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Chapter 8

SOCA01-Chapter 8 Notes

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University of Toronto Scarborough
Mc Kinon

SOCA01-Chapter 8 Social Stratification: Canadian and Global Perspectives Patterns of Social Inequality Shipwreck and Inequality: -social inequality can be compared to a shipwreck Ex. Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe -about an Englishman marooned on an island -his hard work turns the island into a thriving colony -portrays the work ethic of capitalism -believed that people get rich if they possess virtues of good business people Ex. Swept Away -opposite of Robinson Crusoe -rich woman treats deckhands rudely, gets shipwrecked w/ one of them, they fall in love but when they are rescued they return to how they were before -movie sends 4 messages that contrast w/ the theme’s of Robinson Crusoe 1. You don’t have to work hard to be rich b/c you can inherit wealth 2. Hard work does not always make you rich 3. Something about the structure of society causes inequality (b/c class inequality only disappears on the deserted island) -unequal power b/w sexes 4. Inequality has many interrelated dimensions, including class, sex, and race, and different contexts highlight different conditions of power and exploitation Ex. Titanic -at first, the theme is that class differences are important -as the tragedy unfolds a different theme emerges -under some circumstances, class differences can be erased -therefore it can be an optimistic tale that holds out hope for society in which class differences no longer matter (“American Dream”) Economic Inequality in Canada: -idea that money is power is a perennial theme”everything has a price” -thus selling of sperm, ova, and blood is more common -global organ shortage has encouraged the sale of organs, esp. in India -has also stimulated the use of organs from executed prisoners esp. in China -people selling body parts are almost invariably poor -people buying body parts are invariably rich -an increasing number of wealthy people (although not common) take their surgeons to poor countries to buy organs to prolong their life -in N.A. esp. the US, poor people more likely to suffer illness that could be alleviated by organ transplantation than the rich -also less likely to be offered transplant opportunities -poor don’t have adequate private health insurance -poor also more likely to be donors -the sale of organs is not banned b/c argue that it might cost buyers their life and also infringe on the autonomy of sellers -materialism: attempt to satisfy needs by buying products or experiences -defining characteristic of modern society -economic prosperity has made Canada one of the best countries to live in -can be seen in the average income of Canadian families from 1950-2006 -purchasing power of families rose -due to enhanced productivity, improved worker’s skills, advances in technology -however, average earnings have increased at a slower rate more recently -economic prosperity and materialism not equally shared -the concept of the share of income held by each quintile is frequently used to investigate income inequality -allows researchers to determine whether inequality is growing or shrinking -among rich countries, income inequality is lowest in Sweden and highest in the US -Canada is b/w these two extremes -income inequality has changed little b/w 1951 and 2005 in Canada -income inequality has widened in most rich countries but not by much in Canada Explanations or Income Inequality: -the job a person holds plays a large role -some jobs not only pay less but have restricted hours of work or periods of unemployment -thus, income inequality depends on what kinds of work a person can obtain -some people earn high salaries b/c they have natural talents at activities that are widely admired -ex. Jerome Iginla, Victoria Bertram, Shanaia Twain, Mike Weird -although talent and effort matter, they only pay off when they are reined to particular skills -many skills are relativepeople can only develop to the level of those to whom they are exposed -ex. Tennisrequires stiff competition to develop skills -many skills require recognition and encouragement for development -when individuals begin to participate in formal education, what they encounter varies in compatibility w/ earlier experiences, mostly gained w/ family members -success at formal schooling is the key to acquiring economically valued skills -since Industrial Revolution, more jobs require formal education -majority of income earners able to think critically, communicate persuasively, reason logically, and work creatively -affects the occupation they hold and their incomes -importance of education as a determinant of occupation and income continues to increase -the chances of advancing in educational systems is higher for people born into families that are relatively more educated -individuals must supply talent and effort to accumulate human capital -but, rates of success also depend on human capital accumulated by their family in previous generations Human Capital theory: -stresses the increasing centrality of education as a factor affecting economic success -productivity gains can also result from investment in the skills and abilities of people -knowledge intensive jobs are increasingly numerous in Canada -better educated workers are more skilled and productive in these jobs -part of reason why people w/ same amount of human capital may receive different economic rewards is that they possess different amounts of social capital -people more likely to succeed if have strong bonds of trust, cooperation, mutual respect and obligation w/ well- positioned families -a related reason of this argument is cultural capital -emphasizes a set of social skills people have, their ability to impress others, to use language and images effectively, and to influence and persuade people -emphasizes your impression-management skills -but also stresses connections and networks -both concepts emphasize being part of the right “social club” -also has the idea that families higher in social hierarchy enjoy more capital of all types -culture and connections often influence who gets interviewed Natural talentRewards Natural talent + EffortRewards Natural talent + Effort + Skill-rich environments + Developed skillsRewards Natural talent + Effort + Skill-rich environments + Developed skills+ Social and cultural capitalRewards Income versus Wealth: -from the top 10 riches people or families, inheritance is a critical factor -none of them rose from rags to riches -suggests a mix of family fortune, business acumen, and opportunism as key determinants of wealth -only a few acquire the wealth of major enterprises but most own assets (for most adults assets are cars, appliances, furniture, and savings) -some wealthier families own equity in a house and more fortunate ones about to accumulate stocks and bonds -bottom 40% of families own no assets and may owe more than they own -top quintile have increased in wealth -wealth inequality increasing rapidly in Canada (not as much as the USsurpass all industrialized