Social Inequality

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  • Created by: khall16
  • Created on: 12-03-16 16:18


Stratification: Division of a society into a set of layers called strata, with the most favoured at the top and the least favoured at the bottom. The different layers tend to have unequal power, wealth and status. 

Ascribed Status: A position or social standing given to a person based on characteristics inherited at birth

Achevied Status: Achieved Status A social standing able to be gained

Open System: A system where movement between strata is possible via achievement

Closed System: A system where there is a lack of ability to move through the social stratas

The Caste System: A rigid system of strata in which an individual cannot move from the caste into which they were born. This is a closed system of people with ascribed status.

Slavery: A form of stratification in which a section of society has no rights, and individuals are items of property whch can be bought and sold.

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Life Chances

Life chances are the chances that sections of society have of achieving things which are valued in Society.


Is Naturally Occuring:

  • The Economy and other social processes create inequality.
  • In Britain, compettion creates winners and losers.
  • Society is organised to give much to some and little to others, life chances reflect this.

Shows Society is Fair:

  • Hard work and a sensible lifestyle can turn opportunities into better life chances.
  • All individuals have the opportunity to improve ther life chances if they choose to.
  • Welfare benefits and free education offer opportunities for all. 
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Class and Life Chances

How might class affect a person's health?

  • More Educated on how to keep healthy
  • Can't afford to go to gym / healthy diet
  • More labour intensive work
  • Lower Class = Location with Air Pollution, Poor Environment, etc.
  • Can't afford Private Health Care.
  • More lkely to drink/do drugs. 
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Gender and Life Chances

Reforms in areas such as Education and Employment

  • Anti-Discrimination Laws (1970 Equal Pay Act)
  • Women allowed to vote
  • Women allowed in army
  • Men allowed to take paternity leave

However Feminists still believe that society is Patriarchal

  • Men have a lot of power within families, politics and the workplace
  • Men generally recieve a bigger share of rewards such as wealth and status.
  • Women often face the glass ceiling in the workplace
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Ethnicity and Life Chances


  • Equal Opportunities Policies support equality and diversity
  • 1976 Race Relations Act, outlaws discrimination based on ethnicity
  • Equality and Human Rights Commission has powers to enforce Equality 

Inequality of opportunity: Where people do not have the same chances in life

Inequality of outcome: Where people have the same opportunities but cannot take advantage of them for social reasons.

Institutional Racism: Negative Labelling, more likely to be stopped and searched, affects opportunities gained in Education.

Occupation: Labelled as Lazy, less likely to be employed. Also, Institutional racism in Education system can affect qualifications gained in education, hence the opportunities for employment.

Language Barrier: Don't feel involved in society, can be marginalised, can't communicate effectively with others. 

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Age and Life Chances


  • 1/3 of over 50's have said they'd experienced age discrimination
  • Less Respected, Patronised, Harassment
  • Could lead to going out less, withdrawing from society, becoming depressed

Overcoming Ageism:

  • Buddy Schemes have been introduced to integrate the elderly into society and break down stereotypical views. 


  • Young people are stereotyped as apathetic, lazy, and self centred
  • This can harm their prospects of getting a job
  • The media reinforces these negative stereotypes
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Wealth refers to the assets owned by an individual. This could be money, savings, a house, land, or interest in a business.

Wealth is distributed unequally because...

  • Long established inequalities of wealth have never been challenged.
  • Loopholes in law enable the very rich to avoid taxation.
  • Over time, houses and land have increased in value. The gap between those who own such property and those without has widened over time.
  • In recent years, globalisation has led to super-rich people from other countries coming to live in Britain.
  • The rewards available in modern sport, entertainment and financial services have led to some accumulating fortunes.
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Income refers to the money recieved by an individual in a period of time; for example wages or interest on savings

Income is distributed unequally because...

  • Income from savings and investments will be distributed unequally because wealth is.
  • Income is not offered at the same levels for all occupations.
  • Doctors and other high status occupations have an advantage when bargaining for pay.
  • The pay for senior executives must be higher to attract the best talent whereas ordinary employees myst be paid lower so the workers don't 'price themselves out of the job'
  • Those lacking skills / skills not in demand are in a weak bargaining position for higher pay
  • Beneits are low and some people are dependent on them.
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Changes in the Class Structure


The idea that working class people develop middle class attitudes and behaviours, leading to a 'Manual Middle Class.' - but do not think of themselves as middles class and have different social and political views.


The idea that many non manual jobs put the workers in manual style situations (eg; call centre jobs) This shows that the differences between jobs are becoming smaller.

Overall the gap between rich and poor has increased. 


The people at the very botton of the social structure; they are cut off from the rest of society

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Social Exclusion

Social exclusion is the situation where people are unable to play a full part in society

Some sociologists argue social exclusion is due to:

  • Increase in lone-parent families
  • Increase in crime
  • Long term reliance on state benefits

Marxists argue that social exclusion is because working class suffer disadvantages:

  • Low Education = Low Opportunities
  • Being 'Not White' in a racist society
  • Immigrants are unfamiliar with customs and law = Vunerable

Another argument is that it's down to:

  • Poor Facilities 
  • Social Attitudes
  • Lack of local jobs
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Absolute Poverty:
Income is so low that they cannot obtain the minumum needed to survive

Relative Poverty:
Their income is 60% below the national average, so they are poor compared with others in their society. They cannot afford to have the general standard of living that most people in their society have. Being unable to do or have those things which constitute as 'normal' can lead to social exclusion.

How to draw the poverty line?
It's not easy to measure, the 60% figure is arbitrary, why not 65% or 55% Other ways of measuring poverty include subjective measures, in which people judge themselves to be living in poverty, and lacking items that the majority of the population see as 'necessities'

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Individual Explanations of Poverty

The Culture of Poverty:
People from the poorest sections of society are socialised within a subcultue of poverty. They develop a way of life and a set of values to cope with their position. (Living in the moment, see no point in planning ahead.) These values prevent them from taking up Educational Opportunities or saving for the future, and in this way, escaping poverty.

The Cycle of Deprivation:
Poverty involves both material and cultural deprivation. It persists from generation to generation, locking families into a cycle of deprivation.

Welfare Dependency and the Underclass:
In the 1980's and 1990's, New Right approaches identified the emergence in Britain on an Underclass - a group of 'undeserving poor' whose attitudes and values differed from Society's. This group remains in poverty because the welfare state encourage them to depend on state provision. Generous state provision makes the problem of poverty worse by creating 'Welfare Dependency' and encouraging the underclass to develop.

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Measuring Class

Registrar General's Scale:

Allocates people to a class based on occupation. It distinguished between manual and non manual occupations. However it's difficult to place people without jobs, jobless married women were judged by husband's occupation which could be misleading, wealthy upper class property owners were difficult to place, and two people with same job may have had huge differences in wealth, income and status in their occupation.

The National Statistics Socio-Economic Classification (NS-SEC) 

It uses occupation too but covers the entire population by including students and long-term unemployed people. It groups together occupations similar in: Rewards, Employment Status, and Levels of Authority and Control. 

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