Class and Status within Imperial Society
Imperial society is highly stratified between Highborn Citizens, and those of lower statuses.
The Highborn are the result of a system of peerages and hereditary rights granted over thousands of years of Imperial history. The Imperium enshrines and romanticises its Highborn Citizens in its art and media, and attributes many military victories to their number. This ‘nobility’ is wealthy and powerful; some of them resemble ancient nobles directly, while others are more like the Chief Executives of powerful corporations.
The only souls within the Imperium who can claim to command equal respect from all citizens as the Highborn do, are Members of the Ecclesiarchy , the Machine Cult, Imperial Military Officers (who are almost always Highborn anyway) and the posthuman angels of death that are the near-mythological Astartes.
Beneath the Highborn are Lowborn Humans making up the serving, middle and working class of the Imperium. Most Lowborn are born without money; the Imperium prefers to reward labour with the basic necessities of living rather than providing the freedom to its citizens that being paid Imperial coinage would give them. Those Lowborn who wish to accumulate wealth legitimately must do so through great effort, either having enough talent to operate successful small business, entering the employment of the Adeptus Terra or a Noble House, or surviving military service in the Imperial Guard or the Imperial Navy. Because of the difficulty with getting out of the position they are born to, many lowborn who do want to escape turn to crime as a result of this – though few Highborn families, generations later, will admit to beginning as a street gang.
Because getting employment or passing Guard selection is difficult and crime very often comes hand-in-hand with a short lifespan, most Lowborn opt not to challenge the status quo or dream of something bigger. The Imperium supports this; Lowborn who keep their heads down and slave away at whatever job they are assigned largely feel protected by the Imperium. While they are neglected, and often overlooked, the Imperium does provide for them, and keeps them alive and safe from the greater threats of the galaxy.
Beneath the Lowborn are Abhumans and Mutants. The Imperium is incredibly puritanical about the genetic purity of its citizens, and while artificial augmentation of humans has occurred in its past, deviation from the genetic norm of humankind is considered abominable. To this end, any human judged to be significantly abnormal genetically can find themselves persecuted and relegated to a subhuman status from which there is no escape.