Outline and Explain Two Ways in which Consumption may be Affected by Social Class (10)

This 10 mark question came up on the November 2021 A-level sociology exam paper (AQA), here I provide an elaborated answer based on the guidance in the mark scheme.

In a 10 mark question without the item you are expected to fully discuss any of the two ways/ reasons/ criticisms mentioned in the question. You have to analyse (e.g. show the logical links between points/ pick up on differences) but there are no specific marks for evaluation (although some analytical points may be evaluative in nature!).

NB this isn’t a complete answer, just some thoughts on how you might approach this question.

How is consumption affected by social class?

The mark scheme suggests the following:

  • popular, mass, high and folk cultures and social class
  • differences between social classes in leisure opportunities and choices
  • financial resources for consumption
  • time considerations because of work commitments
  • expectations about what it is acceptable for different social classes to consume
  • conspicuous consumption
  • taste as a symbol of identity.

How to answer this question using the bullet points…

You need to pick up on the two bits of the question, in this case ‘social class’ and ‘consumption’ and then draw the links between them… you are looking for two differences between social class that lead to two differences in consumption.

Actually it’s not a bad idea to quickly do a list in note form like the above, and then your ‘two ways’ can just be fusing these bullets together, that way you are guaranteed to include more concepts and theories and show the links between them.

Looking at the list above I’d personally pick material differences between social classes and then cultural/ social norm differences, so your two ways are:

  • Social class, money and consumption differences
  • Social class, culture (norms and values) and consumption differences

Social class, money and differences in consumption

  • People lower down the social class scale have less money so are less able to engage in more expensive forms of conspicuous consumption.
  • Whereas those with more money are more likely to engage in consumption of expensive clothes and cars to display their wealth and perceived higher status.
  • This may have the effect of pushing consumption of culture more into the private realm for the poor – out of a sense of shame, whereas in the public realm what we tend to see is the more affluent side of consumption of culture.
  • Lower incomes also means those lower down the social class scale have to work longer hours to survive meaning they have less leisure time to engage in consumption, possibly meaning leisure is more passive rather than active.

Social class, cultural differences and differences in consumption

  • Lower social classes possess less cultural and social capital than higher classes.
  • This means children growing up have less knowledge about high culture (classical music and so on) and are less likely to know people who work in the high cultural arts (lack of social capital) .
  • They thus have less access to such cultural products and so are less likely to want to consume them.
  • In contrast the elite class actively encourage their children to consume high culture from a young age, and these people are more likely to grow up and into consuming such products.
  • The fact that high culture is very much upper-middle class may actually act as a further barrier to working class kids and adults wanting to consume it.
  • Lower social class groups are more likely to consume popular or mass culture because it is much more accessible (and cheaper).
  • A Marxist take on this is that the lower classes are being pacified by mass culture, although postmodernists would rather see this as still a matter of choice.
  • Those from higher classes invested in high culture may look down on popular culture and see it as inferior, thus avoid consuming it for this reason, believing their high culture products to be indicative superior taste.

Sources and signposting

For advice on how to approach the sociology exams please see my page on exams advice.

To return to the homepage – revisesociology.com

Sources: AQA Paper 2: Topics in Sociology Mark Scheme.

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