Chapter 4 Class, Health Inequality, and Social Justice
Popular notions of class tend to focus on lifestyle difference, particularly fashion, as social markers of
Sociological analyzes of class tend to focus on the underlying factors that actually produce and
reproduce class differences.
The different theoretical perspectives that sociologist use have resulted in continuing debate over
appropriate definition and theories of class, most of which today focus in Erik Olin Wright’s neo-
Marxists and John Goldthorpe’s neo-Weberian class models.
For Marx, classes are a product of social relations and are defined by one’s relationship to the means of
o He spoke of two major classes – the bourgeoisie (the people who owned the means of
production) and the proletariat (the people who sold their labour power).
o He described another class the petite bourgeoisie (small business owners) whom he expected
would disappear with more advanced forms of capitalism.
Weber shared Marx’s belief that economic inequalities, that is, class, were central in explaining an
individual’s life chances; however, he refined Marx’s notion of class relation to include hierarchies of
prestige and political inequalities.
Canadian sociologist Edward Grabb points out that one ongoing debate is whether class refers to simply
to those who share similar economic circumstances or whether class should be used only when referring
to a group of people who share both an economic category and a sense of common membership or
purpose – what Marx referred to as ‘class consciousness’.
o According to Grabb, classes exist primarily as categories of people who do not necessarily share
a sense of group membership.
Class division involve more fundamental and uniforms cleavages and are generally defined as
economically based entities; they ‘exist as structural entities because certain enforceable rights or
opportunities – such as the right to own and to exclude other from owning productive property – define
them and distinguish them from each other.’
Both relations of domination and exploitation and the distribution of material benefits are ways of
Grabb goes on to argue that although Canada is complex and internally diverse, this country does have a
class structure that consists of three basic elements
o The first is the dominant class of large-scale owners of productive property.
o The second is the subordinate class of workers who live by selling their labour of power to the
o The third is middle group or class is more heterogeneous, consisting of educated professional,
technical m or administrative personal, small-scale business owners, and various salaried
employees or wage earners with credential training, or skills.
McMullin writes that material oppression occurs when the material welfare of one group depends on the
material deprivations of another, which entails being excluded from access to productive forces.
o Like Grabb, McMullin suggests that there are three broad classes in Canada.
To add to the confusion as to the precise meaning of class, some scholars use the term interchangeably
with that of ‘socioeconomic statue’ (SES).
SES is somewhat equivalent to what Grabb refers to as ‘strata’.
Categorizing people into SES groups is a relatively straightforward process, and this is why most of the
empirical evidence of class inequality tends to be based on SES.
Class Inequality in Canada Inequality in Income Distribution
One frequently used indicator of class inequality is income distribution.
One way for governments to redistribute income so as to increase equality is through taxation and
transfer payments, such as unemployment insurance, social assistance, and pensions.
Inequality in Wealth
Another important measure of economic inequality is that of wealth, which refers to an individual’s
value of all assets minus any debts at a given point in time.
In Canada, as in other countries, wealth is generally more unequally distributed than income.
According to Davies, some of this increased inequality in wealth is relate to the rise in house prices and
increased savings in financial assets, such as registered retirement savings plan and other tax-sheltered
Inequality in Economic Power
Research on power and class in Canada shows that economic power is still highly concentrated among a
small group of powerful and interconnected corporations.
According to Bill Carroll, companies in Canada with assets greater than $25 million or annual revenue
greater than $100 million claim 79.4 per of all business assets.
Debates about the upper class concern not only its wealth but also its influences – on whether it acts as a
Class inequality is an outcome of the social structures and as recent history teaches is, the structure of a
society can be subject to social change – social policies and taxation rates can work to either consolidate
or redistribute wealth.
A decade of policies influenced by neo-liberalism and economic rationalism – during which financial
and labour marke