Social inequality: inequality in the distribution of societal values (wealth, power and
prestige), caused by any ascribed or achieved characteristics.
Includes gender, ethnic racial etc. inequality and socio-economic (class/status) inequality.
Socio-economic inequality is a relatively stable pattern (hierarchy) of socially sanctioned,
Inequality exists in all known societies, socio-economic inequality exists in nearly all
known societies (hunting/gathering societies: gender and age inequality, but no economic
Theoretical approaches to socio-economic inequality:
Socio-economic inequality can be described and analyzed in two ways:
1. Distributional: the hierarchical arrangement of individuals based upon wealth, power
Socio-economic status (SES) - is an individual's position in this hierarchy.
SES indicators: property, income, education, occupation, occupational prestige,
political participation, political power, consumption patterns etc.
Occupation is highly correlated with the other indicators of SES
Stratum is a category of people with similar amount of wealth, power and prestige. (layer
of people in society with a similar SES. Always talk about Strata, never classes.
Stratification belongs to structural functionalism
Assumed value consensus, therefore exceptionality of conflict.
2. Relational: socio-economic inequality is a relationship between classes, groups who
differ in their access to means of production.
Can form unions, membership;
One class owns means of production
Other class does not own means of production; sells their labour;
Differences and/or antagonism in class interests.
Emergence and maintenance of socio-economic inequality
Emergence of inequality may be due to chance and to apparently insignificant
difference between individuals/groups.
Once inequality emerges, the privileged develop a system of social control
(socialization and coercion) to maintain it.
Some societies resist establishment of inequality (e.g. the 20th c. !Kung; the 18th
century Iroquois). Normality of class conflict.
Question: are there classes in Canada?
Origins and maintenance of socio-economic inequality
Meritocracy and Social mobility
Meritocracy: a social system wherein status is achieved by merit (ability and effort)
It assumes equality of opportunity and perfect social mobility; very easy to move
from one class or social status to another only on merit
Vertical social mobility is a movement of individuals to different positions in social
hierarchy (or: to different classes)
Intergenerational (movement from your parents' social status) and intragenerational
(in your own lifetime) mobility.
Upward and downward mobility
Canadian middle class has been experiencing significant downward mobility in the last
25 years - unknown a generation ago.
Open vs. closed stratification systems (Cumming and Duffy "open societies"),
(difference of societies that allow for vertical mobility)
Marx on classes: bourgeoisie, proletariat and the petite bourgeoisie
Class relations are based on (exploitative) relations of production.
Three main classes