Sociology Index

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Social Inequality

Social inequality is found in all social processes, and a person's position in the social stratification system is the most consistent predictor of his or her behavior, attitudes, and life chances. Social equality includes right to vote, freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom to assemble, property rights, right to education, health care, housing, transportation and other social goods and services. Economic disparity generally leads to social inequality. Inequality of condition occurs where individuals have very different amounts of wealth, status and power. Inequality of opportunity is the biggest social problem that is hurting children in the developing world. Educational inequality is one of the topmost reasons for social inequality.

When and how social inequality in society began?

Does the international economic order affect social inequality?

Will globalization remove social inequality? 

What Is Social Inequality?

The concept of social inequality can be broken into its component parts: social differentiation, social stratification, and social distributions of wealth, income, power, and status. Social inequality arises because of inequality of opportunity society and inequality of condition in society. Social inequality arises because of caste and class systems in certain countries. Social inequality arises because of class and status differences.

The functionalist, critical sociological and interpretive perspectives on social inequality. Sociologists use the term social inequality to describe the unequal distribution of valued resources, rewards, and positions in a society. Key to the concept is the notion of social differentiation. Social characteristics, differences, identities, and roles differentiate people and divide them into different categories, which have implications for social inequality. When a social category like class, occupation, gender, or race puts people in a position in which they can claim a greater share of resources or services, then social differentiation becomes the basis of social inequality.

Social inequality is not about individual inequalities, but about systematic inequalities based on group membership, class, gender, ethnicity, and other variables that structure access to rewards and status. Sociologists are interested in examining the structural conditions of social inequality.

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu defined ones habitus as the deeply seated schemas, habits, feelings, dispositions, and forms of know-how that people hold due to their specific social backgrounds, cultures, and life experiences. Street smarts define their habitus and exercise a profound influence over the range of options that are available for them to consider. The habitus affects both the options to conform to the group they identify with or deviate from it. The habitus, as Bourdieu points out, is so deeply ingrained that we take its reality as natural rather than as a product of social circumstances. This has the effect of justifying social inequality based on the belief that some in the world were naturally gifted and predisposed for success when in fact it is success itself that is “predisposed” by underlying structures of power and privilege.

The term social stratification refers to an institutionalized system of social inequality. It refers to a situation in which the divisions and relationships of social inequality have solidified into a system that determines who gets what, when, and why. The question for sociologists is how systems of stratification come to be formed. What is the basis of systematic social inequality in society?

The dominant ideological presumption about social inequality is that everyone has an equal chance at success. This is the belief in equality of opportunity, which can be contrasted with the concept of equality of condition. Equality of condition is the situation in which everyone in a society has a similar level of wealth, status, and power. Equality of opportunity is the idea that everyone has an equal possibility of becoming successful. Equality of opportunity exists when people have the same chance to pursue economic or social rewards. This is often seen as a function of equal access to education, meritocracy, and formal or informal measures to eliminate social discrimination. Equality of opportunity means that inequalities of condition are not so great that they greatly hamper a person’s life chances.

Social Inequality Books

The Blackwell Companion to Social Inequalities (Blackwell Companions to Sociology). - by Mary Romero, Eric Margolis (Editor).

The Shape of Social Inequality : Stratification and Ethnicity in Comparative Perspective (Research in Social Stratification and Mobility) - by David Bills.

Inside Toyland : Working, Shopping, and Social Inequality - by Christine L. Williams, From Publishers Weekly.

Occupational Ghettos: The Worldwide Segregation of Women and Men (Studies in Social Inequality) Book by Maria Charles, David B. Grusky.

Injury : The Politics of Product Design and Safety Law in the United States - by Sarah S. Lochlann Jain.

Home Ownership and Social Inequality: In Comparative Perspective (Studies in Social Inequality) Book by Karin Kurz, Hans-Peter Blossfeld (Editors).

Great Divides : Readings in Social Inequality in the United States Book by Thomas Shapiro.