Society for the Teaching of Psychology: Division 2 of the American Psychological Association

Social Class

Resources in this list address implications of social class and classism for psychological processes, research, and practice, as well as strategies for teaching about social class.



Barratt, W. (2011).  Social class on campus: Theories and manifestations. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

This student–friendly text uses real and fictional cases to explore theoretical perspectives on, and manifestations of, social class in a campus setting.  The author addresses the role of social class in various contexts (such as occupation, education, culture, and identity) as well as the interaction between social class, gender, and ethnicity.

Grusky, D. B. & Szelenyi, S. (Eds.). (2011). The inequality reader: Contemporary and foundational readings in race, class, and gender (2nd ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

The essays in this anthology take a variety of disciplinary, methodological, and political perspectives on issues of inequality.  Geared toward undergraduate students, essays address such topics as the gender pay gap, social mobility, health disparities, global income inequality, prejudice and discrimination, and family considerations.


Liu, W. M. (2011). Social class and classism in the helping professions:  Research, theory and practice.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. 

This book explores how social class operates in people’s lives and integrates empirically supported findings into strategies for psychological research, practice, teaching, and advocacy.   It includes Liu’s description of his Social Class Worldview Model-Revised, which is designed to enable individuals to better understand how social class and classism may have shaped their worldview. [See related film under Websites/Media Supplements below]


Smith, L. (2010).  Psychology, poverty and the end of social exclusion: Putting our practice to work.  New York, NY: Teacher’s College Press.

This volume from the Multicultural Foundations of Psychology and Counseling Series examines the treatment of social class in psychological scholarship and practice from a social justice perspective. Narratives from individuals in poverty as well as the author’s own experiences as a practitioner in a low income community illustrate the dynamics of the relationship between psychologists and clients in poverty.  New approaches to address issues of social class in mental health contexts are outlined.

Sturm, D. C. & Gibson, D. M. (Eds.). (2012). Social class and the helping professions: A clinician's guide to navigating the landscape of class in America. New York, NY: Routledge.

This edited volume provides a comprehensive examination of social class issues relevant to a variety of mental health professions.  Introductory chapters provide an overview of social class structure in the United States and more globally, including discussions of privilege, the intersection of class and race, and poverty in urban and rural settings. Additional chapters explore internalized classism and implications of social class for career, school, and family counseling. Chapters in the final section of the book provide models for effective diagnosis, assessment, and treatment of individuals in poverty and discuss the role that mental health professionals can play in advocating for clients and communities.

Journal Articles

Kraus, M. W., Piff, P. K., & Keltner, D. (2009). Social class, sense of control, and social explanation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97(6), 992-1004. doi: 

A series of four studies supported the prediction that individuals with lower subjective socioeconomic status, and therefore a reduced sense of personal control, would make more contextual than dispositional attributions for economic trends and social outcomes. This effect was reduced by experimentally inducing a sense of greater control. 

Kraus, M. W., Piff, P. K., Mendoza-Denton, R., Rheinschmidt, M. L., & Keltner, D. (2012). Social class, solipsism, and contextualism: How the rich are different from the poor. Psychological Review, 119(3), 546-572. doi:

This article outlines new directions and methodology for psychological investigations of social class.  Based on empirical literature associating lower social class with a more contextual orientation (focusing on external, uncontrollable forces), the authors suggested that, in contrast  to upper class individuals, lower class individuals will (1) be more vigilant to threat, (2) experience a reduced sense of personal control, (3) develop a more communal, as opposed to agentic, self-concept, (4) exhibit enhanced empathy, (5) favor contextual, as opposed to dispositional, explanations, (6) view social categories as socially constructed rather than essentializing social categories, (7) have greater compassion and more prosocial behavior, (8) engage in more communal, as opposed to exchange, relationship strategies, and (9) make moral judgments that prioritize purity and harm, rather than individual rights, respect, and authority. Additional sections focus on the implications of the reviewed literature for measurement of social class, cross-cultural perspectives on social class, and social mobility.

Langhout, R. D., Drake, P., & Rosselli, F. (2009). Classism in the university setting: Examining student antecedents and outcomes. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 2(3), 166-181. doi:


The authors investigated the relationship between social class, experiences of classism, and psychosocial and school-related outcomes. Path analysis of survey data from 950 undergraduates indicated that experiencing classism was associated with lower levels of school belonging, more negative psychosocial outcomes, and greater intentions of leaving school – findings elaborated in a multivariate process model. The authors conclude with a discussion of policy implications and potential interventions.


Lapour, A. S., & Heppner, M. J. (2009). Social class privilege and adolescent women’s perceived career options. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 56(4), 477-494. doi:


This qualitative study explores the impact of social class privilege on the perceived career options of 10 White adolescent young women. Grounded theory-based coding procedures of interview transcripts produced the following categories: (1) Social Class Identity and Perceptions, (2) Shared Perceptions of Achievement and Expectations, (3) Exposure, and (4) Evaluating Career Options. The authors conclude that although social class privilege results in the perception of numerous career options, it also leads to the avoidance of many occupations for which the participants have had few models or learning experiences.


