Status plays a decisive role in the formation of personality at the various stages of
development, for if young people are to learn to live adaptively as mature people in
our society they must be trained by the informal controls of our society to fit into
their places.
—W. Lloyd Warner, 1949∞
Cultural History: One Big Middle Class?
The professionalization of a particular occupation, real estate brokerage,
provides a window into broader processes of middle class formation and
identification in twentieth-century America. While it might be an exaggera-
tion to assert that America had literally become a ‘‘nation of realtors,’’ as the
historian Robert Binkeley did in 1929, the metaphor was nonetheless apt.≤
The Realtor, Binkeley argued, ‘‘makes that characteristic [American] com-
bination of definitely known practical fact with vaguely felt and distant ideal
. . . He is both prophet and business man.’’ The rise of the Realtors was a
paradigmatic case in the history of the new twentieth-century American
middle class. The Realtors drew on a wide range of discourses—gender ideals,
notions about property and propriety, social science concepts, racial ideolo-
gies—to construct a new middle-class identity that irrevocably blurred the
boundaries between professional and entrepreneur.
By 1940 the boundaries of the category ‘‘middle class’’ had become so
capacious that virtually every American thought he—or she—belonged to it.
From the mid-1930s onward, American identity itself was largely cast in terms
of membership in one big ‘‘middle class.’’ In 1939 the Gallup Poll found that
more than three-quarters of the American public saw themselves as members
of the middle class, even in the midst of the Great Depression; moreover, a
significant number of Americans identified themselves as middle class even
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