouveau Riche (Philadelphia band) * Nouveau Riche (Swedish band) * Nouveau Riche (college), a defunct, unaccredited real estate investment college {{Disambig ...
*
Old money Old money (french: vieux riche ) is "the inherited wealth of The Establishment, established upper class, upper-class families (i.e. gentry, patrician (post-Roman Europe), patriciate)" or "a person, family, or lineage possessing inherited wealth ...
*
Paradise Papers The Paradise Papers are a set of over 13.4 million confidential electronic documents relating to offshore investments that were leaked to the German reporters Frederik Obermaier and Bastian Obermayer, from the newspaper'' Süddeutsch ...
*
Patrician (post-Roman Europe) File:JohannHinrichGossler.jpg, The German banker Johann Hinrich Gossler married Hamburg patrician heiress Elisabeth Berenberg, and became owner of Berenberg Bank. Berenberg family, His descendants reached the highest positions in the "aristocratic ...
*
Social status Social status is the level of social value a person is considered to hold. More specifically, it refers to the relative level of respect, honour Honour ( British English) or honor (American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng ...
*
Socialite A socialite is a person, typically a woman from a wealthy and aristocratic background, who is prominent in High society (social class), high society. A socialite generally spends a significant amount of time attending various fashionable social ga ...
*
High-net-worth individual High-net-worth individual (HNWI) is a term used by some segments of the financial services industry to designate persons whose investible wealth (assets such as stocks and bond (finance), bonds) exceed a given amount. Typically, these individuals ...
*
Ultra high-net-worth individual Ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWI) are defined as having a net worth Net worth is the value of all the non-financial and financial asset In financial accountancy, financial accounting, an asset is any resource owned or controlled by a b ...


References


Further reading

* Cousin, Bruno and Sébastien Chauvin (2021). "Is there a global super-bourgeoisie?" ''Sociology Compass'', vol. 15, issue 6, pp. 1-15
online
* * * * McKibbin, Ross.(2000) ''Classes and Cultures: England 1918-1951'' (2000) pp 1–43. * Baraka, Magda. (1998). ''The Egyptian upper class between revolutions, 1919-1952''. ISBS. * Scott, John. (1982). ''The upper classes: Property and privilege in Britain'' Macmillan Pub Ltd.


United States

* Baltzell, E. Digby. ''Philadelphia Gentlemen: The Making of a New Upper Class'' (1958). * Brooks, David. ''Bobos in paradise: The new upper class and how they got there'' (2010) * Burt, Nathaniel. ''The Perennial Philadelphians: The Anatomy of an American Aristocracy'' (1999). * Davis, Donald F. "The Price of Conspicious [sic] Production: The Detroit Elite and the Automobile Industry, 1900-1933." ''Journal of Social History'' 16.1 (1982): 21–46
online
* Farnum, Richard. "Prestige in the Ivy League: Democratization and discrimination at Penn and Columbia, 1890-1970." in Paul W. Kingston and Lionel S. Lewis, eds. ''The high-status track: Studies of elite schools and stratification'' (1990). * Ghent, Jocelyn Maynard, and Frederic Cople Jaher. "The Chicago Business Elite: 1830–1930. A Collective Biography." ''Business History Review'' 50.3 (1976): 288–328
online
* Hood. Clifton. ''In Pursuit of Privilege: A History of New York City's Upper Class and the Making of a Metropolis'' (2016). Covers 1760–1970. * Jaher, Frederic Cople, ed. ''The Rich, the Well Born, and the Powerful: Elites and Upper Classes in History'' (1973), essays by scholars * Jaher, Frederick Cople. ''The Urban Establishment: Upper Strata in Boston, New York, Chicago, Charleston, and Los Angeles'' (1982). * Jensen, Richard. "Family, Career, and Reform: Women Leaders of the Progressive Era." in Michael Gordon, ed., ''The American Family in Social-Historical Perspective,''(1973): 267–80. * * McConachie, Bruce A. "New York operagoing, 1825-50: creating an elite social ritual." ''American Music'' (1988): 181–192
online
* * Story, Ronald. (1980) ''The forging of an aristocracy: Harvard & the Boston upper class, 1800-1870'' * Synnott, Marcia. ''The half-opened door: Discrimination and admissions at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, 1900-1970'' (2010). * Williams, Peter W. ''Religion, Art, and Money: Episcopalians and American Culture from the Civil War to the Great Depression'' (2016), especially in New York City


External links


Number of households with net-worths over one million dollars"The Aristocracy – how the ruling class survives"
on
BBC Radio 4 BBC Radio 4 is a British national radio station owned and operated by the BBC The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a public service broadcaster, headquartered at Broadcasting House in Westminster, London London is the ca ...

BBC Radio 4
's ''In Our Time'' featuring
David Cannadine Sir David Cannadine (born 1950) is a British author and historian who specialises in modern history, Britain and the history of business and philanthropy Philanthropy consists of "private initiatives, for the Public good (economics), public ...
, Rosemary Sweet and Felipe Fernandez-Armesto {{DEFAULTSORT:Upper Class Social classes High society (social class)