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Stratification Studying Social Stratification What is stratification? How does stratification affect a person’s life chances? Who gets ahead and why? Who are the rich? Who are the poor? Social Stratification

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studying social stratification
Studying Social Stratification
  • What is stratification?
  • How does stratification affect a person’s life chances?
  • Who gets ahead and why?
  • Who are the rich? Who are the poor?
social stratification
Social Stratification

“The division of a large group or society into ranked categories of people, each of which enjoys different levels of access to scare and valued resources.”




social stratification4
Social Stratification
  • Hierarchy of social groups based on control over resources.
  • Sociologists examine social groups that make up the hierarchy in a society to determine how inequalities persist over time.
    • Inequality is found in every society.
social stratification and life chances
Social Stratification and Life Chances
  • Access to resources such as food, clothing, shelter, education, and health care.
  • Affluent people typically have better life chances because they have greater access to:
    • quality education
    • safe neighborhood
    • nutrition and health care
    • police protection
social stratification and life chances6
Social Stratification and Life Chances

When the Titanic sank in 1912, 60 percent of the first class survived, compared with 40 percent of the second class and only 25 percent of the third.

legitimating stratification
Legitimating Stratification


  • A belief that legitimates the patterns of social interaction and organization
    • Classism
      • The idea that the capitalist system of the United States offers, if not completely equal opportunity to achieve success, at least sufficiently equal opportunity so that everyone who works hard has an excellent chance of acquiring wealth
      • Do you believe this is true in the United States?
social mobility
Social Mobility
  • Social mobility - Movement of individuals or groups from one position of a society’s stratification system to another
systems of economic stratification
Systems of Economic Stratification
  • Closed systems
    • Ascribed Statuses
    • Zero social mobility
      • India’s caste system is an example
      • Dictated who you could marry, what occupation you could have and the degree of contact with members of other castes
  • Open systems
    • Achieved Statuses
    • An opportunity to move from one social class to another
      • Does race in the United States have a caste-like quality?
  • No system is completely open or closed.
caste system
Caste System
  • Status is determined at birth based on parents’ ascribed characteristics.
  • Cultural values sustain caste systems and caste systems grow weaker as societies industrialize.
  • Vestiges of caste systems can remain for hundreds of years after they are “officially” abolished.
hunger and global inequality
Hunger and Global Inequality
  • People in the U.S. spend $5 billion per year on diet products.
  • The world’s poorest 600 million suffer from chronic malnutrition.
  • Number of people worldwide dying from hunger is equal to 300 jumbo-jet crashes per day with no survivors, half are children.
gross domestic product gdp
Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
  • All goods and services produced within a country’s economy during a given year.
  • Changes in GDP can be attributed to:
    • Stable economic conditions worldwide.
    • Low inflation and interest rates.
    • Surging flows of foreign capital and expertise into emerging markets.
world blank classification of economies
World Blank Classification of Economies
  • Low-income - GNI per capita of $755 or less in 2000
  • Middle-income - GNI per capita between $756 and $9,265 in 2000
  • High-income - GNI per capita of more than $9,266 in 2000
explaining stratification global level
Explaining Stratification(Global Level)
  • Global Stratification
    • 1st, 2nd, and 3rd tier
    • Core, Semi-Periphery, Periphery
    • Developed, Developing, Underdeveloped/Third World
  • Theories
    • Modernization Theory
    • Dependency Theory
    • World Systems Theory
    • New International Division of Labor
explaining stratification global level16
Explaining Stratification(Global Level)
  • Modernization Theory
    • Modern Societies have modern attitudes, prize efficiency, hard work and thrift.
    • Less developed nations have a tendency to reward people based on kinship.
    • If poor countries expect to modernize, they need to adopt modern attitudes.
  • Dependency Theory
    • Poor countries trapped in a cycle of dependency on richer nations.
    • The poor countries are controlled and exploited by rich countries.
    • Colonialism distorted the economies of poor countries.
explaining stratification global level17
Explaining Stratification(Global Level)
  • World Systems Theory
    • System’s center was Europe and now North America
    • System driven by economics which European countries and United States exploit the rest of the world for its resources
    • A country’s position in the world system is the key feature in determining how economic development occurs there.
  • New International Division of Labor
    • Commodity production is split into fragments, each of which can be moved to whichever part of the world can provide the best combination of capital and labor.
explaining stratification kuznet s curve
Explaining Stratification: Kuznet’s Curve
  • Theory that inequality mounts steadily as societies develop
  • This trend is thought to reverse with passage to industrialism
  • Early evidence suggests that inequality is getting worse with the movement to a post-industrial society
social class
Social Class

