Social Stratification refers to the unequal manner in which scarce resources and social rewards are
distributed among different social categories and groups.
• Social Classes are categories of people who have similar access to resources and opportunities.
• Life Chances refer to the likelihood of realizing a certain standard of living or quality of life, including
health and well-being.
- Wealth refers to the total economic assets owned by a person or family; it consists of property and
income. Property comes in many forms, such as buildings, land, animals, machinery, cars, stocks, bonds,
businesses, and bank accounts. Income is money received as wages, rents, interest, royalties, or the
proceeds from a business.
- Large differences of income and wealth have existed as long as these data have been collected. Wealth
is highly concentrated. The majority of wealth, 68 percent, is owned by only 10 percent of the nation’s
families. The super-rich, the richest 1 percent of U.S. families, are worth more than the entire bottom 90
percent of Americans. This unequal distribution of income and wealth has been remarkably stable; the
changes that do occur indicate growing inequality.
- Also, there have been persistent differences in income and wealth between men and women, the
young and old, and white and non-white Americans.
• The income inequality of a population is commonly measured using the Gini index. The Gini index
ranges from 0, indicating perfect equality to 1, indicating perfect inequality. The increase in the Gini
index for household income between 1970 and 1999 indicates a significant increase in income
• There is a huge inequality gap worldwide. Consider:
- In 1900, people in the ten richest nations earned nine times as much per capita as did people in the ten
poorest nations. This gap increased to thirty to one in 1960 and to seventy-two to one in 2001.
- The top fifth of nations possess 86 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, 68 percent of direct
foreign investment, and 74 percent of the world’s telephone lines.
- The richest 20 percent of the world’s people receive at least 150 times more income than the poorest
- The top 20 percent consume 86 percent of the world’s goods and services, while the poorest fifth
consumes only 1 percent. - The three richest people on Earth have wealth that exceeds the combined economic output of the 47
least-developed countries. The richest 200 people have more money than the combined income of the
lowest 40 percent of the world’s population, or about 2.4 billion people.
- About half of the world’s people live on less than $2 a day, the World Bank’s definition of poverty.
• Absolute poverty refers to a condition of life that is so degraded by disease, illiteracy, malnutrition, and
squalor as to deny its victims the basic necessities of life.
• Relative poverty refers to a standard of living below that of most others in society, but not necessarily
threatening to life or health.
The Rich and the Poor
- Although there is no standard def