Presentation on theme: "Part III: Social Inequality. Stratification is the division of society into classes that have unequal amounts of wealth, power, and prestige. The members."— Presentation transcript:
Stratification is the division of society into classes that have unequal amounts of wealth, power, and prestige. The members of each particular social class hold similar amounts of scarce resources and share values, norms, and an identifiable lifestyle. Karl Marx and Max Weber made the most significant early contributions to the study of social stratification. Marx explained the importance of the economic foundations of social classes, while Weber emphasized the prestige and power aspects of stratification.
Each of the three major theoretical perspectives explains stratification of society in a different way. According to functionalists, stratification assures that the most qualified people fill the most important positions, that these people perform their tasks competently, and that they are rewarded for the efforts. Inequality exists because some jobs are more important than others and often involve special talent and training. The conflict theory states that inequality exists because some people are willing to exploit others— stratification is based on force rather than people voluntarily agreeing to it. Symbolic interactionism focuses on how people are socialized to accept the existing stratification system.
Sociologists have identified several social classes in the United States—the upper class, the middle class, the working class, the working poor, and the underclass. Most Americans think of themselves as middle class; in reality, however, only about 40 to 50 percent of Americans actually fit this description.
Poverty is widespread throughout the United States, with African Americans, Latinos, women, and children making up a disproportionately large percentage of the poor. In recent years, welfare reform has been undertaken. While it has succeeded in reducing the number of people receiving welfare, most of its former recipients hold low-paying jobs and continue to live in poverty.
Social mobility, the movement of people between social classes, is usually measured by changes in occupational status. Social mobility can be horizontal or vertical; sociologists are most interested in vertical mobility. Societies are classified as having either caste or open-class systems depending on the degree of social mobility that is possible. Although the United States provides considerable opportunities for advancement, great leaps in social-class level are rare.
Sociologists have developed specific definitions and characteristics to differentiate the terms minority, race, and ethnicity. A minority is a group of people with physical or cultural traits different from those of the dominant group in society. A race is people who share certain inherited physical characteristics that are considered important within a society. An ethnic group is one identified by cultural, religious, or national characteristics. Negative attitudes toward ethnic minorities exist in part because of ethnocentrism.
Generally, minority groups are either accepted by a society—which leads to assimilation, or they are rejected—which leads to conflict. Patterns of assimilation in the United States include Anglo-conformity, melting pot, cultural pluralism, and accommodation. Three basic patterns of conflict are subjugation, population transfer, and genocide—the most extreme form of conflict.
To a sociologist, prejudice refers to widely held preconceptions of a group and its individual members. It involves a generalization based on biased or insufficient information. Racism is an extreme form of prejudice. Prejudice usually leads to discrimination. Functionalists recognize that by fostering prejudice, a dominant group can create a feeling of superiority over minority groups and thus strengthen its own members' self concepts. According to conflict theorists, a majority uses prejudice and discrimination as weapons of power to control a minority. Symbolic interactionists believe that members of a society learn to be prejudiced.
Minorities in the United States continue to suffer from what sociologists call institutionalized discrimination. This type of discrimination results from unfair practices that are part of the structure of society and that have grown out of traditional, accepted behavior. It has caused some racial and ethnic groups to lag behind the white majority in jobs, income, and education. Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and white ethnics are the largest minority groups in the United States.
All societies expect people to behave in certain ways based on their gender. Sociologists are part of an ongoing debate over whether biology or socialization plays a greater role in gender differences. Most argue that gender-related behavior is not primarily the result of biology, but rather that through socialization, members of a society acquire an awareness of themselves as masculine or feminine.
Since functionalists argue that any pattern of behavior that does not benefit society will eventually disappear, they believe that the division of responsibilities between males and females survived because it benefited human living. They recognize that today, however, the traditional division has created dysfunctions for society. Conflict theory looks at the reasons why gender differences continue to exist. They see traditional gender roles as outdated and inappropriate for the industrial and postindustrial era. Symbolic interactionists focus on the process of gender socialization.
Although significant progress has been made, women continue to be subject to prejudice and discrimination—or sexism. Women face occupational and economic inequality, and various laws even show a bias against women. Women also hold a relatively small proportion of important political positions.
The relatively low regard for older people in American society is based on ageism — a set of beliefs, attitudes, norms, and values used to justify prejudice and discrimination against a certain age group. According to functionalists, elderly people are treated according to the role the aged play in a particular society. For conflict theorists, competition over scarce resources lies at the heart of ageism—elderly people compete with other age groups for economic resources, power, and prestige. Symbolic interactionists believe that negative images of older people are products of socialization just as are other aspects of culture.
Large segments of America's elderly live either in poverty or near poverty. Given their limited economic resources, any power held by older people is gained through the political process—particularly voting and political interest groups.