Slide 19

  • Social classes are social rankings based on economic position in which achieved characteristics can influence social mobility.
  • Class system differs from other systems in four respects:
      • 1. Class systems are open and fluid.
      • 2. Class positions are in some part achieved.
      • 3. Class is economically based.
      • 4. Class systems are large-scale and impersonal.
the impact of social class on individual life
The Impact of Social Class on Individual Life

1) Social class relates to health, life expectancy, and mental health.

2) Poorer people seem more exposed to stressful events leading to emotional distress and health-related problems.

3) Middle-class people are more tolerant than the working-class due to a greater eco. security.

4) The middle class emphasizes conformity to conventional beliefs and practices.

marxian criteria for class structure
Marxian Criteria for Class Structure
  • Ownership of the means of production.
  • Employing others.
  • Supervising others on the job.
  • Being employed by someone else.
marxian model of the class structure
Marxian Model of the Class Structure
  • Capitalist Class - those who have inherited fortunes, own corporations, are corporate executives who control company investments.
  • Managerial Class - upper-level managers and lower-level managers who may have control over employment practices.
marxian model of the class structure23
Marxian Model of the Class Structure
  • Small-Business Class - small business owners, craftspeople, and professionals who hire a few employees and do their own work.
  • Working Class - blue-collar workers and white-collar workers who do not own the means of production.
weberian model of the class structure
Weberian Model of the Class Structure
  • Upper Class - comprised of people who own substantial income-producing assets.
  • Upper-Middle Class - based on university degrees, authority on the job, and high income.
  • Middle Class - a minimum of a high school diploma or a community college degree.
weberian model of the class structure25
Weberian Model of the Class Structure
  • Working Class - semiskilled workers, in routine, mechanized jobs, and workers in pink collar occupations.
  • Working Poor - live just above to just below the poverty line.
  • Underclass - people who are poor, seldom employed, and caught in long-term deprivation.
property and prestige dimensions of class
Property and Prestige: Dimensions of Class
  • Income and Wealth
    • Income refers to monies brought in during the year from salary and wages
    • Wealthrefers to the valuation of real estate, stocks and bonds, savings etc
    • Both income and wealth are unevenly distributed (wealth more than income)
distribution of income in the united states
Distribution of Income in the United States
  • In the year 2001
    • Median household income in the United States was
      • $42,228
    • White-Non Hispanic Households
      • $46,305
    • Hispanic Households
      • $33,447
    • Black Households
      • $29,470
    • Asian Households
      • $53,635

Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census. 2002. Money Income in the United States: 2001. from

income inequality 2001
Income Inequality, 2001
  • Wealthiest 20% of households received almost 50% of the total income “pie”.
  • The poorest 20% of households received less than 4% of all income.
  • The top 5% received more than 22% of all income.
changes in the distribution of wealth over time
Changes in the Distribution of Wealth Over Time

Source: Facts and Figures (October 8, 2001). Adapted from Table No. 1. Retrieved May 27th, 2003, from

