Sociology 36 hours

If you are looking for affordable, custom-written, high-quality, and non-plagiarized papers, your student life just became easier with us. We are the ideal place for all your writing needs.


Order a Similar Paper Order a Different Paper

4 paged letter, double-spaced, MLA format. Letter about what I learned in the class to expand my understanding of Sociology. I have attached the book and also the professor’s notes from each chapter. I need ZERO plagiarism and a plagiarism checker. 

page 1

SOC 1020

Lecture 1
Prof. D. Fasenfest

Sociology is the systematic study of human society. When we look at society with a sociological
perspective, it means that we can see the “general in the particular” and the “strange in the
familiar”.

So, what does this mean exactly? Let’s say that I am interested in knowing what kinds of
clothing fashions are popular for 18-24-year-olds today. I could walk into any undergraduate
class and observe the ways that students dress. I could then make an educated guess that these
are the styles that are generally favored by young people. To be certain, I would also need to
see if young adults in the community dressed similarly. The class may only reflect what is worn
by college students. It stands to reason young adults would dress similarly across our culture
since they are all exposed to the same media, the same music, the same fashion magazines, etc.
We could also observe independent cultural differences across various social groups. For
example, is this an urban or rural community, a large or small city, a coastal or mountain area,
and does that matter. In the US there are very few styles that are 100% group specific.
Increasingly, we cannot even make any assumptions about gender based on how one is dressed.

Seeing the strange in the familiar requires you to step outside of your culture and look at it with a
new set of eyes. For example, think about the 4th Thursday in November (Thanksgiving). Walk
into nearly any household in the US and you will probably find a turkey on the table. There may
be other foods as well that are linked to family and/or cultural traditions, but turkey tends to be
front and center. Doesn’t it seem odd that nearly all of us sit down to practically identical meals
on that one day? And this practice is imbedded in our culture. How would you feel if you went
home on Thanksgiving and there was a pot roast or roasted lamb on the table?

Sociologists try to look at other cultures with a non-discriminatory eye. Each culture is equal,
though they may be different. Also, we try to look at our own society with a non-discriminatory
eye, recognizing what motivates and encourages our behaviors, without automatically assuming
that our ways are right, and all others are wrong.

Every human being is a social scientist. Think about the ways you navigate the world. You
collect data every day to negotiate the circumstances in which you find yourself. Social
interaction becomes a trial-and-error practice of working out situations. Unfortunately, while
this trial-and-error practice is very useful to our social survival, it is also the stuff that stereotypes
and generalizations are made of. When I ask students to describe the average alcoholic for me,
students invariably answer that they are dirty, unemployed, perhaps homeless, usually non-white,
always poor, and usually male. We tend to view alcoholics as homeless individuals, and we
typically feel the homeless are on the street because they have substance abuse issues. So, in
general, since this is the assumption we make based on the data that we’ve collected (i.e.
characters in the movie and in the media, the homeless people that we see who appear to be
either high or drunk, etc), we might draw the conclusion that alcoholics are worthless individuals
who are the living outcasts of society.

page 2

And this is where the study of sociology is useful. The individual collects data based on their
day-to-day experiences. This data is then interpreted from the perspective of that person’s values
and cultural beliefs. The sociologist however collects much more data from a wide range of
individuals, not just from personal experience. The data is then interpreted from the perspective
of a theoretical understanding of the social experience rather than the personal values and
opinions of the researcher.

When we broadly collect data on alcoholism, what we find is that most alcoholics are highly
educated, middle to upper class whites, especially males. Black females are the least likely to be
alcoholics and black males are the next lowest on the list. Data proves that our casual
assumptions about alcohol addiction are incorrect. When these statistics became well know,
alcoholism began to be classified as a disease rather than a failing of the individual. In fact, we
find through research that the poor and the working class have less money to spend on alcohol
and have more to lose in terms of employment loss if they drink to excess. Pre-dinner cocktails
are a habit of the wealthier in society, not the poor. Just think about all those soap operas that are
so popular—the rich and the beautiful always have a drink in their hand.

The sociological perspective helps us uncover the myths in informing our common sense. It asks
us to look at what we believe and question why we believe it. It challenges us to find data to
either support our beliefs or to disprove them. It also helps us to understand ourselves and others
better. It helps us to find opportunities and to avoid constraints. It helps us to actively participate
in making our society a better place for all of us to live and it helps us to not only encourage but
to thrive on diversity.

The Role of Theories in Understanding Society

Sociology, like many of the behavioral sciences, was born during the social changes wrought by
the Industrial Revolution. Imagine what it must have been like to live during this era. For the
first time, people began to take real control of the environment. The introduction of the steam
engine made geographical distances manageable. The telegraph, telephone and radio gave us
control of the airwaves and fostered communication. The ability to harness electricity gave us
control of time as we were able to extend our “daylight” through artificial means. While on the
surface, all of these changes were good, they took their toll on the social fabric.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, generations of families lived and died in the areas in which
they were born. Inheritance (even if it was only a claim on the family homestead) was typically
restricted to the oldest son and any younger brothers were expected to pursue other occupations
or means to survive. The introduction of factories however, provided new opportunities for
occupational choices and the promises of class mobility for the poor. People were drawn to
these factories for jobs. This meant leaving behind their families and their way of life.

Once in the cities, they were often met with severe poverty, unemployment, substandard and/or
inadequate housing and disease. The dramatic growth in the cities stressed the social and
physical infrastructure. Imagine, for example, if the population of Detroit more than quadrupled
over the next year with people looking for jobs. Not only would we not have the ability to

page 3

employ them, but we would also not have the ability to house them. Would the city’s sewers be
able to handle the growth in the population? Would our garbage collectors be able to keep the
litter from this population under control? And what sort of people would we encounter? [Erik
Larsen’s historical novel The Devil in the White City gives a good account of the chaos and feel
of Chicago as it grows rapidly in the new industrial era in turn of the century Chicago.]

Cities with low crime rates quickly became overcrowded. For every job, there might be 10 or
more applicants. For every apartment, there might be 5 families needing housing. The sewers
were not able to handle the waste. The city management couldn’t handle the increase in garbage
production. In the absence of hygiene and antibiotics (not to mention immunizations), disease
began to spread. There were multiple epidemics here and in Europe like Scarlett Fever,
Smallpox, Tuberculosis, Cholera, Typhoid, and Influenza, to name a few.

All these negative consequences caused society to do two things. First, there was the belief, as
we got closer to 1900, that these changes were apocalyptic. There was a growth in religion as
society attempted to manage the fear that life as we knew it was about to end. (Compare this to
our Y2K scare two decades ago…. once again, the fear is that our new technology is throwing us
into anarchy.) The second thing that happened is that philosophers began to look at society as a
growing, changing, living thing. They began to look at the consequences of these technological
changes on the social fabric. They began to develop theories to explain society.

For the purposes of this course these theories can be divided into three paradigms. The word
“paradigm” is borrowed from the biological sciences. It means “category” or “classification”.
For example, we know that an eagle, a sparrow, and a robin are all birds. Bird is the paradigm,
the category in which we classify animals is based on shared characteristics (feathers, wings,
they can fly, they lay eggs, etc). Likewise, social theories can be divided into the following
paradigms, based on their characteristics.

Structural Functionalism – This paradigm includes all theories that view society as a system of
structures or institutions, each with its own unique function. These structures work together to
promote solidarity and social growth.

Conflict Theory – these theories view society as an arena of inequality. These inequalities not
only create problems in society, but also provide the catalyst for social change.

Symbolic Interaction – these theories argue that we create society through our interactions with
other humans. Society is made up of individuals with a number of shared values and
expectations.

What follows provides a broad overview of each:

I. Structural Functionalism

While there are many theorists who provide a structural functionalist perspective on society, one
of the first was Emil Durkheim. Durkheim looked at the changes in society around the Industrial
Revolution as a series of birthing pains. He argued that this introduction of technology plus the

page 4

greater density and complexity of society had created a sense of “normlessness” or “anomie” in
society. This anomie meant that we no longer knew, as individuals within society, how to deal
with our day to day lives. Durkheim also argued that new technology created a need to develop
new norms and so there was a delay in society’s ability to stabilize. Furthermore, Durkheim
argued that the structures of society worked together to keep society stable. Social problems
occurred when old structures failed in new social realities, or when this state of anomie
prevented the structures from being able to function appropriately. After adjusting to these new
circumstances, he assumed new norms would emerge and institutions would work together to
develop and ensure stability once again.

There are common institutions in every society, though they may not appear or function in the
same manner everywhere. For example, medicine may mean hospitals and clinical intervention
to one society and traditional or herbal healing in another. However, these medical institutions
serve the same role in every community, providing for the health of the citizens. The common
institutions are Family; Religion; Education; Medicine; Government; Economy; Science;
Technology; The Media.

