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Social Class Justifications:
The Capitalist Conspiracy?

By: Wendi Kane
Mentor: James Wright

Measures

Independent Variables

One independent variable for this study is exposure to the lower class. The definition of exposure is any contact with the lower class through identification with the group, personal relationships, or diversity education.  To measure this variable, respondents were asked what they estimate their parents’ average yearly income to be with 4 categories to choose from: under $30,000; between $30,000 and $50,000; between $50,000 and $75,000; and more than $75,000. 

In addition, five questions were asked to gauge respondents’ exposure to the lower class:

  • Growing up, I was a member of the lower class.
  • I have a family member or close friend who is a member of the lower class.
  • I have volunteered with people from the lower class.
  • I have taken courses on social class differences.
  • I have had little or no interaction with people from the lower class.

A second independent variable explores respondent’s access to opportunity.  Access to opportunity can be defined as the privilege that exists simply from being a member of a group, not from hard work or effort (Johnson, 2006).  Examples of privilege include being white, male, and of the middle or upper classes.  Rewards like better educations, promotions, status and prestige are unevenly distributed to members of these groups.  To measure this variable, social class, race and gender were used.  Social class was gauged through parents’ average yearly income.  For race, the question asked, “What race do you consider yourself?”  Respondents could choose among the following answer choices: White/Caucasian, Black/African American, Asian, and other with an open-ended “write-in” area.  An additional question to gauge Latino origin was provided.  It asked, “Do you consider yourself Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish?”  Respondents could answer yes or no.  To measure gender, the question asked, “What is your gender?”

Dependent Variables

Two dependent variables were measured in this project.  The first dependent variable is the belief in stereotypes, myths, and ideologies that legitimize class inequality.  A Lickert-type scale was used to gauge intensity of respondents’ attitudes (Babbie, 2005).  Respondents were asked to check a box within a scale of strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, and strongly agree, for the following statements:

  • Members of the lower class lack motivation.
  • Members of the lower class are uneducated.
  • Members of the lower class are poor because of drugs or alcohol.
  • Members of the lower class are mostly minorities.
  • Members of the lower class have the same opportunities as everyone else.

The second dependent variable is belief in the ideology of individualism; i.e., individual talent or hard work as the predictor of future economic success.  To measure this belief, respondents were asked: “Of the following choices listed, which do you feel is the biggest predictor of future economic success (please choose only one)?”  The response categories are: individual talent or hard work, social class position, family background, and who you know.

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