Social Stratification in the United States – Research Paper

Introduction

Social Stratification influences our daily lives, and it refers to the hierarchical arrangement of individuals in society. This research paper centers on the economic stratification, where it defines how individuals are distinguished based upon power or wealth. Sociology teaches about different types of inequalities that comprise of racial inequality, economic inequality, gender inequality, plus many more types of stratification. Also, sociology has a long history of studying stratification and inequality. Variation refers to individuals having an uneven distribution of and unequal access to valued and limited resources within the society (Kerbo, 1983). These resources can be political or economic such as property, land ownership, health care, education, housing, the capability to affect the government policy, and jobs.

Statement of the problem

Every observer within the American Society can quickly note the vast distinctions in power, authority, material possessions, wealth, and prestige in the society (McLeod, 2013). Also, the observers can readily note the variations in outcomes, and resources which are thought to be the foundation of inequality. These changes comprise of access to leisure, education, and health care, for instance in many developed countries, one child in ten live in absolute poverty.  Apparently, we need to ask ourselves what is the cause of such inequalities? Some people would assume the uneven distributions of authority, power, or resources. So let’s define what power, resources, and authority is. Firstly, authority is taking charge or control especially in the face of opposition. Secondly, power is the capability to rule or be in charge. Thirdly, resources refer to the assets, lands, and money accumulated through investments or wages.  Further, social status characterize another type of inequality, which comprise of esteem, respect, standing, physical capability, beauty, intelligence, prestige, and occupation, that classified in categories of the status quo. For instance, from the highest rank such as financial experts, corporate lawyers, to the lowest rank like the janitors and garbage collectors.

As a consequence, when sociologists discuss social classes, they always refer to a group of people that occupy a related and similar position of production in the economic system. What is vital within the economic system is an occupation as it offers or gives stability, benefits such as healthcare, and financial rewards (Beeghley, 2015). Apparently, people are always in similar positions and are aware of each other. They obtain information from the types of jobs positions, cars, clothing, conversations, grammar, topics, styles, and neighborhood. There are five social classes in the United States, and they comprise of:

The Poor

These are underclass individuals who work full time, and earn wages that are below the poverty line, and they hardly afford some social services. Working poor – work full-time at wages below the poverty threshold.

The Working Class People

These comprise of individuals such as restaurant workers, nursing home staff, and laborers in factories, delivery services, shops, and garage repairers.

The Lower Middle Class

These include the individuals that offer support to professionals, clerical- administrative, persons that get involved in record keeping and data collection, bank tellers, and blue collar employees in skilled trades.

The Upper Middle Class

This class characterized by individuals with technical and scientific knowledge, such lawyers, architects, engineers, directors, managers of private and public organizations, and university faculty. This kind of social class include people who have high social prestige, high incomes, and they are well educated. Most people are in the middle class, and it is hard to define what middle class is as it is the popular or largest social class in America. Since, the middle class is more than lifestyle, resources, and income.

The Elite or the Upper Class

It is represented by heads of multinational corporations, universities, foundations, institutional leaderships, circulated a list of the 400 wealthiest families in the United States, and although most parents indicated it had inherited its wealth.

Literature Review

In the latest years, the trends and tendencies in uneven distribution of resources and inequality have turned out to be more complicated, intricate, and thus harder to explain (Ogbu, 1994). Conversely, Statistics on global and America inequality are prevalent and alarming. Below are some of the examples of statistics conducted that illustrates some of the inequality trends:

  1. In 2007, the Census Bureau classified around 37 million American citizens as poor.
  2. Half of the children in the United States live in households, which uses food squashes during childhood.
  3. The wealthiest people in the world are from Walton’s family, who inherited their wealth from Sam Walton’s company, and they are worth $83.6 billion.
  4. Only 400 Americans have the same affluence like half of all Americans collectively.
  5. Only 25 Americans have a consolidated income approximately as huge as the consolidated income of about 2 billion of the world’s poor people.

While inequality is universal, there are more questions and arguments about differences, which sociologists are concerned and fascinated about like, how did bias start? Do we justify inequality? Why does inequality continue? (Ogbu, 1994). Therefore, this assignment defines the socioeconomic status of the United States, the principal theories of social stratification and the research investigates race, gender inequality, and class in more details. Lastly, the assignment will end with how capitalism is a critical perspective on inequality.