What we must consider is that as society changes, and as society gets more complex the
relationships and practices once considered appropriate might become a problem to some. This
will generate new rules and relationships that may or may not return society to some balance.
Consider the case of music as it represents the intersection of Technology and The Media.

Think of all the adolescents that were prosecuted for copyright violation for downloading free
music from the internet. Teens have shared music since the introduction of cassette taps with
dubbing capability. This was a normal expectation. With the spread of simple record players
and later tape decks it was each to share music with friends, though at first the quality wasn’t
good. You could sit in front of the speaker of the record player (or if you were clever figured out
how to redirect the speaker wire) and recorded your albums onto a tape recorder, or tape directly
from the radio. By the early 80s, double cassette players were introduced and became
affordable. Rather than an album, you could now purchase a cassette tape and dub it in the
second cassette deck, producing a very good copy of the music. Of course, today that quality is
even better and it’s quicker to share. It takes less than a minute to burn an entire copy of a music
CD. Finally, the Internet resulted in quick and easy access to music, and all along sharing the
music had never been a problem.

It became a problem when shareware began to show up on the Internet and people began to copy
entire CDs to these programs. Why is this a problem for some? Before the shareware, you
might burn one or two copies of your CDs for close friends. After shareware, tens of thousands
of downloads might be made of the CD that you upload to share. This creates an economic
problem for the music industry when a practice initially seen as free marketing and word of
mouth promotion of a group’s music (and thereby a boost to sales) because a large-scale by-
passing of the marketplace and the lost revenues that ensued.

Now we have this dysfunction that has created a problem, so we need the institutions of society
to band together to create and enforce a new norm of behavior. Economic institutions in the
economy initiate a complaint. The government is required to determine that copyright laws

page 5

apply and to enforce these laws. Parents are expected to enforce these values at home as well or
be held accountable if they don’t. Science and technology work together as many of these
download sites, such as Kaaza, are intentionally infected with a virus or implanted with a filter
that makes web access impossible. Technology is now being used to make copying a CD
difficult if not impossible. The media begins a campaign to inform young people that this is
illegal behavior and spells out the consequences of violating the rules. Legal sites, such as
Itunes, begin to show up to provide an affordable alternative to sharing music. You’ll notice that
not every institution is involved because they may not relate to the problem at hand. But in
theory, structures and systems have functioned to return this part of society to a semblance of
order and routine.

II. Conflict Theory

A criticism of structural functionalism is that it tends to see society as being correctly organized
and any disruption is a problem that will be addressed so to return society to this normal state.
Therefore, when a social problem occurs, it is because one of the institutions isn’t doing its job
or some change has created an anomaly. Conflict theorists, in contract, reject this out of hand,
saying that the fabric of society has intrinsic conflicts of interests by different segments of
society, and that power imbalances lead to social inequality.

Most conflict theories are based on the works of Karl Marx. Marx argued that each epoch in
social history was organized around some principle of production generating specific social and
political structures and institutions designed to reproduce and sustain that system. However,
Marx argued, each epoch had within it inherent contradictions, and as society grew more
complex and dealt with those contradictions the tension continued to build. In the end the
essential conflict would lead to a change in how society was organized.

Consider briefly feudal Europe. Marx argued that its primary organizing principles were
monopoly of power and agricultural production. As technological improvements in agriculture
led to more production those who controlled the instruments of power (local chieftains, lords,
nobility or royal families as the sphere of control get wider) appropriated as much of the
agricultural product as they could from farmers who, to varying degree, were forced to remain on
the land (serfs). This is a complex story that includes a discussion of the type of government
(monarchy) and religious institutions (Catholicism) designed to protect and reproduce the social
order and rationale for feudalism. Eventually, Marx argued, the limitations on the productive
forces and the inherent tensions within the system gave birth to a revolutionary force which
challenged the nature of production (from agriculture to manufacturing), the nature of
government (from monarchy to some form of democracy) and social institutions (for example
the Protestant Reformation in reaction to the Catholic Church). In other words, the NORMAL
functioning of one system gave rise to conditions that necessarily generates conflict, and under
the right conditions will lead to social change.

We can apply the same sort of analysis on capitalism, the system that followed, and was the
revolutionary force challenging, feudalism. To understand the fundamental lines of conflict and
crises that we can anticipate within capitalism Marx undertook a similar exploration of how the
system worked, what were the social and political institutions which supported and rationalized

page 6

that system, and whereas a consequence the tensions and conflict will emerge which will have
the potential for making a similar revolutionary change. For Marx every epoch is challenged by
a revolution—capitalism with its banner of freedom and democracy was just such a revolution (a
mild one is England, and a very bloody one in France).

To understand capitalism, we must understand how work became transformed from pre-capitalist
to capitalist society. Assume that you lived in a small agrarian village. You earn your living by
growing grain to take to the market. A cobbler earns his/her living by making shoes. How do
you manage the exchange of grain for shoes? In essence it is a marketplace like all
marketplaces. You barter…both giving a little more than you want and getting a little less that
you’d hoped. Each of you has participated in determining what the product of your labor is
worth. And most important for Marx, this was possible because each of you had control over
what you produced. Even the feudal lords who came and took some of your product did so
under their right backed by their control of force, but there was no question it was the products of
your labor.

It is different under capitalism. At first people who went to work controlled what they made and
were paid for the product of that labor, initially produced at home and later produced in the back
of the artisan’s shop—but now with the artisan’s tools and materials. Eventually the need to
exert control over the quality of work led to standardized production under the watchful eye of
the owner. This led to what many call “scientific management” of the work process (see the
work of Frederick Taylor) where the worker’s every action is measured and controlled. In this
way, workers increasingly lost control over the knowledge required to perform work and became
valued for the time spent in the shop rather than for the product they could produce.

For Marx this meant that labor time rather than labor became what the worker could sell—in
other words, labor became a commodity like all others. But unlike all others, Marx argued labor-
time was the only commodity that could generate more commodities than it took for the owner of
a company to pay the worker. In other words, in our example above you exchanged grain for
shoes as an exchange of equals based on the values of the commodities and the time that went
into producing each. Now, says Marx, unable to control the means of production (you no longer
control tools or raw materials) and forced to sell your time at work, workers’ labor power (time
at work) produces more in commodity form than they get paid in money (and the commodities
that can purchase). The difference, argues Marx, is the source of all profit in the capitalist
system.

This surplus goes into creating all the social and political institutions we have come to see as our
society—much in the same way the lavish spending of the feudal nobility and heavy taxation let
to the fine cathedrals, magnificent castles and even opulent town centers of wealthier merchant
cities. And for Marx the productive energies and potential of capitalism, and the dynamic nature
of technological change, meant that there was more and more produced exceeding the limits
imposed by the land for a social system based on agriculture.

However, instead of a society based on control over the forces of power (weapons and armies)
we now have a society based on a seemingly voluntary exchange but limited by the control and
ownership of those means of production. We now have capital (machines, raw materials, credit)

page 7

essential for production controlled by one class of people while the rest have to sell their labor
power to survive, and in that exchange capitalist benefit.

Initial lines of conflict for Marx become that of the conflict of the haves versus the have-nots and
his belief that sooner or later all members of society will either be owners or workers.
Eventually the workers will see that the system is unjust and restrictive and forge their own
revolutionary movement for change—like capitalism before it in the face of feudalism, a change
of economic relations, the nature of government, and all the other institutions of society.

More contemporary theorists argue that this framework, while useful, ignores other important
social divisions that are the cause of structural conflict in society. We are divided by race, age
and sex, to name some prominent divisions. We can add to that religion, ethnicity, and other
cleavages that create conflict and tension in any society. Unlike structural functionalists who see
society, when it is “functioning” properly, in harmony and peace, conflict theorists argue that
when there is no tension it usually means the dispossessed or subordinate groups are necessarily
suppressed and in reality, the normal state of any society is conflict—one that inevitably leads to
social upheaval and development, and hopefully positive change.

Symbolic Interaction

Both Conflict and Structural Functionalist theories are macro level theories. This means that they
look at the big picture of society, paying closer attention to how social institutions work together
and/or against one another to promote social growth and stability. On the other hand, symbolic
interaction looks at society from the micro level, focusing on the individual and the way that we
interact with one another and with social institutions. Symbolic Interaction argues that society is
essentially created and maintained through the interactions of individuals.

