Textbook Notes (368,501)
Canada (161,931)
Sociology (1,053)
SOCA01H3 (480)
Chapter 8

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Sheldon Ungar

Chapter 8: Social Stratification PATTERNS OF SOCIAL INEQUALITY Shipwrecks and Inequality - social stratification - The way in which society is organized in layers or strata. Economic Inequality in Canada - the purchasing power of families rose for two reasons - first, economic productivity increased as workers’ skills and technologies improved - second, large numbers of women entered the paid labour force starting in the early 1960s - the most unequal distribution would be if the top quintile (divided into five equal groups, with 20 percent in each group) earned all of the money - an equal distribution would result if each quintile earned 20 percent of all the money Explanations of Income Inequality - human capital - The sum of useful skills and knowledge that an individual possesses. - part of the reason that people with the same amount of human capital may receive different economic rewards is that they possess different amounts of social capital - social capital - The networks or connections that individuals possess. - cultural capital - The stock of knowledge, tastes, and habits that legitimate the maintenance of status and power. Income versus Wealth - most families own some assets, and these add up to greater or lesser family wealth - for most adults, assets include a car (minus the car loan) and some appliances, furniture, and savings (minus the credit card balance) - somewhat wealthier families have equity in a house (the market value minus the mortgage) - more fortunate families are able to accumulate other assets, such as stocks and bonds, retirement savings, and vacation homes - policies that seek to redistribute income from the wealthy to the poor, such as income-tax laws, may not get at the root of economic equality because income redistribution has little effect on the distribution of wealth Income and Poverty - a first disagreement occurs around whether poverty should be defined in absolute or relative terms - an absolute definition of poverty focuses on bare essentials, suggesting the poor families have resources inadequate for acquiring the basic necessities of life (food, shelter, clothing) - agreements on “bare essentials” depends on values and judgments - whether poverty ought to be defined narrowly, in terms of economic measures (e.g., income), or more broadly, with respect to community standards (e.g., safety of working conditions, environmental quality, housing stock), illustrates relative property - deprivation occurs when a family cannot acquire the essentials, not necessarily when income is too low - income and consumption are correlated, but people with high net wealth can live off their savings even with low income - politics can reshape the distribution of income and the system of inequality by changing the laws governing people’s right to own property, entitling people to various welfare benefits, and redistributing income through tax policies - when politicians de-emphasize poverty, legislative efforts to maintain or expand welfare benefits and redistribute income are less likely - low-income cutoff - Statistic Canada’s term for the income threshold below which a family devotes at least 20 percent more of its income to the necessities of food, shelter, and clothing than an average family would, likely resulting in straitened circumstances. - the threshold is reported for seven different family sizes and for five sizes of community Myths about the Poor - myth 1: people are poor because they don’t want to work - this myth ignores the fact that many of Canada’s poor cannot work because of disability or because inadequate childcare services leave them to no alternative but to take care of their young children - many poor people work full time and many more work part time - myth 2: most poor people are immigrants - individuals and family heads who are immigrants and who arrived in Canada before 1980 experience poverty at lower rates than native-born Canadians do - higher poverty rates are evident among more recent immigrants who are less well established, but recent immigrants represent a fraction of all poor people, and their economics standing tends to improve the longer they stay in the country - myth 3: most poor people are trapped in poverty - poverty for many is a result of unstable family finances; they slip into and out of difficult circumstances Explaining Poverty - individual-level explanations focus on the attributes of poor people, asking how they differ from people who are not poor - this type of explanation focuses on causes that lie “within the person” - someone is poor because of a personal characteristic, such as low intelligence or a behavior abnormality - not all people with a disability live in poverty, and the vast majority of people living in poverty have no disability - from this point of view, poor families adopt child-bearing practices that encourage low self-esteem, weak motivation to achieve, an inability to delay gratification, lack of self- discipline, a poor work ethic, and other characteristics that cause poverty to persist - some analysts say that the crystallization and transmission of such attitudes from one generation to the next amounts to the perpetuation of a “culture of poverty” - many poor people work hard, strive to get ahead, and teach their children to value education - some poor people display “bad attitudes,” but they result from poverty and are not the cause of it - capitalist economies feature cyclical booms and bursts, periods of low unemployment and high profits followed by periods of high unemployment and low profits - when unemployment rates rise, so does the number of families forced to live on reduced earnings, which for many means living in poverty - the right of employers to refuse to renew work contracts is an accepted part of our economic system - the reduction in income that results can hardly be attributed to changes in individual motivation - some people in low-skill, nonunionized, seasonal, or part-time jobs do not earn enough to escape poverty - poverty is caused by a lack of well-paying jobs, not by a weak work ethic - people earning the minimum hourly wage while working full time all year are still poor, especially if they have to support children - if minimum wages were to rise, so too might the level of unemployment because some employers might not be able to afford to pay higher wages - in a progressive tax system, a high proportion of income is paid in tax as incomes rise - the overall tax system is not progressive; most Canadian families pay about the same percentage of their total income in tax - two factors undermine the “Robin Hood” effect of progressive tax income - first, other taxes, such as the HST and fuel taxes, are “regressive,” they are not based on the income of the taxpayer - since lower-income families spend a higher proportion of their income on consumption, such taxes hurt them more than they hurt upper-income families - second, high-income earners shelter much of their income from taxation - the tax system as a whole does little to redistribute income and diminish poverty - discrimination may lead to employment in unsteady and low-paying jobs or intermittent or chronic unemployment - many Western European governments have accomplished having poverty rates half that of Canada by establishing job-training and childcare programs that allow poor people to take jobs with livable wages and benefits THEORIES OF STRATIFICATION Conflict Perspectives Marx - feudalism - A legal arrangement in preindustrial Europe that bound peasants to the land and obliged them to give their landlords a set part of the harvest. In exchange, landlords were required to protect peasants from marauders and open their storehouses to feed the peasants if crops failed. - the growth of exploration and trade, which increased the demand for many goods and services in commerce, navigation, and industry - by the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, some urban craftsmen and merchants had opened small manufacturing enterprises and saved enough capital to expand production - they faced a problem: to increase profits they needed more workers - the biggest potential source of workers—the peasantry—was legally bound to the land - feudalism had to wither if agricultural peasants were to become industrial workers - industrial owners wanted to adopt new tools, machines, and production methods so they could produce more efficiently and earn higher profits - but such innovation had consequences - first, some owners, driven out of business by more efficient competitors, were forced to become members of the working class - together with the former peasants pouring to the cities from the countryside, this caused the working class to grow - second, the drive for profits motivated owners to concentrate workers in larger and larger factories, keep wages as low as possible, and invest as little as possible in improving working conditions - as the ownership class grew richer and smaller, the worki
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