Cognitive models of class structure and explanations of social outcomes



In this paper we argue that people's explanations of a wide range of social outcomes occur within a framework of expectations derived from beliefs about the pervasive influence of social class on individuals' life-chances. This claim is tested by examining the effect of varying the social class origins of vignette characters on judgments and explanations concerning their outcomes. Four domains of social activity are examined: occupational attainment, educational achievement, relationship success, and unemployment. In all of these areas, the class background of the characters was found to be associated with different outcome expectations, future expectations, judgments of responsibility and differences in the ways in which outcomes were explained. The results are consistent with the claim that people have cognitive models in which social class background is associated with particular social outcomes across a range of activities, and that these models are reasonably accurate representations of the relationships between social class and life-chances. This suggests that contrary to theories which have stressed the individualistic nature of belief systems in western societies, social class forms an important part of the popular representation of the influences on occupational, educational and relationship success.