William Cecil Headrick

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at New York State University in 1941.

Readers who have little time should read the ten points on this page, after the summary of contents. Readers with more time are encouraged to read the Conclusion and also Chapter 12, the purpose of which was to explain why the American Dream was a myth for most Americans. Readers with plenty of time are encouraged to read the entire book! This thesis should be considered a historic document with much to contribute to those who want to understand American society today.

Summary of Contents:






















[Click here to view contents in detail]

[Click here to download the entire thesis as a PDF file, 1.8 Mb.]

Social Status in America Today

1. Social stratification is relatively rigid. Your position in society tends to be determined by that of your ancestors. You learn your values, ambitions, drive, and determination to succeed, and set your goals from what you learn from your family members. Families make every effort to maintain their status and pass it on to their children. The ingredients of status are wealth, education, and manners (etiquette, refinement).
2. Everybody wants to rise, of course, but only those with exceptional drive are able to, usually through education and therefore productivity. This means that societies can facilitate mobility with the use of academic scholarships, education in the military and "free" schools (paid for with taxes). Property taxes and progressive income taxes also help to level the field. However, there are mechanisms in place to keep you in your place: ' . . . the open road to status for all climbers, it has been shown that if an upstart threatens to crash into the hereditary upper class, "gangs up on him," and he relapses ignominiously "into his original [lowly] status." ' [See Chapter 4, page 127.] While this quote described the Kwakiutl Indians, similar mechanisms also existed in American society [also see Chapter 4, pages 135 and 136 ("Secrecy . . . "), and the Summary on pages 155 and 156], that are still used extensively today.
3. There are strong ties between wealth and status. Money can make more money if wisely invested. The wealthy usually educate their children well, giving them the tools to be highly productive economically. As for the distribution of wealth, "Federal Reserve figures for 1989 found the wealthiest 1 percent of American households (with net worth of at least $2.3 million each) owning nearly 40 percent of the nation's wealth, and the top 20 percent of American households (worth $180,000 or more) own more than 80 percent." In 2001, "the top 1% of Americans now have more personal wealth than the bottom 92% combined!" (From The Future of Money, by Bernard Lietaer, Random House UK).
4. Those lacking wealth are unable to take advantage of opportunities. The American Dream (read Chapter 12) is available to those who are able to take advantage of the opportunities. Those with good education and strong motivation can rise but with difficulty if they start with little or no wealth. Those with good education, strong motivation, and some wealth can rise more easily and more quickly. The lower you start, the more difficult it is to rise, and the further you must rise to get anywhere. Better employment positions are often determined by social position as well as by qualifications: "Every vocation under our industrial organization yields an income; and only the propertied person is in a situation to seek out for himself the more lucrative positions...while the unpropertied person must be content with the inferior positions." [Page 5] However, inferior positions are evaporating as American companies, while telling us to "Buy American," choose not to "Hire American," as they export American manufacturing jobs to whichever country offers the cheapest labor. Many better jobs, such as positions for computer programmers, are also disappearing. All these jobs are replaced by lower-paying positions in the service sector. "Exploitation of human labor" is one of the mechanisms mentioned on page 156. "Workers at the 20th percentile of earners made $8.31 an hour at the end of last year [2002], according to an analysis of government data by the Economic Policy Institute. The median worker [50th percentile] . . . $13.36 an hour" (New York Times). This means that fifty percent of working Americans do not earn enough to support a family of four, particularly if they must pay 30+% of their incomes for shelter, so both parents must work. Was this supposed to be the American Dream?
5. Education and motivation are essential but not enough. If you lack wealth (and therefore live in a rented apartment in the wrong zip code: this is how employers know!) and lack connections (the employer does not know who you are), you will probably start at or near the bottom, even if you are well qualified (read: educated). Starting at the bottom means the rise will be steeper, slower and longer. Education places you at an advantage over others who are less qualified, if you are willing to use your education productively. "A 1979 Carnegie study found that a child's future to be largely determined by social status, not brains."
6. Most employers are looking for people with qualifications who are "hungry" and willing to work hard for less pay. Economic recessions can devastate careers, both for the employed who lose their jobs and for young people ready to begin their careers. Employers almost always ask: "Are you currently employed?" In other words, how desperate are you? Your unemployment puts the potential employer in a stronger bargaining-position, and you will have a much harder time getting the employer to take you seriously. As far as the employer is concerned, the unemployed has little or no status, little or no credibility, and little or no worth.
7. Loss of social status is often caused by the consequences of war [See Chapter 5, page 171] and by chronic illness and/or premature death of the breadwinner, more common before the development of antibiotics. High medical bills can also ruin families. Substance abuse by the breadwinner, such as alcoholism, can reduce productivity and result in social descent. Divorce, so common nowadays, can result in social descent because it can ruin families financially. Credit card debt can also ruin families financially. "The oppression of debt is found in lost farms, homes, and even personal liberty." [See Chapter 4, page 149, Soll und Haben. The poor borrow; the rich lend.] The "unpropertied" effectively work for their masters, the "propertied," as they surrender a portion of their income as rent for the apartment (or other property) they live in, for the cars they drive, and for the money they must borrow to make ends meet (to eat and pay the rent). Our culture wants us to live now and pay later.
8. The last three points address issues concerning how people acquire their social values. Many homes in America now have two working parents, struggling to pay the rent (or mortgage), the car payment, and the credit card bills. If both working parents are too tired to raise the children, then the school system, daycare and the television are expected to raise and entertain the next generation. Playing in the neighborhood with other kids has been replaced by video games that discourage social interaction. Society is alarmed when children grow up without the social values their parents inherited from their grandparents and great-grandparents.
9. Before the modern age of cars and planes, families usually lived near their relatives. The children grew up with their cousins, uncles, aunts, and grandparents. Children learned the social values from their relatives as well as from their parents. As the parents' jobs take them to distant locations, children lose touch with their relatives. Family values become less important.
10. Children learn social values from their religion. The Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others emphasize values and rules of conduct clearly in their religious teachings. The Bible, for example, teaches against greed and envy, borrowing and lending for profit (in other words, exploiting others in need). The Bible teaches humility, charity, and respect for others. The processes of social stratification are contrary to religious teachings. Six days of work and one day of rest have been replaced by 24-7. The dollar is king. School prayer has been abolished. Virtually everything American children experience in reality contradicts the religion of their parents and grandparents. If religion becomes increasingly irrelevant, what implications will this have for the future of our civilization?