Two early theorists in this area were Mead and Cooley. Mead’s theory of self development
resembled Freud’s theory of personality development. While Freud identified the Id, Ego and
Superego as parts of the personality, he placed their development in very early childhood, within
the family, putting the largest responsibility of childhood development on the parents. Mead’s
theory placed personality development with the context of society, with the parents playing a
role but not the only role. Furthermore, he argued that the personality continues to develop much
later into adolescence and early adulthood.

Mead identified three parts of the personality; the Me, the I and the Other, and one social
characteristic; the Generalized Other. Imagine what happens when parents have their first baby.
At first, they may be overwhelmed with the knowledge that they are truly expected to take care
of this little human! For Mead the initial interaction is clear: baby screams, parents jump. Mead
identifies this first social interaction as the “Me”. The baby is really not aware of the parents as
individuals. It is aware that it is wet and cold, so it cries. Like magic it has a dry warm diaper.
It realizes it’s hungry. It cries. Like magic it is fed. This simple interaction is based only on the
needs of the infant without any awareness that it is 2 am and the parents are exhausted. The baby
just doesn’t care. For Mead this stage of the personality continues until the baby is a toddler.

page 8

Something interesting happens then. The baby learns to walk and begins to talk. One of its first
words is guaranteed to be “no” and the baby will use it often. Now the parents have more of a
challenge in parenting. If they don’t restrict baby’s behavior it will stick a fork in a power outlet
or run into traffic, and baby can now get its toys from the toy box. Parents can either continue to
react or they can insist that children need to have consistent boundaries on their behavior in order
to function well in society. So they begin to teach the baby to behave properly using some age
appropriate discipline to encourage certain behavior. Baby will react to this by entering the “I”
stage of development. It is now aware that not only are its parents real, but that they have power
to control behavior. Baby now does what is expected because it wants to avoid punishment.
Mead argues that this stage will last until the child is around 7 or so (each child being different).
The more consistent the discipline, the quicker the child will learn the desired behaviors.

The next stage of development is the “Other”. One day the child realizes for itself that there are
consequences of actions and realizes that his or her safety and cleanliness are important to the
parents. It now begins to behave not only to avoid punishment, but because it understands why
the rules are necessary. Now the rules are also important to the child. It can view society from
the perspective of others. This stage begins when child truly begins to understand the difference
between right and wrong.

Mead’s last stage of social development is formulation of the Generalized Other. Think about
the men and women that we see in movies and magazines. These people are supposed to be (for
the most part) models of ideal people. We try to do everything we can to emulate them. We cut
our hair the same way, wear the same types of clothing, diet to be model thin or lift weights to be
model pumped. We are striving towards (even if only in our dreams) this ideal, one that for the
vast majority of us is unattainable. Even the models have their imperfections airbrushed away!
Mead argues that this social ideal is intended to be unattainable. It keeps us constantly striving
to be better which means that society will maintain control by setting these ideal targets for
behavior.

Cooley looked at how we interact in society as well. He developed the theory of “the Looking
Glass Self”. Cooley was on faculty at U of M. and was abnormally shy. While he wrote many
books, he avoided face to face professional interactions. Even as he did this, he understood that
his shyness was a function of self-esteem. His theory argues that when we view ourselves
socially, we are not seeing ourselves as we truly are, but rather as a reflection in the reactions of
others. Society becomes the mirror in which we view ourselves. So consider if a professor
comes to class one morning and looks out at a sea of sleeping or yawning faces. That person can
assume that the class had a late night, or think the lecture is boring. If the latter, the professor
may try to spice up the class lecture a little. Or the professor may have a harder time teaching
because he or she believes that they are not good at it. Either way, the professor is going to look
for an explanation of the class’s behavior.

The healthier one’s self esteem, the more likely the individual will look to others for an
explanation of a social interaction. The less healthy, the more likely the individual will look
inward. Now of course the professor may truly be boring, but only if the professor can’t find an
explanation in the crowd for the behavior will there be some self-reflection to change my
behavior. A really good example of Cooley’s theory is the problem of anorexia. She (although

page 9

more men are becoming anorexic, this is still primarily a female illness) judges the reactions of
others incorrectly, seeing an overweight image reflected back to her even as she slowly starves.

Sociologists have been studying social problems for almost 150 years. The discipline grew out
of the social upheaval of economic change accelerated by the industrial revolution, a time when
society became increasingly urban and denser. The cities were overcrowded, and disease was
rampant as people literally starved to death on the streets. The infrastructure of the city was
unprepared for the influx of new folks, and housing was inadequate, substandard and
overcrowded. For this country the Great Immigration that started by the end of the Civil War
meant that there were also diverse cultures and languages trying to coexist. Competition for jobs
was fierce and crime rates increased dramatically as this nation was transformed from a rural to
an urban society. Today Sociologists struggle to make sense of many of these same problems:
poverty, substandard education and housing, crime, poor health and racial and ethnic
discrimination remain problems today. The study of social problems remains an important
concern and likely will for generations to come.

.

SOC 1020
Lecture Nine

Prof. D. Fasenfest

Urban Society

As we become a more urbanized society, most, though not all, of our social problems are
centered in the inner cities. There is still a high level of rural poverty in our country, but with the
decline of rural populations the highest relative concentration of poverty, crime, and all the other
problems we have been studying are now found in our growing cities. Why do you suppose that
is? Shaw and McKay argued that cities grow outward in a series of concentric circles. In the
early days of the city’s development, all commerce was centered on a few streets…usually a
Main Street and a High Street…though those names are usually replaced in larger cities with the
names of important local or national persons. Residences develop on the outskirts of these
commercial enterprises. As the Industrial Revolution developed factories began to move into
these central areas to be near their workers.

So, did a multitude of people looking for jobs. For many industries and in many growing
industrial cities one’s status was revealed by how far from the workplace you could live, how
long you could travel to work. As the cities became overcrowded, unhealthy and dangerous,
people with higher earnings or wealth moved into the outlying areas. In a city like Detroit areas
like Palmer Woods and Indian Village housed the owners and managers while Grand Boulevard
had the homes of mid-level supervisors. Eventually wealthier people moved further away (to the
Grosse Pointes and Bloomfield Hills communities) and the cascading expansion represented the
choice of wealth versus the limitations of poverty. This process continued until we have what
we have today.

All this was sustainable until cities began to face a loss of jobs. At first industry moved to the
outlying areas to take advantage of lower cost land. Ironically, even as the industrial areas in
most cities became dirty, noisy places, the cost of land and construction rose. This left decaying
structures which made those close in, working class and poor neighborhoods even darker and
more undesirable places to live. Those who could afford it moved out of the cities to growing
suburban “bedroom” communities on the outskirts of our cities. In some states urban expansion
followed this pattern—for example Western Avenue of Chicago was so named because it was
the western edge of a city that soon annexed communities further to the west as it grew. In other
states, like Michigan with strong restrictions on annexation, growth was not possible (we only
have to look at the anomaly of Highland Park and Hamtramack—independent and self-governing
cities—in the heart of Detroit to see how limiting these laws can be). In the end what we have
are inner city areas that are run down, polluted, unsafe and unhealthy. Housing in these areas is
inadequate and often substandard. Crime rates and poverty are high. The quality of life in these
areas is low. If you drive from the center of the city out, you’ll notice that the farther you get
from the center, the more money, less pollution and less crime you encounter. This is pretty
standard in most cities.

Although we have laws the require rental units to be kept at a certain standard of repair, they are
not often enforced to the letter, if at all. Rental units in poor communities often get overrun with

rodents and roaches. Plumbing may not work accurately, and furnaces may be faulty. With no
other options open to them, the tenants may just stay in these homes. There is often e a cycle in
poor urban neighborhoods…demand repairs that make the property unaffordable as landlords
raise rents to cover the cost of those repairs, or live with the problems and have shelter, even if it
is inadequate. Buying their own home isn’t likely an option, even if they could afford the
monthly payments (while most people who pay rent are in effect paying the mortgage on the
building, and in some markets a mortgage payment may be less than rent on the property),
because they do not have either the credit or the down payment for the purchase. Along with not
having the capital for the down payment, banks tend to see these groups and neighborhoods as a
poor risk investment making it hard to get approved in these areas.

Pollution plays an important role in urban decline. On one hand, older factory neighborhoods
have the long-term consequence of polluting industries (layers of soot and high levels of other
air-pollutants, excessive ground levels of heavy metals or industrial waste, ground water
contamination) that resulted when these actions were not well regulated and the impact on the
community not well known. Rents are lower to attract residents who would not live there other
than the fact that their poverty leaves them with little choice (and we have seen the health
impacts of things like high lead content paint on the walls of these older dwellings). On the
other hand, poor neighborhoods are less well equipped (in terms of political or economic clout)
to block the location of newer industries that may only pollute in “safe” ways (excessive noise of
trucking or warehousing nodes, or the foul smell of waste processing plants). These new
“residents” may add to the community’s tax base but make the surrounding residential area less
desirable and hasten the out-migration of those who can afford alternatives.