Lott, B. (2012). The social psychology of class and classism. American Psychologist, 67(8), 650-658. doi:

This article presents a broad overview of the experience of social class and classism in the United States.

Pearce, J., Down, B., & Moore, E. (2008). Social class, identity and the "good" student: Negotiating university culture. Australian Journal of Education, 52(3), 257-271. Available at:


The authors of this article discuss the tendency to exclude participants’ perspectives in research on low income university students. In contrast, the authors use narrative accounts from low income students to explore how social class shapes identity.


Piff, P. K., Kraus, M. W., Côté, S., Cheng, B. H., & Keltner, D. (2010). Having less, giving more: The influence of social class on prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(5), 771-784. doi:


This article reports four studies investigating the relationship between social class and prosocial behavior.  Despite having fewer resources, greater exposure to threat, and a reduced sense of personal control, lower class individuals were found to engage in more prosocial behavior than upper class individuals. The authors suggested that the prosocial behavior of lower class individuals may stem from other-focused strategies developed to adapt to hostile environments as well as from stronger commitment to egalitarian values and feelings of compassion.

Piff, P. K., Stancato, D. M., Martinez, A. G., Kraus, M. W., & Keltner, D. (2012). Class, chaos, and the construction of community. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103(6), 949-962. doi:

Results from a series of five studies suggest that when primed with feelings of chaos (in terms of expected economic trajectory), lower class individuals were more likely to focus on community membership, whereas upper class individuals were more likely to focus on wealth and material resources.   

Rubin, M. (2012). Social class differences in social integration among students in higher education: A meta-analysis and recommendations for future research. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 5(1), 22-38. doi:

This meta-analysis of 35 studies found that lower income students experience less social integration than middle income students. The author suggests that differences in social integration may explain some of the difficulties experienced by low-income students in a university context. Social integration may be central to providing students with social and informational support as well as access to higher education norms and role models.

Sánchez, F. J., Liu, W. M., Leathers, L., Goins, J., & Vilain, E. (2011). The subjective experience of social class and upward mobility among African American men in graduate school. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 12(4), 368-382. doi:


This qualitative study investigated the experiences of 14 African American graduate students at a predominantly White university in the Midwestern United States.  Topics addressed include awareness of social class, the interaction of race and class, and expectations about social mobility. 


Stellar, J. E., Manzo, V. M., Kraus, M. W., & Keltner, D. (2012). Class and compassion: Socioeconomic factors predict responses to suffering. Emotion, 12(3), 449-459. doi: 

This study investigated social class differences in compassion.  Results indicated that lower income individuals manifested greater compassion (as measured by self-report and physiological indices) in response to the suffering of others than did higher income individuals.  Possible mechanisms for this effect are discussed.

Stephens, N. M., Fryberg, S. A., Markus, H. R., Johnson, C. S., & Covarrubias, R. (2012). Unseen disadvantage: How American universities' focus on independence undermines the academic performance of first-generation college students.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102(6), 1178-1197. doi:

This article describes four studies designed to investigate the impact of college independence norms on the achievement of first-generation college students.  The authors suggest that first-generation students’ interdependence norms conflict with the culture of the university. Results support interventions that involve representing the university culture in terms of an interdependent community in order to enhance the achievement of first-generation students.


Resources for Teaching about Social Class

American Psychological Association Task Force on Resources for Inclusion of Social Class in Psychology Curricula. (2008). Report of the APA Task Force  on Resources for Inclusion of Social Class in Psychology Curricula.  Retrieved from


This extensive collection of resources includes classroom exercises, course syllabi, fiction, information on SES-related social policy legislation, popular media (film, TV, music, etc.), scholarly books and articles, and websites.  An appendix lists volumes of the Journal of Social Issues that focus on social class and socioeconomic status.


Bohmer, S. & Briggs, J. L. (1991). Teaching privileged students about gender, race, and class oppression. Teaching Sociology, 19(2), pp. 154-163. 

The authors discuss strategies for presenting issues of oppression to (primarily White, middle class) students, including the intersection of gender, race, and class.  

Bohmer, S., & Oka, K. U. (2007). Teaching affirmative action: An opportunity to apply, integrate, and reinforce sociological concepts. Teaching Sociology, 35(4), 334-349.

This article presents strategies for dispelling students’ misconceptions about affirmative action and providing them with skills needed to critically analyze affirmative action programs. Methods for assessing student knowledge are also suggested.

Coghlan, C. L. & Huggins, D. W. (2004). "That's not fair!": A simulation exercise in social stratification and structural inequality. Teaching Sociology, 32(2), pp. 177-187.

