Social class has been a part of culture since they started burying all those important things with the dead. Life had to come first of course, and your social position had to do with lots of things held valuable to those in the community. Iron weapons, chariots, swords, gold, silver, drinking cups, and all sorts of things were valued and buried with the folks who needed a little extra help to make it in the afterlife.
The figure to the right shows an outline of the social class in England around 1650. Here, social class was an accepted phenomena in life, and your beginning "class" was rarely changed. The "poor" held down one end of the social chain, and the "peerage" the other end. In a broad general sense, there were the "laborer", "merchant/trader", "yomen", and "knight" forming the other links in the chain of social order.
From infancy to adult life, the expected activities were organized. "Infancy" = birth to approximately 5 years of age; "Primary Education" = usually at 5-6 years lasting to age 13-15 years; "Apprentice" or "Secondary Education" [depending on social class] begin after this. The "Apprentice" generally started around age 10-11, and was sent to live with the owner of a trade. On average, these lasted roughly seven years. "Secondary Education" generally began around 13-15 years of age and included years at Oxford/Cambridge, and the "Inns of Court". For the male, adult life would then be considered appropriate. Thus, for the genealogist dealing with family during this period, roughly 1400 - 1700, a social structure can be applied. Many times, this approach has helped me around the brick wall.
The main source for this summary is:
Laslett, P., The World We Have Lost, England Before the Industrial Age, 2nd Edition, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971.
Reed, M., The Age of Exuberance 1550-1700, The Making of Britain, Routledg & Kegan Paul, London, 1986.
Howell, W.S., Logic and Rhetoric in England, 1500-1700, Russell & Russell, NY, 1956.