Inner cities face job loss for many reasons. As factories close and jobs get outsourced, the inner
city is often not able to make the shift to the information age jobs that are needed. This leads to
one of two general outcomes. Either a spiraling decline outlined above, or the area becomes
revitalized—often referred to as gentrified, or it falls into urban decay. Gentrification happens
when poor city areas become desirable to developers and the middle class. As this happens you
have an odd mix of successful middle-class families living side by side with impoverished
individuals. When property values continue to increase, rentals disappear as it becomes more
profitable to sell these rentals to land developers. As high tech, high skilled jobs move in, low
skill jobs disappear. The poor are displaced to new neighborhoods…typically those of the
working class that are barely hanging on…and this neighborhood falls into disrepair as the cycle
continues. The previously poor area has new economic life breathed into it. On the outside it
appears that the problems of the inner city have been taken care of. In reality, the problems have
simply shifted a few miles down the road.

Sometimes these processes take a long time. Cities like Chicago or New York experienced
cycles of change as neighborhoods housed the working poor, became derelict as jobs left the
area, and then experienced a renaissance as new economic activity attracted a different kind of
tenant. Some urban scholars point to counter-cultural activities as an indicator of future
gentrifications. Artists and musicians looking for inexpensive space because most are poor enter
a declining area. Soon small shops and coffee houses follow, and the area takes on a “hip” label
as younger people with more money come to shop and experience an “urban” culture. Housing
is run down and cheap and “yuppies” (young, urban pioneers) working in the city buy these

homes and invest great sums to renovate in order to live closer to the offices in which they work,
cutting commuting times. And before you know it, the remaining poor plus the original culture
pioneers—still poor—can no longer live in these increasingly prosperous communities.

Seen in some grand perspective we can summarize the life of our older cities (if they are viewed
as successes today) as follows: 1) industry drives growth and builds populations, 2) success
creates new peripheral communities for the more affluent, leaving poor and working class
families in the older inner city dwellings, 3) industry and commerce leave the city, along with the
more successful second generation immigrant children who now populate a growing suburban
ring (which some cities can absorb as they grow, others cannot). 4) inner cities house the poor in
cheaper, run-down space that attracts alternative uses and often act as incubators for cultural
activities, 5) third-generation children from the suburbs with professional jobs “re-colonize”
older buildings if there are inner city “clean” office jobs (technology, medicine, finance, law,
insurance, etc) and create a process of gentrification, 6) rising desire for inner city life creates
higher housing costs, drives out the poor and the city is “reborn”.

Cities like Chicago now experience rapid growth with poorer people living on the outskirts.
New York City becomes a financial center, and the poor are driven to the further reaches of the
city’s limits. Even Detroit experiences a minor resurrection in the core downtown area with its
high-priced condos and office buildings—although this is not as extensive as other cities and
large pockets of poverty remain, with most of the growth in incomes and property development
still in its suburban reaches.

But urban America is still characterized by the racial segregation that occurs. Minorities in the
US have fewer opportunities for economic success. As a result, they typically are over
represented in the populations of the poor inner city. Looking within these cities, you will find
that these groups segregate from one another as well. In Detroit, for example, you will find
neighborhoods of poor people that have ethnic identities. There are black, Latino, white, middle-
eastern and Asian neighborhoods. There are also areas with Serbian and Albanian immigrants.
Marx argued that one mechanism to keep the poor from succeeding is to pit them against each
other. The struggle for resources leads to fierce competition within the groups, so rather than
banding together in solidarity, they tend to blame other groups for their poverty.

Cities have other problems as well, that are not linked to poverty. Simmel argued that people in
cities have to learn to shut down their perceptions to avoid sensory overload. This leads to a
disconnected attitude. We saw the danger of this in the 1980s when a woman named Kitty
Genovese was stabbed to death outside of her New York apartment building. Even though she
screamed for help in a well-lit area and was heard by most of her neighbors, no one called the
police. When interviewed, they all said that they expected someone else to call and didn’t want
to get involved. This led to the development of the “bystander effect” theory, which argues that
people only help when they have no other option.

Cities are complex organizations that have particular histories driven by the activities of the area,
the geography of the region and the nature of population change. Cities that started as port cities
became nodes of immigrants and the original “melting pots” as wave after wave of immigrants
piled up and filled crowded tenements. Industries rose up to take advantage of this population

but sooner or later demands of space and cost drove industries elsewhere and these port cities
tended to become financial capitals (think of Boston, New York, San Francisco). Cities that
started as junctions in the prairie attracted new residents and new industries after the commodity
transit points became overwhelmed by its own population growth. Space permitted the
expansion of factories to its outer areas and these cities experienced cycles of expansion and
transformation (think of Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City). And finally, cities grow because of
population pressures in older cities, starting from nothing to become shiny new destinations that,
over time, experience all the problems of older cities (think of Denver, Salt Lake City, Phoenix,
Dallas and Santa Fe).

By 2020 it is estimated that over 85% of our population will live in cities, with over 50% of the
population either immigrants from or decedents of immigrants from places other than Europe.
The US has reinvented itself many times and will continue to do so in the future—each time
defined by the population growth through immigration and the redistribution of that population.
Much like the 1800s was characterized by a land-based westward expansion, and the 1900s by
the growing industrial expansion building our major cities, the 2000s will be a century of urban
concentration and the emergence of a new way of organizing economic activities that will have a
major impact on our urban society.

SOC 1020
Lecture Five

Prof. D. Fasenfest

Education

Education is typically the second social institution that children encounter, although for many
families the second institution might be the Church. Education is the institution that passes on
knowledge to the next generation. This knowledge includes basic skills, such as reading and
writing, and job skills. Schooling refers to formal instruction under trained specialists.

Compulsory education is something that you are all familiar with. This means that children have
to go to school. In the U.S. children are required to begin school when they are 6 years old.
Most of us believe that Kindergarten is required, but it is actually optional. Most children begin
school when they are 5 or just before 5 and attend Kindergarten. In the middle and upper
classes, children may begin pre-school as early as 3 years old.

While we take compulsory education for granted, it does not exist in every society. In fact, the
concept in the U.S. is also relatively young. In the early 1900s when child labor laws went into
effect we found ourselves faced with unsupervised children. More importantly, unsupervised
poor children. Middle and upper-class children had never been in the work force at a young age
with boys getting formal education and girls getting a finishing school (finishing their social
training so that they could marry into presentable society or vocational training, perhaps serving
as governesses to reach peoples children or as secretaries in firms). Poor children were the ones
that went to work with their moms every morning and earned a small wage by doing menial
tasks, such as picking up empty thread spools in a sewing factory.

Compulsory schooling was a way of dealing with these children. Rather than roaming the streets
getting into mischief, breaking the law, or being victimized themselves, children were instead
sent to school. The teachers had the same authority to punish as the parents. Early schooling
was a really the state taking responsibilities that had previously belonged to the parents.
However, compulsory education was essential to being competitive during the Industrial
Revolution. It provided a mechanism for training the next level of workers in society. It also
provided the opportunity to start socializing the work force. This is why schools used bells to
ring children to classes and to lunch and to end the day. This mimicked the practice of factories
ringing bells in the morning or blowing whistles to call the workers in for the day. Schools
provide socialization, cultural innovation, integration, and social placement.

A practice of early education was tracking. This practice continued in the U.S. until the early
80s. Tracking refers to separating children in classes based on their academic abilities. In theory
this should work well, allowing the smarter kids to be in class with the smarter kids and the
slower kids to be together. This should allow the teachers to keep education at a pace that the
class is comfortable with. Unfortunately, it didn’t work that way. When I was in 8th grade, my
school tracked. We had A thru E sections, with students being assigned to the section that
corresponded with their GPA…in theory. What really happened was that all the really smart kids

(straight A) were in the A section with all of the rich kids and all of the cheerleaders and
basketball players. The E section had the poorest kids, the boy that had a severe stutter, and the
girl who was not only poor but one of the ugliest children that I have ever seen in my life. This
was pretty typical. The tracking system was a reflection of the social class and status of the
student rather than of academic ability. A very intelligent poor child could be in the lowest class
and a very unintelligent rich child could be in the highest class. While most schools no longer
track, some still do.

Home schooling refers to the practice of children being taught at home by their parents. More
and more American children are being home schooled with excellent results. Home schooled
children in general do very well in the competitive environment of SATs and college
applications. Home schooling may be the better option for an extremely bright child, since they
are not held back and/or bored by the pace of teaching in a structured school environment. Many
parents who home school choose to do so for religious reasons, preferring to include religion in
science and history lessons. Home schooling allows them to restrict teaching on subjects like
evolution that conflict with their personal beliefs. Others home school because public education
doesn’t meet the needs of their child.

