Stratifying Chapter 5 Powerpoint

Being Sociological
Chapter 5
Social Stratification
• Inequality is something we see on a daily basis and
that exists in every society.
• These layers of inequality reflect one of the most
important and widely used concepts in sociology –
social stratification.
• Social stratification refers to the systemic ways that
groups of people are organized unequally within a
broad social hierarchy. However, as noted by
Kerckhoff (2001), social stratification ‘describe[s] both
a condition and a process’ (p. 3).
This hierarchal characterization of society is
a process in that it does not simply exist.
Rather it is something that has been created,
is maintained, and perpetuated by society’s
elite membership.
Theoretical Underpinnings: Karl Marx
• Marx believed that divisions in society emanated from a
society’s material conditions – from the basic
materials of subsistence that with society’s evolution
would be transformed into widely produced consumer
• Marx argued that these sub-structural conditions of
production determined imbalanced super-structural,
ideological relationships within a society’s institutions,
such as the family, religion, government, and of course
work. The entire process is something Marx called
historical materialism.
The bourgeoisie and the proletariat
• For Marx, these imbalanced relationships within and
across varying institutions were accentuated by social
class differences.
• The bourgeoisie are the elite members of society who
own and control productive resources, along with the
technology used to churn resources into commodities.
The bourgeoisie’s position as owners of the means of
production yields them additional social privileges,
including power over distribution of profits that
perpetuates their higher standard of living over the
working class, or proletariat, who in contrast can only
offer their physical labour as currency to the
bourgeoisie (Muntaner, et al., 2003).
• Marx contended that with the ongoing development of
industrial capitalism, class divisions became increasingly
• Upper-class members (bourgeoisie) will always utilize their
control over the means of production to assert their dominant
position over lower-class members (proletariat) by dictating:
• the proletariat’s tangible workplace conditions (e.g.,
determining breaks, working hours, safety measures,
whether or not work is done in isolation);
• how dominant and submissive workplace relationships
are established (e.g., through surveillance of workers,
possible punishments for worker insubordination,
transparency of management);
• how industrial products and profits are dispersed across
society (e.g., once a product’s value is determined, can
members of the working class even afford to purchase it?)
(Giddens, 1973).
• Marx would purport that the inequalities we view are
manifestations of historical materialism, of the fact that
those situated atop society’s socially stratified ladder
are fortunate to own and control the means of
• It is vital to mention that despite Marx’s cynical outlook
on capitalism, he was an optimist, believing that the
working-class proletariat would realize their collective
exploitation at the hands of the bourgeoisie. In doing
so, they would develop a collective sense of class
consciousness, revolt against their oppressors and
create a more egalitarian society without extensive
social stratification.
Theoretical Underpinnings: Max
• Weber would agree with Marx that class is an
important component in understanding social
• However, Weber would argue in more extensive
terms that social stratification emerges from three
social constructs – class, status, and party.
• Class status for Weber is decided by more than
one’s ownership over the means of production.
Instead, class status carries three subcomponents:
• class groups have similar economic interests,
material wealth, and opportunities for income;
• these similar interests, levels of wealth and
income opportunities provide members within
class groups with comparable life chances;
• a class group is characterized by labour market
conditions (Gerth & Mills, 1946).
• Ownership over the means of production is not
essential for Weber, though he felt that one’s
skill level within an occupational field was an
influential class aspect.
• Class status for Weber is constructed with more
complexities. Moreover, class is accompanied
by two additional components – status and
• Status for Weber refers to the honour or prestige one
carries within society. Status provides access for
individuals to enter certain social circles, and according
to Weber, individuals can plan strategically to move up
(or down) a stratified society by altering their status.
• Methods of increasing one’s status may involve wearing
certain clothing styles, engaging in certain leisure
activities (e.g., playing golf), or even marrying someone
whose family comes from an upper-class background.
Such activities can ostensibly enhance a person’s
reputation and help boost their socially stratified
• The final component of Weber’s social stratification
model is party (or ‘power’).
• This means, essentially, the ability of someone to
influence others.
• Weber argued that power was exerted most effectively
through an organized rational order, carried out through
bureaucratic procedures that have become entrenched
in modern society.
• This involves the ability of those with power to manage
those organizations that can physically enforce a
leader’s will – police, military, private security forces.
Moreover, if a particular group commands power over
multiple bureaucratic institutions (e.g., governmental,
educational, religious), this group’s chances of
dominating other, larger groups increases substantially.
• Weber felt that power administered through engrained
bureaucracy was the most significant.