The Socioeconomic Status

Constructing or Building on the thoughts and ideas of Max Weber, a modern sociologist, who perceived the essential elements of social stratifications as requisites of socioeconomic status. As a consequence, there are a diversity of ways to measure socioeconomic status together with educational achievement, wealth, occupational prestige, and income.  These factors mirror or reflect three features or characteristics of persons, which merge to signify a person’s socioeconomic status or social class.

Prestige or Status

It refers to the standing, esteem, or reputation connected with a person’s position in society. In the past, prestige was linked or associated with a family’s name (Fogarty, 1994). However in developed countries, nowadays prestige is connected or attached to a person’s occupation. For instance, lawyers and doctors have more stature connected to them than the janitor and bartenders. As a consequence, a person’s esteem is linked to their social class and the higher the reputation of an individual, the higher the social class.

Property

The property is the total of an individual possession together with their expected and regular income. Apparently, property rises above income as an element of socioeconomic status, since it reflects the accrued wealth. For example, how many children you have, homes, stocks, and savings, additionally to your increased debts, and earning potential. Therefore, property is a better element and measure of socioeconomic status than income since the people considered affluent have little profits or earnings.

Power

This essential component of social class refers to a person’s capability to get others do their will, in spite of they want or not want to do. Legitimate power can be defined as the power is given to persons willingly by other people in authority. Nonetheless, illegitimate power refers to power obtained or taken by threat of force or coercion.

In fact, the above indicators go together, or one leads to the other. For example, a doctor is very wealthy, enjoys great esteem, and exercises dominant or significant power (Fogarty, 1994). Although in various occupations an individual is grouped differently, for instance, the prestige of a funeral director is quite small, although they might have high incomes than college professors who have a high prestige and are among the most educated people in the United States.

The main standpoints

There are two models or classic approaches to social stratification, which provide remarkable insights into these occurrences. The two standpoints comprise of conflict theories and structural-functionalism on social stratification.

Structural-Functionalism on Stratification

The above classic approach to stratifications inquires of the queries it asks of other components or factors of the society. It is paramount to note that all elements of society always contribute to the larger system’s stability, by the theory. Conversely, inequality and stratification are beneficial and inevitable to society. Stratification of a layer of the community, which is the expected sorting of diverse people is useful as it ensures that the finest people are on the top. While those who are less valuable or worthy are down in the rank (Fogarty, 1994). Consequently, they are given fewer rewards than the finest or high-quality people at the top of the class, and have less power. Nonetheless, inequality guarantees that the most vital and functional jobs are reserved and filled with the most qualified and high-quality people. Sorry to say that it makes sense for a CEO of a company whose position is very functional and imperative to earn more money than a messenger working for the same company.

Therefore, a job’s well-designed importance is determined by the measure or degree to which the job is meaning unique, and if other people can carry out the same job efficiently. For example, garbage collectors are vital to public sanitation. However, they do not need to be high rewarded as little talent, or training is required to perform the job. Further, doctors need to be high rewarded as significant training is necessary to carry out the job. Consequently, it is rational that society needs to offer great rewards like promotion, incomes, and vacations to encourage and motivate the high quality and most qualified individuals fill the most significant positions.

Challenges facing structural- functionalism

There are some problems or challenges connected to this approach. Firstly, it is hard to determine the practical or functional significance of any job, since the complementary interdependence and specialization make every position essential to the general operation or function. For example, every engineer in a factory is as significant as the other employees in the company. In another instance, a school teacher is as important as a basketball player. Conversely, there is little connection between jobs and incomes, which are functionally significant in the society.

Secondly, the above approach imagines or assumes that the structure of social stratification is fair and logic, and only the high quality and best individuals acquire top positions because of their achievements and superiority(Fogarty, 1994). However, in reality, the stratification structure does not function perfectly and with ease. For instance, George W Bush, the former American president was not the most politically talented or smartest person, although he was born and well associated at the top of the structure of stratification such as a heterosexual, male, wealthy white American. As a consequence, he was appointed with an immense power as the American president.

Lastly, another challenge with the above approach is that it assumes that only a few chosen people should have material wealth and power instead of distributing it equally or dispensing resources evenly to those who need the most.