countries in wealth inequality) -only a modest correlation with income and wealth (some wealthy people have low annual incomes) -income redistribution has little to do w/ the distribution of wealth therefore, it may not get at the root of economic inequality Income and Poverty: -the number of homeless people are increasing -homelessness is one manifestation of poverty -poverty lacks an agreed definition -disagreement on whether it should be defined in absolute or relative terms -absolute: focuses on “bare essentials”; suggests that poor families have resources inadequate to acquire basic necessities of life (but what is essential varies from time to time, place to place, group to group -most people think of poverty in relation to the social and economic context in which people live -a relative poverty line also has drawbacks -most definitions tend to be narrow and focus on income -deprivation occurs when a family cannot acquire the essentials, not necessarily when income is too low -income and consumption are correlated but people w/ high net wealth can live off savings w/ low income -the definition may not be important to the poor but it is consequential foe these people -social policies are enacted or not enacted based on the levels and trends in poverty -if show fewer poor people, government will take less action -social policy has impact on distribution opportunities and rewards in Canada -politics can shape the distribution of income and the system of inequality by changing laws governing people’s right to own property ex. First Nations Land -can also entitle people to various welfare benefits and redistributing income through tax policies -poverty definitions are also important research tools for sociologists -Canada does not have an official definition of poverty -instead, statistics Canada reports a low-income cutofflow income threshold that where a family is likely to spend 20% more of its income on food, shelter, and clothing than the average family -most advocates for the poor interpret these thresholds as poverty lines -families w/o any earners are especially at high risk of low income, especially if they are female and lone-parent families -many families move in and out of low poverty b/c of unemployment, reduced work hours, and episodes of poor health -larger portions of families and individuals go through one or more spells of low income over several years Myths about the Poor: 1. People are poor b/c they don’t want to work -in most poor families at least one family member works 2. The overwhelming majority of poor people are immigrants -individuals and family heads who arrived in Canada before 1980 experience poverty at lower rates than Native born Canadians do -higher poverty rates more evident among recent immigrants 3. The welfare rolls are crammed w/ young people who ought to be earning a living -only a few young people are on welfare 4. Most poor people are trapped in poverty -1 in 3 people w/ low income in Canada in 2002 have moved beyond it in 2003 -poverty for many is a result of family finances that are unstable Explaining Poverty: -at one level, poverty is a social constructiondepends on the definition -individual-level explanations focus on the attributes of people who are poor -focuses on causes that lie “within the person” ex. Someone is poor due to low intelligence -some evidence suggests that personal attributes do explain a small amount of poverty ex. If someone has a physical disability then they have a higher risk of living in poverty -but not all people w/ disabilities live in poverty and majority of those who do, don’t have disabilities -thus, poverty for the most part is not a consequence of individuals attributes -another explanation focuses on the attitudes of individuals (attributes that are acquired not inherited) -ex. Low self-esteem, lack of achievement motivation, inability to delay gratification -poverty is perpetuated b/c poor families employ inadequate child-rearing practices that enhance bad attitudes -stresses “culture of poverty” as a way of thinking and acting shared by poor families -this reasoning dismissed by sociologists as “blaming the victim” Problems: -cause-and effect: people who are poor may develop “bad attitudes” because of poverty and not be the causes for it -many people who are poor do work, are religious, don’t smoke or drink etc -another explanation stresses the social organization of society, or subsystems in society, as explanations for poverty -ex. Capitalist economies (Canada) feature cyclical booms and busts, periods of low unemployment and high profits followed by high unemployment and low profits -high rates of unemployment mean more families are forced to live on reduced income and for many mean living in poverty Krahn and Lowe: “a weak work ethic and a lack of effort” are seldom the explanation for individual poverty; “more often the problem is on if not enough good jobs” -other analysts stress social policy as a factor affecting poverty levels -minimum-wage legislation is a social policy that creates a group of working poor -system of tax collection and tax allocation illustrates another way that social policies affect poverty -progressive taxation system is one in which a greater proportion of income is paid in tax as incomes rise -in Canada is progressive but fairly neutral -b/c GST and fuel taxes are flat or neutral -those who earn more are able to shelter their income from taxation ex. In registered education savings plans or retirement savings plans -thus net effect does little to redistribute income and little to erode poverty -lastly, other sociologists would stress ways of thinking or ideological perspectives as explanations for poverty -negative images of various groups lead to an undervaluing of the ways of life of some people ex. First Nations or the disabled -leads to discrimination which affects poverty as well as leads to less success in finding jobs and even when found, they are often unsteady and low paying -poverty in Canada can be reduced if we followed examples of Western European countries -governments have established job-training and child-care programs that allow poor people to take jobs w/ livable wages and benefits Box 8.1 Income redistribution and taxation: -have idea of rugged individualism; that those who work hard deserve rewards and those who are lazy and unwise deserve less -contrasting idea of collective responsibility implies that as members of the community we ought to look out for one another Against redistribution: 1. Decreases the motivation for people n both groups to work hard 2. Cost is high; requires agency to first collect and then allocate 3. Some families and individuals will cheat and deceive -some will hide earnings to pay less tax or receive more welfare For redistribution: 1. A society w/ reasonable degree of equality is a better place to live than a society w/ heightened levels of inequality 2. An extra dollar to a poor family is more helpful than to a rich family 3. Improving material well-being of the poor enhances social well-being of a rich family 4. Reduces the
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