A modified version of Monopoly is the basis of this classroom activity, designed to teach about and generate discussion on the process of social stratification.  

Diemer, M. A., Mistry, R. S., Wadsworth, M. E., López, I., & Reimers, F. (2012), Best practices in conceptualizing and measuring social class in psychological research. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy. doi: 10.1111/asap.12001 

This detailed article describes and evaluates specific strategies for assessing social class, as indexed by socioeconomic status (SES; both prestige-based and resource-based) and subjective social status (SSS). See also video abstract:


Gilbert, R. (2008). Raising awareness of class privilege among students. Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning For Shared Futures. Retrieved from

This article provides detailed suggestions and links to resources for teaching about social class and classism.

Hattery, A. J. (2003). Sleeping in the box, thinking outside the box: Student reflections on innovative pedagogical tools for teaching about and promoting a greater understanding of social class inequality among undergraduates. Teaching Sociology, 31(4), pp. 412-427. 

This article outlines a number of projects and accompanying readings, aimed at teaching students about social stratification from an interactional perspective. Perspective taking role plays and service learning activities are described. For example, students are assigned a fictitious family at one of several social class levels, and are tasked with determining how their given set of resources could be used to attain employment, transportation, food, and childcare.

Johnson, B. (2005). Overcoming “doom and gloom”: Empowering students in courses on social problems, injustice, and inequality. Teaching Sociology, 33(1), pp. 44-58. 

Johnson identifies factors contributing to students' lack of self-efficacy in addressing social problems and proposes a five-step process for empowering students: “(1) identify the process through which social problems are constructed, (2) identify existence of the social problem, (3) identify core causes of the social problem, (4) identify structural solutions to the social problem, and (5) identify individual actions that contribute to structural solutions.”


Parrotta, K. L., & Rusche, S. N. (2011). Extraterrestrials and generic social processes: Minimizing resistance in teaching the reproduction of inequality. Teaching Sociology, 39, pp. 320-328. doi:10.1177/0092055X11407351

This article describes an activity used to teach students about the reproduction of inequality in everyday life. The activity involves students taking an extraterrestrial perspective on human oppression.  After reading Schwalbe et al. (2000) on “generic social processes,” (i.e. othering, subordinate adaptation, boundary maintenance, and emotion management) students work in groups to identify how one of these processes is used to maintain social stratification among subordinate and dominant “aliens.”

Picca, L. H., Starks, B., & Gunderson J. (2012). “It opened my eyes”: Using student journal writing to make visible race, class, and gender in everyday life. Teaching Sociology, 41, pp. 82-93. doi:10.1177/0092055X12460029 

This article details a pre-posttest evaluation of a journal writing assignment (based on unobtrusive participant observation), which was found to be effective in raising awareness of the role of race, class, and gender in everyday life. 

Tiemann, K. A., Davis, K., & Eide, T. L. (2006). What kind of car am I? An exercise to sensitize students to social class inequality. Teaching Sociology, 34, pp. 398-403. doi:10.1177/0092055X0603400406

The activity described in this article was designed to help students think about the role of stereotypes in social class inequality. The primary task involves students matching individuals with diverse demographic identifiers to various makes and models of cars and trucks. Suggestions are provided for debriefing to raise awareness and challenge assumptions about social stratification.

Zipp, J. F. (2002). The impact of social structure on mate selection: An empirical evaluation of an active-learning exercise. Teaching Sociology, 30(2), pp. 174-184. 

This article describes the empirical evaluation of an exercise designed to demonstrate the impact of social class on marital choice.

Websites/Media Supplements

Alvarez, L., & Kolker, A. (2001). People like us: Social class in America. [DVD, 120 min] New York, NY: The Center for New America Media. 

This humorous and poignant documentary explores social class through interviews with individuals from various walks of life across the U.S.  See also teachers guide:  and PBS companion site:

APA Office on Socioeconomic Status. 

This site includes “journal articles, relevant websites, upcoming events, fact sheets and other publications that address socioeconomic status, mental and physical health, children, education and related topics.“


Liu, W. M. (2012). Working with issues of social class in psychotherapy. [Closed captioned DVD, 100 min.]. Washington, DC: APA.

In this video from APA’s Multicultural Counseling Video Series, William Ming Liu demonstrates how his worldview model of psychotherapy is used to explore the impact of social class and classism on the client’s perspectives and behavior.


“A coalition of passionate students, student governments, and allies working to improve socioeconomic diversity and awareness at our nation’s top colleges and universities.”


Wilson, K. (Producer). (2007). When the light’s red. [HDV video, 11 min.]. New Day Films. 

This short film explores homelessness through the filmmaker’s experience with intersection panhandling as well as interviews with other drivers, a homeless services provider and panhandlers themselves.


Youngstown State University: Center for Working-Class Studies.

Provides websites, films, photographs, and current events to facilitate discussion about class.

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software