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  Social Inequality Essay

Your assignment is to write an argumentative essay in which you take opposition on inequality. This can be one of the specific issues from the Real World text, or you can write on a topic that affects the world today. 

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Your paper should follow the guidelines below: 

I. Introduction- give background or perhaps an illustrative example to show the significance of the subject or the nature of the social problem. Consider stating the conclusion of your argument here as the theses of your essay. 

II. Opposing argument- give a brief statement of the opposing view(s) to present that you have considered the opposing views. 

III. Presentation of argument- Throughout the body of your essay you should build your case with evident and meaningful content that is creditable. 

IV. Conclusion- Once your evidence has been presented and/or your position is defended, provide grounds for your position and conclusion.


Your essay should be written using ASA format to include references and citations. Your paper should be 3-4 pages and incorporate at least 2 different scholarly resources. 

Lecture Notes:

7.1 Social Stratification and Social Inequality

1. Social stratification means that members of a society are categorized and divided into groups that occupy particular places in a social hierarchy. Higher-level groups will enjoy more access to the  rewards  and resources within that society, leaving lower-level groups with less.

2. Social inequality is the unequal distribution of wealth, power, and prestige in society. Social inequality profoundly affects individuals’ life experiences.

3. Basic principles of social stratification are:

1. It is a characteristic of society rather than a reflection of individual differences.

2. It persists over generations.

3. Different societies use different criteria for ranking.

4. It is maintained through beliefs that are widely shared by members of a society.

7.2 Systems of Stratification

1. Slavery

1. The most extreme system of social stratification, slavery relegates people to the status of property, mainly for labor. Slaves have none of the rights common to free members.

2. Slavery is an economic system that is profitable to the owner at the expense of the slaves, who endure extreme subjugation.

3. Currently prohibited in every nation in the world, slavery is both illegal and immoral. Nevertheless, forms of slavery such as child slavery, serfdom, forced and bonded laborers, human trafficking, and sex slavery persist.

2. Caste System

2. A caste system is a highly stratified society where a person has little or no chance of changing his or her position within the hierarchy regardless of individual achievement. Caste is usually based on heredity.

2. South Africa’s apartheid system (1948–91) was a caste system based on race and ethnicity. South Africans were classified into four main racial groups: white, black, Indian (from Asia), and colored (mixed race). Although blacks made up 60 percent of the population, they were subject to substandard treatment and access to resources. Apartheid maintained geographical and social separation of racial groups.

1. Social Class

3. System of stratification practiced primarily in capitalist societies.

3. Ranks individuals and groups using variables of wealth, education, income, power, and occupation; these factors together are commonly known as socioeconomic status (SES).

7.3 Social Class in the United States

1. The upper class makes up 1 percent of the U.S. population. This group’s total net worth is greater than that of the entire remaining 90 percent. Members of this class earn in excess of $250,000 per year and are often highly educated, cultured, and influential.

2. The upper middle class makes up 14 percent of the population. Members are well educated and highly skilled, making upward of $89,000 to more than $150,000 per year.

3. The middle class makes up 30 percent of the population, though there are some indications that its proportion is shrinking. Generally, the middle class works as skilled laborers in technical and lower-management jobs, earning from $55,000 to $88,000.

4. The working class, or lower middle class, makes up 30 percent of the population. Working-class members tend to be semiskilled workers in manual labor, clerical jobs, and the service industry, and make around $23,000 to $54,000 per year.

5. The working poor make up 20 percent of the population, often working in lower-paid manual and service industry jobs or doing seasonal work.

6. The underclass makes up about 5 percent of the population. Its members are generally not well educated and lack valuable work skills. Because members may be seldom or unemployed, many depend on public or private assistance for an average income of less than $7,500 per year.

7. These categories are problematic due to status inconsistencies or stark contrasts in the different status levels one person can occupy. Also, because the variables used to measure SES are numerous and complex, one individual may embody many different levels of class standing.

7.4 Theories of Social Class

1. Conflict Theory—Karl Marx: Social inequality exists where capitalists have a distinct advantage over workers. Wealth becomes concentrated among a small group of the elite.

