Some of the important nature of social classes are as follows:
A class is a universal phenomenon. The class system is found in almost all the modern complex societies of the world.
Economic factor has been widely accepted as the principal basis for the formation of class. It does not mean that other factors such as, political clout, intellectual capability; education, occupation etc. are not responsible for class formation.
It only indicates that in modern societies economic factors play a crucial role in the formation of classes and sub-classes.
Status is the basic criterion of social class. In other words, class is a status group. In the words of MacIver and Page, “It is the sense of status, sustained by economic, political or ecclesiastical power and by the distinctive modes of life and cultural expressions corresponding to them, that draws class apart from class, gives cohesion to each class and stratifies a whole society.”
This is one of the fundamental reasons of the origin of class. Class consciousness signifies that every social class is aware of its social prestige relative to other social classes. This feeling determines the behaviour of members of different social classes. Feeling of class consciousness is experienced among the members of a particular class at three levels. First, there is a feeling of equality in relation to the members of one’s own class.
For example, there is a feeling of equality among the peons working in a government establishment. Secondly, there is a feeling of inferiority in relation to those who occupy the higher status in socio-economic hierarchy.
For instance, clerks suffer from inferiority complex in relation to the officers serving in the same establishment. Thirdly, there is a feeling of superiority in relation to those who are placed in the lower range in the hierarchy. For example, clerks consider themselves to be superior to the peons.
So far as class system is concerned, status is achieved and not ascribed like the caste. Several factors like income, wealth, occupation, education, life-style etc., go a long way in determining the class of an individual.
The smooth functioning of the society depends on the co-operation among various social classes. Hence all social classes interact with one another in one form or the other keeping social stability and social prosperity in view.
Society is composed of innumerable social classes. Hence it is quite natural that we see a whole spectrum of hierarchical gradation of these social classes.
The relative position of the class in the social scale is determined by the degree of prestige attached to the status. Thus, the prestige enjoyed by a professor is higher than that of a research assistant.
The prestige that a class enjoys depends upon the scale of values prevalent in the society at a given period. In many societies knowledge, purity of race or descent, religion, heroism, wealth, bravery and similar other qualities are given weight age while according prestige to an individual.
A class is relatively a stable group. It is not short-lived like a crowd or a mob. However, the ‘stability element’ of a class is vitally affected under certain extraordinary situations such as crises in the social, economic and political spheres, wars, revolutions etc.
A social class is an open group. It believes in vertical mobility. In the class system upward or downward movement of individuals in the social hierarchy is rendered possible. This should not be construed to mean that there is no resistance at all in the class system. But the resistance to social mobility is very mild.
Each class has its life-style. Life-style includes the dress pattern, the type of house and the social environment where the members live, the means of recreation one resorts to, the circle of friendship, one’s mode of conveyance and communication, one’s way of spending money etc. Differences in classes are expressed in different life styles.