Most Americans today are either immigrants or descended from immigrants. The objective of Cecil's thesis was to demonstrate that there has been little social mobility in American society. Higher-class immigrants remain higher class today. Lower-class immigrants remain lower class today, regardless of nationality, religion, or race, or when they immigrated. There are, of course, individual exceptions. Cecil also compared social stratification in various societies in history, looking for social mobility within them. He stated that immigrants brought their social structures with them.

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Below are a few quotes from Cecil's thesis:

"If all societies were as rigorously hereditary in status, position, and honor as was the Aztec, there would be no occasion for this dissertation concerning social class rigidity. The Aztec social hierarchy offers no difficulties of interpretation, only details of degrees of status." p. 99.

"Brutality creates or cultivates the desire for protective super-ordination." p. 120.

"Wealth is a stabilizer of social status, and social class stabilizes the distribution of wealth. In the extreme case of mobility, such as represented by the Vanderbilts and Astors, wealth not only secured high social standing; it has also stabilized the social positions of four consecutive generations.
Property is related to social class status both positively and negatively. Those without property must choose between coming to terms with a property owner or sleeping in the streets or jumping in the ocean, as George Bernard Shaw once said. Property is not only the creator and perpetuator of higher standing; conversely, it is the creator and perpetuator of misery, social disability, and social class disqualification. 'Those who are poor become dependent upon the rich . . . . ' 'We should all like to live on the Avenue facing the Park, and do business opposite the Post Office. If we are not rich enough to do so, we yield to force and law and go off peacefully to live and do business where the monopoly is not felt,' wrote Sumner, but he did not live to see what it was like when men sought ultimate shelter in the dumps of Hoovervilles." p.127.

