May 12, 2007

Definitions: Race, Ethnicity, and now Class

One of my long term projects is to provide robust, useful definitions of common terms. Thus, I've argued in the past that:

- A racial group is a partly inbred extended biological family.

- An ethnic groups is defined by shared traits that are often passed down within biological families -- e.g., language, surname, religion, cuisine, accent, self-identification, historical or mythological heroes, musical styles, etc. -- but that don't have to be. (Thus, you can be adopted into an ethnic group, but not into a racial group.)

Now, I'd like to toss out a half-finished definition of class intended to complement the first two definitions:

- A class is a group of potential in-laws, people who might turn out to be ancestors of mutual descendents. Contra Marx, one's class is less a function of one's segment in the economic market than of the marriage market.

In other words, from a genealogical perspective, a class is the mirror image of a race, looking forward into the future of your family tree rather than backward into the past.

Clearly, we don't know what the future will bring, all we can do is make informed guesses about probabilities, so class is rather hazy under this definition, but few would argue that it's all that crisply delineated real life.

This marriage market definition of class is clearly displayed in Jane Austen's novels, whose young heroines' romantic lives are full of interest because they are precariously perched somewhere in the middle and could thus marry up or down (or not at all), with dramatic consequences for themselves and their descendents.

My race and ethnicity definitions are designed to make sense of how the U.S. Census Bureau uses the two terms. the government specifically insists that Hispanic is an ethnicity, not a race, since Hispanics can be of any race. The Census Bureau doesn't ask people their class, so there is no official standard to match.

My definition doesn't match the classic Marxist usage of the term well, but I see that as a feature, not a bug. Marx thought of class in terms of control over the means of production. Marx's perspective implied that classes were transnational, while my definition suggests that classes are primarily limited to the nation or to a group of nations all speaking the same language, with only the very highest class, royalty, being traditionally transnational. Our conflicting definitions of class were put to the test in August 1914, when, to the surprise of Marxist theorists, all the Socialist parties of all the European legislatures voted to go to war shoulder to shoulder with their nations' bourgeoisies and aristocracies.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


tommy said...

A class is a group of potential in-laws, people who might turn out to be ancestors of mutual descendants.

But marriages between economic classes do sometimes occur. Granted, more rarely than intra-class marriages, but professional athletes and other rich men not uncommonly marry good-looking women of far lower economic class than themselves, for instance. Also, two people from different races or religions can belong to the same economic class but have little chance of intermarrying. If a baseball player earning $3,000,000/year marries an attractive woman earning $30,000/year, does that woman's brother, who might also be earning $30,000/year suddenly become a member of the same class as the baseball player? They are now in-laws after all.

Your idea of class sounds a bit more akin (though not entirely) to what Max Weber would have called "status." Status is what allows some bridging of absolute economic class by those practicing a shared lifestyle. Jacqueline Kennedy's formerly wealthy parents might have been left poor by the 1929 stock market crash, but they kept up appearances and continued to associate with those who were still well-to-do during the Great Depression. They maintained their status. In a similar way, professional athletes from middle class backgrounds might have the sort of less refined, unpretentious lifestyle that makes marrying a girl of lower economic class much easier than a man born into a family of similar economic means. Most marriages in our society take place between a couple that shares similar class (a shared market position) and similar status (a shared lifestyle). But there are plenty of exceptions to both.

I suppose you are free to invent your own definition: "marriage class" or "Sailerian" class. As any mathematician can tell you, definitions are never really wrong so long as they are consistent and clearly defined, though obviously some are far more useful than others . If your version of "class" works, that is if it connects your other ideas together, then go with it. There may be no exact parallel to what you are proposing, so aiming for too exact a fit with existing definitions might be a bit pointless.

Anonymous said...

I believe class remains mostly a socio-economic category. It is also a much more fluid notion than race. Many people of higher class have ancestors of lower class. That's why in western countries, there are no significative racial or biological differences between people of higher and lower class. (I suppose that is a bit different in countries like India, where the concept of class overlaps with the concept of caste). People cannot escape their own race, but with enough money, in most countries, they (or their descendants) can escape their own class.

Anonymous said...

By that definition, Jews, Amish, Hutterites, Yezidis, and other groups that don't intermarry are their own classes as well as ethnicities and maybe races.


Mangan said...

