My researches have persuaded me that there are nine classes in this country, as follows:
One thing to get clear at the outset is this: it’s not riches alone that define these classes. . . . “Economically, no doubt, there are only two classes, the rich and the poor,” says George Orwell, “but socially there is a whole hierarchy of classes, and the manners and traditions learned by each class in childhood are not only very different but – this is the essential point – generally persist from birth to death. . . . It is . . . very difficult to escape, culturally, from the class into which you have been born.” When John Fitzgerald Kennedy, watching Richard Nixon on television, turned to his friends and, horror-struck, said, “The guy has no class,” he was not talking about money.
Not that the three classes at the top don’t have money. The point is that money alone doesn’t define them, for the way they have their money is largely what matters. . . . The main thing distinguishing the top three classes from each other is the amount of money inherited in relation to the amount currently earned. The top-out-of-sight class (Rockefellers, Pres, DuPonts, Mellons, Fords, Vanderbilts) lives on inherited capital entirely. . . .
The next class down, the upper class, differs from the top-out-of-sight class in two main ways. First, although it inherits a lot of its money, it earns quite a bit too, usually from some attractive, if slight, work, without which it would feel bored and even ashamed. It’s likely to make its money by controlling banks and the more historic corporations, think tanks, and foundations, and to busy itself with things like the older universities, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Foreign Policy Association, the Committee for Economic Development, and the like, together with the executive branch of the federal government, and often the Senate. . . . And secondly, unlike the top-out-of-sights, the upper class is visible, often ostentatiously so. . . . When you pass a house with a would-be impressive facade visible from the street or highway, you know it’s occupied by a member of the upper class. . . .
We now come to the upper-middle class. It may possess virtually as much as the two classes above it. The difference is that it has earned most of it, in law, medicine, oil, shipping, real estate, or even the more honorific kinds of trade, like buying and selling works of art. Although they may enjoy some inherited money and use inherited “things” (silver, Oriental rugs), the upper-middles suffer from a bourgeois sense of shame, a conviction that to live on the earnings of others, even forebears, is not nice.
Caste marks of the upper-middles would include living in a house with more rooms than you need, except perhaps when a lot of “overnight guests” are present to help you imitate upper-class style. . . . This class is also the most “role-reversed” of all: men think nothing of cooking and doing housework, women of working out of the house in journalism, theater, or real estate. (If the wife stays home all the time, the family’s middle-class only.) Upper-middles like to show off their costly educations by naming their cats Spinoza, Clytemnestra, and Candide, which means, as you’ll have inferred already, that it’s in large part the class depicted by Lisa Birnbach and others’ Official Preppy Handbook, that significantly popular artifact of 1980.