Chapter 8: Stratification and Social Mobility in the United States Assignment Flashcards Preview

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Flashcards in Chapter 8: Stratification and Social Mobility in the United States Assignment Deck (39):

Social inequality

which has been much in the headlines recently, describes a condition in which members of society have differing amounts of wealth, prestige, or power. Some degree of social inequality characterizes every society.



-When a system of social inequality is based on a hierarchy of groups, sociologists refer to it as Stratification
-a structured ranking of entire groups of people that perpetuates unequal economic rewards and power in a society. These unequal rewards are evident not only in the distribution of wealth and income, but even in the distressing mortality rates of impoverished communities. Stratification involves the ways in which one generation passes on social inequalities to the next, producing groups of people arranged in rank order, from low to high.



refers to salaries and wages, interest on savings, stock dividends, and rental income.



is an inclusive term encompassing all a person’s material assets, including land, stocks, and other types of property.


Four general systems of stratification

social classes -as ideal types useful for purposes of analysis.


Ascribed status

is a social position assigned to a person by society without regard for the person’s unique talents or characteristics.


Achieved status

is a social position that a person attains largely through his or her own efforts.



Today, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is binding on all members of the United Nations, prohibits slavery in all its forms. Yet more people are enslaved today than at any point in world history. In many developing countries, bonded laborers are imprisoned in virtual lifetime employment; in some countries, human beings are owned outright. But a form of slavery also exists in Europe and the United States, where guest workers and illegal immigrants have been forced to labor for years under terrible conditions, either to pay off debts or to avoid being turned over to immigration authorities.



are hereditary ranks that are usually religiously dictated and that tend to be fixed and immobile. Caste membership is an ascribed status (at birth, children automatically assume the same position as their parents). Each caste is quite sharply defined, and members are expected to marry within that caste.
generally associated with Hinduism in India and other countries



A third type of stratification system, called estates, was associated with feudal societies during the Middle Ages. The estate system, or feudalism, required peasants to work land leased to them by nobles in exchange for military protection and other services. The basis for the system was the nobles’ ownership of land, which was critical to their superior and privileged status. As in systems based on slavery and caste, inheritance of one’s position largely defined the estate system. The nobles inherited their titles and property; the peasants were born into a subservient position within an agrarian society.


Social Class

A class system is a social ranking based primarily on economic position in which achieved characteristics can influence social mobility. In contrast to slavery and caste systems, the boundaries between classes are imprecisely defined, and one can move from one stratum, or level, of society to another. Even so, class systems maintain stable stratification hierarchies and patterns of class division, and they, too, are marked by unequal distribution of wealth and power. Class standing, although it is achieved, is heavily dependent on family and ascribed factors, such as race and ethnicity.


Daniel Rossides (1997)

uses a five-class model to describe the class system of the United States: the upper class, the upper-middle class, the lower-middle class, the working class, and the lower class. Although the lines separating social classes in his model are not so sharp as the divisions between castes, members of the five classes differ significantly in ways other than just income level.


Middle class

30-35% of population


class consciousness

—a subjective awareness of common vested interests and the need for collective political action to bring about social change. Often, workers must overcome what Marx termed false consciousness, or an attitude held by members of a class that does not accurately reflect their objective position.


false consciousness

a worker with this may adopt an individualistic viewpoint toward capitalist exploitation (“I am being exploited by my boss”). In contrast, the class-conscious worker realizes that all workers are being exploited by the bourgeoisie and have a common stake in revolution.


Max Weber’s View of Stratification

Unlike Karl Marx, Max Weber ([1913–1922] 1947) insisted that no single characteristic (such as class) totally defines a person’s position within the stratification system. Instead, writing in 1916, he identified three distinct components of stratification: class, status, and power.
Weber used the term class to refer to a group of people who have a similar level of wealth and income.

For example, certain workers in the United States try to support their families through minimum-wage jobs. According to Weber’s definition, these wage earners constitute a class because they share the same economic position and fate.

Although Weber agreed with Marx on the importance of this economic dimension of stratification, he argued that the actions of individuals and groups cannot be understood solely in economic terms.

To summarize, in Weber’s view, each of us has not one rank in society but three. Our position in a stratification system reflects some combination of class, status, and power. Each factor influences the other two, and in fact the rankings on these three dimensions often tend to coincide


status group

refers to people who have the same prestige or lifestyle.


Interactionist Perspective

Both Karl Marx and Max Weber looked at inequality primarily from a macrosociological perspective, considering the entire society or even the global economy. Marx did suggest the importance of a more microsociological analysis, however, when he stressed the ways in which individuals develop a true class consciousness.

Interactionists, as well as economists, have long been interested in the importance of social class in shaping a person’s lifestyle.
The theorist Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929) noted that those at the top of the social hierarchy typically convert part of their wealth into conspicuous consumption


conspicuous consumption

—that is, they purchase goods not to survive but to flaunt their superior wealth and social standing. For example, they may purchase more automobiles than they can reasonably use, or build homes with more rooms than they can possibly occupy. In an element of conspicuous consumption called conspicuous leisure, they may jet to a remote destination, staying just long enough to have dinner or view a sunset over some historic locale


If this stratification universal?

