Social class in consumer behaviour

Social Class in Consumer Behaviour Characteristics, Determinants, Influences

Table of Contents:-

  1. Meaning of Social Class in Consumer Behaviour
  2. Characteristics of Social Class
  3. Determinants of Social Class
  4. Social Sub-Class Categories
  5. Influences of Social Class on Consumer Behaviour

Meaning of Social Class

Social Class in Consumer Behaviour refers to the significant influence of socioeconomic stratification on individuals’ purchasing patterns and preferences. The social class involves the division of society into classes, generally influenced by factors arranged in a status class hierarchy. Members within a given class share comparable status, while those in different classes may possess varying degrees of status. It is a social division in which the members have the same degree of money, power and status. Therefore, social class categorizes members and groups based on achieved respect, reputation, material well-being, and accumulated wealth. It can be a specific category of this type of stratification.

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One could perceive a social class as a gradient, with each person positioned based on their class along a range of social positions. Many research studies have divided this spectrum into distinct social classes or strata. Within this framework, researchers sort individuals or families into various classes. In addition to the importance of social class for sociological theories, the concept of class as a group of people with similar economic backgrounds is also important for a country’s census and social mobility.

Characteristics of Social Class

The following sentences expound upon the traits of social class:

1) Multidimensional

Since social classes are based upon several elements, it is multi-dimensional. Determining them involves more than just considering people’s occupation or income; instead, they often involve connections or relationships with multiple factors. Marketers should know that these variables are reliable for use as substitutes.

2) Hierarchical

Social class is hierarchical having a vertical order ranging from high to low status. People’s status within a specific class determines their placement on the social class scale.

3) Restrict Behaviour

Since a large number of people find support from people of similar values and behavioural patterns, collaboration among different social classes becomes restricted. As a result, people of similar social classes are more likely to associate themselves with other people of the same class and stay away from people belonging to other social classes. This is because people of similar classes have the same educational backgrounds, income, occupation and lifestyle. This restricted interaction acts as a hurdle in interpersonal communication among different social classes regarding marketing components.

4) Homogeneous

Social class is a homogeneous partition of society. In every partition, people within a particular class have similar interests, opinions, attitudes, and behavioural patterns. Specific communities of people are the focus of similar pricing strategies, media, shop patterns, and marketing techniques. The marketer can use this homogeneity of social class to segment the market and develop effective marketing strategies.

5) Dynamic

Open systems are the social stratification system under which people share opportunities for moving upward or downward along the social class. On the other side, in closed systems, people have inherited status, which means that they are born and brought up in one social class and are unable to go out of it. Therefore, differentiating between systems based on inherited status and those based on other factors is important for understanding social mobility.

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Determinants of Social Class

Determinants of social class are as follows:

1) Income

Income serves as a socio-economic variable that helps position individuals or families within the social class hierarchy. Various research studies have also considered income as an important element for measuring the social class of a person, which includes both the amount and the source of income. Such studies suggest that income is the best-measuring element to assess the level of leisure consumption of the group in specific activities (like snow skiing, basketball, table tennis or golf).

Findings regarding wealth have emerged from a recent study conducted to reveal insights in this area, following are the findings in this regard:

i) Wealth is the main motive behind economic/financial independence. It is the wealth, not income which acts as a function of saving. Therefore, to increase wealth, an individual should increase his/her net worth along with income.

ii) Wealth is different from money, as it is related to the formation of resources. On the other hand, money is related to the consumption of resources.

iii) To increase wealth, people try to build relationships as they help in acquiring the information required for the creation of wealth.

iv) Individuals trying to increase their wealth should minimise their tax liability as it reduces the ability to create wealth.

2) Occupation

The occupational reputation or prestige associated with the occupation of a person also indicates his/her socio-economic position. Occupational prestige here refers to the value of a job perceived by other people. Various individuals assign a subjective assessment to a job. Social research involves asking people to rank occupations according to their preferences to evaluate the prestige linked with them. Such a ranking helps in assessing the worthiness of a job as perceived by the people.

The professions like doctor, judge, professor, lawyer, etc., receive the topmost ranking. The occupations of an insurance agent, electrician and police officer receive the middle ranking, while the occupations of a garbage picker, maid, security guard, or cobbler, etc., receive the lowest ranking. Though, the ranking does not depict the worthiness of individuals performing their you yet, shows the perception of people regarding the value attached to occupations.

3) Education

The last main indicator of socioeconomic status is the level of education. The standard method of measurement involves calculating it through the time spent obtaining a formal education degree. The prevailing belief is that the longer one invests in education, the higher their social class ascends.

It’s worth noting that the level of education acquired to obtain the job significantly influences occupational prestige. A commonly held belief is that occupational prestige is directly proportional to the higher education level required for a job.

Social Sub-Class Categories

There are the following social class categories:

1) Upper-Upper Class

This class is prosperous, noble and landowning. It plays the role of a reference group for the other social classes. However, due to its small size, it does not form a major group of society. It represents the most appropriate target group for niche marketing.

2) Lower-Upper Class

Members of this group, characterized by recently gained wealth, have secured their financial success and accomplishments through considerable endeavour. This section consists of professionals such as lawyers, doctors, engineers, and successful entrepreneurs from the first generation. Companies often direct their marketing efforts towards selling luxury items to this group.

3) Upper-Middle Class

It is a social class consisting of highly paid people who are successful in their professions. For example, the Upper-Middle Class category includes managers, professors, administration executives, elite or intellectual individuals, and owners of medium-sized business enterprises. All these aspirants are projected to achieve success in their professional lives. All of them have received professional education. These people are class-conscious and lay emphasis on maintaining a decent lifestyle by owning attractive accommodations and possessing visually appealing products.