Class is mainly delineated by behavior, which includes appearance and style. Almost by definition, lower classes don't know how to behave any other way than they do, or else they would behave like higher classes. So maybe class can be defined as the social category whose members act (live, work, have the same interests, etc.) as the other members of the category.

tj said...

I find your definition of class thought provoking but a bit like trying to catch a fish with your bare hands. Class seems to be a function of who you marry, your socioeconomic background and what kind of career or wage you can command. I'm a bit nervous about class being connected to marriage because so many of us don't get married anymore. Am I classless because I'm dateless? Say it ain't so!

Rainer Rilke said...

Steve, isn't it just a tiny bit presumptuous to place yourself in competition with Karl Marx, as if no thought on the matter has proceeded in the intervening 130 years?

Anonymous said...

The Cuban SPICS like the one who reently wrote into are not part of our TRIBE.

The SPICLET Cuban who arote to two days lives on US territory now occcupied by CUBA.

The majority of NATIVE BORN WHITE AMERICANS who live in south florida understand all to well that miami is occupied by a foriegn cuban SPIC tribe.

It is really disgusting that would welcome this SPICLET cuban as a comrade.

Julio Iglesias son once bragged on national TV-this was in one of the spic -kike Geraldo Rivera's documentary about hispanic america-that in orderto find employment in miami one now has to speak spansh. is a disgrace to openly embrace a female spic cuban who is part of an occupying army from cuba.


VDARE.COM should be doing an in-depth analysis of the conquest of AMERICAN territory by the filthy dirty LEGAL IMMIGRANT SPIC CUBANS(GEORGE BORJA'S PEOPLE)



Every non-european group in OUR AMERICA is playing the RACIAL/NATIONALIST game and actively participating in OUR PEOPLES economic and racial dispossession. You couldn't find a better example of NATIVE BORN WHITE ECONOMIC AND RACIAL DISPOSSESSION THAN IN MIAMI!!!.Despites this obvious fact about NATIVE BORN WHITE ECONOMIC AND RACIAL L DISPOSSESSION IN SOUTH FLORIDA VDARE.COM WELCOMES WELCOMES ONE OF THE SPIC CUBAN CONQUISTADORS WITH OPEN ARMS.


Viv said...

Hiya, Jupes, nice to see you on good form.

Isn't Miami a big Jewish town? What's the ethnic make-up of the legislature down there?

josh said...

Barry Obama(OHNONOTHIMAGAIN!??!?)got most of his dough from 3 states:California,New Yawk and Florida. The jewish Axis of Evil!

Cato said...

David Brooks' Bobos in Paradise gets into this a little bit. The book is primarily about contemporary American elites, and one chapter discusses how, within the elites, the dichotomy between wealth and status can rear its head at times.

Within the elites, some jobs provide high status, but relatively low pay (some journalists, professorships, or nonprofit management jobs, for example) and others can provide fairly high pay but pretty low status (realtors and stockbrokers). When considering who comprises the elites, status trumps income.

Anonymous said...

Your perception of class as the pool of the potential marriage market is very much alive on college campuses, where mating instincts are a huge but quiet undercurrent to the social behaviors seen there. From a distance, the flagship UC campus (UCLA, Berkeley, Irvine) may seem to comprise of a large pool of upper-middle-class "diverse" students, all who seemingly have a chance to intermingle with each other. On closer examination, most campus social organizations are self-segregating and tend to break down along racial lines, especially in the Greek system, which is almost entirely white and may not mirror the actual student population racial makeup. Even then, houses break down along socioeconomic and religious lines, as in being "WASPy" or "Jewish" in flavor, and they tend to hold their mixers and parties with opposite-sex houses of the same cultural and socioeconomic flavor.

Anonymous said...

You seem to be on the right track here, but I'd like to remind you that marrying is not the only thing people do. Why not define Class as people who are likely to make business deals together, or likely to frequent the same entertainment venues, or read the same books (or TV or whatever in place of books)? Those are equally forward-looking definitions, and equally descriptive to my common sense. In fact it's a subtle distinction, because people who work together, visit the same entertainment, etc. ARE more likely to meet and marry... but such definitions seem a bit more practical.

tommy said...


By that definition, Jews, Amish, Hutterites, Yezidis, and other groups that don't intermarry are their own classes as well as ethnicities and maybe races.