There are a few problems with public education in our society. First, the quality of education
that a child gets is dependent upon its family income. Compulsory education, funded by taxes,
was supposed to assure equal education to children. In reality, poor children get a poor quality
education. They learn from books that are outdated, don’t have access to the same cultural
experiences and don’t have access to new technology. A poor school is far less likely to have a
computer lab. A very wealthy school is likely to provide a lap top to each of its students.
Middle class and wealthy schools are also likely to practice grade inflation. This means that the
number of students receiving As is much higher since teachers are reluctant to give lower grades.
In part this is due to the parents, who have lots of social clout in the community, are likely to be
angry if junior gets less than an A.

These disparities in the quality of education make it harder for poor children to be competitive
for college admissions and scholarships. As a result, very few poor children are able to go on to
college. Approximately 50% of working class children go to college, but the drop out rate is a
much higher than that of the middle class. Approximately 80% of middle and upper class
children go on to college. This leads to the poor class being less competitive in getting the jobs
that would provide the opportunity to get out of the poverty class.

Another problem with the education system is that classrooms are overcrowded. This leads to a
lot of time being spent on discipline and less on learning. In fact, some argue that school as it is
designed brings kids together in an environment that allows them to learn more deviant acts.
Has the notion of public education outlived its usefulness? Also, what alternative would work
better? OR should we just fix the system that we have?

We noticed in the last lecture that in this increasingly knowledge-based economy education
becomes the key to successful employment and a good income…though there is no guarantee
you will get a good job, you can more or less count on not finding one if you don’t have a higher
education. We have to really wonder what sort of society we are going to have as we read that

more and more poor people are dropping out, that young people of color do not finish school,
and the implications of their being relegated to the lowest economic rungs in society. Too much
evidence points to more than just not wanting to finish school—but rather that schooling in
America still caters to privilege, and that the rich and poor keep reproducing themselves as a
result.

My final note is about the quality of education, and the fact that while everyone argues that
education is the key to the future, Michigan and many other states keep under funding education
at each level, and for most states teachers are not well paid. How can we, as a society, expect to
attract the best and brightest to teach our children (other than those whose children go to elite
schools or live in high income communities) if there are few incentives to become a teacher?

1

SOC 1020
Lecture Four

Prof. D. Fasenfest

Gender is often used interchangeably with sex; however, sex is biological, and gender is both
social and variable. Gender refers to the set of social expectations of behaviors associated with
one’s biological state though it is not specific to that sex. Increasingly we even have begun to
question the binary framing of people’s existence, questioning whether the male/female binary is
valid. People can see themselves as gender fluid, pangender, transgender, androgenous, agender,
queer, gay, transqueer and so on. Increasingly folks represent themselves by the pronouns they
wish to be associated when referred to by others. Gender, then, is much more complicated than
simple sex assignment—though we see that this has created significant political and social
issues…and “gendered” framing of social roles and expectations still dominate.

Clearly a woman gives birth—that is biological—but there is nothing innate about her role as
primary care giver through most of a child’s life—that is gender role. Gender stratification
occurs when females have different social outcomes than males. Historically, women lived in
the private sphere of society, confined to the home and the social network of women. Men lived
in the public sphere, out in the business world earning a living. In fact, this gender dynamic was
not a problem until the industrial revolution. In the late 1800s a house could not function if one
member didn’t stay home, regardless of whether you lived in a rural area and farmed or if you
lived in a city and earned a living from business.

Early social roles were determined by sex-based functions. Women stayed home since babies
depended on breast milk to survive. There wasn’t a local market to purchase formula. Cow’s
milk was a poor substitute that could kill a child before Pasteurization. You also couldn’t by
bread and butter at the local corner store. The woman’s day was filled with preparing food,
making clothing, overseeing the children’s safety and education, and keeping the home livable.
The man’s day was filled with working outside the home. The division of labor was based in part
on early biological necessity. Women, however, were viewed as property, “sold” to a man who
received a dowry (and in many customs men paid a “bride price” to her father for his “loss”) and
the view persisted as she became part of the man’s family (in many states into the early part of
the last century a women could not own property and any inheritance she might receive was put
under the control of the husband).

With the industrial revolution came modern conveniences that shifted a woman’s work but it was
still devalued. Instead of needing hours to beat rugs clean, a vacuum cleaner did it in minutes.
Clothes were no longer washed by hand in hot water but were churned clean in a washing
machine. Food preservatives made it possible to buy sliced bread and canned vegetables in a
matter of moments when it had been an all day or longer job. Culture did not change quickly
though, and women remained confined to the private sphere.

Sexism was prevalent then and remains prevalent today. Sexism refers to the discrimination by
one sex over the other. Today, women have gained ground in every occupation. In medicine for
example, about 50% of medical students are female. In the 70s a woman who wanted a career in

2

medicine was most likely maneuvered into nursing. Yet, women still make less in every
profession. Male waiters earn more than females. Male secretaries earn more than females.
Male teachers earn more than females.

There are a variety of reasons for this that contribute to and exacerbate underlying sexism;
gender roles for example are expected behaviors. For example, males are expected to be
aggressive and assertive and get rewarded for this behavior. This means that not only is a man
likely to ask for a higher salary or raise, he is more likely to get it. Females are expected to be
passive and compliant. When they are not, they are sanctioned. So an assertive female is likely to
get labeled a “bitch” and to be socially punished for her aggressiveness. Females are also
supposed to be nurturing and emotional and men are supposed to be stoic and unemotional.

What happens when someone steps outside their gender role and is androgynous (acting neither
male nor female) or takes on the alternate gender role? We often question their sexuality,
especially if the male takes on a traditionally the female role. Or we assume they are somehow
deviant or raise questions about their sexual preferences. Most men will admit that they expect
to be the primary breadwinner. A woman earning more than her spouse is considered status
inconsistent. What do we think of the man who stays home and cares for the children while the
wife works? Even if the wife agrees, it is likely that her family will think it odd or inappropriate.
Tim Allen joked that women have all the choices in life. Get married, work full time. Get
married, work part time. Get married, don’t work. Stay single, work full time. While men have
two choices; work or go to jail. There is some truth to his joke. Men are expected to work and
to excel professionally. Women have the “option” of working or not working…and this refers to
socially acceptable choices and not to financial realities. This also perpetuates the notion that the
work women do in the home, essentially unpaid work, does not really count. Sociologists often
refer to the dual burden women bear: work full time and then come home to all her domestic
duties like cooking and cleaning.

Women are less likely to be hired and more likely to be paid less than an equally qualified male.
Some explain these disparities based on a woman’s biology, not that we fail as a society to
provide the necessary support for child care so that women can keep their jobs (only in recent
years have laws protected a woman’s right to return to work if she gives birth, and indeed makes
it illegal for women to be fired for becoming pregnant). Women have children, so they take time
out of the labor force. While this may be true for many, studies that have compared and
controlled for time on the job and the length of the workweek still showed that women made less
money. Another reason used to justify lower pay for women is that she was earning “mad
money”, in other words, her salary was extra, and she wasn’t actually supporting a family. Many
countries still follow a “family wage” strategy of paying men enough to support a family while
assuming women will stay home.

Intersection theory argues negative social outcomes are a combination of sex, race and social
class, with the poor minority female having the lowest social outcomes. In part this theory grew
from the works of belle hooks who argued that feminism in the U.S. had failed poor and non-
white women. Women in the middle and upper classes gained opportunity and privilege during
the 60s but life for the working poor and non-white female had not changed. Sadly, the
opportunities and privileges of mid- and upper-class women are tied to the status of their

3

husband’s class position…a fact many women discover quickly if they are left by a spouse after
many years of maintaining a home and now they are forced to seek employment and sustain
themselves financially. Recently divorced women are at high risk of falling into poverty. Yet
ironically and perhaps not surprisingly, women who are financially independent are more likely
to leave a bad or abusive relationship since they are not economically vulnerable and dependent
on a man’s earnings.

Once women entered the work force the extent of sexual harassment in the workplace was more
noticeable. This is the unwanted and derogatory attention an individual receives due to their sex.
The kind of demands made on female workers in the early days of the industrial revolution was
used as an argument why they should stay home under the “protection” of their husbands—not
as the basis for calling to an end of these sorts of practices. And of course, poor and immigrant
women were more vulnerable because not working was not an option if they hoped to survive. It
usually refers to the demand for sexual favors for job security of promotion but can also refer to
the creation of a hostile work environment. For example, a female worker in an all male office
would have grounds for a sexual harassment complaint if calendars of naked women were
displayed in the office, or if sexual jokes in the work place offended the women and no effort
was made to curtail these actions.

