● Stratification refers to the hierarchical
arrangement of people in a society.
● This chapter focuses on economic stratification;
meaning how people are differentiated based
upon their wealth (and/or power).
Just 400 Americans have the same wealth as half of all Americans combined
Just 25 Americans have a combined income almost as great as the combined
income of 2 billion of the world’s poor
In 2007, more than 37 million U.S. citizens, or 12.5 percent of the population,
were classified as poor by the Census Bureau
In 2007, CEO’s in the fortune 500 received an average of $10.5 million, 344
times the pay of the average worker
● Four of the wealthiest people in the world come from one family, the Walton’s.
They are the four children who inherited Sam Walton’s company Wal-Mart.
Together, they are worth $83.6 billion
● Half of American children will reside in a household that uses food stamps at
some point during childhood
● Life expectancy in Harlem is shorter than in Bangladesh.
● Contemporary sociologists often define stratification in terms of socioeconomic status (or SES).
● Three components:
– Power refers to someone’s ability to get others to do his/her will, regardless of whether or not they want to. Legitimate power, power given
to individuals willingly by others, is called authority. Illegitimate power, power taken by force or the threat of force, is called coercion.
– Property, as used in this context, refers to the sum total of one’s possessions as well as their regular income. Property goes beyond
income as a measure of social class as it reflects the accumulated wealth (e.g., homes, stocks, bonds, savings and how many children
you have) in addition to one’s earning potential and accumulated debt. Property is a better overall measure of social class than income as
many individuals who are considered wealthy actually have very small incomes.
– Prestige refers to the reputation or esteem associated with one’s position in society. Prestige used to be associated with one's family
name, but for most people in developed countries, prestige is now generally tied to one's occupation. Occupations like physicians or
lawyers tend to have more prestige associated with them than occupations like bartender or janitor. An individual’s prestige is closely tied
to their social class – the higher the prestige of an individual (through their occupation or maybe family name), the higher the social class.
Social class in America
● The upper class in America (3% of the population) is divided into
upper-upper class (1% of the U.S. population), earning hundreds of
millions to billions in income per year while the lower-upper class
(2%) earns millions in annual income.
● The middle class (40%) is divided into upper-middle class (14%)
earning $76,000 or more per year while the lower-middle class (26%)
earns $46,000 to $75,000.
● The working class (30%) earns $19,000 to $45,000. The lower class
(27%) is divided into working poor (13%, earning $9000 to 18,000)
and underclass (14%, earning under $9000).
Origins of Inequality and private
● The origins of inequality can be found in the transition from
hunter/gatherer societies to horticultural/pastoralist societies.
● The concept of private taking and private property began to flourish in the
late 15th century beginning in Europe and spreading around the world.
● Collective land and space, once shared by all, began to be divided up into
private takings and private ownership.
● Today, the right to private property is an important value in most societies.
With deregulation, privatization, and free trade, we continue to see a
private taking and private ownership of entities once shared by everyone.
● The idea that there should be equality in society emerged in the 17th and
18th centuries in the writings of Hobbes and Locke.
The persistence of inequality
● Social reproduction theory - institutions and
cultures perpetuate inequality
● Economic system – capitalism and exploitation
● The structural-functional approach to stratification asks
the same question that it does of the other components
of society: What function or purpose does it serve?
● The answer is that all parts of society, even poverty,
contribute in some way to the larger system’s overall
stability, according to this theory.
● Stratification and inequalities are inevitable and
beneficial to society.
● The layers (stratification) are the inevitable sorting of
Conflict Theorists on stratification
● Conflict theorists argue that stratification is
dysfunctional and harmful in society.
● Stratification benefits the rich and powerful at
the expense of the poor.
Consequences of Inequality
What class we belong to directly relates to our individual life chances.
The wealthy and well-educated are much more likely to be in good health, and have access to
good medical care than the poor.
● The poor have shorter life expectancies and are at greater risk for chronic illnesses.
Children born into poor families are at much greater risk of dying during their first year of life
from disease, accidents, or violence.
It is estimated that 13 percent of children under age 12 are hungry or at risk of being hungry.
Among the working poor, almost 75% of the children are thought to be in this category.
● The poor are not able to provide the same educational opportunities for their children as the
wealthy are. School districts in wealthy suburban areas tend to pay higher teachers’ salaries,
have newer buildings, and provide sophisticated equipment. Students in central city schools
and poverty stricken rural areas often attend rundown schools that lack necessary equipment
and teaching materials.
Poverty and thoughts related to poverty may take up so many cognitive resources for the poor
that it actually impedes cognitive functioning, which accounts, in part, for the lower IQs
measured among poor people.
Development and Modernization
● Societies stay poor because they hold onto traditional
attitudes and beliefs, technologies and institutions, such as
traditional economic systems and forms of government.
● In contrast, in the modern world, the rise of capitalism
brought modern attitudes, modern technologies such as
machinery and electronics, and modern institutions which
helped countries progress and have a higher standard of
● Modernists believe large economic growth is the key to
reducing poverty in poor countries.
● This theory blames colonialism and neocolonialism (continuing economic
dependence on former colonial countries) for global poverty.
● Countries have developed at an uneven rate because wealthy countries have
exploited poor countries in the past and today through foreign debt and
transnational corporations (TNCs).
● Historically, wealthy nations have taken a great quantity of materials from poor
countries such as minerals and metals necessary to make automobiles, weapons,
and jewelry in wealthy countries.
In addition, large amounts of agricultural products that can only be grown in the hot
climates of the poor countries have been taken and exported and manufactured in
the wealthy countries such as coffee, tea, sugar, and cocoa.
World Systems Theory
● This theory suggests that wealthy countries benefit from other countries and also
exploit their citizens.
● How a country is integrated into the capitalist world system is the key feature in
determining how economic development takes place in that country.
● The world economy is a system divided into a hierarchy of three types of countries:
– Core countries (e.g., U.S., Japan, Germany) are dominant capitalist countries characterized by
high levels of industrialization and urbanization.
– Semiperipheral countries (e.g., South Korea, Taiwan, Mexico, Brazil, India, Nigeria, South
Africa) are less developed than core nations but are more developed than peripheral nations.
– Peripheral countries (e.g., most African countries and low income countries in South America)
are dependent on core countries for capital, and have very little industrialization and
The New International Division of
● Production is divided into small pieces, each of which can be moved
by a Transnational Corporation (TNC) to any country in the world that
can provide the best deal on capital and labor.
● When moving businesses and factories to cheap labor locations,
effort is not made to create better quality of living and development
projects in poor countries.
● Strict laws protecting the environment and the rights of workers,
which must be followed in the U.S. and Europe, do not have to be
followed in many poor countries. This is attractive for a TNC so that
bottom line profits can increase.
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