About Face: Seeing Class and Race


Social class, and perceptions of one’s social class, can significantly affect one’s life opportunities and outcomes. While certain personal characteristics have been shown to be able to be gleaned upon first impressions, little research has explored whether social class is, too. This study, forthcoming in the March 2022 issue of the Journal of Economic Issues, assesses whether individuals are accurate in perceiving class (both in terms of wealth and income status) across different racial and ethnic groups from facial cues alone.

Key Findings

  • Participants were able to accurately understand and comprehend the meaning of income, but not of wealth. However, participants could still accurately assess wealth ranges as “high” or “low.”
  • On average, participants were able to assess class of the photographed individuals, based on facial cues alone, more accurately than random guessing.
    • Asian “target” individuals were categorized correctly most frequently (72%), followed by Latinx targets (64%), White targets (61%) and Black targets (57%).
  • However, participants are uniquely inaccurate when determining the class status of high-income / high-wealth Black and Latinx individuals.
    • High-income Black and Latinx individuals were correctly identified less than one-third of the time.

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