Chapter 8: Class and Status Inequality
Sociology: A Canadian Perspective
Our realities are socially constructed– we become human through a social process, and our understanding of the world is
framed by social experiences.
Class and status – class (socio-economic class) refers to one’s position within a society’s economic hierarchy. Typical
designations include upper, middle, and lower class.
In contrast, status refers to one’s social position in terms of privilege and esteem. It can achieved or ascribed.
Economic elite are the men and women who hold economic power in a society. Researchers often operationalize this
concept in terms of reported financial assets (or wealth) and/or leadership positions on the boards of key (largest 100)
Economic power can also be interconnected with inequality concepts such as the social factors (gender, ethnicity, race,
age, sexual orientation, etc.) which play an important mediating role. Broad categories of individuals such as women,
ethnic and racial minorities, disabled, etc. are generally at much greater risk of being both relatively poor and powerless.
It is important to keep intersectionalities in mind when examining economic and status inequalities.
Class and Status Inequalities in Sociological Thought
Social stratification is the hierarchical arrangement of individuals based upon wealth, power, and prestige.
o Affects almost every aspect of our lives – where we live, our material possessions, level of education, etc.
o Stresses the layering of groups of people according to their relative privilege into social classes
o Social status – individual’s position within a social class, can be achieved or ascribed
Meritocracy is a system based upon achievement rather than ascribed status, system based on merit
o Argued as the preferred system
o However, it is more complicated , for example
Under a meritocracy, entrance into university should be based solely on a student’s achieving the
grades necessary for acceptance; however, the best predictor of university entrance is family
income – a person may have merit to get into university but not resources to do so
o If social status were based on earned achievement, we might see a high degree of social mobility (or the
movement from classes)
o but throughout their lifetime, most people remain in the social class into which they were born
Canada has an open stratification system compared to other countries – it is possible for a person of a poor
family to move up in class - Canada offers more opportunity for upward mobility, however we need to recognize
the degree to which ascribed status limits opportunities for Canadians
Sociology and Social Stratification
Conflict Approaches to Social Stratification: Karl Marx and Max Weber
Structural Functionalist Approaches to Social Stratification: Durkheim, Davis, and Moore Symbolic Interactionist Perspectives on Social Stratification: Thorstein Veblen
Feminist Explanations for Social Stratification
Breadwinner ideology excluded women as participants in the social class structures. Stratification research has been
critiqued for being ‘malestream’ as it excludes women from research samples, focusing on class rather than incorporating
gender inequality, as it assumes that women’s economic and social positions are derived from those of their husbands or
Feminization of poverty is the fact that globally, most women are at greater risk of impoverishment than their male
Class and Status Inequality in Canada
The issue is not simply wealth inequality but also the presence of a very small number of Canadians who are extremely
wealthy and powerful.
The very wealthy tend to be bound together by important shared experiences
Ascribement at birth
Exclusive neighbourhood inhabitancy
Vacationing at elite resorts, etc.
These shared experiences lend themselves to friendships, family intermarriage, and a common perspective on social
issues. “They are different from you and me.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
There is considerable evidence that quite a small number of Canadians and non-Canadians occupy positions of extreme
wealth and privilege, etc. raising two concerns:
What are the implications of this narrow consolidation of wealth and power for our democratic structures?
How much of a gap between have and have-nots is desirable or acceptable in any society that wants to maintain a
range of social mobility and open access?
The Poor and Economically Marginalized
Poverty is used as an all-encompassing term to describe situations in which people lack many of the opportunities
available to the average citizen.
Most common distinctions are:
‘absolute’ – a lack of basic necessities
o Assumes that we can ascertain an absolute measure of poverty by calculating the cost of goods and
services essential to physical survival
‘relative’ – inadequacy compared to average living standards.
o Any definition of poverty should take social and physical well-being into account
o Argues that someone who has noticeably less than their surrounding community will feel disadvantaged
Statistics Canada relies on three measures:
Low-Income Cut-Offs (LICOs)
o Relative measure of poverty that defines as low-income those Canadians who spend 20% more of their
gross (before tax) income on food, shelter, and clothing than does the average Canadian
Market Basket Measure (MBM)
o Used to reflect the fact that living costs vary in different parts of Canada o Includes five types of expenses for a family of four – food, shelter, clothing and footwear, transportation,
and household necessities
Low-income Measure (LIM)
o A relative measure, is equal to half of the median income in a census metropolitan area
o Adjusted for family size
o Any families with a post-tax i