Class and Status Inequality
Class and status are embedded into our daily routines.
We make assumptions about others on the basis of their relative class and
Connected to class are assumptions of levels of power.
Today, the power associated with social class is much more indirect and
The Canadian corporate elite are obscured by their corporate connections.
That is, they are not well known even if the corporations they run are well
known to the public.
Power relations are often muddied by interconnections with other patterns
Social factors such as gender, race and ethnicity, age, disability, sexual
orientation, and immigrant status play important mediating roles.
Class and Status Inequalities in
Social stratification is one of the foundational concerns in sociology.
It refers to the hierarchical arrangement of individuals based upon wealth,
power, and prestige.
The term, social stratification, stresses the layering of groups of people based
upon their privilege and social class.
According to most sociologists, there are two basic types of status: ascribed
An ascribed status is assigned at birth and includes race, gender,
disability, and age.
An achieved status is earned over the life course.
A meritocracy is is based upon achieved status. Hmm.
Are you reading Halfbreed????
Although most people prefer such a system, understanding an individual’s
social status is more complex than attributing it to their strengths or
The myth of meritocracy – that resources are distributed on the basis of
merit – deserving of because of achievement – how is this a myth?
Comparisons of Canada with other nations suggest that we have a relatively
open stratification system. A global perspective suggests that there are more opportunities for upward
mobility, but it is also known that ascribed status limits opportunities for
Income and economic assets alone are not clear indicators of social class.
The nature and determination of social class are not clear-cut, and there is
some division among sociologists as to the overall significance of social
Conflict Approaches to Social Stratification
Karl Marx argued that society is best characterized by conflict.
A distinguishing feature of capitalism is that it is split between two central
classes: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
The bourgeoisie control the means of production while the proletariat
have only their labour to sell in the marketplace.
The Canadian corporate elite are obscured by their corporate connections. That is,
they are not well known even if the corporations they run are well known to the
The means of production refer to things that create wealth including tools,
factories, land, and investments.
Several characteristics of the capitalist mode of production distorts the social
structure: private property, expropriation of surplus wealth, division of
labour, and alienated labour.
Capitalists are able to keep wages low because capitalism ensures the
existence of a reserve army of labour.
The reserve army of labour refers to people who are unemployed and,
consequently, depress wages.
Marx argued that class conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat
would become inevitable as inequality became more pronounced.
Eventually, this polarization would lead to the proletariat developing class
Class consciousness is an awareness of workers’ shared interests and their
ability to react in those interests.
Marx predicted a socialist revolution, the eradication of capitalist economies,
and a new mode of production.
Weber was a conflict theorist who argued that there was more to social class
than just property ownership and economic inequalities.
3 P’s - power, property, prestige [Weber]
7 ways - Income, occupation, education, location, religion, race, family name
Class refers to the ownership of property.
Status refers to prestige and social honour.
Power refers to the ability to exert power and control over others despite
Structural Functionalist Approaches to Social Stratification Émile Durkheim drew attention to the social functions played by social
He argued that early societies were held together by mechanical solidarity.
This refers to union based on a minimal division of labour, similarity of
people based on shared experiences and common beliefs.
As the division of labour becomes more complex, organic solidarity becomes
In such societies, no one can survive without each other.
Durkheim noted that there can be anomic divisions of labour where class
polarization takes place.
Symbolic Interactionist Perspectives on Social Stratification
Symbolic interactionists are less interested in how inequality is created as
they are in how it is experienced.
They are interested in how symbols enable people to carry out uniquely
human actions and interactions.
Thorstein Veblen suggested that the business class and the leisure class were
very different. While the former is interested in earning profits, the latter is
more interested in conspicuous consumption.
Conspicuous consumption refers to purchasing expensive goods and services
in order to put them on display.
Symbolic statements about wealth are abundant throughout society
including in university settings where brand names such as Lululemon,
Bench, and UGG are readily apparent.
Status symbols provide people with ways to express and exaggerate their
social position and worth.
Feminist Explanations for Social Stratification
In the past, there were few female social class theorists.
Feminists have drawn attention to the feminization of poverty in Canada.
Across the globe, women are disproportionately poor- income,
choices and opportunities, inequality and inequity
At home and in the workplace, women are disadvantaged.
Class and Status Inequality in Canada
The Wealthy, Elites, and Super Rich
The dominant structural functionalist approach to social stratification was
first challenged by sociologist C. Wright Mills.
He argued that elites had the effect of jeopardizing democratic processes.
Class and Status Inequality in Canada, cont’d
The Wealthy, Elites, and Super Rich
Latest data on economic inequality in Canada shows that in 2007, the
average after tax total of Canadian families for the richest quintile was
$126,700, while the lowest averaged $13,900.
There is considerable evidence that there exists a small, wealthy elite in
Canada who occupy positions of extreme wealth and privilege.
Class and Status Inequality in Canada, cont’d The Poor and Economically Marginalized
One of the most common distinctions used to define poverty is between
absolute and relative poverty.
Absolute poverty refers to a state in which people lack the basic
necessities of life including food, clothing, and shelter.
Relative poverty is a state in which people are poor relative to the