Sailer's definition of race is very flexible, so you are right; you could define the Amish or the Yezidis as races. I think, however, that if you look at races as being "weak" or "strong" you'll see why some defined races are more useful than others.

A race's strength can be determined on two grounds:

(a) Group homogeneity: the degree to which individuals in the defined race share a number of common direct ancestors. Individuals of stronger races will have a greater number of shared ancestors among their members. Weaker races share both fewer common ancestors and will share less recent common ancestors. More heterogenous races will have a greater number of "in-law" relationships to amongst its members and are therefore weaker. You could define Hispanics as a race, but it wouldn't be a very strong race. A Spanish-speaking full-blooded Indian from Bolivia shares a relationship with an entirely white Argentinian only due to the existence of mestizos in the Hispanic population to whom both are distantly related. Hispanics are a stronger ethnicity than a race.

(b) Group exclusivity: the extent to which the defined race does not share ancestry with outsiders. Strong races will have fewer ancestors with other groups and whatever ancestry they do share will tend to be more remote. This is where groups like the Amish and Yezidis fail to be very strong races. While both display a high degree of group homogeneity, the Amish still share a lot of common ancestry with other Germans and the Yezidis share a lot of common ancestry with Muslim Kurds.

Anonymous said...

Don't make this more complicated than it really is.For whatever reason, Humans have a gut sense of their what racial/national community they belong to.

It is very easy to test this. If you are ENGLISH SPEAKING NATIVE BORN, go down to SPIC INFESTED MIAMI. You will know rather quickly that YOU are not among your OWN KIND.

Even most lefties and liberals live in largely lily WHITE COMMUNITIES.

Well known Lefty Alexander Cockburn lives in the WHITEST PART of California.

The SPIC CUBNA are occupying AMERICAN territory, by any means,whatever it takes throw them out of OUR AMERICA.


Anonymous said...

Let me put the obvious another way, human beings do not need a goddam PHD in anthropology to figure out the tribal core and boundaries.

Where does stand on SPIC CUBAN occupied MIAMI. Here is the most obvious examples of how AMERICAN territory has been lost to to a foriegn nation as a direct consequence of SPIC SPIC SPIC SPIC SPIC CUBAN LEGAl IMMIGRATION.

FOr ten years vdare .com has been silent about the SPIC SPIC SPIC SPIC SPIC SPIC SPIC SPIC CUBAM INVASION AND CONQUEST OF a major AMERICAN city.



RKU said...

Actually, I think Steve's definition of "race" falls prey to the some of the same weaknesses he has admitted to finding in his definition of "class."

Consider America in 1859. Since the vast majority of people back then tended to intermarry with the people of their own locality, we might be forced to admit that the North and the South represented different "races" (or perhaps groups of races). Thus, perhaps the Civil War as actually a "race war," perhaps explaining why it was so bloody and brutal.

tommy said...

Consider America in 1859. Since the vast majority of people back then tended to intermarry with the people of their own locality, we might be forced to admit that the North and the South represented different "races" (or perhaps groups of races). Thus, perhaps the Civil War as actually a "race war," perhaps explaining why it was so bloody and brutal.

Southern and northern whites at the time of the Civil War would have lacked both the homogeneity and exclusivity to be strong races. Both groups share a what is mostly a common broad northern European ancestry, so there isn't a great deal of exclusivity to begin with. Also both groups are internally heterogeneous due to the fact that each group had ancestors tracing from multiple locations in Europe (English, Dutch, Irish, Scottish, Scots-Irish, Germans, etc.). Also, anyone who had their origins in one part of the country and crossed to the other side of the Mason-Dixon and settled and married there (as did some of my very early German ancestors who traveled south over the course of a few generations) would have contributed to decreasing whatever limited exclusivity between the two groups existed.

Anonymous said...

A race war almost erupted in South Florida between NATIVE BORN WHITE AMERICANS AND THE SPIC CUBANS over the Elian Gonzalez incident.

Neither group engaged in boring wonk disscussion about tribal contours.



HOW MANY WHITE AMERICAN FAMILIES were harmed because of CUBAN SPIC economist GEORGE SPIC BORJAS testimony nearly two decades ago that was crucial to passing amnesty


ricpic said...

