Monthly Archives: June 2007

Does economic class impact behavior?

i took the Bart train from San Francisco to Berkeley the other day. When I got on in downtown San Francisco, I noticed that most of the seats were taken by high school kids from one of the more expensive private schools in the city, while most of the people standing were older adults. I thought about growing up in New York, and being taught that if an older person got on the train and I was sitting down that I needed to relinquish my seat and let the older person sit.

As I looked around I saw an older man with a cane standing and holding on to a pole to maintain balance while a kid about 15 sat in the seat below him that was marked for disabled and elderly riders. I was irritated and then angry as the train moved somewhat erratically while the man with the cane struggled to stay on his feet and not fall. I bent over and very politely asked the young man if he realized that he was sitting in the seat reserved for the elderly and the disabled at which point he looked up and said “Why, do you want it?” I replied “no, but this man has a cane”. Scowling at me, he got up and let the man with the cane sit down. As the man thanked me, other people standing smiled and gave me a thumbs up.

I realized that my my first reaction had been surprise that here were kids who were probably from affluent families and who attended one of the most expensive schools in the areas and none of them thought to let other people who were older or disabled sit down.
There is a common assumption amongst many people that coming from a more affluent family automatically equals empathy, social skills and social graces. It is not the presence of money or the lack of money that teaches kids how to act. Positive social behavior stems from the values, and attitudes passed down from parents, and other influential adults, as does negative social behavior.