explaining stratification domestic level
Explaining Stratification(Domestic Level)
  • Functionalism
    • Social inequality is necessary and inevitable in society
    • Systems of stratification exist because they must serve some function
    • Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore
      • Assumes that some positions are more important than others
      • Positions of greatest complexity and importance are the best rewarded
      • Unequal rewards ensure that the most important positions are filled by the most qualified persons
      • Unequal rewards encourage talented people to go through long periods of training to fill these positions
critiques of the davis and moore thesis
Critiques of the Davis and Moore Thesis
  • Critique:
    • Do we deny rewards based on ascribed characteristics?
      • Gender
      • Race
      • Age
    • Do social class relations block talent from filling important positions?
      • The rich have more opportunity than the poor
    • Are the most valued and skilled positions always the best rewarded ?
      • Teachers vs. Celebrities
explaining stratification domestic level35
Explaining Stratification(Domestic Level)
  • Deficiency Theory
    • Differences due to variation in abilities
    • Popular in the latter half of the 19th century
    • Herbert Spencer coins term “Social Darwinism”
      • The poor are that way because of physical and cultural inferiority
      • The poor must be allowed to suffer and expire
      • Poverty is life’s way of eliminating the least desirable
explaining stratification domestic level36
Explaining Stratification(Domestic Level)
  • Conflict Theories
    • Stratification the result of competition among classes
    • Powerful groups and individual maintain their advantage at the expense of others
    • Karl Marx
      • Stratification has its roots in control of surplus
      • Classes emerge based on their relationship to the means of production
        • What society uses to create wealth
      • Two classes emerge
        • Bourgeoisie and Proletariat
explaining stratification domestic level37
Explaining Stratification(Domestic Level)
  • Bourgeoisie
    • The owners of capital
    • Competitive advantage
    • Exploit labor
      • Through control over the surplus value produced by workers
  • Proletariat
    • Workers or Masses
    • Their ability to work with their hands, bodies, and minds is their only resource
    • Unable to obtain an income alone they rely on employment from the Bourgeoisie.
      • This means dependence and an unequal social relationship
  • Clash of interests
    • Bourgeoisie seek to reduce wages and produce more with less input
    • Proletariat seek to increase wages and improve working conditions
explaining stratification domestic level38
Explaining Stratification(Domestic Level)
  • Marx argues:
    • One’s position can only improve through revolution
    • Stratification is avoidable
      • Class consciousness
        • Realization of shared interest and collectively act to meet those interests
    • Why has it so rarely occurred
      • False Consciousness
        • Failure to realize class interest
        • Failure to identify one’s oppressor
critiques of the marxist perspective
Critiques of the Marxist Perspective
  • Critiques:
    • Polarization did not happen as expected
      • Capitalist societies contain many social classes
    • Governments intervened in economies
      • To smooth out busts and booms and control polarizations
    • Capitalist economies more productive than imaginable
explaining stratification domestic level40
Explaining Stratification(Domestic Level)

Conflict Theories

  • Max Weber
  • Social stratification is multidimensional and unavoidable
    • Three systems of structured inequality
      • Property
        • Propertied class more complex than Marx envisioned
        • There are the entrepreneurs that produce something of value and there are the rentiers who live off the returns of their investments
      • Prestige
        • Status groups of different lifestyles or patterns of consumption given varying degrees of honor or esteem
      • Power
        • The ability to compel someone else to do something is unequally distributed and frequently tied to positions not money
explaining stratification domestic level41
Explaining Stratification(Domestic Level)
  • Symbolic Interactionism
    • Does not really attempt to explain the emergence and operation of stratification
    • Emphasis revolves on identifying how stratification affects everyday life
      • For Example
        • What are the status symbols that convey information about one’s position in the stratification hierarchy?
        • Can you identify status symbols that suggest an upper class social position?
the class system in the united states
The Class System in the United States
  • The Upper Class
    • About 1% of the U.S. population
    • Large Salaries and Accumulated Wealth
    • Approximately 40% of the Upper Class were born in their position
    • Two groups
      • The Establishment & The Nouveau Riche
the establishment the nouveau riche
The Establishment

The old rich—several generations of wealth

Strong in-group solidarity (class consciousness)

