sealPurdue Lifestyles Briefs

August 1999

Book calls class inequalities a problem for 21st century

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A graphic depicting the "double diamond" class structure is available. It is called Perrucci.class. For review copies of the book "The New Class Society", contact Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc. at (800) 462-6420.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Forget the Y2K bug. The real pest of the new millennium will be the new "double diamond" class structure, says a Purdue University sociologist, because it's a system that will make more Americans poor and powerless -- and will keep them that way.

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"Over the past 25 years, the 'American Dream' of rising to the top has taken a severe beating," says Robert Perrucci, professor of sociology. "Downsizing, technological advances and globalization have taken their toll on the working class since the 1970s. Those not already in the upper-privileged class find it very hard to get there."

The "double diamond" that Perrucci refers to is a class structure with the top 20 percent of society enjoying the perks and security that come with access to stable financial and social resources. This group occupies the top diamond. Below it is a much larger diamond, connected by only a narrow opening, which represents the 80 percent of society that is characterized by job instability, limited financial resources and little or no way to move to the top sector.

Traditional views depict American society as a single diamond, with people rising or falling among the ranks according to their own personal achievements.

Perrucci outlines the growing phenomenon of a two-class culture in "The New Class Society" ($21.95) written with Earl Wysong, a professor of sociology at Indiana University, Kokomo. The two coined the phrase "double-diamond" to describe their view of society. The book was published this summer by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc.

Perrucci says class position is determined largely by access to four critical kinds of "capital":

  • Consumption capital -- money to spend.

  • Investment capital -- money to put away for future needs.

  • Credentialed skill capital -- access to elite universities and high-paying jobs.

  • Social capital -- networking with and having the support of others in privileged positions.

    "The resources of those in the top diamond are used to maintain and legitimize the new class system," Perrucci says. "That's because they control the economy, politics and culture."

    Many persons in the lower diamond live comfortably but precariously, he says, because they lack one or more of the assets needed to secure their stability. Perrucci points out that many Americans are just one paycheck away from poverty.

    He suggests that the "American Dream" may vanish in the 21st century unless something is done to bring back a balance in class power. "Unless opposition arises to this social structure through political or other means, class inequality will increase," he says.

    CONTACT: Perrucci, (765) 494-4714;

    Expert advises parents to let others discipline kids, too

    WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- We're told it takes a community to raise a child, but many parents say "hands off" when it comes to letting others discipline their child. A Purdue University child development expert suggests that children might benefit from the authority of others.

    "Many Americans take an individual responsibility approach to child rearing," says Judith Myers-Walls, a Cooperative Extension specialist and associate professor of child development and family studies. "The attitude is, 'It's my job to raise my child and your job to raise your child -- and don't judge my way of doing it.'"

    She says factors that contribute to this attitude include:

  • We're a mobile society, so we don't live by neighbors or relatives whom we've known for a long time and trust to help discipline children.

  • We worry about the safety of our children, telling them not to talk to strangers for fear they'll be abducted or hurt.

  • We have widely varying views on the proper way to discipline children.

    Myers-Walls says there is a reluctance to allow others to discipline our children, but at some point it makes sense to share those duties. She says rearing children can be stressful, and letting others assist can relieve some of the pressure. "Children make many of their own decisions about behavior. You do not need to be embarrassed when they misbehave," she says.

    Knowing when to offer assistance to a parent can be difficult. Myers-Walls gives a few suggestions on how to know when it's appropriate to correct or discipline another's child:

  • Watch the child -- If he or she wanders away from a parent, follow and guide the child back. If the child does something dangerous, try to protect him or her.

  • Watch the parent -- If a parent looks exhausted, embarrassed, angry or desperate, ask if you can help, or just talk with the child and provide a distraction so the parent can relax for a minute.

    "Never tell a child he or she is bad and never strike a child," Myers-Walls says. "Even if you use certain strong techniques with your kids, it is good to avoid those with other peoples' children."

    Myers-Walls points out that children can act very differently around persons other than their parents. "A child who might cling to mom may be very independent and even a leader when in a setting away from her," she says.

    She says parents are often amazed at how well their children behave for relatives, teachers and coaches. "Recognize that other people can do more with your children than you think," Myers-Walls says.

    CONTACT: Myers-Walls, (765) 494-2959;

    Parents can set the tone for a successful school year

    WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The final few weeks of summer break are the ideal time for parents to help their children prepare for the upcoming school year, according to the dean of Purdue's School of Education.

    "Parents can guide activities now that will make the classroom more enjoyable and a richer learning experience this fall," says Marilyn Haring, who also is a professor of counseling and development.

    "This is especially true if your child felt school was boring last year, had learning or behavior difficulties, or avoided school or homework."

    Haring suggests planning one or more trips related to the coming year's school work. They can be as elaborate as a tour of a historic site or as simple as a stop at the local courthouse.

    "If your child is going to be learning about the judicial system in social studies, watching a court of law in action will give new meaning to classwork," Haring says. "A historic site will provide a firsthand experience that will stimulate further thinking, reading and discussion of that event and period in history."

    She adds that a child who has had an interesting informal learning experience then has an opportunity to participate as a resource in class by sharing maps, brochures and postcards from the trip.

    Haring says a scientific activity such as growing a garden, keeping an aquarium or stargazing will build some additional expertise that can be utilized in next year's work.

    "The Internet is a rich resource for gaining more information on those topics -- and for building technology skills," Haring adds. "A student who becomes skilled at using the Internet often becomes an avid learner because it's fun and fast-paced, and those skills are transferable to gathering information on many subjects."

    Finally, Haring says it's a good time to discuss and set some goals for next year that emphasize learning rather than just getting good grades.

    "It's important to stress goals that address mastery of content, skill building and acquiring meaning," Haring explains. "For example, if your child will be studying fractions, a good goal might be to halve or quarter a complex recipe that you and your youngster will prepare together."

    Haring urges parents to set meaningful learning goals that are creatively tied to competence in the world their child knows and enjoys.

    "This can make learning fun -- and more likely," she says.

    CONTACT: Haring, (765) 494-5832;

    Compiled by Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723; home: (765) 497-7109;

    Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;


    Purdue sociologist Robert Perrucci and co-author Earl Wysong created the concept of a "double diamond" to describe America's class inequality in their new book "The New Class Society." Perrucci says the privileged few are at the top in their own diamond, and the rest of society fits in a much larger diamond below with little chance of climbing to the top.

    Electronic transmission and Web and ftp download available of black-and-white graphic. Graphic ID: Perrucci.class

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