I am starting a new project that will occupy me for the next few years, if not decades. I want to compare marriage and family life in the knowledge class versus the corporate class. I will explain what I mean by this over the next series of posts.
We are starting with some of the foundational theory of the knowledge class. This week we are working through Pierre Bourdieu's Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. For my money Bourdieu was the best French sociologist until his death a few years ago.
Bourdieu says that in looking at the class structure of society we need to examine three components of class for any given group:
1) the volume of capital;
2) the composition of capital; and
3) the trajectory of the class over time.
Volume is what we usually think of as "class" – how much stuff your group has. Composition, though, introduces an important nuance of the different kinds of capital. In addition to economic capital – which is basically how much wealth you have – Bourdieu also looks at cultural capital, made up of the kinds of knowledge and understanding that make for social status. Cultural capital comes from two main sources – what you learn in school, and what you learn at home.
The great advantage that people from higher classes have is not only that they start with money. Just as important, they learn the kinds of high culture most esteemed in society by growing up with it. Smart poor kids can learn school culture in school, but it is harder to pick up these more subtle kinds of family-based culture, of taste, of distinction, on your own. It can be done, but it is harder. It is particularly difficult to learn extra-curricular culture because people from low-status families don't even know it exists, and people from high-status families don't know that they are passing on to their kids a kind of capital just by their lifestyle.
Bourdieu was, therefore, concerned with the effects of families in transmitting capital. He did not, though, give much attention to exactly how families produced these effects, nor to what difference different approaches to marriage and children would make for transmitting cultural capital.
It has become more obvious in the generation since Distinction was written that the knowledge class is the class most likely to never marry, or to never have children. The cultural capital that knowledge class individuals accumulate is more likely to die with them than is other kinds of capital, or in other classes.
A class will only pass on its capital to the next generation if it has a next generation. One hypothesis that we are exploring is that knowledge class life makes it less likely that you will produce a next generation.