Social Inequality, Social Stratification, Social Class
Inequality of condition occurs where individuals have very different amounts of wealth, status and power. This is a characteristic of all complex modern societies. Equality of condition is often present in small-scale, hunter-gatherer societies. Inequality of opportunity occurs where differences in individual possession of wealth, status and power result in definite advantages and disadvantages in the pursuit of personal success.
"Sympathy is rarely strong where there is a great inequality of condition." - Macaulay.
Reducing inequality of condition is the central aim of huge and expensive welfare states, with not only income support for the poor, but excellent education and health care at all income levels. Britain is somewhat less serious, and the USA hasn't been serious since Roosevelt.
We cannot have equality of opportunity without equality of condition. Inequality of condition, like soft discrimination, hurts a child throughout a child's life.
Equality of opportunity is, of course, quite consistent with inequality of condition. But is not the same as two runners given an even start, and equally good tracks. Inequality of condition does not necessarily equal inequality of opportunity. When it comes to general measurement of inequality of condition, inequality of consumption is probably more appropriate than inequality of income.
In American political discourse, a distinction is often made between inequality of condition and inequality of opportunity. The former involves the distribution of valued rewards in society, while the latter has to do with access to these rewards. In terms of scientific work, much more progress has been made on the study of inequality of condition than on the study of inequality of opportunity. This paper proposes an approach to defining and measuring inequality of opportunity that avoids many of the problems found in previous research. The approach is illustrated utilizing occupational data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Studies. The empirical evidence analysis reveals less inequality of occupational opportunity than inequality of income, somewhat more inequality of occupational opportunity among men than women, and more occupational opportunity among women than men. - Measuring opportunity - KRYMKOWSKI Daniel H. - Mathematical Sociology in Japan and America. Conference, Honolulu.
INEQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY
IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE: Recent Research on Educational Attainment and Social Mobility
- Richard Breen and Jan O. Jonsson
Annual Review of Sociology Vol. 31: 223-243.
We review research published since 1990 into educational stratification and social (occupational or class) mobility, focusing on the importance of parental socioeconomic circumstances, and with particular emphasis on comparative studies. Large-scale data now available from many countries and several time points have led to more and better descriptions of inequality of opportunity across countries and over time. However, partly owing to problems of comparability of measurement, unambiguous conclusions about trends and ranking of countries have proven elusive. In addition, no strong evidence exists that explains intercountry differences. We conclude that the 1990s witnessed a resurgence of microlevel models, mostly of a rational choice type, that signals an increased interest in moving beyond description in stratification research.
"This, I think, gives us two kinds of reasons to worry about inequality of condition. One is that inequality of condition undermines equality of opportunity, which is an important value. Another is that inequality of condition in part reflects previous unequal opportunities, which is unjust. Of course, you don't want to do too much to advance equality of condition, since taken to extremes that would undermine everyone's prosperity. Nor do you want to go too far in efforts at generating equal opportunities or you'll fatally undermine liberty. But you do want to do some of both. Both are important values, they're mutually re-enforcing, but neither one can be realized at the limit without undermining yet other important values." - Matthew Yglesias is a writer living in Washington, DC..