Social Inequality in America
The concept of social inequality refers to a sociological structure in which services, privileges, power and prestige are unequally distributed among various social categories. This nature of stratification tends to favor certain group or groups at the expense of others, based on their gender, class, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation (Dalphin 1999). This paper explores the concept of inequality in America by integrating class, ethnicity, gender and racial structures in the American society. The paper will thus contextualize the concept of inequality in the American society and how the social class, gender, race, ethnicity influence one’s life chances of achieving the American dream.
SOCIAL INEQUALITY IN AMERICA
In the American society, social inequality is perceived as one of the most sociological challenges that are very dynamic. The American society has promoted a system in which socio-economic resources and political power are distributed on the basis of one’s sex and gender. This in turn affects distribution of wealth, educational and occupational status, mortality rates as well as access to social institutions. Besides, most theoretical perspectives of gender share an assumption that maleness or femaleness are or become properties of individuals (Loe 2011; Risman 2004). Further, behaviors such as male aggressiveness and female nurturance result from natural selection.
In her attempt to explain why gender stratification exists in American society, Risman adopts psychoanalytic theory among other theoretical perspectives (Risman 2004). According to her, psychoanalytic theory of gender tries to link gender stratification with infant upbringing. Mothers in the process of nursing their children, tend to fuse identity with their baby girls while their relationships with boys remain separate and distinct. Consequently, girls naturally develop a self based on connectedness and relationships, while boys develop self based on independence and autonomy (Risman 2004). This finally results in a society which is dominated by men as they react against their first objects of love (women) as represented by their mothers and strife for independence. Sexual stratification thrives based on the fact that gender is so ubiquitous, hence the society focuses on the difference to justify inequality. She also observes that this inequality manifests in personalities, cultural rules and social institutions. From this argument, she also observed that gender stratification in America is experienced at three different levels, namely personal, institutional, and interactional levels.
While concluding her argument, Risman comments that despite the various attempts to eliminate gender discrimination from American society through the existing legal and organizational frameworks, gender stratification has persisted (Risman 2004). This does not only affect the social life of the people, but even the economic. For instance, she observed that the marriage and family structure make gender discrimination very possible. This is based on her argument that some men cannot work long hours to climb the career ladder unless they subordinate their wives to provide them with ‘leisure’, a situation that may cause some married women to leave their jobs in order to serve fully as housewives.
Another indicator of social inequality in America takes the form of social class. As Domhoff (2006) observed, sociologists utilize various indicators to measure social class. These include people’s attitude, values and consumption patterns, social and economic class. This stratification has a tendency of grouping members of the society, as either the upper or the lower class, depending on their economic or political influence. This further affects the society in other crucial sectors including in the educational system. Such a system persists in generation after another as the upper class continues to dominate in the structures of the society (Domhoff 2006). In education, for instance, he points out that children from higher social class continue to enjoy better educational facilities, right from preschools to primary, to secondary and even to post secondary (Neckerman 2004). They thus end up in better private colleges and universities simply because they can afford to meet the cost, while children from the low class continue to strife through the public day schools. This system ends up socializing the two categories of children in a totally different environment that they maintain even after the formal schooling into adulthood and in service provision to the society.
Domhoff (2006) in his findings realized that just the same way schooling system encourages social class stratification among children, social clubs do the same in adulthood. According to his observation, the social clubs in America encourage the people of the upper class to form their own class which provides them with an opportunity to segregate themselves in order to relax, make acquaintance and enjoy life. Recruitment into these clubs are vetted by the high class in order to lock out others and in most cases, the fees charged for membership is often too high for the poor people to afford it (Domhoff 2006).
GENDER AND CLASS INTERLOCK
Domhoff (2006) pointed out that social stratification in the American society had begun to develop a unique trend, especially from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where both social class and gender stratifications created an interlocking system, a fact that he observes is a great challenge to the achievement of American dream (Domhoff 2006). He further argues that even women of the upper class are not viewed as equals with the members of the same class, but are instead counted as a half of the upper class based on their feminine nature.
The gender and social class interlock is further discussed by Loe (1990) after a case study conducted in 1994 in a restaurant. This study established that the consequences of sexism are extensive and include the wage gap, feminization of poverty, high rates of female victimization as a result of male violence (Loe 1990). Right from the recruitment process women have very low chances to secure formal employment opportunities. For example, in the restaurant, she observed that only sixty women secured a job opportunity out of a total number of eight hundred employees and for the whole period of her study, all women remained at the lowest ranks and never rose to management positions. Out of her study samples, all women revealed a high sense of dissatisfaction, hence they only worked in a male dominated institution just in their quest for survival. Although the women have very genuine negative sentiments in their work places, Loe (1990) observed that there is no proper structure for them to raise these complaints, hence resort to gossip. She also keenly observed other gender related challenges that relate to the specific environment of work, sexual harassment being the most critical to handle.
Ehrenreich (2008) critically commented the concept of social inequality with specific respect to gender and class stratification and on the view of achieving the American dream for development and wealth creation. In her field research conducted in 1998, she found out that achievement of this dream has become very difficult, especially for the African Americans (Ehrenreich 2008). As she observed, majority of the American working class belong to the low class, hence they are in constant struggle to meet their basic economic requirements. From both anthropological and sociological approaches, she describes what it really means to try to survive on little wages earned by most of the unskilled workers in America (Risman 2004).
The majority of American workers only earn to pay for such expenses as rent, transport, energy and daily meals which does them no better than to keep them working since even the costs of these services are too high as compared to their little income. Ehrenreich (2008) cited that it is not possible for the unskilled laborers in America to cope up with life and realize their dreams. For instance, the majority in this class earn between $6- $7 per hour, which by the end of 160 hours that a person is expected to work in a month, is too dismal and may not even cover the costs of childcare and house rent (Domhoff 2006; Ehrenreich 2008).
PERSONAL POSITION ON THE SYSTEM OF INEQUALITY
The American stratified society leaves very little positive expectations in terms of achievement and fulfillment of personal dreams and the broader view of the American dream. For example, accessing quality education that is a key to realization of the American dream remains a great challenge for the Black Americans. Furthermore, successful completion of studies may not be a perfect solution since the job market is already dominated by members of the higher class whose main interest has always been to maintain the status-quo. Globalization trend could be the most threatening factor to social stratification that may generate hope. This does not only create room for international pressure against inequality, but also tend to expose individuals to fairer opportunities across the globe. Thus with the advent of globalization, structures of inequality may be overridden with creation of opportunities based on universal suffrage.
In conclusion, the concept of social inequality continues to concern not only the polity but also less advantaged people who are the victims of unequal socioeconomic opportunities. The elimination of the processes that enhance social stratification must thus be a priority for the American society, if it is to overcome the stigma associated with inequality of any kind and achieve the American dream.
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