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Social Stratification & the US Class System

by: Angela Dela Llana

Social Stratification & the US Class System Soci 1311

Marketplace > University of Texas at Arlington > Soci 1311 > Social Stratification the US Class System
Angela Dela Llana

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Intro to Sociology
Jason Shelton
Class Notes
sociology, social, stratification, us, class, system
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This 6 page Class Notes was uploaded by Angela Dela Llana on Sunday October 16, 2016. The Class Notes belongs to Soci 1311 at University of Texas at Arlington taught by Jason Shelton in Fall 2016. Since its upload, it has received 51 views.


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Date Created: 10/16/16
SOCI 1311 Chapter 8: Social Stratification & the US Class System Is it poor people’s fault that they're poor? To what extent is society responsible for poverty? General Terms Social differentiation is a process in which people are set apart and treated differently because of their status or other social characteristics. It is a broad way of distinguishing between people. Examples include blonds and brunettes, whites and blacks, Christians and Muslims, men and women, etc. Social differentiation sets us up for social inequality. Social inequality is a condition in society where people have unequal access to wealth, power, and prestige. Treating people differently sets us up for social inequality. Stratification is a form of inequality where large groups of people are systematically ranked on the basis of wealth, power, and prestige. When we were little, we were told that we could be whatever we want to be, but it doesn't always turn out that way. No one doubts that merit gets you somewhere, but social forces play a role in how far we go. The WASP guy in the People Like Us documentary was born at the top to wealthy parents. He might work hard too, but factors beyond his control had a lot to do with shaping his future. Life-chance opportunities is the idea of how reasonable it is for you to achieve your American Dream. The word “reasonable” is key. We have to keep in mind that we are all dealing with different social forces and that it’s not all about how hard you work. Which person has a more reasonable chance of becoming a lawyer, Tammy’s son or one of the Bourgeoisie black girls? The Bourgeoisie black girls have a more reasonable chance at becoming lawyers because they’re in the upper class and can afford the education. In an open society, you can change your class position over the course of your life. In a closed society, you cannot change your class position over the course of your life. The class position you are born with is most likely going to be same until you die. People can go from rags to riches, but it doesn't happen too often. Scholars argue that America is not the open society that we think it is. Social mobility is the idea our class positions change over the course of our lives. You can move upward or downward. Inter-generational mobility involves comparing mobility across generations. This is when you compare yourself to your mother or grandfather. Everyone wants to make their lives better. You want your kids to do better than you. You move forward so you can compare the progress over the years. Intra-generational mobility involves comparing mobility within one generation of a family. This is when you compare siblings, cousins, etc. The key to holding your mobility is putting your money away. You should put money in places you can use long after you stop working. Systems of Stratification Slavery is system where there are two groups: people who are owned and people who are free. American slavery was more than just black and white. At the surface it’s black/white racism, but it was really about economic institution. The racism was the surface justification for the economic advancement of wealthy white people. It is the oldest institution of stratification. It is often a closed system. Once a slave, always a slave. A caste system is a closed system where your position is based upon an ascribed status. This position is assumed to be permanent. India often comes to mind when we think of a caste system. The Brahmans are at the top, and the Untouchables are at the bottom. Untouchables can’t move up, but Brahmans can lose their status and move down if they are touched by an Untoucable. You marry within your class category. An estate system is a system where wealthy people own land and hire serfs to work it. A feudal society is a classic example. The estate system is similar to the slave system, but there is more mobility. Serfs are able to work their way up and become knights. The is more mobility than the slave system and the caste system. A social class system is a social system where economic facts and achieved statuses are viewed as the primary form of ranking. There is a lot more mobility, and people have more control over their destinies. This is an open system. Subjective social class involves relying on what we think about other people to determine our class. We don’t know how much money other people have, but we just guess. Objective social class involves taking opinions out of determining social class. Socioeconomic status (SES) is determined by: 1. Income 2. Education 3. Occupational prestige 4. Community of residence Scholars all agree with the first three criteria. The fourth one, community of residence, is one is up for debate. Some would say it’s not always a good indicator of socioeconomic status. A social class is a large group of people who are similar in their income, education, and occupational prestige. Race isn’t always a good indicator of social class. Dimensions of Stratification (Weber) Wealth is the cash value of everything that you own. It goes beyond your back account. It includes your heirlooms, your furniture, everything. There is tremendous wealth inequality in America. Americans don’t really want to talk about wealth, but it has a lot to do with how we rank people. 