Social stratification is the structured form of social inequality within a ranked group of people that bring about unequal financial rewards, such as a person’s income, and power or property, which is brought upon by wealth in a society. The social stratification systems come in many different ways and forms. For example, slavery, castes, social class, race, and gender are just some of the issues that are affected by stratification. This essay will particularly focus on the issue of stratification by gender, or in other words, gender inequality.
Gender inequality or also known as gender stratification, is the unequal distribution of a society’s wealth, power, and privilege between females and males. (Scott and Schwartz, 2000). When the issue is approached, it is evident that the majority of the women are the oppressed as in turn the men being the oppressor. This idea of the oppressed vs. the oppressor is evident throughout history; even in religious terms, some can date back to God’s creation. For example, in the Bible, God had caught Adam and Eve eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which was forbidden. It is written in the Bible, “To the woman he (God) said, I will greatly increase your pain in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for you husband, and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16).
Around the mid-nineteenth century until nowadays, three beliefs about women and men have prevailed as part of biology or evolution. “One, men and women have different psychological and sexual natures, two- men are inherently the dominant or superior sex, and three – both male female difference and male dominance are natural.” (Bem, 1993). Considering these three beliefs, women experience gender inequality in different environments, stereotypes, and occupations. For example, women are stereotyped to be only a stay at home wife and to be in an environment where they are responsible for cleaning the house, cooking dinner, and taking care of the children. Nowadays, there are more women known to have jobs and not a stay at home wife, but yet they are still responsible, or show some responsibility for cleaning the house, cooking dinner, and taking care of the children. As for occupations among women, they experience the limitations of the occupations available. Women also experience less pay or earnings, and the devaluation of their work by society.
An article, Social Class and Gender, written by Nancy Andes, expresses occupational stratification by gender inequality through the comparison of three theoretical frameworks or perspectives. The first theoretical framework is the sex segregation model, which is where sex is the only characteristic that affects the placement of a worker into a profession or occupation. The second theoretical framework is the pure class model, which is where the workers’ position of determined by their status or position in the society and how much authority and ownership they possess. The third theoretical framework that is used is the integrated gendered social class model, which is where gender and class perform together that affect the positioning of women and or men in the labor force. After Andes introduces the three theoretical frameworks, she explains each frameworks or approaches in depth, in relation to a table that expresses the earnings and occupations of men and women.
The source of the table, or known as empirical evidence, is taken from the UC Bureau of the Census in 1989. The table expressed many different types of employment in the labor force. Within that employment of occupation, the table included the percentage of women within that occupation, women’s annual earnings within the occupation, and even the men’s annual earnings in that same occupation. By comparing the annual earnings between men and women, the table illustrates that the men made, give and take, 10,000 dollars more than the women. If women had dominated over the men in that occupation, then the men’s annual earnings were a little less than 10,000 dollars, and if the men dominated over the women in the same occupation, then the men made a little bit more than 10,000 dollars. The numbers in the table suggest that differences in the labor market are valid, under the conditions of class position and segregation.
After introducing the three theoretical frameworks and the empirical evidence, Andes illustrates many of her goals through this analysis. But her main ultimate goal is to find which theoretical perspective or framework is best supported by empirical evidence. In order for this analysis to happen, different data and methods were conducted, gathered, analyzed, and compared. The data that are used are from the General Social Survey combined across nine survey years. Currently employed workers over the age of eighteen are selected, 3,209 women and 4,332 men are surveyed.
The results of this method are expressed through four tables. The first table illustrates the description of 12 social classes by occupational attributes, with the 12 social classes ranging from self-employed or autonomous professional being class one to a class of unionized operatives and laborers being class twelve. The second table illustrates the gender distribution in each of the 12 social class structures. The third table demonstrates the distribution of both gender into account and shows the proportion of women to men in each class. In this table, women are more likely to be found as clerical workers, sales clerks, cleaning, and food service workers (class 9), and routine clerical and supervised technical and service workers (class 11). On the contrast, women are least likely to be found as managers, administrator, and self-employed construction contractors (class 4), and unionized skilled industrial workers (class 10). This table implies that women are not distributed across all social classes in equal proportion to their overall labor force participation. Table four illustrates the classification rates of discriminant analysis with the results for the separate male and female samples. “This table proposes that sex in the classification scheme does not improve the classification rates.” (Andes, 1992).