Conflict Theorists on Stratification

Apparently, some of the conflict theorists reason and argue that social stratification is harmful and dysfunctional in the society, and only benefits the powerful and the wealthy at the cost of the poor in the community (Beeghley, 2015).For instance, most of the affluent families pay meager wages to gardeners to attend to their flower gardens, maids to pick their dirty socks, and nannies to take care of their children. Consequently, the rich are the only people who benefit from Capitalism, for instance, corporate welfare is an arrangement of tax breaks, and direct subsidies, which the government has generated for large corporations. Conversely, inequality is expected and inevitable within a stratification structure, which has the individual rivalry and competition at its center.

Therefore, conflict theorists argue and believe that the competitive structure generates continuing and perpetuating stratification structures. However, inequality and competition are not inevitable or expected as they maintained and created by individual (Beeghley, 2015).Additionally, functionalists disapprove of the above approach through arguing that individuals don’t act out of economic self- motive. For instance, the inventor of the Duty-Free Shoppers, Chuck Feeney, has given four billion dollars to charities, the Walton family has dished out only one percent of their wealth to charity, and Bill Gates has given out the fifty-eight percent of his money to donations and aid organizations.  Further, the conflict theorists underrate and undervalue individual’s capability to shift uphill in the society, and for people to succeed, they need to work extremely hard.

Towards a More classless and equal Society

Organizations require or need to be redesigned so as to be founded on collaboration and cooperation. The most significant component of a gentle humane and impartial society need to be based on the perception of every person’s capability, following ones needs (McLeod, 2013). Conversely, all individuals should work to the best of their capacity or ability in line with their talents, and each should obtain the fruits of their labor by their needs, and irrespective of what they have worked. As a consequence, sociologists believe that decision making and democracy is more efficient and humane. Therefore, the stratification structures that focus their power and decision making in the hands of few individuals are not interested, and ready to serve the interests of the people at the bottom of the rank or pyramid.

Connection of Race, Gender, and Class

The economic classes, about gender and race, form the inequalities, opportunities, and privileges encountered by groups and people. As a consequence, America continues to be significantly stratified beside these three elements (McLeod, 2013). It was evident in 2005 when the Hurricane Katrina hit the New Orleans. As a result, the responsibility of gender, class, and race was apparent since a lot of telecasted images revealed poor African-Americans that abandoned in the storm with no supplies, basic needs, and resources. Although the Hurricanes displaced people from all backgrounds, all were not affected the same. For example, the affluent had to leave, bank accounts, and credit cards for emergency supplies and hotels. Additionally, the rich had insurance policies to reconstruct and restart afresh. Therefore, the poor in the United States and all over the world are at the expense of suffering from human and natural tragedies or calamities

Capitalism, privilege, oppression, and class

The social class plays a vital function in the structures of oppression and privilege. Also, Capitalism generates enormous and massive amounts riches, and prosperity was adding to the increased ranks of inequity around the world, and within America. As a consequence, these inequalities arise from a class structure founded on escalating gaps in power, income, and wealth among the few individuals on the top and loads of individuals at the bottom. Additionally, Capitalism is a structure that generates harsh consequences for the poor in the developing countries, as the expenses are huge, with very high living conditions in comparison to people living in developed countries (Kerbo, 1983). Nonetheless, Capitalism generates or causes anxiety, stress, and competition, between the working and the middle class. Since individuals are not in charge of keeping their jobs or control over their works. In spite of the allegory that hard work creates and leads to individuals achieving in life, it’s only for the people who have the power to advance their class positions. Statistics reveal that people have the capability to move downwards as they have the capacity to go upwards of the social class structure.

Capitalism, gender inequality, and race

The loss of jobs to other countries and the rise of increase of settlers and immigrant in America demonstrate a core belief, which is a significant challenge. Most Americans employees experience inequitable competition, from abroad workers and American immigrants. Therefore, the Americans have a perception that the immigrants are grabbing jobs, which discount the capitalist structure that permits an increase in wealth of few people that have the capability to control employees, maintain wages as low as possible, and permit few individuals to take charge of the extreme affluence. As a consequence, small amounts of resources are distributed among other people.

Further, Capitalism takes the advantage of gender inequality (Kerbo, 1983). For instance, employed women are oppressed and exploited for crappy jobs as maids, nannies and shop attendants that only earn a dollar a day. Consequently, capitalism no longer operates if a lot of women are not shopping, cleaning, caretaking, and cooking. Conversely, the majority of women raise the next generation of employees that capitalism relies on without obtaining any benefits or pay.

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