SOC 104 Lecture Notes - Lecture 9: Economic Inequality, Meritocracy, Social Inequality

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26 Jul 2016
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Chapter 10: Inequality of Wealth and Income
A variety of health and social problems-including mental illness, life expectancy and
infant mortality, obesity, children’s educational performance, homicides, and levels of
trust-can all be linked to the degrees of inequality
Change theories link inequalities of wealth and income to the economic structure and
class relationships. They accept that there will always be differences of ability among
people
-The most important issue is how inequalities become structured in particular ways at
certain times in history
-Tend to emphasize the linkage of various forms of modern social inequality to the
capitalist economic system, as well as to the structures and beliefs that arise within
that system
Throughout the feudal era, social inequalities were generally seen as inevitable working
out of God’s plan; they required no explanation and certainly were not open to change
The growth of markets and of capitalist productive relations gave rise to a new way of
thinking about social inequality
The new and expanding bourgeois class promoted the argument that anyone should be
able to attain wealth, prestige and power. The market, rather than accident of birth,
should determine one’s place in the system of inequality, with equality and opportunity
for all
Change theories argue that the “race of life” under the conditions of capitalism can never
truly be fair; there is no justice in the world
-Inequalities are necessary to reflect different levels of individual contribution and
effort
Order theories focus on equality of opportunity. True equality of opportunity is not
possible in capitalist societies because a small number of individuals-those with great
wealth and power-effectively control the competition between individuals, just as they
control the competition between economic units
-The race of life is set up to prevent most people from winning
Functionalists will argue that hard words to success. They undermine inequalities and
assumes that everyone has equal access to resources
-Assumes everyone has access to good schools and post-secondary education
Liberalism masks structural inequality because it gives the impression that everyone gets
a reasonable fair chance in the race
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-Underpinning all belief systems within capitalist societies
-Blaming the individual for their place in society because your work effort relates to
your class
Symbolic Markers of Social Inequality
Status symbols are markers of a person’s place in the hierarchy. They refer to housing,
dress, speech, mannerisms, hobbies, food preferences, favourite alcohol
Mass advertising convinces us to buy more and more products that serves no purpose
other than as status symbols
Humans need affirmation from others, and in today’s society wealth and material objects
are things that are valued
Economic inequality always becomes embedded with cultural meaning
Unequal allocation of our society’s resources is the result of the private appropriation of
surplus value
Status anxiety: a feeling that you have to constantly work to maintain your social status
Inequality: The Growing Gap
Two ways of measuring social inequality: differences in income (money acquired
through wages, salaries or various forms of government assistance) and wealth (all assets,
including real estate, money in bank accounts, stocks, bonds)
We have more information about income, not wealth. The top class can live up the
income of others through assets and inheritance but have a low income. Therefore, wealth
is a better determinant
The top in the economy has constantly rising incomes
In addition, younger workers make consistently lower earnings and have slower progress
than older, more experienced workers
Therefore, the younger generation have to spend more time in school and do volunteer
work, causing more debt and free labour
Immigrants are also more vulnerable to low incomes than other Canadians
Social welfare programs have been increasingly underfunded, causing a larger gap
Explaining Social Inequality
Modern societies are generally thought of as “open” societies, where one’s class or status
is based on merit- meritocracy
Order theories generally see capitalist societies as meritocracies. One of the predominant
order theories is that of functionalism
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