Sociology Unit 2 Social Inequality

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Social Stratification

Stratification - Division of society into hierarchically ordered layers = Most privileged at the top and the least favoured at the bottom. (Layers have unequal distrubution of power, status wealth and income) Slavery was a common form of stratification.

Power - Ability of individuals to achieve their goals in society.

Income (money)- Often gained by employment

Wealth - Possesions held by an idividual.

Status - Refers to social honour.

We also use Age, Gender, Ethinic origin, religion and social class to rank people. 

Government uses the National Statistics socio-economic Classification to linking someones job to their social class = Open stratification as people can move between layers. 

Underclass = Term used to describe groups at the bottom of the structure. Life chances are less than others in society. Unemployed, Young parents, Single parents, Homeless and Elderly people living in poverty are all members of the underclass

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Functionalists (consensus theorists) -

  • Veiw society as an open system as everyone can has an equal chance of succeding; depending on their effort and abilities (meritocracy).
  • Society is held together because everyone shares a common set of value and norms through socialisation.
  • Everyone works together for the good of society as a whole, any differences are fair.
  • The wealthiest are in the position because they are talented and have worked hard.

Marxists (Conflict Theorists) - 

  • The class system is unjust 
  • The wealthiest (Capital Class) in society are able to exploit others in order to become wealthy. 
  • This leads to conflict such as strikes. 
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Stratification and Life Chances

Life Chances - Advantages or disadvantages to people that affect them doing well or badly in life.(People at the top of the strata are more likely to be succesful) 

  • Children of unskilled working class parents are 3 times more likely to die within a year of birth.
  • Working class women are more likely to be single mothers.
  • Working class people are 3 times more likely to have illnesses.
  • Those in working class are more likely to smoke. 
  • 2 3rds of children from professional backgrounds achieve 5 or more GCSE's at grade C and above.  

Changes in the class structure in Britain:

In the 1950's class structure was clearly defined.

  • Working class - Skilled and unskilled manual workers
  • Middle class - Non manual jobs relatively well paid
  • Upper class - Inherited wealth or owned large companies. 

Now that there is a decline in number of unskilled maual jobs there has been an increase in professional jobs.So the class structure is blurred.

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Social Mobility

Social Mobility - The movemnet of people ( up or down) between the layers of society. 

Inter-generational mobility - Between generations ( Child from working class background gets a good education and gains a middle class job)

Intra-generational mobility - Within one generation. (gets promotion)

In the 1950's the pattern of mobility has risen in:

Short range mobility - Moving from one neighbouring social classes (working to middle) 

Long range mobility - Moving across several social classes ( working to upper class)

Some sociologists believe that Britian isn't an open society becauses:

  • Social backgrounds should make no difference on chances or social mobility.
  • Only those who have the ability will reach the top
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Absolute poverty - not having the basics to live. But others have more needs than others such as a healthy adult needs less than a adult with health issues. 

Poverty line -  if your income is less than 60% of the average income. 

Relative poverty- Not having the standard of living accepeted by most of society (not having the newest gadgests etc)

People in poverty:

  • Lone parents with dependent children
  • Unemployed
  • Low paid unskilled workers
  • Chronically ill or disabled
  • The elderly.

Poverty explanations (cultural) (people who are in poverty are the problem)

  • Immediate Gratification: The attitude you should ejoy life now and not think about the future
  • Fatalism: We cannot do anything to improve our situation (what will be will be)
  • Lack of respect and authroity
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Structural Explanations of Poverty

See the poor as the victims. 

  • Poverty still exsits because of the faliure of the welfare state. 
  • Benifits are not enough to lift them out of poverty

New rights: 

  • Believe that benifits are too generous which creates a poverty trap = no incentive to work.
  • Minimum wage should be raised so more people will want to work

Many welfare benifits go to people who don't need them for example: 

All families recieve a child benifit even if they have enough money to live. 


  • Poverty is inevitable in the society we live in.
  • Somebody has to be at the bottom of the strata
  • Poverty is a result of having an unequal class bassed society 
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Is gender becoming less important in British socie


  • Equality act 2010 makes it illegal for employers to discriminate on gender.
  • Women are now choosing work over families so can now compete at the same level as men.


  • Females are more likely to work part time due to other responsibilities 
  • Females are over represented in in low paid routine jobs - appears to be a glass ceiling preventing women from taking up more senior jobs

Glass ceilingAn unacknowledged discriminatory barrier that prevents women and minorities from rising to positions of power or responsibility, as within a corporation.

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Key terms

Achieved status - One's social position is based on effort and ability.

Ascribed status - Position is determined at birth.

Patriarchy - Feminists believe that society is a male dominated society where by women are disadvantaged by men. 

Sexism - Being prejudice because of a persons gender.

Ethnic group - A group of people who share common culture and a sense of identity based on country, language and religion.

Ethnic minority - A group that does not make up the majority of the population

Environmental poverty - Deprivation from neighbourhoods that are ugly, dirty and unsafe.

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