The mechanisms of biological heredity are the subject of heated controversy. In social science the argument has revolved around environment versus heredity. In the special field of social class the bone of contention is whether or not biological superiority expresses itself in high social status. Are social class rigidities attributable to the inheritance of superior and inferior abilities on the respective social class levels? Is social mobility a result of the rising of biologically superior persons and the falling of those born with low inherent talents?

Divergent opinions about heredity and social status. Before taking a definite position with regard to the question of the influence of hereditary factors upon the social class structure, it is proper that one should make a survey of some of the opinions of authorities in this field.

One writer states that "there is an increasing tendency for each person's born qualities to determine the point he will reach on the occupational scale." 1 Lennes goes on to state: 2

The lowest class will be stabilized most rapidly, so that those born in it tend to lack those elements which will enable them to rise to higher points in the scale. From time to time this class will receive recruits from upper classes, misfits and culls, who fail to maintain their position in the classes where they were born.

Otto Ammon heartily defends the notion of biological superiority among the higher classes. He writes that "the average ability among the higher classes is more favorable (günstig) than among the lower," and that "this difference rests upon a hereditary base." 3

Havelock Ellis says: "The small upper stratum is of high quality, the large lower stratum of poor quality, and with a tendency to feeblemindedness." 4 Ellis paraphrases Carr-Saunders in support of this idea to the effect that upward social mobility removes only a few individuals from the lower stratum, "while among those who thus climb, even though they do not sink back, regression to the mean is even in operation so that they do not greatly enrich in the end the class they have climbed to." 5 But Ellis also generalizes to the effect that "taken altogether" it would seem that "the differences between social classes may mainly be explained by environmental influences." 6 This double explanation, first the hereditary and then the environmental, of the existence and maintenance of social classes is common to several authorities who have written on this subject. They may be said to be positive in both directions at once.

Sorokin writes extensively about the connection between social status and inherent ability. Like Ellis, his remarks favor both schools of thought, first the exponents of heredity and then the environmentalists. In one place he states: 7

These data show a rather close correlation between social status and intelligence. Unskilled and semi-skilled labor have a very inferior and low average intelligence; skilled labor groups are principally in the group of "high average" intelligence; superior and very superior intelligence are only among high professional and high business classes.

But, like Havelock Ellis, Sorokin also expresses belief in the environmentalist theory of social stratification. He writes: 8

Hence, the general conclusion is that a great many differences -- physical, mental, moral, social and in behavior -- among different social classes are due to the heterogeneity of environmental factors among which they are born, grow, live, and work.

Next Page


1. N. J. Lennes, Whither Democracy, Does Equalizing Opportunity Create Hereditary Social Classes? (New York, 1927) p. 252. 2. Ibid., p. 272.
3. Otto Ammon, "Die Gesellschaftsordnung und ihre Natürlichen Grundlagen," in Fr. Mann's Paedagogisches Magazin, Heft 1175 (Langensalza, 1928) p. 14; translation ours.
4. Havelock Ellis, The Dance of Life (Boston, 1923) p. 285.
5. Ibid., p. 286.
6. Loc. cit.
7. Pitirim Sorokin, Social Mobility (New York, 1927) p. 294.
8. Ibid., p. 322.