• Unlike Marx who felt the working class could and would
revolt against the bourgeoisie, Weber believed with
increased modernization comes thicker bureaucracy,
which in turn decreases the chances of large groups in
the bottom tiers of society from moving up (Collins,
• In short, modernity cements social stratification and
would ultimately impede working class members from
challenging the social system.
Global Social Stratification
• A related concept is socioeconomic deprivation, ‘defined as a
state of observable and demonstrable disadvantage relative
to the local community or the wider society or nation to which
an individual, family or group belongs’ (Salmond et al., 2006,
p. 1477).
• When a group within a given context notices its economic
shortcomings in comparison to another group(s),
socioeconomic deprivation occurs.
• A related term is relative deprivation, which refers more
generally to an emotional feeling of being deprived, not due
to objective conditions, but because of direct comparisons
made with other reference groups (Subramanyam, Kawachi,
& Subramanian, 2009).
Socioeconomic deprivation refers to the
collective feelings that tend to emerge
when social stratification is extensive, when
a severely deprived group sees others in
nearby areas enjoying far greater wealth.
Stratification: Low and High Income
High-income countries with low levels of social
stratification do exist; within these countries social
stratification definitely exists, but the gap between those
who are wealthy and those who are poor is not terribly
extensive. Some of these less stratified countries include
Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Japan.
• On the other side of the spectrum are countries with
great stratification. Some of these high-income
countries with massive gaps between the rich and poor
are the United States, Australia, Singapore, the United
Kingdom, and Aotearoa/New Zealand.
• All these countries hold extensive wealth as a whole,
but some have more social inequality than others
within their respective borders.
• Those countries with more stratification would likewise
have more socioeconomic deprivation.
Stratification and Social Problems
The consistent finding in Pickett and Wilkinson’s
study is that countries with low social stratification
(e.g., Norway, Sweden, Japan) have far fewer
social problems than the countries with high social
stratification (e.g., United States, Australia,
Aotearoa/New Zealand).
Social Stratification across the
Pacific: Race
• Globalization has impacted the Pacific in two significant
• The first occurred roughly between the years of 1850
and 1914 – a period characterized by colonial empires
that saw Europeans extracting raw materials from
native lands.
• The second major wave of globalization impacting on
the Pacific began in the early 1970s and continues
presently. It is a wave characterized by free trade, a
technical revolution including electronic commerce, and
the enhanced mobility of capital where big business has
extensive power in shaping official public policies (Firth,
When examining social stratification
across the Pacific, the various islands’
indigenous populations almost always
find themselves collectively situated
among the working- and lower-classes,
which has adverse effects in other areas
of life, such as physical health.
Example: Maori (New Zealand)
In 1996, average smoking rates for Maori were 21.2%
higher than rates reported by New Zealander
Europeans. The disparity was even greater for women,
with Maori women displaying rates 25.9% higher than
European women.
During the 1980s and 1990s in Aotearoa/New Zealand,
social inequality widened due to neoliberal governmental
policies and the loss of many working-class jobs. This had
severe negative impacts on numerous ethnic
communities, but especially on Maori communities:
• Unemployment for Europeans (Pakeha) in
Aotearoa/New Zealand stood at 3.2% in 1986, rising
to 7.9% in 1992, but returning to a low rate of 3.2%
in 2003.
• In contrast Pacific people (non-Maori) reported an
unemployment rate of 6.5% in 1986, jumping to
28% in 1991, and declining to around 15%
throughout the 1990s.
• Maori unemployment rates were similar to other
Pacific Islanders, standing at 10.7% in 1986, rising
to 25.4% in 1992, and hovering above 15% through
the 1990s.
A 2005 study by Barnett, Pearce, and Moon also indicates
that during this period the socioeconomic disparities of
unemployment and receiving governmental benefits grew,
with Maori residents falling further behind Europeans. The
authors write, ‘ethnic gaps have widened not reduced with
Maori, and particularly Maori women, being more than
twice as likely to be regular smokers than Pakeha in 1996,
a gap that has increased substantially since 1981’ (p.
Relative Deprivation and Smoking
This study also tied in the concept of relative deprivation,
noting that ‘the effects of relative deprivation on smoking
were more important for Maori than Pakeha in both time
periods, but especially in 1996’(p. 1518) when ethnicallybased social stratification was greater. Authors of the
study surmise that increased smoking rates for Maori are a
direct indicator that Maori residents were much more
adversely affected by governmental welfare cuts, as well
as by major job losses in forestry and transport, where a
larger proportion of Maori worked throughout the 1980s
and 1990s. During this timeframe of economic
restructuring that was especially harmful for Maori,
smoking became a more prevalent coping mechanism.
