While cross-class marriages like the one between Downtown Abbey’s Lady Sybil and the estate’s chauffeur, Tom Branson, might not be overtly scandalous anymore, the renegotiation of values they entail isn’t confined to the fictionalized 1920s.A recent study, published in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy and conducted by psychotherapist Teresa Mc Dowell and her research team from Oregon’s Lewis and Clark College, assessed the experiences of eight American couples in which partners self-identified as being from different class backgrounds.They wanted to see how attitudes about education, work, money, and social capital affected how couples fought.The couples were predominantly white—one person self-identified as Iranian-American, two as Bosnian—and heterosexual, with one gay male couple and one lesbian couple.
All the participants answered a set of 12 questions discussing class and their relationships, with items like: “How did social class influence the kind of organized/social activities you participated in when you were a child?
The following advice really offended me, and yet I can see some of the practical sides of it: Never date outside your social class. The business man who dates a career waitress, or the lawyer who dates a handyman: Your new significant other will feel left out, will not feel as if he fits in. They acknowledge that sometimes these things work, but say that it is rare. It actually made me angry (at least angry enough to post here.) And yet..female lawyer friend is married to a man who worked at a grocery store.
He (actually the book alternates he and she throughout the book, but I find it annoying and will spare you) will start to resent your friends and then start to resent you. He has privately told me that he feels left out in our groups. My husband and I are from different social classes, mine wealthy, his pretty much white trash (his words).
Their ages ranged from early 20s to mid-60s, and couples had been living together anywhere from a year and a half to 43 years. Now that we aren’t generally born into our roles as scullery maids or earls, a wider range of factors contributes to class identity.
When Mc Dowell’s team asked their participants to define “class,” they came up with pretty similar answers: “I think social class is a status you have throughout your life based on how educated you are, what you do in society, how much you earn,” said one, while another said, “It is how much education you have, how rich you are, how many people you know, and who you know.” Social scientists generally identify class as a product of “the combination of educational level, income, money, type of job, social and occupational prestige, and political power.” And, as Mc Dowell et al.