Employment poses two problems in regard to gender. The first is that women are generally paid
less in every occupation. The second is that women often encounter a glass ceiling. The glass
ceiling is a metaphor for the fact that women are allowed to rise only so far on the corporate
ladder. Then they encounter a glass ceiling, something that blocks their progress, but through
which they can see the top where their male colleagues continue to climb. Women are less likely
to become CEOs of businesses. They also are more likely to be criticized for being in over their
heads if they have a problem, in comparison to men who will have their problems objectively
discussed separate from their sex. In other words, if a female CEO fails at her job, it becomes a
question of whether any woman would be fit for the job. When a man fails at the CEO job, it
becomes a question of only his qualifications and not those of all men.

Feminism is the theoretical framework that grew out of the equal rights movement. Feminism
refers to the argument that humans should have equal opportunity and receive equal pay for
equal work. Most, though not all of us, believe this to be true. There are a variety of feminist
approaches to understanding society. Liberal feminists want to have true equality in society,
where all people are equal, regardless of sex. They want to reform society without recreating
society. Fix the problem. Make sure that our laws provide equal opportunity for everyone.

Socialist feminists argue that patriarchy is embedded in the fabric of a capitalistic society. As
long as private property is owned, women will be relegated to the house and to childcare. In a
socialist community, private property would be disallowed, and households would be communal.
Childcare and housework would be a shared responsibility and no longer assigned by sex.
Socialist feminists favor a class revolt to overthrow capitalism and re-establish the country as a
socialist society.

Finally, radical feminists argue that gender discrimination is built into patriarchy through
biological differences between the sexes. Meaning, as long as women get pregnant in the

4

traditional way they will be bound to the home and childrearing and not be equal. In order to
have gender equality, these feminists argue that we must become divorced from the notion of
childbearing the way it is now and of heterosexuality as the norm of relationships. Technology
could allow children to be born outside the womb. This may sound like science fiction, but in
vitro fertilization was science fiction in 1970. Children could be raised in a communal setting,
not within the nuclear family, as is the case now—there is nothing about a women’s sex that
requires her to be the “mother”. Finally, laws could be changed to give children more rights and
responsibilities, which would make them less dependent on the parents and especially the
mother. In other words, we must re-conceptualize the roles and responsibilities of both men and
women within both the family and the society at large if we hope to put an end to gender
discrimination today.

Sexuality

Biological sex guides much of our social experience. While sex and gender are often used
interchangeably sex refers to the biological characteristic of being either male or female. Every
child is born with Primary sexual characteristics. These are the genitalia that are present at birth
that identify us as either male or female. Secondary sexual characteristics are those
characteristics that develop with puberty such as breasts and menstruation for females, body hair
for both sexes, and a deepening of the voice for males. A very small percentage of humans are
born Intersexual. These are individuals who have both male and female characteristics of birth.

While much of our gender characteristics are socialized, some are biologically driven and
intersexuals give us the opportunity to understand the biological links between sex and gender.
In earlier generations, before we fully understood DNA typing and before we had reliable
technology, when a child was born intersexual one of two things happened. If it were equally
easy to assign a sex to the child, parents were given the choice of whether to have a boy or girl.
The unnecessary genitalia were then surgically removed. This of course created problems for the
child who was genetically male and assigned the female sex, or vice versa. Imagine a boy child
being castrated and raised as female. As he aged, he would develop a deep voice and facial hair.
He would not menstruate or grow breasts. The same confusion would be true of a female
mistakenly classified as a male. These children, as adults, were faced with depression, social
stigma and loneliness, never being fully comfortable in the body that they were medically
assigned. This is far less likely to happen these days. An intersexual infant today would be
genetically tested to determine biological sex before surgery. Intersexuals were formerly called
Hermaphrodites, named for the god Hermaphrodites who was both male and female.

Transsexuals and Transgenders are different. A transsexual is a person who undergoes sex
reassignment surgery. These are individuals who believe that emotionally and mentally they are
living in a body that is not the sex that they were meant to be. So they undergo a sex change
operation to fix the biological error of their birth. Transgenders are males who live life as
females or females who live life as males. Transgenders do not undergo a sex change operation.
Transvestites are different from both. A transvestite is someone who gains pleasure from wearing
clothes that are appropriate for the opposite sex. Transvestitism is a fetish while transexuality
and transgendered behavior is a life choice.

5

Sexual orientation refers to sexual attraction. Heterosexuality is the attraction to only the
opposite sex. Homosexuality is the attraction to only the same sex. Bisexuality is the attraction
to both sexes and Asexuality is no sexual attraction to either sex. The Sapir-Whorf thesis argues
that we create our understanding of society through language. Given this, why do we now say
sexual orientation rather than sexual preference? Sexual preference implies a choice in who we
are sexually attracted to while orientation implies biological pre-determination in who we are
sexually attracted to.

Homophobia refers to the fear of homosexuality. Individuals that are homophobic are believed
to have a deep fear that they themselves are homosexual. This fear causes them to vehemently
denounce homosexuality as a sexual orientation and leads to discrimination against homosexuals.
A homophobic male could not befriend a homosexual male for fear that he might be viewed as
homosexual himself. The same would be true of a homophobic female in interactions with a
lesbian female.

Socially, we spend a lot of our energy attempting to control sexual behaviors. One of the most
interesting mechanisms of social control has been the use of a double standard for males and
females. Males are socially rewarded for their sexual prowess, expected to have many sexual
partners before and if they settle down in a monogamous relationship. Females on the other
hand are rewarded for remaining chaste until marriage. If we meet a 25-year-old male virgin,
our first thought is to wonder if the man is gay, and if not gay, what is wrong with him. Men are
not expected to be able to control sexual impulses. If we discover that a 25-year-old woman has
had an inordinate number of sexual partners, we label her with derogatory names that are
intended to denote that she is less desirable as a future partner and mother.

This double standard relaxed a little in the 1960s. While we might believe that this was due to
women pushing for equal rights, and in part it was, the real reason for the change in acceptable
behavior was the introduction of the birth control pill. Prior to the pill, birth control methods
were unreliable and/or depended on the willingness of the male partner to purchase and use
them. If a woman got pregnant, she was usually dependent upon the male; there were few
options for unmarried mothers in earlier society. With unequal access to education and
employment, a single mother was doomed to poverty if the father refused to marry her. Few
men were willing to take on the responsibility of rearing the offspring of a pre-marital affair.
Girls might be sent away, and the baby put up for adoption, but they would always be
stigmatized for their immoral behavior. After the pill was developed, for the first-time women
had control of their own reproductive lives. Now, they could protect themselves from pregnancy
without relying on a man’s willingness to wear a condom. Also, the pill was an extremely
reliable method of birth control, with less than 1% of users facing an unwanted pregnancy.
Women were able to relax their control and engage in premarital sex at this point without fear of
ruining their future. It took a while for culture to catch up with this technology and the double
standard continues. The degree of a woman’s control over her body remains a highly
controversial topic.

The sexual freedom of the 60s continued into the 80s, until the AIDS epidemic began. Once it
became public knowledge that the disease could be passed through sexual activity (later through

6

needle use and blood transfusion as well), our sexual activity began to change as we undertake
less promiscuous behaviors. People in general are once again being more careful about their
choices of sexual partners. The AIDS epidemic also led to an increase in homophobia in our
society and to increased discrimination against gays in society. As a result, the gay community
became more organized as a political group willing to fight for its rights. This was due in large
part to anger at the Federal Government for ignoring the AIDS epidemic and refusing to dedicate
adequate resources to research. Prominent religious leaders supported this decision not to
support research, calling AIDS a judgment from God for immoral behavior. AIDS research
didn’t become fully funded until after straight non-drug users became infected from the tainted
blood supply. Queer theory, a conflict theory, argued that not only was society sexist, it was
heterosexist or biased in the favor of straight people and especially straight males. The failure to
fund a health crisis that hit the gay community especially hard was proof of the discrimination
against gays in our society. We need not only focus on diseases like AIDS; medical practice is
slow in understanding women’s health as well…for example only recently do doctors consider
that women present heart attacks differently then men and have started treating women
differently. Earlier research on this and other problems tend to be directed by our understanding
of how men function and then assume women will function the same way.

