In common parlance, the term “social class” is usually synonymous with “socio-economic class,” defined as “people having the same social, economic, or educational status,” e.g., “the working class”; “an emerging professional class.” However, academics distinguish social class and socioeconomic status, with the former referring to one’s relatively stable sociocultural background and the latter referring to one’s current social and economic situation and, consequently, being more changeable over time.
I too have always got the sense that social class is something you’re born with and something you die with, regardless of the wealth and status you achieve.
As I’ve stated before, social class is not about how much money and status you achieve, because even a country bumpkin can become a billionaire or U.S. president if they are sufficiently smart, lucky, talented and motivated; rather social class seems to be about whether money and power are in your genes.
So here’s my idea for how to make the concept of social class truly scientific: Take a bunch of billionaires, millionaires, average income earners, and homeless people, from every region on the planet, and scan their DNA. The higher the average income of the people you resemble genetically (after controlling for race and ethnicity), the higher your social class.
So you could be a billionaire, but if your DNA most resembles that of the average homeless person of your ethnic background, you belong to the lowest social class. Meanwhile, you could be homeless, but if your DNA most resembles that of the average billionaire of your ethnic origin, you belong to the highest social class.
So perhaps our obsession with social class (calling one another proles etc) simply evolved as a way of protecting our families from primitive genes. People who are dumber, less verbally skilled, more promiscuous, shorter, more muscular, more violent etc, simply resemble our ape-like ancestors, so humans evolved to be snobby towards them to keep them from marrying our daughters and lowering the genetic quality of our grandchildren.
Or maybe our obsession with social class is entirely cultural with no genetic basis. As blog commenter Mugabe reminds us, not everything is genetic, and not everything genetic served an evolution purpose. Some things are just spandrels.