Stratification is universal in that all societies maintain some form of social inequality among members. Depending on its values, a society may assign people to distinctive ranks based on their religious knowledge, skill in hunting, physical attractiveness, trading expertise, or ability to provide health care.


Functionalist Perspective

Stratification is universal
Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore (1945), ----society must distribute its members among a variety of social positions. It must make sure not only that these positions are filled but also that they are filled by people with the appropriate talents and abilities.
Rewards, including money and prestige, are based on the importance of a position and the relative scarcity of qualified personnel. Yet this assessment often devalues work performed by certain segments of society, such as women’s work in the home or in occupations traditionally filled by women, or low-status work in fast-food outlets.
Davis and Moore argue that stratification is universal and that social inequality is necessary so that people will be motivated to fill functionally important positions.


Conflict Perspective

The writings of Karl Marx lie at the heart of conflict theory. Marx viewed history as a continuous struggle between the oppressors and the oppressed, which ultimately would culminate in an egalitarian, classless society.

Dahrendorf (1959) has modified Marx’s analysis of capitalist society to apply to modern capitalist societies. For Dahrendorf, social classes are groups of people who share common interests resulting from their authority relationships.

Conflict theorists see stratification as a major source of societal tension and conflict. They do not agree with Davis and Moore that stratification is functional for a society or that it serves as a source of stability. Rather, conflict sociologists argue that stratification will inevitably lead to instability and social change


Lenski’s Viewpoint

As Lenski argued, the allocation of surplus goods and services controlled by those with wealth, status, and power reinforces the social inequality that accompanies stratification systems. While this reward system may once have served the overall purposes of society, as functionalists contend, the same cannot be said for the large disparities separating the haves from the have-nots in current societies. In contemporary industrial society, the degree of social and economic inequality far exceeds what is needed to provide for goods and services


Objective Method of Measuring Social Class

In the objective method of measuring social class, class is viewed largely as a statistical category. Researchers assign individuals to social classes on the basis of criteria such as occupation, education, income, and place of residence. The key to the objective method is that the researcher, rather than the person being classified, identifies an individual’s class position.



refers to the respect and admiration that an occupation holds in a society. “My daughter, the physicist” connotes something very different from “my daughter, the waitress.” Prestige is independent of the particular individual who occupies a job, a characteristic that distinguishes it from esteem.



refers to the reputation that a specific person has earned within an occupation. Therefore, one can say that the position of president of the United States has high prestige, even though it has been occupied by people with varying degrees of esteem. A hairdresser may have the esteem of his clients, but he lacks the prestige of a corporate executive.


socioeconomic status

A measure of social class that is based on income, education, and occupation.


Absolute poverty

refers to a minimum level of subsistence that no family should be expected to live below.

One commonly used measure of absolute poverty is the federal government’s poverty line, a money income figure that is adjusted annually to reflect the consumption requirements of families based on their size and composition.

The poverty line serves as an official definition of which people are poor. In 2015, for example, any family of four (two adults and two children) with a combined income of $24,036 or less fell below the poverty line. This definition determines which individuals and families will be eligible for certain government benefits


Feminization of Poverty

Conflict theorists and other observers trace the higher rates of poverty among women to three distinct factors: the difficulty in finding affordable child care, sexual harassment, and sex discrimination in the labor market


Explaining Poverty

Sociologist Herbert Gans (1995), who has applied functionalist analysis to the existence of poverty, argues that various segments of society actually benefit from the existence of the poor. Gans has identified a number of social, economic, and political functions that the poor perform for society


Life chances

Max Weber saw class as being closely related to people’s life chances

that is, their opportunities to provide themselves with material goods, positive living conditions, and favorable life experiences (Gerth and Mills 1958). Life chances are reflected in measures such as housing, education, and health. Occupying a higher social class in a society improves your life chances and brings greater access to social rewards. In contrast, people in the lower social classes are forced to devote a larger proportion of their limited resources to the necessities of life.


social mobility

refers to the movement of individuals or groups from one position in a society’s stratification system to another.


open system

implies that the position of each individual is influenced by his or her achieved status. Such a system encourages competition among members of society. The United States is moving toward this ideal type as the government attempts to reduce the barriers faced by women, racial and ethnic minorities, and people born in lower social classes. Even in the midst of the economic downturn of 2008–2009, nearly 80 percent of people in the United States felt they could get ahead


closed system

which allows little or no possibility of individual social mobility.


Horizontal Mobility

Movement from one position to another of the same rank


Vertical Mobility

Movement from one position to another of the different rank


Intergenerational mobility

involves changes in the social position of children relative to their parents.


Intragenerational mobility

involves changes in social position within a person’s adult life.


Impact of race and ethnicity: Jobs

Sociologists have long documented the fact that the class system is more rigid for African Americans than it is for members of other racial groups. African American men who have good jobs, for example, are less likely than White men to see their adult children attain the same status. The cumulative disadvantage of discrimination plays a significant role in the disparity between the two groups’ experiences.