One of the first things that one encounters when studying developing societies is the existence of a mammoth class divide. A key proposition of development economics is that as countries move towards a greater degree of development, the distribution of wealth becomes more and more equitable.

While this statement may or may not be true in the realm of economics, it would be worth exploring whether or not its effects are true in society. The United States is certainly an economically developed country and its distribution of wealth is more equitable than most developing countries. But how does that bear out in societies? Specifically, is there a class divide? And if there is, can we see one at Georgetown?

As somebody who has lived on both sides of a very wide class divide, I hope to be able to offer some insights on the issue. To answer the above questions we must determine whether or not students self-segregate based upon socioeconomic background. We must also look at how students of different backgrounds interact.

Georgetown, by virtue of its need-blind admissions policy, manages to attract students from most of the economic strata in the United States and a significant segment of the world spectrum as well. Yet once these students get here, they seem to have very different experiences. Hoyas from the richest backgrounds can afford to spend their time doing intellectually or professionally rewarding internships that pay very little or nothing. Students from less privileged households are more likely to do mundane jobs that pay better, just so that they can support themselves financially and take some of the burden off their parents.

This is not to say that all students fall into neat little categories, and it is true that many of the poorest students also take on unpaid internships and many wealthier students do odd jobs. However, the fact remains that for many in the lowest socioeconomic stratum, there is little choice as to what they can do.

This difference in opportunities exists despite the fact that everybody at Georgetown has similar educational levels. Whether or not it results in lower income levels after graduation is something that I shall not even try to speculate upon, but it remains true that one’s parents’ income does have a bearing on what opportunities one can take advantage of at Georgetown, or at least what one has to give up in order to pursue those opportunities.

Daddy’s net worth also has an effect on where one shops. This may be obvious, but its effects are quite interesting. My friends once took me shopping. Being of the wealthier persuasion, they began perusing through stores such as Lacoste, Banana Republic, Zara, etc. Being used to paying around $20 for the most expensive item of clothing I own, I was unwilling to shell out the prices charged at these stores. My Third World origins afford me the luxury of buying clothes straight from the sweatshop, but I began to wonder: “What if I were an American? Where would I shop?” The answer, of course, is places like Wal-Mart and Costco, outlets from which my rich friends would be hesitant to purchase anything.

This then begs the question: if people from different backgrounds shop in different areas and pursue different employment and internship opportunities, then would it be logical, at least for somebody from the Third World, to assume that people self-segregate themselves by economic class. And yet, that is the exact opposite of what I observed.

In developing societies, if one person wore Ralph Lauren and someone else were to sport Old Navy, they would have little in common. In fact, the former would probably look down upon the latter. Yet here, my friends drive expensive cars, and I don’t even have a license. Still, there is not even a hint of contempt on their part of my poverty.

In fact, my roommate, an American of a middle-class background who has lived in South Asia, laughed off the idea of a class divide being irrelevant. While the New York Times might beg to differ – in light of its 2005 series detailing the matter – it is certainly true that a class divide in the United States, if it exists, is not nearly as bad as it is in Asia or Africa, where elites often speak different languages and are so cut off from their nations’ proletariats that they cannot relate to them on any level. In this country, people may live differently, but none dares say to another: “I am better than you.”

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