Social class culture cycles: how three gateway contexts shape selves and fuel inequality

Annu Rev Psychol. 2014:65:611-34. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-010213-115143. Epub 2013 Sep 25.


America's unprecedented levels of inequality have far-reaching negative consequences for society as a whole. Although differential access to resources contributes to inequality, the current review illuminates how ongoing participation in different social class contexts also gives rise to culture-specific selves and patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting. We integrate a growing body of interdisciplinary research to reveal how social class culture cycles operate over the course of the lifespan and through critical gateway contexts, including homes, schools, and workplaces. We first document how each of these contexts socializes social class cultural differences. Then, we demonstrate how these gateway institutions, which could provide access to upward social mobility, are structured according to middle-class ways of being a self and thus can fuel and perpetuate inequality. We conclude with a discussion of intervention opportunities that can reduce inequality by taking into account the contextual responsiveness of the self.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Culture*
  • Educational Status
  • Family*
  • Humans
  • Schools*
  • Social Class*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Workplace*