If you are upper middle class, or even if you've fallen out of the upper middle class, you can only have or hope to have a total human interaction with another member of the upper middle class. Oh, of course, you can have a bare bones functional conversation with say, an auto mechanic. But you can't talk to him. Not in the full sense of that term. Snobbish? So what. That's the way it is and always has been and always will be. As for SPICS -- Jesu Christos!

Anonymous said...

Is marrying within racial subgroups a positive?

For instance, are the offspring of a Nordic European and a Celtic European better looking, healthier, smarter than they would be if a Scandivian married a Spaniard instead of another Scandinavian?

What is the effect of a Chinaman having children with a Korean woman?

White America is an amalgamation of the European subraces, with Celts, Germanics, Scandinavians, Slavs etc mixing.

If marrying within subgroups is a positive, this might, might, might, give white Americans competitive advantages over Europeans.

Old Right

Anonymous said...

One of the odd aspects of this definition of class is that, in the US, race has become less and less a part of it over time. Where I live, with a large Chinese immigrant population, it's extremely common to see white/Chinese couples, and rather common to see white/black couples. That was *way* less common fifty years ago.

RKU said...

Yes, I obviously wasn't serious in suggesting that in 1859 e.g. New Englanders or Carolinians constituted a "race" in any useful or meaningful sense of that word. However, these groups were probably to a considerable extent "partially inbred extended families" so they might perhaps be (weak) perhaps "races" by Steve's definition...which was my exact point.

For a possibly stronger example, consider the Hatfields and McCoys. From what I've read of their clannishness and matrimonial habits, they would probably be pretty clear examples of "races" under that same definition, as would be any of the hundreds or thousands of tight little clans in e.g. today's Mid East.

So unless we want to multiple the number of distinct races in todays world into the tens of thousands or more, I'd argue the definition isn't very useful as it stands.

Anonymous said...


marx's class analysis was both objective (relation to means of production) and subjective (consciousness).

the fact that leaders of europe's social democratic parties partnered with their respective bourgeoisie and states in favor of war really meant no more than that these leaders suffered from opportunism and nationalism...neither of which negate the objective aspect of class.

same time, nationalisms trumped international class consciousness among the majority of the working class, which succesfully died for capital and empire.

tommy said...

White America is an amalgamation of the European subraces, with Celts, Germanics, Scandinavians, Slavs etc mixing.

If marrying within subgroups is a positive, this might, might, might, give white Americans competitive advantages over Europeans.

That's a big "if," of course. The biggest positive I always hear on behalf of mixed-race people comes down to simply looks. I think people tend to make more of somebody's mixed-race ancestry when they are good looking than when they are not. Part of that, of course, is simply that mixed race people look (surprise!) mixed and somebody has to explain what that mix happens to be, so it automatically gets more play. When a good-looking person is of nondescript ethnic background, few people raise any questions.

Take female musicians for example: if you think a mixed-race Mariah Carey is fairly attractive well, I hasten point out, so are those Irish sisters in The Corrs, and that Swedish lead singer of the Cardigans, all of whom are products of thoroughly unmixed backgrounds.

6345789 said...

For 'race' you should change partly inbred to largely. For class, you should not try to make the link, however clever, to your racial definition. Sometimes biological and cultural evolution ARE discrete.

Anonymous said...

"That's a big "if," of course."


As far as mixing among the European subgroups/subraces, perhaps it's too early to know what the advantages and disadvantages are until more research is done.

We don't know for example, why the Germanic peoples produced greater musicians than Spain, so we may not be able to say if a Spaniard having children with a German would produce any noticeable advantages or disadvantages.

It is not even clear if a Northern Italian having children with a Southern Italian is positive or negative.

One has to assume that a certain level of "outbreeding" is beneficient within subgroups, the question is what are the limits of marriage within a racial subgroup.

We should learn soon because travel has made it much easier for Europeans to have children outside their subrace with other Europeans.

Old Right

SFG said...

Almost by definition, lower classes don't know how to behave any other way than they do, or else they would behave like higher classes. Usually lower-class behavior is adaptive within the context of limited resources. Doesn't make sense for a construction worker to spend thousands of dollars on a bottle of wine.

Class tends to cut across races, I've found, at least at the upper levels. Look at all this white-Chinese intermarriage you see in big cities, while the ethnic communities at the bottom don't seem to mix so much.