The unique tensions of couples who marry across classes

When it comes to attitudes about work, Streib draws some particularly interesting conclusions about her research subjects. She finds that people who were raised middle-class are often very diligent about planning their career advancement. They map out long-term plans, meet with mentors, and take specific steps to try to control their career trajectories. People from working-class backgrounds were no less open to advancement, but often were less actively involved in trying to create opportunities for themselves, preferring instead to take advantage of openings when they appeared.

When these people wound up in cross-class marriages, those from middle-class backgrounds often found themselves trying to push working-class spouses to adopt different models for career advancement—encouraging them to pursue additional education, be more self-directed in their careers, or actively develop and nurture the social networks that can often be critical to occupational mobility. But Streib finds that while working-class partners may have appreciated their middle-class spouses’ advice, they usually only followed it in times of crisis.

According to Streib, this illustrates the difficulty of transferring cultural capital. Unlike social capital, which involves relationships—think a family friend who can help arrange a job at a prestigious law firm—cultural capital involves being familiar with tastes, preferences, and behaviors that are normative in a given setting.