Some students in my Social Structure class made a claim that took me aback, and I have been chewing on it ever since. They contended that it is harder to climb from the bottom to the middle of the social structure, than it is to climb from the middle to the top.
When I brought this idea home, Mrs. Gruntled agreed with the students.
My first reaction, though, was the opposite. Sure, it is difficult to rise from poverty to the secure middle class. You are beset by obstacles and temptations to self-destruction on every side.
Yet the gap between the middle and the top of the social pyramid is dizzyingly gigantic. The difference in power between the average middle-class family head and the commander in chief of the world's only superpower is staggering. The status gap between respectable suburban college graduate and the oldest of Old Money cannot be bridged in a generation or two. And the view up the slopes from the average American family's net worth, $93 thousand, to Bill and Melinda Gates' net worth of about $25 billion (down from $100 billion at its peak) is truly Olympian.
And this seems to me to be the clincher: though it is difficult to rise from poverty to the solid middle class, millions do it all the time. On the other hand, though millions are striving mightily, and with many valuable assets at their disposal, to rise from the middle to the top, only the tiniest fraction will ever get anywhere near there.
I think most people can envision and even relate to the difficult climb from the bottom to the middle. On the other hand, I think they have no idea how high up the top really is.
I think climbing the top half of the ladder is much harder than climber the bottom half.
I would welcome your thoughts.