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Why Social Class Matters in Finding a Job

Social class matters for whether or not you find a job. Learn more about how resources and connections play a role.
Social class matters for whether or not you find a job. Learn more about how resources and connections play a role.

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We have all heard the phrase before – “McDonald’s is hiring”. People often assume that getting a job is as easy as wanting a job. Recent research shows that it’s not that simple. If you search more intensely for a job, you’re more likely to get it. But, there are lots of factors that determine how hard you’re likely to search over time. Social class is one of those factors. For a primer, you can listen to this episode of our podcast.

When people from lower social classes struggle to find jobs, it’s not because they don’t want to work. It’s because the outcomes associated with searching for jobs are different for them than for those with more connections and resources. Read more to find out how social class matters in finding a job!

What is Social Class?

First, it’s important to understand what social class is. Interestingly, there are two components to social class that matter. Of course, social class has to do with your access to material resources. These resources include money, time, and networks. People who have higher incomes, or come from families with greater wealth, are part of a higher social class. Education also increases access to these resources. People who have higher levels of education, or come from families with higher levels of education, are also part of a higher social class.

The second component is more surprising. It actually matters how you perceive your social class as well. If you perceive yourself as being higher class on some key dimensions, you actually fare better than those who view themselves as being from a lower class. These dimensions include how prestigious you think your job is, the type of person you feel you are, and the overall influence you think you have on others. When both of these components are high, people gain the most benefits from being in a higher social class.

Climbing the social ladder is hard. Your social class can help determine the opportunities you get!
Climbing the social ladder is hard. Your social class can help determine the opportunities you get!

Why Does Social Class Matter?

Social class has a lot to do with your expectations in the job market. It is genuinely harder for those from lower social classes to find work than it is for those from higher social classes. Finding a job requires knowledge of how to get a job, as well as motivation to keep searching. When individuals lack resources and networks, their job search becomes tougher. Further, when they see others around them struggling to find work at a higher rate, their belief that they will find a job is lower.

When people lack individuals in their lives who can help to guide their job search, they are more haphazard in their approach. In other words, they may approach their job search less strategically. For example, they may apply to a lot of jobs that they aren’t well-qualified for. Or they may apply for jobs in which there are a lot of applicants and for which they have no “connections” to get their application to the top of the pile. On the other hand, those from higher social classes tend to be more targeted in their search. They only apply for jobs that they are well-qualified for, and for which they have a higher confidence that their application will be seen by decision-makers. As time goes on, and those from lower social classes struggle to find work using more haphazard strategies, their motivation can wane.

It's a little easier to follow your dreams when you have connections and knowledge that can help you get there!
It’s a little easier to follow your dreams when you have connections and knowledge that can help you get there!

What Can Be Learned?

Perhaps this isn’t news to you. For those who are from lower social class backgrounds, these realities may ring true. But, if you are finding yourself doubting that it’s harder for others to find work than it is for you, you might be from a higher social class yourself. It’s challenging to find a job, no matter who you are. But, there are differential barriers that get in the way of people finding work.

When you are able to leverage a connection with a family friend, or gain knowledge about a job through a professor or mentor, you have an advantage in the job search process. So, the next time you see someone struggling to find work, instead of blaming them, help them! If you have connections or knowledge to share, you can make their job search easier and improve their well-being at the same time.

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