ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2022, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (8): 1883-1893.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2022.01883

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Subjective class research in psychology of social class: Its contributions and deficiencies

YANG Shenlong1, RAO Tingting1, YU Feng2, GUO Yongyu3()   

  1. 1School of Humanities and Social Science, Xi’an Jiaotong University, Xi’an 710049, China
    2Department of Psychology, School of Philosophy, Wuhan University, Wuhan 430072, China
    3School of Psychology, Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing 210097, China
  • Received:2021-05-13 Online:2022-08-15 Published:2022-06-23
  • Contact: GUO Yongyu


Recently, researchers in the field of social class psychology have attached great importance to the perspective of subjective class. This is highlighted by emphasizing the subjective class component in the social class concept. According to this approach, a person's social class includes both the objective social resources they control (i.e., the objective class) and their perception of their own social status (i.e., the subjective class). In terms of theory, measurement, design, and topic selection, research based on this theoretical orientation tends to focus on the investigation of issues related to subjective class.

In theory, subjective class, as a personal perception reflecting social class, is considered to be able to reflect a person's social class level comprehensively and effectively. Moreover, by understanding social class as a hierarchical notion, this theoretical orientation provides the foundation for quantitative research in the psychology of social class. Conceptually, subjective class is also considered to be better able to reflect the effect of social class on individuals’ psychological and behavioral exhibition, which not only promotes the simplification of social class measurement but also makes social class (i.e., a traditional sociological variable) more psychologically explained. It is of great significance to the development of research in this field. In terms of the method, researchers use a lot of experimental methods to examine the causal relationship between social class and a dependent variable by manipulating subjective class. This makes up for the insufficiency of previous studies on objective classes that could only reveal correlations and provide methodological assistance for drawing key conclusions in this field. In terms of research topics, the emphasis on subjective class has helped researchers to expand the scope of research in the psychology of social class. Themes such as the experience of social class, sign of social class, and perception of class mobility have all received more attention. Behind this series of research progress, the important foundational role of the orientation cannot be ignored.

However, while this research orientation affirms the contributions of the above four aspects, the proposal of this idea has also led to certain negative effects. First, by only focusing on the subjective class attributes in the social class, or even equating the subjective class with the social class, this approach greatly reduces the rich connotation of the social class theoretically, and it cannot fully reflect the reality of this concept. Second, previous studies have found significant inconsistency between the concepts of subjective and objective class, which led to the risk of using subjective class as an operational definition of social class at the conceptual measurement level. Third, for the experiment of manipulating the subjective class, since the objective class of the subjects does not change with the experimental treatment, it is difficult to interpret the research results as the social class effect. Finally, because many studies focus on subjective class, it seems that the issue of social class has lost its original pluralistic and complex characteristics in the real society, and more of it has become the comparison between "higher" and "lower class." If we draw on the sociology research ideas, social class psychology can pay more attention to and reveal some problems in the process of social development.

Based on the above advantages and disadvantages, future social class psychology research focusing on subjective class should consider further in-depth basic research to clarify the relationship between objective and subjective classes and their different predictive effects. Furthermore, a more detailed distinction can be made between subjective class and objective class. Similarly, more consideration should be given to combining the perspective of sociology to understand and respond to the problems of contemporary society based on specific social class groups in reality.

Key words: psychology of social class, subjective class, objective class

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