While the gay community has made strides in being recognized as a valid part of society, there
are still inequalities in society based on sexual orientation. One aspect is the inability for gay
partners to have the same legal protections as straight partners. If a gay couple has been together
for 25 years and one needs to have medical treatment, the other can be, and often is, denied
access to medical information. While theoretically this would also be true of a straight couple, if
a man needs medical treatment and his female partner of 25 years introduces herself as his wife,
she is not asked to produce a marriage license to prove this bond and she has access to the
information. Also, gays are not allowed to extend their medical benefits to their partners. While
many universities made same sex benefits available, after recent decisions to prohibit gay
marriage, these institutions are finding their ability to continue to do so hampered.

Another consequence of the AIDS epidemic is a desire to place more social control over the
sexual behaviors of teens. Public schools could teach sex education, including safe sex. They
were also able to distribute condoms or to have condom machines in the bathrooms. Now, any
public school that teaches anything, but abstinence is not eligible for federal funding. So
somehow, not teaching kids how to protect themselves from disease and unwanted pregnancy is
supposed to keep them safe. It may well be that it is a parent’s responsibility to teach this
information along with family values about sexuality. The reality is that many parents and teens
are not comfortable dealing with this discussion and therefore only deal with it when facing the
consequences. The foolishness of this focus on abstinence can be seen by looking at the
experience of a HS in Texas: it has the highest rate of teen pledge signing, and yet also has one
of the highest rates of teen pregnancy!

Abortion is a major debate in society. Abortion refers to the voluntary termination of a
pregnancy. It has divided society and is one topic that most of us have very strong opinions on.
Prior to Roe vs Wade, abortion was illegal in the U.S. Women have always managed to have
abortions. There are herbs for example that will induce an abortion, meaning they bring about
premature labor and cause the body to expel the pregnancy. Women died of illegal abortions

7

because they were performed with non-sterile instruments (broken glass, knitting needles, wire
hangers) in non-sterile environments. Without the benefit of adequate medical care, women died
of infections or of punctured internal organs. Abortion is criticized as a means of birth control
when adequate means to prevent pregnancy are available. Some believe that life begins at
conception and that abortion is murder. Others believe that a fetus is not a baby until it can
survive outside the womb if early labor begins. Still others believe that a fetus is not a baby until
it reaches gestational maturity and is delivered normally. The abortion debate divides us and has
led to violence. Some religious groups support the killing of doctors who perform abortions,
comparing abortion to genocide. Some argue that access to abortion is racially biased with
minority women not having access and forced to carry unwanted pregnancies, meaning that
minority families will remain in poverty with too many children to support. Others argue that
abortion is genocide with an attempt to abort minority children to control the non-white
population. It is likely that the abortion debate will continue to be socially controversial as we
all have strong and opposing viewpoints on the subject.

There are other aspects of sexuality that have a social implication. Pornography for example is
the media that promotes sexuality and sex acts. It is often derogatory to women and portrays
them in humiliating situations. Prostitution is the trading of sex for money. With the exception
of child pornography, which is generally viewed as despicable and is always illegal with tough
jail sentences, pornography is legal and left to one’s own discernment about its use. Most
pornography targets men and is viewed as either a harmless activity or a violation of trust a
relationship, dependent upon the personal views of the men and women involved. There is an
expectation that young males will view pornography as a right of passage. The jury is still out
on whether or not viewing pornography increases the number of rapes in our society or if it
causes males to devalue females.

Prostitution is said, along with the clergy, to be one of the oldest professions and it inspires much
debate. Most prostitutes, or sex workers, are female. Sex work is a relatively new term that has
grown from a feminist debate on prostitution. This argument is that prostitution is an occupation
that is chosen by women. Feminists who favor this argument say that women in prostitution
should not be viewed as victims, but as adults that have made a conscious career choice. Others
argue that women in prostitution are victimized, forced to turn over their earnings to a man who
forces them to sell sex.

The debate is driven by the fact that there are two levels of prostitution. Street workers are
typically poor women who may have no other options open to them. Many of these women are
pushed out of their homes when they are still children, running away to escape abuse, or thrown
out by parents that are unable or unwilling to deal with an adolescent. They may be lured into or
forced into prostitution to survive. Also, these women are more likely to have drug abuse issues.
It is not known if these women turn to drugs to deal with their occupation, or if they go into
prostitution to support their drug habits. The second type of sex worker is the call girl, typically
high paid. She has likely decided to pursue this occupation and may have a typical lifestyle that
is separate from her occupation, such as the ring of suburban housewives arrested in New Jersey.

Structural functionalists argue that prostitution exists and is allowed to exist because it fills a
need in society. It provides a sexual outlet for men who are not able to meet their needs in a

8

socially acceptable way. Very ugly men or men who have no social skills may have trouble
finding a willing sex partner that they don’t have to pay. Providing a sexual outlet through
prostitution may protect women from unwanted sexual advances and rape.

What, then, is at issue with sex and gender? Why do we, as a society, spend so much time and
energy over how one identifies as a human being, why do many of us try to “legislate” behavior
whether it is to pass laws declaring you must function based on your biological sex at birth (what
reproductive organs did you have)? Why is so much attention paid on who controls your body—
for example this recent return to changes in the law over abortion? And why is the focus usually
on a woman’s body? After all, as one activist pointed out a man who has sex with 100 women
can propagate 100 babies, a woman having sex with 100 men can only have one birth. If the
concern is over the lives of the fetus shouldn’t there be as much concern and control over the
behavior and responsibility of men?

Clearly, these questions are not easy, and the rationales for one’s positions are not always
consistent. For example, many argue that “my body my choice” explains why they should be
allowed to not be inoculated against serious diseases (made more visible during the COVID
epidemic but this has always been around for other diseases). Yet people don’t believe this holds
true if a woman wishes to have an abortion for any number of reasons. Some argue for the
sanctity of life yet press for death penalties. There are concerns for the life of the fetus as a
living being, but then don’t show the same concerns for infants when they oppose childcare and
maternal health programs. If we ban abortions, why don’t we also pass stricter laws requiring
the biological “father” to carry the economic and social burden of caring for that child? The list
is long, the answers not simple. People’s views are often driven by religious or political ideas
and as a society we struggle with how to manage serious differences.

Lecture Notes, SOC 1020
Lecture Eleven

Prof. D. Fasenfest

Economy and Politics

We live in a capitalistic economy that is founded on the notion of free enterprise. For the most
part, despite its problems, our economy succeeds. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, however. In
spite of our great wealth as a nation we have a significant portion of our society living in relative
poverty (almost 20%, and more if we use a standard of comfort and security rather than simply
measuring those who are unable to provide for their most basic needs), and a core of our society
lives in what we call persistent poverty. Clearly the system is not perfect. As a result, we do
attempt to put some controls on capitalism. We can see how the system leads at times to excesses
and why government involvement is deemed necessary. In the early days of the industrial era in
this country (and others—we are focusing on the US) we have a few families, like the
Rockefellers, who controlled markets. Using unscrupulous business practices as well as their
ability to manipulate supply and demand, they were able to put any competitors out of business.

Rockefeller was especial adept at these tactics, though by no means the only one. One example
is the way he used the railroad to build a financial empire. At first, he controlled some rail lines
and started charging less for freight than it cost him to ship the items, but in doing so he slowly
drove his competitors under and then offered fire sale prices to buy up their assets. This
continued until he controlled a lion’s share of the track and rolling stock, and then he was free to
charge what he wanted with no fear of competition. He needed government support to prevent
competitors from getting land right-of-way to lay new tracks and in short order this monopoly
allowed him to control other things (remember, in those days there were no trucks or highways,
there was no air freight, and for a growing country rail shipping was the only way to transport
everything to and from markets). His subsequent control over the rail lines meant he could
control the cost of shipping oil, and in this way, he gained a big advantage over other oil
producers, soon becoming the largest and richest oil company of his day—Standard Oil, the
foundation of many of today’s oil giants. We have since passed laws that make it illegal to have
a monopoly on any market today.

We also have laws that make price fixing illegal. A few years ago, the formula companies in the
US were found guilty of price fixing. Basically, the major companies had agreed to charge the
same price for their infant formula. With no true competition in the market, they were free to
charge whatever they wanted and soon the costs for baby formula became exorbitant.
Unfortunately, families who would most benefit from the economic boost of not buying formula,
may have the least ability to breast feed an infant, as this requires either the mom to stay home,
or to be provided with a private area at work to express milk several times a day. Formula
companies were fined and ordered to pay customers in the class action suit $1500 per child who
had been formula age during the price fixing. But is this applied selectively? To find any
competitive pricing in gasoline, you have to cross state lines. Michigan on average is 30 cents
more per gallon than Ohio. But gas in Detroit more or less costs the same as gas in Flint
regardless of which company’s gas station we visit. Do we really have a competitive market in
gas pricing? Or is it legally sanctioned price fixing?

