Social Inequality: Social Class

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Social Inequalities

How groups of people have less power, status, wealth and income than others

Examples of social inequality

  • Gender - Women experience less pay and employment status
  • Ethnicity - Some Ethnic minorities face lower employment rates and thus lower pay and status
  • Age - Young and Old often face inequalities as they are seen as vulnerable and dependant
  • Class - 1,2 and 3 have greater status and wealth than those of 4,5,6 and 7 according to the NS-SEC

The Hills Report (2010) found that the richest 1% now recieve more of the total income available than they did in the 1970's

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Social Mobility

- The HEFC for England (2010)  found that the numbers of pooer children entering Higher Education rose between 1994 and 2009

- Williams (2010) believes that the children of this generation may pass on their knowledge of social mobility to their children thus making more social mobility

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Measuring Social Class

- Marxists believe that ownership of the means of production determines class position

- Webarians believe that status and power should also be taken into account

Group Interests:

Sociologists: To compare findings and claims regarding validity/reliability or identify patterns and trends

Governments: Want to develop social policies

Advertisers & Industry: Want to identify where to sell and promote goods

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The Registrar General Scale

- Used from 1911 - 2000

- Was mainly used to help Governments devise social policies

- Measured solely on occupation

- It omitted:

  • Unemployed and never-employed
  • Women who didn't have a paid job outside the home
  • Single mothers
  • The very wealthy

- It also:

  • Grouped together occupations regardless of their lifestyles
  • It assumed the main breadwinner was male
  • Ignored women's participation in the workplace
  • Ignored the self employed and unemployed
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- Replaced the RG scale in the 2001 census

- Developed by Webarian sociologists

- It took into account:

  • Status and Power as well as occupation
  • Pay, Hours, Education, Housing, Income and Occupational level
  • The Unemployed


  • it is still based on occupation and doesn't include the very wealthy
  • Partly based on educational qualifications
  • Doesn't take into account lifestyles within the classes
  • It doesn'e take into account how people see themselves
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Class and inequality: Household Income

- Those not living in households (e.g. travellers) are difficult to reach and include on statistics

- The ONS bar chart is a way of measuring income through before and after benefits

- Operationalizing income differs from study to study

- The very wealthy or 'cash-in-hand' workers may be omitted from records

- A sample may not be representive of all groups

- Some self-employed are not VAT registered and do not appear on records

- Since 1979 the gap between rich and poor has increased

- The gap stabalized under the Labour governments of 1997 - 2010

- Social Trends (2010)  found that the UK has the 8th worst level of inequality in the EU

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The Hills Report

- Funded by the Government in 2010

Key findings:

  • The top 10% of the country have 100 times more wealth than the poorest 10%
  • The top 1% have wealth of £2.6 million each on average
  • Wealth levels affect life expectancy
  • People's origins affect their occupational and economic destinations
  • Social class affects a childs readiness for school
  • Economic advantages and disadvantages are reproduced from one generation to the next
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Class and inequality: Housing

- The ONS (2010) found that 92% of class 1 owned their own home or had a mortgage compared to 14% of class 8

- Le Grand (1998) highlighted the effects poor housing has on peoples life chances

- Poor accommodation can lead to inequalities such as physical and mental health problems as well as educational underachievement and social exclusion

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Class and inequality: Education

- Working classes do worse than the middle classes

- Inequalities include:

  • The percentage of 16 year olds achieveing 5 A* - C GCSE's is higher in class 1 than classes 6,7 and 8
  • 7% of children go to private schools, 45% of whom go to Oxbridge
  • Working class children are more likely to leave school at 16
  • Furlong and Carmel (2005) found that working class pupils who go to university go to less prestigious ones and end up doing less well in the Labour market
  • Feinstein (2003) argues that at 3 years old working class children are about 2 years behind middle class children
  • Hirsch (2006) said that working class homes are unable to support their children as effectively due to a lack of material resources
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Archer et. al

- Carried out research in 6 London schools

Methods included:

  • Structured and unstructured interviews
  • Discussion groups
  • Photographic diaries

They found that:

  • To overcome worthlessness they adopted a street culture
  • Urban life was more important to them than university as they didn't admire university graduates

- The study required the researchers to develop a rapport with the pupils. Using unstructured interviews allowed this to happen and increased the studies validity.

