Here is a great source of global maps for sociology instructors. Lots of variables to pick from and neat maps as a result:
This complements the following from Sociological Images:
Personally, I blame Max Weber and his protestant ethic where one’s station in life is a reflection of one’s moral worth. Americans, with their underlying puritan Calvinism, tend to interpret every type of social phenomena as equivalent to moral standing hence the lack of serious redistribution mechanisms accompanied with almost exclusively punitive policies, as Loic Wacquant has demonstrated: prisonfare for men, workfare for women.
Another extension of that idea is social Darwinism: the rich are rich because they are the superior people. How do we know they are superior? Because they are rich. So, let’s just ignore the circular reasoning here. The social standing as symbol of moral worth goes a long way to explaining the reluctance to engage with the notion of class and class-based issues, or even to deny the existence or relevance of class (to the benefit of individualist conceptions).
If you think about it, this is at the heart of Matt Taibbi’s scathing shredding of David Brooks, which represents the latest incarnation of Randoid libertarianism: only the rich create wealth so we have to allow them to break the rules otherwise, they might go Galt.
Which means, of course, that ultimately, people like Brooks do not believe in meritocracy at all (they’re social Darwinist Randoids who believe in the innate superiority of some people over others) but hold it up as useful myth.