What is 'Working Class'

Working class is a socioeconomic term used to describe persons in a social class marked by jobs that provide low pay, require limited skill and/or physical labor, and have reduced education requirements. Unemployed persons or those supported by a social welfare program are often included in this group.

BREAKING DOWN 'Working Class'

While "working class" is typically associated with manual labor and limited education, blue collar workers are vital to every economy. Karl Marx described the working class as the "proletariat", and that it was the working class who ultimately created the goods and provided the services that created a society's wealth.

Economists in the United States generally define "working class" as adults without a college degree. Many members of the working class are also defined as middle-class. Sociologists such as Dennis Gilbert and Joseph Kahl identify the working class as the most populous class in America, while other sociologists such as William Thompson, Joseph Hickey and James Henslin say the lower middle class is largest. In the class models devised by these sociologists, the working class comprises between 30 and 35 percent of the population, roughly the same number in the lower middle class. According to Dennis Gilbert, the working class comprises those between the 25th and 55th percentile of society. Common jobs for the working class include clerical, retail sales and low-skill manual labor vocations. Low-level white-collar workers are also part of this class.

Marxists and socialists define the working class as those who have nothing to sell but their labor-power and skills. In that sense, working class includes both white and blue-collar workers, manual and mental workers of all types, excluding only individuals who derive their income from business ownership and the labor of others.

History of the Working Class in Europe

In feudal Europe, most were part of the laboring class, a group made up of different professions, trades and occupations. A lawyer, craftsman and peasant, for example, were all members – neither members of the aristocracy or religious elite. Similar hierarchies existed outside Europe in other pre-industrial societies.

The social position of these laboring classes was viewed as ordained by natural law and common religious belief. Peasants challenged this perception during the German Peasants' War. In the late 18th century, under the influence of the Enlightenment, a changing Europe could not be reconciled with the idea of a changeless god-created social order. Wealthy members of societies at the time tried to keep the working class subdued, claiming moral and ethical superiority.

RELATED TERMS
  1. Upper Class

    Upper class is a socioeconomic term used to describe individuals ...
  2. Middle Class

    The middle class refers to individuals who fall between the working ...
  3. Class B Shares

    Class B Shares are a classification of common stock that may ...
  4. Asset Class

    A group of securities that exhibit similar characteristics, behave ...
  5. Dual-Class Ownership

    Dual-class ownership is a type of share division in which companies ...
  6. Classified Shares

    Classified shares are different classes of common stock, each ...
Related Articles
  1. Investing

    What are Class B Shares?

    Class B shares are one classification of common stock issued by corporations.
  2. Insights

    Is The Middle Class Really Disappearing?

    Find out exactly what "middle class" means and whether it's really getting rarer.
  3. Personal Finance

    Which Income Class Are You?

    Which income class do you belong to and what defines the middle class?
  4. Investing

    Why Asset Allocation Is Important

    Proper asset allocation results in diversification which increases potential gains and reduces risk.
  5. Managing Wealth

    Top 3 Differences Between Business and First Class

    Should you pay extra to fly first class?
  6. Investing

    China's Middle Class: An Inside Look

    Discover the catalysts for China's improving middle class population, from global demands of its consumer goods to unoccupied real estate.
  7. Insights

    Is the U.S. Economy Really Improving?

    The U.S. economy might be improving for some, but not for the majority. Here's why.
  8. Investing

    Alaska Airlines Unveils Premium Economy, Updates First Class (ALK)

    Alaska Airlines made a few announcements this week including details about its premium economy and first class.
  9. Investing

    3 Benefits of Looking at Asset Classes Beyond Your Portfolio

    Discover three of the primary advantages for investors that can be obtained by diversifying their investment portfolio with different asset classes.
  10. Insights

    Slip Slidin' Away: America's Shrinking Middle Class

    A new study from the Pew Research Center provides evidence that the American middle class is shrinking.
RELATED FAQS
  1. The difference between Berkshire Hathaway's Class A and Class B shares

    Price is the primary difference between Berkshire Hathaway's Class A stock and Class B stock, but there are other distinctions. ... Read Answer >>
  2. Why doesn't Warren Buffett split Berkshire Hathaway stock?

    Warren Buffet's fundamental approach to investing explains his no-split policy on Berkshire Hathaway stock. Read Answer >>
  3. What is the difference between Communism and Socialism?

    Communism and socialism are umbrella terms referring to left-wing schools of economic thought that oppose capitalism. Read Answer >>
Trading Center