"One of the means by which each social class excels the one below it, and perpetuates this distance through careful training of the child, is by specializing in etiquette and fashion." p. 133.

"A sound sociology has to recall the fact that class formation in historic times did not take place through gradual differentiation in pacific economic competition, but was the result of violent conquest and subjugation." p. 140. (Franz Oppenheimer).

The disintegration of Roman civilization: " . . . the base of the social pyramid shrank, and the economic power behind the social positions of the upper and middle classes weakened. A great economic burden was placed on the shoulders of the middle classes (the senatorial class was both rich and tax-free), and they were literally crushed under it." p. 194 (Melvin Knight). [Would a similar fate await nations that close their borders to immigrant labor?]

"These facts lend still more credence to the principle of social class, namely, that persons or groups with an initial start or advantage tend to rise, if anyone does. To them that have, more is given". p. 238.

"In the evolution of social opportunity and human institutions under agricultural feudalism one disruptive movement entered, commercial and industrial capitalism." p. 241.

"'although anyone might now rise in the world . . . it was necessary that not every one should rise.' Property, experience, connections, education (particularly the last-mentioned item) all worked to hold the masses of men down." p. 280.

"Under the system of extensive and wasteful cultivation by slave labor, the rich coastal plain was quickly occupied [in Colonial America], forcing small farmers in search of homes to flock into the upland regions." " . . . the poor [freedmen] are by this means deprived of employment, while a few families acquire vast estates" p.339.

"Wertenbaker's obituary of the American Dream is summarized in these words: 'The glorious promises which the country had held out to him [the Virginian yeoman] in the first fifty years of its existence had been belied. The Virginia which had formerly been so largely the land of the little farmer, had become the land of masters and slaves. For aught else there was no room.' " p. 339.

"[Most] emancipated slaves and their descendants . . . lived an outcast, neglected, and insecure existence. Their state was often more miserable than that of many slaves -- it was a state of existence somewhat similar to that of the least fortunate poor whites." p. 342.

"The American Dream is a figment of the imagination -- a masterpiece in distorted fact. It is truly a schoolbook fiction." p. 390.

Many other sociologists of that time (1941), such as Bancroft, Beard, Dollard, Duprat, Fahlbeck, Gonnard, Hobhouse, Landtman, MacIver, Mombert, Mosca, Mumford, Schumpeter, See, Sorokin, and Weber, are frequently quoted in this thesis. Other authors, whose works are quoted in this thesis, include Theodore Roosevelt, Benjamin Franklin, and Edward Gibbon. A full list of authors can be found in the Bibliography.

More notes:
Social stratification is maintained by the use of taxation and interest. In America, the main mechanisms of enforcement are hunger, homelessness, poverty, evictions, foreclosures, and unemployment.
1. The rich pay cash for their homes. The rest pay mortgages or rent, which are interest payments you make when you borrow assets from another person or corporation. Thus we have the owner class and the non-owner class. The owners supplement their income by lending some of their assets to the non-owners, who forfeit a portion of their income to pay interest to the owners. Interest presents an additional burden on borrowers. For lenders, interest is like getting free money because they do not have to work for it. The rich can take advantage of the circumstances of the poor, who do not have the shelter they need.
2. When mortgage payers see homes being foreclosed, they pay the mortgage because they do not want the same to happen to them. They pay property taxes for the same reason.
3. When renters see their neighbours evicted, they willingly pay rent.
4. If evictions and foreclosures are stopped, then everybody stops paying rents and mortgages.
5. The presence of homeless people in the community encourages the rest to pay their rents and mortgages. These represent only the tip of the iceberg, however, since the majority of homeless people can find shelter among their relatives and friends. Only the truly disenfranchised actually find themselves on the streets.
6. The homeless do not receive adequate help. This is deliberately so. Once you become homeless, you struggle to meet the requirements to qualify for a place to sleep at a shelter, meals, medical needs, etc. Being homeless becomes a full-time job as you must not be allowed to get too comfortable. Getting out is an uphill battle because you cannot get a job if you do not have an address and you cannot get an address if you do not have a job. You also need a shower, a shave, clean clothes, transportation, and so on.
7. Mortgage payers are not home owners yet. However, they must still pay mortgage interest to the bank, plus rent to the government (also known as property taxes) if they do not want to lose the homes they think they own.
8. Mortgages are so long that many do not get paid off. The likelihood that someone in your family will not face a financial crisis, caused by job loss or car accident or long-term illness, over a thirty year period, is probably zero, so you borrow against your home's equity to get through the financial crisis, making your mortgage longer then before. The intention is to keep you paying interest for the rest of your life. Nobody should consider getting a mortgage for longer then 15 years for this reason. Credit cards, by the way, are also intended to keep you paying interest for the rest of your life. Pay off your credit cards in full every month.

