SOCIAL INEQUALITY: THE CANADIAN EXPERIENCE IN A GLOBAL CONTEXT
WHAT IS SOCIAL STRATIFICATION?
- The layering of nations, or of groups of people within a nation, is called social stratification.
- It affects our life chances and our orientations of life
- Social stratification is a way of ranking large groups of people into a hierarchy that shows their
- Social stratification is a system in which people are divided into layers according to their relative
power, property, and prestige.
SYSTEMS OF SOCIAL STRATIFICATION
- The existence of social stratification is universal; different forms.
- Four major systems of social stratification: slavery, caste, clan, and class.
- Ownership of some people by others
- Slavery was least common among nomads and most common in agricultural societies.
- Slavery was not always based on racism, but on one of three other factors.
o Debt – an individual who could not pay a debt could be enslaved by the creditor.
o Violation of the law
o War and conquest
- When premodern men raided a village or camp, they killed the men, raped the women, and
then brought the women back as slaves.
- Slavery was a sign of defeat in battle, of crime, or of debt, and not the sign of some inherently
- Indentured service represents a fuzzy line between a contract and slavery
- Caste – status is determined by birth and is life-long
- Ascribed status
- Endogamy – marriage within own group
- Intermarriage prohibited
- Every individual is linked to a large network of relatives
- A greatly extended family
- Membership determined by birth and is life-long
- Marriages can cross clan lines
- Much more open
- Based primarily on money or material possessions
- Begins at birth but one’s social class may change as a result of what one achieves in life
- No laws that specify occupation on the basis of birth or that prohibit marriage between classes
- Social mobility – movement up or down the class ladder
WHAT DETERMINES SOCIAL CLASS? Karl Marx: The Means of Production
- Concluded that social class depends on a single factor: people’s relationship to the means of
- Bourgeoisie – own the means of production
- The proletariat – work for the bourgeoisie
- Class consciousness – common identity based on their position in the means of production
Marx Weber: Property, Prestige, and Power
- Social class is made up of: property, prestige, and power
COMPLEXITIES OF INEQUALITY
- Intersectionality – interrelationships among various inequalities
Defining Social Class
- Conflict sociologists see only two social classes – those who own the means of production and
those who do not
o Problem: lumps too many people together
- Most sociologists agree with Weber that there are more components of social class than a
person’s relationship to the means of production
- Social class – a large group of people who rank closely to one another in wealth, power, and
Measuring Social Class
- Subjective method
o Involves asking people what their social class is
o Filled with problems
People may deny that they belong to any class
People may classify themselves according to their aspirations
Most Canadians identify themselves as middle-class
- Reputational method
o People are asked what class others belong to on the basis of their reputations
o People see finer divisions at their own class level
o People at the top see several groups of people at the top, but tend to lump the bottom
into a single unit
- Objective method
o Researchers rank people according to objective criteria such as wealth, power, and
o Sociologists primarily use this method
THE COMPONENTS OF SOCIAL CLASS
- Consist of property and income
- Power and wealth are very concentrated within Canadian society
- The distribution of wealth is more unequal than that of income, and the distribution of inherited
wealth is much more unequal than that of wealth in general Status Inconsistency
- Status inconsistency – some people have a mixture of high and low ranks in wealth, power, and
WHY IS SOCIAL STRATIFICATION UNIVERSAL?
The Functionalist or Conservative View
- Society works better if its most qualified people hold its most important positions
The Conflict Approach: A Critical Response
- If stratification worked according to functionalist theory, society would be a merit