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Curr Opin Psychol. 2017 Dec;18:43-48. doi: 10.1016/j.copsyc.2017.07.033. Epub 2017 Aug 4.

How social-class stereotypes maintain inequality.

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University of Milano-Bicocca, Department of Psychology, Piazza dell'Ateneo Nuovo 1, 20126 Milano, Italy.
Princeton University, Department of Psychology and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Peretsman-Scully Hall 331, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA. Electronic address:


Social class stereotypes support inequality through various routes: ambivalent content, early appearance in children, achievement consequences, institutionalization in education, appearance in cross-class social encounters, and prevalence in the most unequal societies. Class-stereotype content is ambivalent, describing lower-SES people both negatively (less competent, less human, more objectified), and sometimes positively, perhaps warmer than upper-SES people. Children acquire the wealth aspects of class stereotypes early, which become more nuanced with development. In school, class stereotypes advantage higher-SES students, and educational contexts institutionalize social-class distinctions. Beyond school, well-intentioned face-to-face encounters ironically draw on stereotypes to reinforce the alleged competence of higher-status people and sometimes the alleged warmth of lower-status people. Countries with more inequality show more of these ambivalent stereotypes of both lower-SES and higher-SES people. At a variety of levels and life stages, social-class stereotypes reinforce inequality, but constructive contact can undermine them; future efforts need to address high-status privilege and to query more heterogeneous samples.

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