2. Weberian Theory—Max Weber: Class involves wealth, power, and prestige. Power is the ability to impose one’s will on others. Prestige refers to social honor that comes from membership in certain groups. Although wealth, power and prestige are interrelated, they are separate and distinct concepts.

3. Structural Functionalism—Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore: Social stratification is a system of rewards that is unequally distributed among various roles. Higher roles are more desirable and critical for the functioning of society than lower roles. There is an assumption of meritocracy.

4. Postmodernism—Pierre Bourdieu: Class is created by social reproduction, through which it is passed from one generation to another. Cultural capital refers to the tastes, habits, and expectations that parents pass on to their children. Cultural  capital  can hinder or help people in their lives.

5. Symbolic Interaction—David Sudnow: Class is constructed from everyday social interactions. Sudnow argues that we make split-second judgments about who people are and which social status they occupy, and then act on these judgments. Aaron Cicourel maintains that we make inferences about the statuses of others based on the social situation in which we encounter them. Erving Goffman notes that we interpret different aspects of identity by interpreting the behavior of others, and others do the same to us. We are constantly evaluating the class statuses of others, while they are evaluating our class status. Class, then, is a performance of particular elements that make up our presentations of self.

6. There are always interactions between macro and micro interpretations of class.

7.5 Socioeconomic Status and Life Chances

1. Family: Social class has an effect on the age when people marry, the age when they have children, and how many children they have.

2. health : SES affects both overall health and access to health care. Those with more education are more likely to report being in excellent health. Those with higher SES also have a lifespan five years longer than that of people of low SES.

3. Education: Education and class status affect one another in a self-perpetuating feedback cycle. Typically, the higher a person’s education level is, the higher his or her income will be. A person’s class background will also affect his or her attitudes and access to education.

4. Work and Income: Social class affects a person’s chances to work. Lower-class workers generally are unemployed or underemployed more often than upper- or upper-middle-class workers. Some among the extremely privileged upper class are able to live a luxurious lifestyle without having to work for income.

5. Criminal Justice: Members of lower classes are more likely to encounter the criminal-justice system than members of upper classes because people in lower classes are often more visible and less powerful, and thereby more likely to be labeled as criminals. Poor people are also more likely to be victims of violent crime than rich people.

7.6 Social Mobility

1. Social mobility refers to movement from one social class to another.

2. In a closed system, there is little opportunity for social mobility. However, the apparent opportunities in a more open system may be more perception than reality.

3. Intergenerational mobility refers to change in social class that occurs from one generation to the next. Intragenerational mobility refers to the change in social class that occurs in an individual’s lifetime. Horizontal social mobility refers to the occupational movement of individuals or groups within a social class. Vertical social mobility refers to the movement between different class statuses.

4. Structural mobility occurs when large numbers of people move up or down the social ladder because of structural changes in society as a whole.

7.7 Defining Poverty

1. Relative deprivation is a comparative measure, whereas absolute deprivation measures the extent to which people are unable to meet minimum standards for food, shelter, clothing, and health care.

2. The U.S. federal poverty line is $21,954 for a family of four; $17,098 for a family of three; $13,991 for a family of two; and $10,956 for an individual. Most of the poor are working poor who work full time but are still unable to make ends meet.

3. Social welfare programs were created during the Great Depression of the 1930s. In the 1980s, welfare became stigmatized, with critics maintaining that it discouraged people from working and fostered dependence on government funds. In 1990, welfare reform limited the length of time that people remained eligible to receive welfare payments as well as setting specific requirements for how much an individual had to work while receiving welfare. Welfare is still a controversial topic, and new policy recommendations are anticipated in the future.

4. “Culture of poverty” is a term coined by Oscar Lewis, who suggested that the poor develop a way of life that included attitudes of resignation and fatalism, which causes poverty to pass on generationally. Unfortunately, the culture of poverty theory tends to support the faulty just-world hypothesis. Both the culture of poverty theory and the just-world hypothesis are criticized because they tend to blame the victims of structural inequality.

5. Poverty in the United States is often invisible even though almost 47.8 million people were living on incomes at or below the poverty line in 2009. Residential segregation, political disenfranchisement, and homelessness all contribute to the poor being unrecognized in mainstream society.