When comparing the tables from each other, many conclusions and implications were made. But before we interpret the conclusions, one must understand the difference between sex and gender. Sex refers to the “biological characteristics that differentiate females from males.”( Schafer and Lamm, 1998). On the other hand, gender refers to the “socially constructed cluster of behavioral patterns and personality traits that are associated with being female or male, or what we commonly call femininity and masculinity.” (Scott and Schwartz, 2000) Results show that gendered class criteria can uncover an economically distinguished gender segregated social class structure. (Andes, 1992). The results also obviously illustrate that gender, not sex alone, but integrated gendered class attributes are a significant characteristic because there are different proportions of women and men in each class. In conclusion, it is the integrated gendered class perspective or approach that is supported by empirical evidence.
Besides the article expressing its analysis on gender inequality, there are many theorists and or scholars from other sociological perspectives that address themselves. In the functionalist view, they uphold that “gender differentiation has contributed to overall social stability.” (Schaefer and Lamm 1998). Sociologists Talcott Parson and Robert Bales, argued that in order for a family to function at all, chores or tasks must be done by a particular role or a division of labor must be established between marital partners. Within this division of labor, women are more likely or viewed by society to take upon expressiveness tasks or duties, which are concern for the harmony and internal and emotional affairs within the family; whereas the men are more likely to take upon instrumentality tasks, which refer to the focus of distant goals and the external affairs within the family. Functionalists view the potential for social disorder “only when all of the aspects of traditional gender stratification are disturbed.” (Schaefer and Lamm 1998).
As for a conflict perspective, conflict theorists view that social structure is undesirable if it is maintained by the method of oppressors and the oppressed. They are aware that relationships between male and female always had an unequal amount of power with men dominating over the women. Feminist sociologist Helen Mayer Hacker stressed that it is the society’s cultural beliefs are what supports the social structure where men are put in a dominant position over women. Another voice from a feministic point of view is from Letty Cottin Pogrebin who also suggests that in order for men to dominate over women, it had to have started when we were children, taught to accept the gender-role divisions as a natural aspect of life. Conflict theorists also emphasize the fact that the issues of men being dominant over women goes farther than labor force or the division of tasks within the household. The issue could also be viewed by the way women are treated by men. For example, wife battering and sexual and street harassment illustrate how women can be seen as the subordinate person or position. Even though the functionalist view or approach may be different from the conflict approach, both perspectives agree on the fact that even if men and women were to be equal in terms of economics and government positions, they will never be genuinely equal if the attacks and the harassment continue, and that it is impossible to change gender roles without revisions in a culture’s social structure. (Schaefer and Lamm 1998).
While the functionalist and the conflict perspective focus on the macro levels of society, the interactionist approach focuses on the micro level of society, such as everyday behavior. One example would be the communication level between a man and a woman. Men are more likely to initiate a conversation, interrupt a woman when she is speaking, ignore topics a woman brings up, and overall give the woman a sense of a verbally dominated conversation. (Freeman, 1999)
Despite the way each perspective approaches the issue of gender inequality, they all accept the fact that there is a gender inequality among men dominating over women. Nowadays, women are taking more and more occupations that were once all male or dominated by male. For example, some are taking more governmental occupations, some are now partaking in boxing matches, more and more women are enlisted in the army, and some are even educated in dominant majors such as engineering, physics, and biology. Because there are more women partaking the once male dominant occupations, there have been organizations and sponsors to support an all women golf team, the WNBA which is an all women basketball team, and even national pool table competitions among women; overall, more women are now being shown on ESPN. But despite the fact that they are partaken in these events, they are not valued or as popular as to a male partaking in that same event or occupation.
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As we prosper through time, inequality is slowly less evident. A lot of people don't realize that although things are improving with time, inequality is still prominent in our society. The people that are failing to realize that there still is inequality, are the fortunate ones. They rise well above the poverty line, and usually live relatively economically sound lives. They are the people who are supplied with our society's benefits.
The people that are in pursuit of social change, and constantly bring attention to issues of equal rights and privileges, are often the people that do not have them. They are the ones who suffer daily from different levels of inequality.
