SOC 101 Lecture Notes - Social Stratification, Conspicuous Leisure, Social Inequality
Social stratification: society's hierarchical ranking of people into social classes
Social class: group of individuals sharing a position in a social hierarchy, based on birth and
Social status: individual's position within the class structure.
Based on a few key principles:
o All societies redistribute materials and social rewards to individuals. Material resources always
in short supply, stratified system ensures that people who do more or are more capable
receive more material wealth and social recognition.
o For this system to work, people must believe they can achieve wealth and status
o Meritocracy: system of rewards based on personal attributes and demonstrated abilities.
Based on the principle that people achieve what they deserve
o System is relatively stable over time as it transcends any single generation.
o Social mobility: movement between social classes. Few people actually move out of their
social class, our social class is relatively stable. Measured by comparing children's status to
that of their parents (intergenerational mobility); or by comparing an individual's status
position over her or his lifetime (intragenerational mobility). Also used to measure society's
equality of opportunity
o Social class varies in how it presents itself: income vs. prestige. Class is attitudes, values,
o Stratification present in all known human societies, just different in how it is expressed.
o Criteria by which wealth and prestige are granted are considered fair and just by the majority
of the population. Acceptance often grounded in dominant ideology
Results from collective decisions about what is important in evaluating a person or a group
Results from a system that ranks people from high to low. Considered subjective as they have no
material influence on how well a person can actually perform a particular job
Supported by dominant ideology rather than individual capability
Classism: belief that people's relative worth is at least partly determined by social and economic
Legitimates economic inequality
Constitutes certain perspectives that explains why people are poor:
o Blaming the victim: assumes the poor are responsible for their poverty.
(Oscar Lewis)Culture of poverty: fatalistic belief system held by the poor as an
adaptation to systemic discrimination. Poor people feel marginalised, helpless and
inferior; fatalistic in their view of the future. Suggested that the poor are socialised to
view the world in a certain way; do not appreciate value of deferred gratification: ability
to forgo immediate pleasures in the interest of achieving greater rewards in the future.
o Blaming the system: perspective that holds that systemic discrimination exists within social
Argues that larger socio economic systems impose certain restrictions of certain
members of society
Deindustrialisation: transformation of an economy from one based on manufacturing to
one based on services. Influences unemployment and poverty levels; the poor lack the
skills needed to compete for new, highly skilled jobs that replace industrial jobs
Closed and Open Social Systems
Closed systems: social system in which status is based on attributes ascribed at birth. "Closed"
because innate attributes can't be changed and allow for little social mobility
o Caste system: ascribed systems of hereditary class designation. Virtually no social mobility.
Determines everything in their lives. Can only change caste through reincarnation: belief
associated with Easter religions that one's essence does not die and instead is reborn in
Open system: social system in which status is based on achieved attributes. Social mobility is easy
o Class structure: economic hierarchy that categorises groups based on their socio economic
status: social position, based on income, occupational prestige and education.
Property and Occupational Prestige
o Important indicator of where someone is in the class structure
o Divided into income and wealth
o Income: money received annually from all sources. Wealth: net accumulated assets including
homes, land and stocks. Income is what you earn, wealth is what you have.
o Quintiles: a measure that divides population into five categories, each representing 20%.
o Income generally correlated to occupational prestige
o People generally agree on what makes a prestigious occupation
o Prestigious occupations generally require university education
Sociological Approaches to Social Stratification
o Davis Moore Thesis: social stratification is functional for society because it ensures that key
social positions are held by the most capable people.
o Social elites have the ability to help their children assume the same social benefits although
there is no guarantee that the children are as capable or skilled as their parents, but they
maintain upper class status
o Ignores discrimination based on gender and race
o Capitalist economy determines the salary of a given occupation is not based on work's value
but market forces
o Ignores impact on poorer classes
o Society with social classes is a manifestation of competition between those who have social
power and those who do not.
o Marx: social stratification as a mechanism that institutionalises inequality and promotes social
stability over time. Proletariat's must overthrow the bourgeoisie and capitalism in order to
eliminate social stratification
o Weber: believed Marx's focus on economic production was overly simplistic and failed to
appreciate the multi dimensional nature of social class, inequality and role of cultural values.
Class differences based on economic inequality but was relatively unimportant because most
people lacked class consciousness.
Status groups: a group of people who share similar social status, lifestyles, world views,
occupations, and standards of living. Can be based on ethnicity, religion, occupation,
etc. People are more likely to act as part of a status group than as part of an economic
Parties: organisations that attempt to achieve certain goals in a planned and logical
manner. Have the power to influence social action and change
Power: ability to make others do something they would not otherwise do. Generally
originates with possession of wealth and privilege
Status inconsistency: occurs when an individual occupies several differently ranked
statuses at the same time
o Less interested in why social stratification exists and more interested in how people interpret
and construct responses to class inequality. How people use and respond to status symbols
o Status symbols: material indicators that demonstrates a person's social and economic position
o Conspicuous Consumption: purchase of expensive goods simply because they are valuable,
not because there is any innate satisfaction in them.
o Conspicuous leisure: demonstration of one's high social status through forms of leisure; taking
o Conspicuous waste: disposal of valuable goods to demonstrate wealth; large tips for small
o People want to be seen as living one class stratum above where they live. Credit cards have
changed people's ability to reach or appear to reach the next level
o Veblen's contribution: analysis of how we seek to appear as belonging to a higher social class
than our actual one.
o How the dominant perspective permeates our society's evaluation of what is deemed to be
valuable and important
o Recognizing the working lives of women within capitalism and investigating the role of class
position in determining one's view of the world.
o Double ghetto: situation in which women who have full time jobs outside their home often
work another "shift" when they get home.
Origins of Inequality
Is Inequality Justified?
Social position is determined
by personal skills and abilities
Yes; society needs to
redistribute limited resources
to those who can benefit
society the most
Wealth is accumulated in
fewer and fewer hands, elites
solidify their control of
resources to the exclusion of
No; social wealth is
accumulated by the elite, who
continue to exploit the lower
classes for personal gain