7.8 Inequality and the Ideology of the American Dream

1. The ideology of the American Dream legitimizes stratification by reinforcing the idea that everyone has the same chances to get ahead, and that long-term success and failure depends only on the individual. Within this ideology, inequality is presented as a system of incentives and rewards for achievement.

2. In reality, upward mobility in the United States depends more on race or ethnicity, gender, and class than on merit. Moreover, the consumerism promoted by the American Dream has led to more debt, less free time, and greater discontent.

3. One countercultural trend in the United States is the simplicity movement, which rejects consumerism and seeks to reverse some of its consequences for the individual, for society, and for the planet.

8.1 Defining Race and Ethnicity

1. Race is a social category based on real or perceived biological differences between groups and people. It is more meaningful on a social level than on a biological level.

2. Ethnicity is another social category applied to a group with shared  ancestry  or cultural heritage.

1. Symbolic ethnicity involves enactment of ethnic identity on special occasions (e.g. Irish and St. Patrick’s Day, Chinese and the lunar new year).

2. Situational ethnicity involves deliberately asserting ethnicity in some situations and downplaying it in others. (This is generally an option only for those whose ethnicity is not linked to race. That is, whites of various ethnic backgrounds can engage in situational ethnicity, whereas nonwhites cannot.)

8.2 Race, Ethnicity, and Power

1. Sociologists define a minority group as any social category whose members suffer from unequal treatment as a result of holding that status.

2. Racism refers to an ideology or set of beliefs about the superiority of one racial or ethnic group to another. This irrational mind-set is usually founded on the assumption that differences among racial or ethnic groups are biological or innate.

3. Prejudice is an inflexible attitude about a group of people and is founded on generalizations and stereotypes.

4. Discrimination includes any action or behavior that results in the unequal treatment of individuals because of their membership in a certain social group. Discrimination can occur on both an individual and an institutional level.

8.3 Theoretical Approaches to Understanding Race in America

1. Functionalists argue that groups tend to believe that their own cultures are superior and that their ways of doing things are the normal and right ways.

2. Conflict theorists argue that race and class are linked and that racism is driven by economic competition. Also, racism is embedded in the political and economic structure of the United States.

8.4 Race as an Interactional Accomplishment

1. Using Goffman’s theory of interaction, race and ethnicity can be interpreted as a performance of identity. Racial and ethnic identity are both projected and interpreted by individuals in their everyday lives.

2. Passing is the act of living as if one is a member of a different racial category. Passing is stressful, hard work, and almost entirely interactional.

3. Embodied identities are the way that we are perceived in the physical world. Interaction online is a way of separating the performance of race and ethnicity from the physical traits. Byron Burkhalter’s research on an Internet community based on African American culture demonstrates how “racially relevant” content and language are used to project and interpret racial identity in a bodiless realm.

8.5 Race, Ethnicity, and Life Chances

1. Family: African Americans are more likely than whites or Latinos never to marry, to divorce, or to be  widowed . African Americans and Latinos are more likely to be teen mothers than whites and Asian Americans.

2. Health: Nonwhites are less likely to have  health insurance  than whites. Also, life expectancies for African Americans are significantly lower than for whites.

3. Education: Asian Americans and whites enjoy more overall success in the U.S. educational system than African Americans and  Latinos , in terms of both high school graduation rates and the number of  degrees in  higher education.

4. Work and Income: Whites hold the majority of positions in managerial and executive professions. Asian Americans had the highest median income in 2006, followed by whites and African Americans. Latinos had the lowest median income among these four groups.

5. Criminal Justice: African American and Latino males are more likely to be incarcerated than white males.

6. Intersectionality: For white women married to black men, race and gender combine to create different understandings of race.

8.6 Race Relations: Conflict or Cooperation

1. Genocide: Systematic extermination of a group.

2. Population Transfer: Forcible removal of a group from its homeland.

3. Internal Colonialism: Exploitation of a minority group within the dominant group’s own borders.

4. Assimilation: Absorption of the minority group by the dominant group until the minority group is no longer distinct.

5. Pluralism: Embracing and encouraging racial and ethnic variation within one society.

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