4) Lower-Middle Class

This class consists of ordinary men and well-paid individual workers. They are either small business owners or non-administrative workers. The people falling in this group usually have acquired a high school education or college degree, but are not able to attain higher positions in their business or workplace.

5) Working Class

This class constitutes the largest segment of society. It consists of unskilled or semi-skilled workers (blue-collar workers) who have just enough money to buy consumer goods. This group alongwith the middle-class group forms the major section of the target group for selling consumer goods. It’s worth noting that within these groups, there exists the possibility of over-privileged or under-privileged members, depending on whether their income surpasses or falls short of the average income of that specific social class. Marketers direct their attention towards the middle class and working-class groups, which constitute a major portion of society, for the sale of most consumer goods.

Influences of Social Class on Consumer Behaviour

Both the income level and the social class individuals belong to or desire to be a part of affect their consumer behaviour. Furthermore, studies have revealed that individuals within identical social classes typically choose to live in similar localities. The variation in class is evident through the difference in consumption behaviour. In reality, materialistic societies measure the worthiness of people based on their wealth and assets. The social class of individuals determines their eating habits, food preferences recreational activities, education level, purchase habits, place of vacation, etc.

Power, reputation and affluence are easily accessible by the people of the upper-upper class. This group has a broad availability of income in their hands. Therefore, they serve as target customers for marketers dealing in designer clothing, luxury goods, foreign vacation trips, etc. Since this group serves as a reference group for the other social classes, it is often used in advertising to create aspirational value among other classes Conversely, the people belonging to the lower upper class try to copy the refined lifestyle of the upper-upper class people. Therefore, this group utilizes luxury products for conspicuous consumption, that is, to demonstrate or attract attention.

Catering to Diverse Socio-Economic Groups

As the name suggests, people belonging to the upper middle class are moderately successful as they aim at earning incomes with the help of respectable careers and do not aim at creating wealth, However, this group continuously aim to move to the upper class and, picks up the products accordingly. The lower middle-class people desire to attain acceptability and respect in society. Therefore, their consumption pattern is also decided similarly. People belonging to the upper and lower classes have limited resources to meet their existing needs. Thus, instead of copying the behaviours of higher-class people, they focus on creating value within their class. At the last, people belonging to the lower-lower class are interested only in purchasing goods which could be beneficial and can help in solving their day-to-day problems, Hence, this class adopts a straightforward approach.

Strategic Utilization by Marketers

Marketers recognize the significance of social class in consumer behaviour and utilize it to tailor marketing strategies and product offerings that resonate with distinct socio-economic groups. By understanding the values and motivations associated with different social classes, businesses can effectively target their desired audience and create meaningful connections.

Characteristics and Consumption Patterns of Social Classes

Table: Social Classes their Characteristics and Consumption Pattern

Class Distinguishing Characteristics Dominant Consumption Pattern
Upper-Upper This group buys luxurious products but follows a tactful and conventional spending style. It involves elite members of society like aristocrats, top industrialists, etc., who have inherited reputation and wealth from their family background. This group spend money on building property, homes, children’s education, foreign vacations and buying luxury vehicles and jewellery.
Lower-Upper Top professional entrepreneurs who have acquired money by earning themselves, instead of inheriting it. They usually try to possess things which would reflect their status. The professionals belong to the middle class and have values of a respectable lifestyle, traditionalism; and stress on acquiring quality education. Their consumption style is tactful and cautious.
Upper -Middle This group is not brand-conscious. Their major possessions are a black and white television tape recorder, gas stove, and fans. Most of these purchases are made on credit due to a lack of sufficient amounts of money. The professionals belong to the middle class and have values of a respectable lifestyle, traditionalism; and stress on acquiring quality education. Their consumption style is tactful and cautious.
Lower-Middle This group spends a lot on luxurious home décor and on providing the best education to their children. The other areas of expenditure are five-star hotels, home appliances, imported cars, etc. This group spend a lot of time exploring the market to crack the best deal. Most of their investment is in consumer durables like two-wheelers, coloured TVs, refrigerators, etc.
Upper-Lower They do not even understand the meaning of brand value and can buy only local products. They can afford to buy only the things of necessity. This group is comparatively less educated and involves semi-skilled workers who are employed in factories They form the largest section of the society. Security is considered very important for them. They often make impulsive purchasing decisions and show very little brand loyalty.
Lower-Lower These individuals are usually uneducated and cover the lowest class of society. They work as unskilled workers and live from hand to mouth, without room for future planning This group is not brand-conscious. Their major possessions are a black and white television tape recorder, gas stove, and fans. Most of these purchases are made on credit due to a lack of sufficient amounts of money.


Social class in consumer behaviour refers to the profound influence of socioeconomic stratification on individuals’ purchasing patterns and preferences. It is determined by factors like income, education, and occupation, which influence consumer behaviour by shaping perceptions, aspirations, and lifestyle preferences. Therefore, People naturally align themselves with a particular social class, and this affiliation significantly impacts their consumption decisions.

Recognizing the paramount importance of social class in consumer behaviour, astute marketers leverage this knowledge to tailor their marketing strategies and product offerings to resonate with distinct socio-economic groups. By comprehending the values and motivations associated with different social classes, businesses can effectively target their desired audience and forge meaningful connections.

Moreover, this invaluable insight empowers companies to develop products and services that cater specifically to the unique needs and aspirations of particular social class segments. Consequently, customer engagement and loyalty are greatly enhanced, as individuals feel understood and valued by brands that genuinely comprehend their desires.

Social class in consumer behaviour

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