Socioeconomic classes

Socioeconomic classes in the United States during 1800 to 1850 are best understood from three viewpoints, the northern states, southern states, and the frontier.

Each region of the country had varying views on socioeconomic classes. Each region also had three distinct classes which were elite, middleclass, and working class or poor. In the southern states slavery was prevalent as a socioeconomic class.

Elites and wealthy

Wealthy and elites in the United States during 1800 to 1850 enhanced their wealth. This was achieved by a fast growing economy.

Elites in the northern states had gained before the turn of the 19th century by trading goods such as sugar, tea, pepper, and other commodities like cotton. Most of the wealth accumulated by the elites was then given down to their children in the early part of the 19th century.

After the War of 1812 wealthy families began to expand their wealth once again. This time the elites used businesses like banking, shipping, and insurance to increase their wealth.

Northern elites formed marriages with other wealthy families to ensure more economic advantages. They also started to form networks to help promote the well-being of the elites.

Children of elite and wealthy families studied at private schools and continued on to university. They learned about history, law, economic issues, and the arts like playing the piano.

Wealthy families made sure their wealth passed from generation to generation. Women of elite families were in charge of teaching morality to their children, managing the household, and forming groups of elite women to form movements of change.

The southern elites were mainly plantation owners. The held large sections of land and had hundreds of slaves work the land.

They sold their goods mainly cotton, tobacco, indigo, and rice to trading companies. Most of these trading companies were owned by wealthy families in the northern states.

Children from wealthy southern families studied at home with private tutors. Instructors taught various subjects like history, reading and writing, and the arts like piano.

Some adult children from southern states went to university in the New England region. Women helped shape the moral character of their children. They also managed the household and servants.

Middle class

In the United States during 1800 to 1850 there was the rise of the middle class. These families increased their wealth in a variety of ways. Some artisans and merchants were able to own small factories and stores.

These families did not have the protections like the elite or wealthy families from falling backwards. They worked hard to improve their standing in the middle class.

The middle class families worked to instill discipline, morality, cleanliness, hard work, and education in their families. Children in the middle class did not work in factories. They were allowed to pursue education which included the arts like piano.

They also played games and owned toys. The games and toys were used to instill values to help them succeed in life. Middle class families started to limit the amount of children they had in the house.

Children no longer helped gain money for household and instilling values of education and hard work prevailed.

Middle class women did not work outside of the home. They were in charge of helping form the moral character in their children needed to succeed. Women were in charge of the everyday life in the household.

They would purchase goods, help servants at times, and bring stability to middle class men. These actions helped prove to neighbors that the family was educated, worked hard, and were financially secure.

The middle class was also prone to be anti-slavery. Slavery was not a symbol of hard work and dignity.

They viewed slavery very different than the elite who profited from slave trade and slave labor in the southern states. The middle class supported temperance of alcohol and were a leading force behind the Temperance Movement that started in the latter stages of the Second Great Awakening.

Working class or poor

With the rise of industrialization in the United States from 1800 to 1850 working class families formed their own identities.

Working class people lived in separate neighborhoods away from managers or bosses. The rapid wealth created by industrialization did not benefit the working class like the elite or middle class.

Working class families tried hard to be seen as middle class. But in most cases the financial necessities made women go to work usually in their homes. Women washed laundry or learned how to make money at home making goods like clothes.

Children were needed to help the family make money. Many children went to work in factories at a young age. They did not usually go to school. They may attend school for a couple of years and learned how to read and write at church on Sundays.

Working class people did not form clubs or associations to help them. Instead, working class people would gather together in local taverns.

Here they discussed politics, work, and family. They also consumed alcohol which many middle class families who owned factories did not like.

In the southern states working class families were farmers or share croppers. These people would live off the land and the crops they cultivated.

They learned how to trade with one another for goods and services. Most share croppers were poor because they rented their land from large plantations.

economy Growth in USA
economy Growth in USA

Important facts about Socioeconomic Class in the United States from 1800 to 1850

  • From 1800 to 1850 there were three distinct socioeconomic classes in the United States. They were elite or wealthy, middle class, and working class.
  • Each of the socioeconomic classes was different in the northern states and the southern states.
  • The elite in northern states gained their wealth from business like trade companies, insurance, banking, and inheritance. The southern elite were plantation owners who claimed their wealth in land holdings and slaves.
  • Middle class families gained wealth from owning a small factory or were merchants. The middle class valued hard work, morality, and cleanliness.
  • Middle class families were active in the Abolition and Temperance Movements of the latter stages of the Second Great Awakening.
  • Working class families put everyone to work. Children did not usually go to school more than a few years. Children worked in factories at young ages. Women worked in the home washing clothes for money or making goods.
  • Working class families in the southern states were farmers or share croppers. The paid rent to plantation owners for the use of the land. They tried to be self-sufficient.
  • There was little opportunity for upward advancement for working class families.


What were the three main socioeconomic classes in the United States from 1800 to 1850?
Elite, middle class, and working class

What two movements did middle class families support during the latter stages of the Second Great Awakening?
Temperance and Abolition Movements

Where did most children in working class families work starting at a young age?

How did the elite families in the southern states gather their wealth?
Plantations and slaves

What five values did middle class families support?
Hard work, cleanliness, morality, discipline, and education