WASP, prep and ivy school educated

A culture of entitlement

The Nouveau Riche

Larger than the establishment and in many instances wealthier

Their class position has more to do with achievement rather than ascription

Characterized by conspicuous consumption

Show symbols of their status more openly

The Establishment & The Nouveau Riche
the class system in the united states44
The Class System in the United States
  • The Middle Classes
    • Can be broken down into two groups, the Upper-Middle and Lower-Middle Class
  • The Upper Middle Class
    • Make up 14% of the population
    • They are the professionals—the managers of society
    • They tend to hold advanced degrees and enjoy a comfortable way of life
  • The Lower Middle Class
    • Average income range is between $30,000 - $80,000
    • Make up 30-35% of the population
    • Low level managers, small business owners and non-retail sales workers
    • Most have a post secondary education
    • In many instances both the husband and wife work
the class system in the united states45
The Class System in the United States
  • The Working Class
    • Income ranges from $20,000 to $40,000
    • If a few case some make more
    • Up to 30% of the population
    • They are a shrinking class due to deindustrialization
    • What distinguishes them from the lower middle class?
      • Level of skill and occupational prestige
      • they tend to have finished high school but have limited levels of education beyond this
the class system in the united states46
The Class System in the United States
  • The Working Poor
    • Those who spent at least half of the year participating in the labor force and whose income fell below or near the official poverty threshold
      • In 2002, a person making minimum wage ($5.15) working a 40 hour work week for 52 weeks out of the year would make $10,712 before taxes
      • In 2001, 11.5% of those 16 and over & below the official poverty line worked fulltime year round
      • In 2000, 2.6% of men and 4.8% of women paid hourly wages fell at or below the minimum level
    • Estimated that 22% of the population could classify as working poor
    • Some have a high school degree but most do not posses significant job skills
the class system in the united states47
The Class System in the United States
  • The Underclass
    • Class locked into long term poverty
      • Assets and Resources Poor
    • About 3% of the population
    • Household incomes typically below $10,000
    • Low level of education and lacking marketable skills

Life-threatening lack of food, shelter, and clothing


Individuals who make substantially less than most of the people around them and who cannot afford purchases that most people take for granted

administrative determination of the official poverty line 2002
Administrative Determination of the Official Poverty Line (2002)
  • The Social Security Administration and the Department of Agriculture
    • Annual food cost for adequate diet of a particular household size
    • Multiply that figure by 3 and you have the poverty line

Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Poverty Definition, Thresholds and Guidelines: Poverty Thresholds 2002.


a broken formula
A Broken Formula
  • The method for calculating the poverty line (cost of food * 3) is based on decades-old data indicating that the average American family spent 1/3 of its budget on food.
  • The average American family now spends 1/6 of its budget on food.
  • Why has no one corrected this?
  • What would happen to poverty rates if the formula were fixed?
poverty in the united states
Poverty in the United States
  • In 1997, over 36 million (13.8 % of the population) lived below the poverty level of $15,141 for a family of four.
  • In 2000, over 28 million people lived below the poverty level of $17,603 for a family of four.
united states poverty trends 1960 2000
United States Poverty Trends (1960-2000)

Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey: Historical Poverty Tables Adapted from Table No. 2 ,


who are the poor in the united states
Who are the poor in the United States?
  • 1 out of 3 are under 18.
  • In 2001, 30% of all African Americans, 28% of Latino/a and 10 % of non-Latino/a white children lived in poverty.
  • In 2001, single-parent families headed by women had a 35% poverty rate.
  • White Americans account for 2/3 of those below the poverty line.
who are the poor in the united states54
Who are the poor in the United States?

Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey: Historical Poverty Tables Adapted from Table No. 15 , from

poverty and life chances
Poverty and Life Chances
  • Physical Health and Mortality
    • The poor live 7 fewer years
    • The poor are 3x as more likely to be sick or suffer from disease
  • Education
    • The poor have fewer years of completed schooling
    • Children of the poor are more likely to attend disadvantaged schools (buildings and technologies)
  • Crime Victimization
    • The poor are the most likely to be the victim of all major index crimes
explaining poverty

Focus on the individual

Argue that the poor are lazy or immoral

Claim the poor are to blame for their own plight

Victim Blaming

Culture of Poverty


Focus on economic and social conditions

Does not ignore individual or cultural influence but emphasizes structure as more explanatory


Deindustrialization beginning in the 1970s and the decline in real wages

Explaining Poverty
myths about welfare
Myths about Welfare
  • THE MYTH: Most poor people get welfare.
    • 25% of the poor receive means-tested cash benefits
    • 31% used food stamps
    • 44% enrolled in Medicaid
    • 21% living in public housing
  • THE MYTH: Welfare is a very expensive program.
    • In 1996
      • Temporary assistance to needy families (TANF) $22.6 billion
      • Food Stamps $15.7 billion
      • Social Security $403 billion
      • Defense $275 billion
  • THE MYTH: Welfare is easy and promotes dependency.
    • In 1996, the average AFDC was slightly more than $400 a month
    • 70% of those receiving AFDC left within 2 years—85% in 4 years
    • 7% of the welfare population have received aid for more than 8 years (1990s)