• Of course not all Maori and Pacific peoples respond to
stress in injurious, unhealthy ways. Proclaiming such
assertions would be perpetuating especially harmful
• The point is, when a particular group (ethnically-based
or not) encounters rapid economic stress and
increased relative deprivation, a greater proportion of
that group will cope in unhealthy ways. Additionally,
the reality of racism in an ethnically stratified society
should not be dismissed.
Research conducted by Harris and colleagues (2006)
investigated whether or not residents from Aotearoa/New
Zealand confronted racism in health care systems. The
research found that Maori residents more so than any
other groups studied (Pacific peoples, Asian peoples, and
Europeans/Others) self-reported being discriminated
against in healthcare settings, irrespective of their
socioeconomic status. The authors conclude, ‘experience
of racial discrimination may be a potentially major health
risk that contributes significantly to ethnic inequalities in
health in New Zealand, as elsewhere’ (p. 1435).
Social Stratification across the
Pacific: Gender
• Race does not exist as the only factor in a socially
stratified world.
• ‘The divisions of gender and ethnicity are treated here
as lying at the heart of the social because they
constitute particularly salient constructions of difference
and identity on the one hand, and hierarchization and
unequal resource allocation modes on the other’
(Anthias, 2001, p. 368).
• Collectively women are devalued in the labour market
relative to male counterparts due to rigid gender role
• In Aotearoa/New Zealand, the 1980s and 1990s were decades
of substantial economic transformation, decades when income
inequality across the country expanded immensely due to
conservative policy changes that minimized worker rights.
• Focusing on the subsequent decade, Pappas (2010) examined
sex differences in wages for the period of 1998 to 2008:
• In 1998 males had an average hourly wage of $18.00 and
weekly income of $785;
• By 2008 this rose to an hourly wage of $20.80 and a weekly
income of $887.
• Women on the whole earned significantly less. In 1998
women had an average hourly wage of $14.60, making $497
per week, with the hourly wage rising in 2008 to $17.30 and
weekly earnings of $610 (p. 222).
• Although Pappas found that inequality rose for both men and
women (in fact more so for men) during the time period,
men’s average income rates clearly remain higher than
those of women.
Such discrepancies may reflect an
inferiorization of women’s work, thereby
creating gender stratification.
Health Issues, Gender and
• Sarfati and colleagues (2006) studied mortality rates
due to breast cancer, comparing Maori and nonPacific/non-Maori women diagnosed with the disease.
They studied the rates for these two groups from 1981
to 1999 and found that as the years progressed,
women from the Maori cohort showed a significantly
greater increase in breast cancer mortality rates.
Breast cancer mortality rates for the non-Pacific/nonMaori cohort remained stable.
Research has shown that Maori and Pacific
peoples have greater barriers to accessing health
care and more frequently encounter inferior
treatment by health care providers (Davis et al.,
2006; Davis et al., 1997), not to mention Maori
are more likely to run into racism in healthcare
settings (Tobias & Yeh, 2007).
In a socially stratified context where gender and
ethnicity intersect, minority groups (‘double
minorities’ who are impacted by both gender
and ethnicity) can face attendant social
problems that have grave consequences.
• As can be seen, social stratification comes in many
forms and continues to evolve over time. Today
social stratification is typically considered as it
relates to layers of socioeconomic inequality.
• Social disparities are tied not only to social
stratification, but also to the feelings people tend to
hold when noticing their deprivation relative to
others – a social phenomenon that exists across the
• The question then remains, what social policies can
be created to promote socioeconomic equality,
decrease social stratification, and create a healthier
society for all, irrespective of race, gender, or any
other social status.
Discussion Points
• Think about your peers in class and across your university
setting. How do you think your family’s position in a socially
stratified society has affected your university experience
thus far compared to some of your peers? What kinds of
trends do you notice with regard to which students work, and
why they work?
• Student debt is becoming an increasingly serious issue for
university graduates. How might student debt affect a recent
graduate’s position in a socially stratified world?
• Think about the anxieties of university life. Students have
enough to worry about trying to excel in their coursework,
make new friends, and simply fit in. This chapter has
covered the ways that social stratification can influence
physical health. How might students’ mental health, who
work and/or who expect to have high student debt, be
further influenced by relative deprivation, as they compare
themselves to others? What can be done about this by
university services, if anything?