The familiar theory that if a family is newly rich it can, given time, acquire polish, manners, and contacts, which make up for high social standing," 38 should, perhaps, be qualified somewhat. The necessary quantity of wealth requisite to entrace into classes considerably higher than one's own (such as might come to a miner who make a big strike or to a farmer who becomes rich from oil) is subject to dissipation even before the end of one lifetime. Furthermore, the necessary self-discipline, such as is required in turning over the children to trained governesses, is frequently lacking.Next Page
Research has shown * that successful and wealthy men in Virginia send their children either to private schools and colleges, or, if self-made, they sometimes let them take business courses in the local high school and do as their fathers did: start at the bottom. One son is given associative contacts; the other is assured that industry will suffice for success. Fathers of traditional social status, choosing the former approach, are generally more practiced in the arts of winning and keeping social status than are fathers, themselves self-made, who start their sons where they started. However, the wiser men of new success ape the habits of families of long high social standing. Their material success becomes incorporated, then, into the social class system.
Social status, even the retention of social status, is never purchased outright. It is earned. Time, effort, patience, careful planning, and money are the price. Mere pride, hauteur, never suffices to obtain social prestige. The real cost is unending contact: seeing, greeting, meeting people. Social life is a treadmill from which there is no rest; the people are really hard at work carrying out its obligations. 39 "A leisure class always gives great attention to the arts of social intercourse," says Ross. 40 But the classes who spend their days in active work are also attentive to their social obligations. Clubs, committees, teas, drinking parties, all consume precious leisure hours. Workers' wives, too, rise early and clean the house; for when visitors come, there must be a neat place in which to sit. And the hostess, even on such an informal occasion, has thought of her personal appearance.
Wealth and social status resolve themselves, in so far as they are allied to each other, then, into the following interrelationships: (1) New wealth is more accessible to families of high and middle class standing than to families of low status. (2) Families of low standing which succeed in acquiring great of medium wealth may, sometimes, with great care and good luck, move into classes much higher than their former position. When this has been accomplished, their wealth belongs henceforth to that higher social class. However, this can happen only when (a) property and riches are not carefully controlled and monopolized by the middle and upper middle class families, and (b) where the social class structure condescends to admit shifting of status through the display of pecuniary strength.
38. Marshall, op. cit., p.60
* See Appendix III.
39. C.W. Nicholls, The 469 Ultra-Fashionables of America (New York, 1912) pp. 10-12.
40. Edward Alsworth Ross, The Outlines of Sociology (New York, 1933) p. 296.