This is how the governments and banks use mortgages, rents, foreclosures, evictions, and homelessness to keep the majority of the population paying interest. These are all necessary to keep the population working.

9. Any people who are not financially prepared for loss of employment are always at risk of losing their homes.
10. If corporations regularly have layoffs, they cannot be sued for improper termination or discrimination. If your boss does not like you much, you may find yourself on the list for the next round of payoffs. You become submissive.
11. When a few workers lose their jobs in your office or factory or school every so often, you will probably not be asking your employer for a pay raise. You will not complain about working hours or conditions because you cannot afford to lose your job. If you are in constant fear of losing your job, you become eager to perform and to obey because you do not want to become like the hungry and homeless people you see every day at the traffic lights and under the bridges as you drive to work. You work harder and for less pay because the conditions at your job have made your servile.
12. High levels of unemployment push down wage levels as enemployed workers compete desperately for existing jobs. Poverty causes the desperation that employers want to see, so that workers become willing to perform any task, however menial, for whatever pay they can get, however menial.
13. Slavery is illegal because it is involuntary servitude and compensation is not paid to the workers. However, if the system makes circumstances exceptionally awful for those who do not or cannot participate, then they will come voluntarily to work, and they will voluntarily pay much of their compensation as taxes and interest, leaving them, in the long run, probably, with nothing (no savings). Voluntary servitude in a system that takes away most of your compensation, however, is legal, and it keeps you dependent on that system. You could argue that the servitude and the partial forfeiture of compensation would not, under these circumstances, be entirely voluntary in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, where anything goes.
14. The legal system and the police exist primarily to protect property and infrastructure, to prevent those who want to take them away from those who have them. If you cannot pay for what you need, but you take it because you need it, the Department of Corrections will provide you with work, shelter and food, at least for a while. You must play their game by their rules.
This is how the system keeps the population working for the corporations and for the government. It is not unusual for people to pay 75% or more of what they earn for taxes and interest. The governments and the corporations of the world want moderate levels of homelessness, unemployment, foreclosures, evictions, poverty and hunger. These conditions keep the majority of the population fearful, compliant, servile, and working for those in power. It is all about power and control.
15. The following quote is from Cecil's autobiography, which he wrote in 1975, reflecting upon the years he spent teaching around 1936 at Washington Square College in New York City. He shows how we are brought up to submit to and serve the system:

"One can see the nature of college courses and discipline - a student works carefully within the limits of the assignments and little by little adds up enough credits to earn a degree. The reason employers seek people with reasonably good college records over self-educated people is that they want to find submission and obedience and cooperation in the new employee. The knowledge he possesses is incidental." p. 142.

There are two things you can do to escape (partially) from this system:

1. Become self-employed.
2. Buy a home that you can pay for in 15 years or less. Then pay it off as quickly as you can. Keep driving that old rustbucket while you pay off the house.

More photos of Cecil Headrick: click here.