Casey Rash, Austin Helms November 11, 2010 SOC 100 General Sociology; 002 Essay Question: 3 The purpose of this paper will be to address what social stratification is, and why sociologists consider it crucial to our understanding of today’s society. In addition it will also be discussing the three dimensions of social stratification and how we think its changed since the 1970s and 80s to today, and which theory we think best explains this change. Along with how the inequality of valued resources impacts America as a whole, and how the recent financial meltdown has made stratification worse in America.
Stratification can be defined as a structured ranking of entire groups of people that perpetuates unequal economic rewards and power in a society. (Witt, 2010) In simpler terms, stratification is the social inequality in groups of people divided by wealth, power, and rewards in society. The upper class stereotypically receives rare resources, has more power, and receives special treatment. Social stratification consists of four different systems: slavery, caste, estate, and social class. Slavery is the most drastic form of social inequality, because people claim ownership to others and use them as tools or servants.
This is easily the worst form of social inequality because individuals are stripped of their rights and treated like property being forced to do any type of labor in horrible living conditions. The second system of social inequality is the caste system, which is, based upon social ranks within a culture or religion, which is also hereditary. Caste is generally but not always religious separation associated with Hinduism. There’re five major castes within Hinduism, Priest (Brahman), Warriors (Kshatriya), Merchants (Vaishya), Austrians/Farmers (Sharuda), and finally the untouchables (Dalit). Witt, 2010) Caste membership is assigned to you at birth and members are expected to marry within their own caste. The third system of social inequality is estate, which originated in medieval Europe where nobles owned the land and gave the peasants military protection. In return the peasants lived and worked on the land and gave the noble a share of their production. Like a caste you are born into your social rank either as a noble or peasant. Finally the last system of social inequality is social class. Social class is a free flowing spectrum where you can move from one end to another depending on ones wealth or net worth.
Although you can change your social class it is still highly dependant upon basic factors such as race and family. Within the social class spectrum there is the upper class containing only 1-2% of the population, upper middle containing 15% of the population, lower middle containing 30-35% of the population, and the working class containing 30-35% of the population. Of all the social classes the working class has the highest chance for job loss because physical labor is progressively being taken over by machines and everything else is being imported from overseas.
All of these systems of stratification contribute to the understanding of modern society because they explain the levels of social inequality all around the world. Each system has a way of showing how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Sociologist analyzes the unequal distribution of wealth and power within each social class. The three measures of stratification in the us today are class, status, and party. Class is a group of people who share the same level of economic resources. Status is a group of people who have the same lifestyle.
Party is the unified group effort aimed to accomplish a goal. The term class represents social status because everyone within the same class of a social status has a similar level of wealth and resources. Status group defines social status because everyone in the group has the same lifestyle such as living in the same type of neighborhood or wearing the same style of clothes. People of the same social status are generally in the same party to accomplish a goal that generally benefits their social status. For example people in the working class wouldn’t support a party that supports the upper class.
Since the 1970s and 80s stratification and social inequality has changed in the U. S mainly by the wealth of the different social statuses. Wealth in the United States is unevenly distributed for example the top one percent of the population owns 33. 8% of the wealth. This one percent of the population owns more than the bottom 90% combined. (Witt, 2010) Since the 1970s and 80s there has been a shrinking middle class because the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. With the shrinking middle class there is an ever-increasing amount of people forced into poverty. This s a result of disappearing opportunities for those with little education, global competionion and rapid advances in technology, growing dependence on temporary workforce, and the rise of growth industries in non-union workplaces. (Witt, 2010) With 12. 5% of the population being forced into poverty they become dependant on the party that represents them because they don’t have the economic resources or power to represent them. Social mobility in the United States has become more of a challenge than ever for an individual move up into the next best social class compared to the 1970s and 80s.
Individuals now days receive a better education and are earning more money than their parents but generally don’t earn enough money to move up in a social class. This is because. Race, ethnicity, and sex still play a huge role in social class because a white male will make more money working the same job as a black man or any female would make. The African American middle class has risen since the 1970s and 80s although they are still being paid less than the while males which shows progress since the civil rights movement.
In comparison a 2004 study shows that the Latino population is loosing its hold on wealth only controlling 10% of the wealth in the United States. Karl Marx’s theory on stratification best justifies the change the United States has faced from the 1970s to present day. Karl Marx’s theory focuses on capitalism in which the owner of a company’s only goal is to produce as much profit as possible for him or herself. The bourgeoisie or capitalist class owns the company and the proletariats work for the company.
The bourgeoisie look for ways to lower wages and maximize profit by adding machines that reduced dependence on highly skilled proletariats. This makes no proletariats special because they are easily replaceable. This best explains the change from the 1970s and 80s to now because all the name brand companies are outsourcing and making the product cheaper to make which is giving the owner of the companies more money and taking jobs away from the middle class and working class therefore making the rich richer and poor poorer.
The rich stay in power because the working class is forced to work at the wages offered because the job positions require very little skill and are easily replaceable making it impossible to move up in the company. Without question Marx’s theory best explains the changes faced from the 1970s and 80s to today because there is a huge difference of wealth and power between social classes. Inequality of valued resources impacts America as a whole by providing the rich greater opportunities to continuously get richer and leaving the poor with an unequal opportunity to gain power.
This happens because the rich have more resources to impact Americas political system. The upper class votes for the candidate that puts less restrictions and taxes on themselves for example the rich invest a lot of money in political adds for who they want therefore ensuring their candidate wins and the upper class continues to get richer. On the other hand all the poor can do is vote and work for the upper class to promote whatever candidate the lower class supports the most.
The recent financial meltdown has further intensified stratification in America; as a result banks have become fearless of going bankrupt because they know the government will bail them out. This is because banks have become so intertwined and important to America’s economy that they have become “To big to fail”. Once a bank has become a great enough power it cannot fail because if it did fail there could be a domino effect causing people to withdraw their money from things like stocks and their bank accounts even from banks that haven’t failed, and hold onto it which disables banks to invest or lend any money.
When a bailout crisis occurs the government will always come to the rescue at the expense of millions of taxpayer’s dollars. This encourages banks to make higher or riskier investments to people who cannot afford the loan putting them in debt. Banks have no restriction on the percent of the interest rates on their loans; therefore they raise interest rates attempting to gain back-lost money. With the higher interest rates people who can afford to pay the loan back but not necessarily the interest rate are forced into debt to.
The owners of the banks/investors are making more money than ever because interest rates are higher than ever and it is easy to get a loan therefore people are borrowing money they don’t have and spending every penny they have to the bank and going into debt. Even if the bank/investors don’t get their money from the public the government will always be there to bail them out at the taxpayers expenses. This paper addressed what social stratification is, and why sociologists consider it crucial to our understanding of today’s society.
In addition it discussed the three dimensions of social stratification and how we think its changed since the 1970s and 80s to today, and which theory we think best explains this change. Along with how the inequality of valued resources impacts America as a whole, and how the recent financial meltdown has made stratification worse in America. Overall from the 1970s and 80s social stratification has increased with the rich gaining more power, wealth, and special reward, and the number of people in poverty continues to grow and struggle to live. With the rate stratification is increasing how or will it ever be stopped?