20 percent of Americans own 80 percent of the total wealth in the United States of America. Power is the ability to make decisions and implement your goals despite opposition from others. “I can do what I want to do, and you’re not strong enough to stop me.” Personal power is the ability to make decisions that affect our own life. Social power is the ability to make decisions that affect other people. All of us have personal power, but few of us have social power. Prestige is the idea that people can have a talent or an ability that earns respect from other people. Authority is a form of power that we give other people to make decisions. Power can be given and taken. Aspirations are the positions people look for in the American class structure. What do you aspire to be? Ability is your talent. What kind of talents do you have? Do you have any skills that are desirable? American Class Structure In 2012, the minimum amount of money you need to be considered middle class (for a family of four) was about $22,000. If you make less, you are below the poverty line. The government decides this amount. The median income is the number that you get when you take everyone, line them up from highest to lowest income, and take the income of the person right in the middle. In 2012, the median household income was $51,000. Scholars argue that there are six positions in the American class structure. 1. The Upper Class 2. The Upper Middle Class 3. The Lower Middle Class 4. The Working Class 5. The Working Poor 6. The Remaining Poor Scholars widely agree upon the first four. The minimum household income needed to be considered upper class is $200,000. People in the upper class have at least a college degree. Many are self-employed and/or are in typically higher level administration. They make up 5 percent of the American population. (1 percent of Americans make over $250,000 a year.) The minimum household income needed to be considered upper middle class is $100,000. People in the upper middle class have advanced college degrees, like masters and doctorates. People in the upper middle class on average have more education than the upper class. Many doctors and lawyers are in this class. Education is the pathway to the upper middle class. They make up 15 percent of the American population. The minimum household income needed to be considered lower middle class is $50,000. Most people in the lower middle class have a bachelor’s degree. Few of them have go beyond that. There are a lot of teachers, nurses, and government employees in this class. They don’t make the decisions; they carry out the decisions. They make up 33 percent of the American population. The minimum household income needed to be considered working class is $25,000. On average, people here have a high school degree. They do blue collar work. They use their hands, sweat a lot, get dirty on the job, and take showers after work. These are your bus drivers, postal delivery workers, city government workers, and even your firemen, police officers and construction workers early in their careers. They make up 30 percent of the American population. 17 percent of Americans are at or below the poverty line. The minimum household income needed to be considered working poor is around $22,000. The often did not finish high school. They work at the places that many high school students work at like fast food places or retail. They work every day, but don’t make enough to get above the poverty line. The remaining poor are those who remain poor or have been poor for generations. This can be a family that has spent generations being on welfare, for example. The cycle of poverty is the idea that a family that has remained in poverty for generations has no role models to follow to get out of poverty. The parents grew up poor and can’t teach their children the pathway out of poverty. Therefore, they are stuck below the poverty line. The feminization of poverty is the phenomenon that women represent disproportionate percentages of the world’s poor. America has more women and children in poverty than any other nation. This is because there are a lot of single moms who live in poverty. She raises her children by herself, and they also grow up to be poor. The underclass is the class that is at the very bottom of the class hierarchy. The remaining poor is the underclass of the American class structure. Most of the time, people in the underclass have been stuck there for generations. Who Are the Poor? Race/Ethnicity (Immigrants):  10 percent of whites live at or below the poverty line  10 percent of Asian Americans live at or below the poverty line  25 percent of African Americans live at or below the poverty line  26 percent of Latino Americans live at or below the poverty line The poverty level for whites/Asians and blacks/Latinos are close. However, you have to account for different groups within Latino and Asian communities. Cuban American families on average have higher household incomes than Mexican American families. Also, there are socioeconomic differences between East Asian and Southeast Asian American families. Gender: Remember the feminization of poverty. More women are in poverty than men. Age: A lot of older and younger people (not people in the middle) live in poverty. Region: The South is the poorest region in the country. (Alabama is the poorest state.) The Northeast is the richest. This affects things like funding for education in different states. The Culture of Poverty Thesis asks this question: Do poor people just have a bad culture? Why is Tammy poor? Is it all her fault? Individualism holds that you and I control our own destiny. If we don’t achieve our dreams, it is all our fault. Structuralism holds that a poor, unsuccessful person is not completely at fault for being poor. American is not completely fair and equal. Black, Latinos, and women have a harder time achieving the American Dream. The Culture of Poverty Thesis is the idea that poor people have their own culture, and because of this, it’s their fault that they have not succeeded. This is consistent with the idea of individualism. Strong cultures push for success. Asians do well because they value education and supposedly blacks/Latinos don’t. Poor people have a weak culture with poor values, and it is their fault if they’re poor. If blacks/Latinos taught their kids better, they would be more successful. On the flipside, structuralism points out that different groups in America have never had a fair chance at success. Some groups have a better chance to succeed in America than others. Even if you work hard, there will be barriers that you will not be able to get over.


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