The majority of post-secondary students are considered to be privileged people. This tends to cause an ignorance, or lack of education, towards inequality because most of the students do not experience great levels of inequality. When our class was given our first quiz, everybody was able to feel a sense of inequality. As the class was divided into the different time groups, every student felt the unequal opportunity. Even the students that were allotted the most time for the quiz were able to at least see the inequality. As different times were announced the less fortunate students began to complain, and the more fortunate ones realized that their once equal peers, were now placed in an unequal situation. Since most of the students do not experience great amounts of inequality, the unequal time distribution shocked them.
Fortunately for myself, I have grown up in an upper-middle class family. Although my parents have always tried to educate me on inequality, I never experienced much of it. During the class exercise I was placed in group three, and was given six minutes to complete my quiz. Although this was almost enough time for me to complete my quiz, I was definitely jealous of the students that were allotted more time. Even though the groups were arranged randomly, I still felt like I was treated unequally to my peers. I felt unequal to both my peers that had more, and less time, than me. The situation made me angry, and I wanted an explanation from the instructor for the unequal situation that was forced upon me. I felt the injustice because I had a different time to write my quiz than a neighboring peer; who pays the same tuition, and attends the same class as I do. I wanted to know why some of my peers were given more time than I was, thus enabling them to possibly score higher on the quiz. This quiz was the first mark of the course, and was I worried that my first grade was going to be a poor one.
When the instructor explained the purpose of the exercise I realized what an excellent point he had proven. He forced us in an unequal situation that was out of our control. It was nothing we could have predicted or done anything about.
This unique exercise put me on a new level of stratification that I was not used to. It made me feel how other people, not only in my society, but worldwide, feel about inequality everyday. The difference was that I was soon given an explanation, and returned to my regular level of stratification. Many people in our society are given no explanation to their forced inequality. Although the classroom exercise does not compare to the real world, it still stirred feelings of rage, helplessness and discouragement. Looking through the window of the unequal situation changed my views on lower groups of society. It made me realize how difficult social mobility can be. I can understand the Davis-Moore thesis, which states that stratification has beneficial consequences. It is easy for people on the higher end of the stratification hierarchy to agree with this because they believe that the harder one works, the more they will achieve, thus promoting production in society. Individuals at lower ends of the stratification system disagree with that. Their social status prevents them from achieving their best because all of the benefits and advantages are given to those of a higher status. The lower class is constantly denied society's privileges, such as education. This tends to discourage them, often leaving them feeling helpless. Unfortunately this helplessness tends to be viewed by many higher class people as laziness. What is not realized is that social stratification is a character of society, and not just a reflection on individual differences. Stratification is universal but variable. It involves beliefs and persists over generations (Macionis 220). The lower class often questions the point of its effort into an unforgiving society when the outcome is inevitable. This all ties in with the numerous reasons that cause poverty and homelessness. This ultimately creates a never-ending class system of inequality that so many are trying to dismantle. Class systems are based on individual achievement, which strongly ties in the Davis-Moore Thesis. Unfortunately social mobility is not evenly achieved amongst the levels of stratification. The higher the level of stratification the easier social mobility tends to be. In the example of the class exercise, the level or stratification can be compared to the time given in each group. The more time the person had, the better chance they had at scoring higher on the quiz. The people who had more time on the quiz can be compared to individuals at higher levels of stratification.
Lower classes of stratification are not given the same opportunities as higher classes. Lower classes have ascribed statuses that are difficult to rise up from. For example, if an individual is born into a family where the children are forced to work to support the family, these children may be deprived of the opportunity to prosper. They have the ascribed status of a worker, and have little, if any chance of achieving a more successful status in life. If the individual's family suffers a great deal of inequality, and the individual wishes to pursue extended levels of education for greater career opportunities, because of their ascribed circumstances they may not have the opportunity.
Most people look down upon lower classes, failing to realize that inequality deprives those people of the equal rights to prosperity. This occurs not only in a few societies, but all around the world.
According to the social conflict paradigm, society is a complex system characterized by inequality and conflict, which generate social change. Power and privilege are distributed unequally by social class, race, gender and age. These inequalities are often reinforced in societal institutions (Macionis 19).
My participation in the class exercise allowed me to have an experience of life through the eyes a lower class individual. Even though the real world is much more extreme than the class exercise, I was still able to understand society and its levels of inequality. After experiencing society from a different perspective, I realize that although society has changed from the days of extreme inequality, it still needs much attention to equalizing the privileges between the different levels of stratification.
Macionis, John and Gerber, Linda. Sociology. 3rd ed. Prentice-Hall Canada Inc.: Ontario, 1999.
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