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Richard, George (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 58, Number 8 (Dec. 15, 1956)

McGrath, Hazel
When you climb the social ladder,   p. 23

Page 23

By Hazel McGrath
                        a sociologist looks into
                 attitudes and ambitions
When You Climb the Social Ladder
SBUICK Roadmaster and perhaps a
     maid-rather than a Cadillac and
     a country  estate-seem   to repre-
sent the highest social ambition of most
American families.
  In his research at the University
of Wisconsin to find out how a climb up
the social ladder to these heights affects
family relationships, Sociologist E. E.
LeMasters intensively studied 78 families
from across the country through their
sons and daughters enrolled at the Uni-
versitv. The students represented white
and Negro families from communities
of all types and sizes, and all major
religious groups.
  The subjects were drawn for the most
part from what the social scientists have
labeled the upper lower, lower middle,
and upper middle class groups. How-
ever, there *was an   occasional lower
lower, middle middle, and lower upper.
  LeMasters divided his families into
three groups: those with   social class
continuity (where the family has estab-
lished its position at a level which the
children hope to occupy eventually);
those where the families are moving up-
ward together (unit mobility) ; and those
where one or more children are moving
up alone, leaving parents and brothers
and sisters behind (differential mobil-
  Students from families in the first
group are more likely to feel they can
Wisconsin Alumnus, December, 1956
talk things over with their parents be-
cause their parents understand them,
LeMasters reports. They age also more
likely to admire their parents, to strive
to be like them, and to approve of the
way their families live.
  In these families aged parents can live
with their grown children with some
measure of mutual regard and enjoy-
ment, he continues. "We have a hunch
that this is one of the major problems
when elderly citizens try to live with
children who have migrated to another
social class."
  Ver) few of these young people from
the upper middle class wish to climb
above their parents in the social class
system, he points out. "The literature
often gives one the impression that
Americans are on an endless esclator of
social class ambition, whereas in our
sample the terminal striving point seems
to be membership in the upper middle
   "Could it be that in the United States
the upper middle class has come to be
the symbol of all that most of us could
reasonably hope for? Could it also be
that the concept of the 'upper class'
produces a negative image in democratic
America and that perhaps most persons
do. not idealize this socio-economic posi-
tion? Perhaps the Tommy Manvilles and
a few others of that sort have been well
enough publicized so that most Amer-
icans have no desire to climb to such
heights," he says.
  In the second type of family the
father moves up in the social and eco-
nomic structure while the children are
still dependent minors, and all adjust to
the new position together.
  "In this type of case one does not
sense any obvious evidence of family
disorganization," LeMasters  says. "IL
seems to be a sort of 'exciting' family
experience shared by all members of the
   "Howeyer, three kinds of strain could
be identified: between the parents when
one is more adaptable than the other;
between' the parents and children where
the children adapt more readily; and be-
tween the family group and uncles,
aunts, and cousins who stay on lower
social and economic levels."
  In the third type, where the parents
are fixed at a given social class level
while one or more of the children mi-
grate to a higher level, the strains are
greatest of all. LeMasters cites the. ex-
ample of a family whose father is a
house painter in a small eastern city.
The parents had only elementary school
education, two  daughters were grad-
uated from high school and married
skilled workmen, a son became a welder.
  The other son enlisted in the Air
       (Continued on page 33)

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