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Class and inequality: Health

- The Black Report (1980) found there was a correlation between class and health

- Bottero (2005) argues that the findings are self evident given that rates of morbidity and mortality are higher for the working class including cancer, infections, heart disease, strokes and accidents

- Wilkinson and Pickett (2009) say that the life expectancy of middle class men in 78 with 76 being the life expectancy in working class areas

- Shaw (1999) argues that material factors such as poor working conditions and diet are a cause of ill health

- Jackson and Wistow (2009) argues that although ethnicity, age, gender and housing also have an impact it is class that is the determining factor in terms of ill health

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Gender and Inequality: Employment

  • Women are 45% of the workforce but 40% of them work part time
  • The rate of unemployment for women is growing faster than for men
  • Single mothers are mote likely to be unemployed
  • Dual caring is taking taking place for women in their 50's who look after the elderly and children

- Horizontal Segregation is where men and women are employed to different types of work

- Vertical Segregation is where men and women are at different levels in occupations or the Labour market

The Gender Pay Gap

  • Is about 16.4%
  • Can lead to the feminization of poverty
  • In Education the gap is 12.9% yet in banking and finance it is 37.8%
  • For disabled men the pay gap is 11% between them and other male workers
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Gender and Inequality: Education

  • Girls of all ethnic groups do better than boys
  • Girls from Chinese and Indian backgrounds do better than any social group
  • Subject choices are gendered e.g. physics is male dominated
  • Boys are four times more likely to be excluded
  • Girls are more likely to self-exclude by truanting, Osler and Vincent (2003)
  • Archer (2003) said that Asian boys are becoming as desruptive as other boys
  • Jackson (2006) found that girls were adoping laddish behaviours that were associated with boys and are now referred to as ladettes
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Gender and inequality: Health

  • Women have longer life expectancy at 82 years old compared to 78 years old
  • Women increse greater morbidity
  • Women use health services more but this is due to pregnancy largely
  • Men are more likely to be alcoholics and Drug users
  • Lyng (1990) said that young males engage in risky behaviour (edgework)
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Ethnicity and Inequality: Employment

  • Chinese and Indian men earn more than any other ethnic group and are more likely to enter the progessions. Bangladeshi men & women are the opposite, The Hills Report (2010)
  • Unemployment of black graduates is the worst at 24%
  • Hills et al. (2005) found there is a high level of unemployment amongst Pakistani and Bangladeshi men
  • Yi Cheung (2006) said that more minorities enter the Labour market yet can face the 'Ethnic Penalty'
  • Bhopal (1999) says that women from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds can be limited by Cultural Constraints
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Ethnicity and inequality: Education

- Ethnicity is seen as a menas of social mobility

  • Pakistani and black students do the least well
  • Black students are more likely to be excluded or labelled
  • Students from minority ethnic groups remain in education longer than white people
  • Minority ethnic students tend to go to university more often yet go to the less presitgious ones
  • Those from poor backgrounds do better than their white peers
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Ethnicity and inequality: Health

  • The rate of health and higher mortality is greater in most ethnic groups except from Indian and African-Asian groups where it is better than the white majority
  • Most ethnic groups are less likely to suffer from Lung or Breast cancer
  • Africans have increased incidence of high blood pressure
  • Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are more likely to suffer from TB, Diabetes and Liver Cancer with the latter two facing risk of heart disease
  • African- Caribbeans are more likely to be sectioned under the mental health act
  • People from the Indian sub continent are less likely to consume alcohol or smoke
  • Men & women from Pakistani, Bangladeshi and African Caribbean groups are more likely to report bad health
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Age and Inequality The Old (1)


  • 20% of the 62 million population in the UK are under 16 as well as 20% who are 60+
  • Over 85's is the fastest growing age group

The Elderly

  • Defined by the UN as 60+
  • Milne & Harding (1990) found that the elderly were either 'young elderly' or 'older elderly' and as people live longer their perceptions change as to what an elderly person is

Economic Factors

  • Fuel Poverty affects over 1.7 million pensioners
  • Giddens (2006) found that 18% of elderly people live in poverty compared to 7% of the rest of the population
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Age and Inequality The Old (2)

  • Material Deprivation is worse for older women than men and they are likely to have lower pensions
  • Davidson (2006)  argues that they may own a house but most of their earnings are spent on mortgage repayments


  • Old people may face age discrimination in the workplace
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Age and Inequality: Young People

Economic factors

  • According to CPAG (2009) there are 2.8 million children living in poverty in the UK
  • Many young people who work are paid below the minimum wage
  • University graduates face high loan repayments and employment is low


  • Midgeley and Bradshaw (2006) argue that access to post 16 education differs in urban and rural areas
  • Increased student fees may defer people from going to university

Social Exclusion

  • In areas of high unemployment young people may be excluded from mainstream society
  • There has been an increase in NEETS
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