Interlocking directorates refers to the fact that a very small group of people serves as directors of
a large number of corporations. This means that the same folks in the U.S are making all
marketing decisions. This doesn’t mean that every company that practices price fixing. The
Walmart phenomenon is much more common in our society. When a Walmart opens in a small
rural area, the local business can’t compete and so they close their doors. However, Kmart and
Target, to name but two of the large department stores, can compete and do. So while the little
business suffers due to “big box” stores like Walmart, the general population gets better deals
and more competition in pricing. However, one way these kinds of stores can keep prices down
is to keep wages low and not provide benefits. Soon people pointed out the Walmart employees
could not even shop at Walmart. We can get a good idea of the problems faced by low wage
workers in big box stores in Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Nickel and Dimed

One important aspect of our economy is its link to the political system. Our politicians run their
campaigns on donations. The backbone of these donations comes from special interest groups
and political action groups who can bundle large dollar amounts. These groups are designed to
represent and support politicians who represent the goals of their group. This has led to unfair
advantages to some political candidates as money flowed into campaign accounts from wealthy
contributors. Campaign reform tried to put a check on the influence of such groups as it limits
the amount of a single donation to $2,000. There were also limits placed on how much a
political action group could give and much one individual could donate. This was done to see
that politicians would vote their conscience on issues, rather than being bought and paid for by
the wealthy or by very strong special interest groups.

We divide our political landscape into conservatives and liberals. Conservatives tend to be
viewed as folks who are very personally conservative, believing in family values etc. However,
they are technically those individuals who believe in a conservative interpretation of the
Constitution. They believe that the political and economic systems work as they should.
Liberals believe in a liberal interpretation of the Constitution and argue for providing more social
benefits to the population, such as a national health care plan. Another term being bandied about
is Centrists…these are folks who fall into the middle of the spectrum for the most part, though
they may lean more in one direction than the other. I took an online test that my sister sent
me…she believes that I am a bleeding-heart liberal…and it indicated that I am a Libertine. A
Libertine believes in a government that provides the basic needs for its citizens…health care,
education, etc…. but also believes in a lot of personal freedom for the citizenry. Many recent
candidates have been called Centrists…i.e., liberal Republicans or conservative Democrats.

We are now faced with some real hard economic choices in the political arena. Anyone
watching political news has heard about the problems of providing health insurance to everyone
so that the most common problems do not become catastrophic problems. The most obvious in
the current political environment is how we make economic choices when balancing political
decisions. How do we compare one set of political goals against another set of economic
realities? Without taking a specific position, the American Friend’s Service (commonly known
as Quakers) make a case against war, any war, on the grounds that it costs a lot more than the
sacrifices of men and women carrying out government policy. We don’t need to debate the
merits of going to war, but we should always consider what economists call the opportunity costs

of spending money in different ways…this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wnq6cD5jk1Q is
their contribution to the calculus we are making whether or not we know it. Any society is
making implicit choices as it spends its resources. If all of us, through our elected officials,
knowingly say—yes, that is what we want to do, then so be it. But we must also ask who was
confronted with the social and economic alternatives when assessing the decision to go to war?
During the Second World War a national dialogue determined that the objectives were so
important everyone agreed to sacrifice—though it was shown that many profited from the war
effort (and a large part of those people were punished with fines and/or imprisonment). Do we
always have national discussions or debates about how to spend our collective wealth?

Today we face similar challenges and choices. This country has spent untold billions of dollars
in military aid to Ukraine in response to Russia’s invasion. No one thinks coming to their aid is
a problem. But what is a problem is that on one hand we have no question we can spend those
dollars for military aid and at the same time we do not have the money for childcare programs,
early education, housing needs and other serious social problems. Part of the reason is that
somehow people in the government have decided this military spending is not part of our
“budgeting” process while social services must be “paid for” somehow by either increasing taxes
or shifting funds from other programs. Whether we like it or now, we are making choices or
rather choices are made for us.

Clearly in an environment of choice we often must decide on one program versus another. We
have seen the consequence of the health care problems in this country and that is another set of
choices. What we must keep in mind is that all political choices have economic consequences,
and all economic actions have political ramifications as well as political origins. We must be
educated so that we can make good political choices—and then we can agree to live with the
consequences of our choices. However, as this chapter shows, the connection between the
economy and politics is a tricky one and even the highest minded can make mistakes that have
deep consequences for us all.

We are now embroiled in a discussion about costs of government, revenues, and resources. The
question raised is should we reduce the deficit, and how to do it? What programs need to be cut,
but at the same time who should carry the burden? What is the responsibility of any government
to its citizens and who/how id a fair share determined? Do we want to live in a society where a
company like Exxon/Mobile can have billions in profits and not owe or pay any taxes? What
does it say about our society when the top 74 earners (yes, that is seventy-four individuals who
declare an earned income to the Social Security Administration) have a combined income equal
to the bottom 19 million earners in this country?

Lecture 3

SOC 1020
Lecture Three

Prof. D. Fasenfest

Race and Ethnicity are often used interchangeably, though they refer to different things.
Race is a biological classification. Humans are divided into three categories, Mongoloid,
Negroid and Caucasoid. Mongoloids are identified as having reddish or yellowish complexions,
dark, straight course hair and no eyelid fold, and a broad flat nasal bridge (descendents of the
Asian territories). Negroids are identified as having dark complexions, curly dark course hair
and a broad flat nasal bridge (descendents of the African territories). Caucasians are identified as
having lighter, thinner hair, lighter skin and a high nasal bridge (descendents of Europe).

Much social significance is attached to this biological distinction, but the significance is not
warranted. In fact, the evolution of the races was driven by the climate where the race evolved.
If you lived in a cold climate, like northern Europe, you needed to develop light skin and thinner
hair to absorb the warmth of the sun. The high nasal bridge allowed air to be warmed before it
hit the sinus cavity…think of it as a built-in protection from brain freezes. Compare the coloring
on Scandinavians (blonde hair, very fair skin) to Greeks (Dark hair, olive complexion). Both
groups are Caucasian by biological classification, but their coloring is different due to the
climate where they evolved. The farther south we move, the darker the complexions become out
of necessity. The bridge of the nose gets broader because the air is warmer. The hair gets
courser, and the skin gets darker to provide protection from the sun. If we look at Australia, we
see the native Australians (the group that evolved there) have dark skin. The fair Australians
(Russell Crow, Nicole Kidman) are of British descent.

These are the only biological differences that exist between the races. Recent genetic research
has revealed how basically identical all humans really are! No race is biologically superior or
inferior to another. We are identical under the skin. We have the same organs, the same
circulatory system, and the same intellectual and emotional capabilities. Society has used these
outward biological differences as a means of discriminating against groups if diverse groups
have intermingled. W.E.B. DuBois, an early black sociologist, was the first to identify the social
construction of race, and he was correct. He argued that it was social discrimination that made
the social outcomes for blacks in America so devastating.

Ethnicity refers to our cultural affiliation and nationality refers to the country where we are a
citizen. Prejudice refers to the belief that one group is superior to another. Racism refers to the
intolerance towards a socially defined race that is not your own. We can take as an example of
social construction a comment made by the then President for Life “Papa Doc” Duvalier of Haiti.
When, in the 1960s, he was asked what percent of Haitians are white he replied 95%. The
interviewer was concerned that he had not spoken French properly and repeated the questions, to
which the Dictator repeated the same answer. Asked how this was possible since any casual
look at Haiti’s population reveals its roots as the first successful nation created by a slave revolt
the Dictator explained. How do you determine race in the US, he asked…one is Black if there is
some small percentage of Black ancestry back a few generations? Well, in Haiti you are white if
you have any white ancestry and only about 5% of Haitians come directly from Africa—so, the
rest are all “white”! Discrimination refers to the unequal treatment of one group by another.

Lecture 3

There are four categories that each of us can fall into around prejudice and discrimination.

Level of Discrimination

Degree of
Prejudice

prejudiced
non-discriminator

prejudiced
discriminator

non-prejudiced
non-discriminator

non-prejudiced
discriminator

The prejudiced discriminator is someone who not only believes that another group is inferior, but
also treats that group unjustly. For example, prior to the late 60s in the south, it was socially
common for white business owners to refuse service to non-whites. It was also a prevalent belief
that non-whites were inferior to whites. So, the shop owner who believed in white superiority
and who discriminated against non-whites would fall into this category. Early Spanish
conquerors of the Central Americas believed that the indigenous population had no souls and
were therefore not human. This belief allowed them to treat those people as badly as they treated
livestock and beasts of burden, with the blessings of the Church present on these explorations. It
was not “inhuman” behavior if you classify them as non-human. A similar approach justified the
treatment of Jews, Gypsies and other “undesirables” including mass extermination during the
German Nazi era in the middle of the last century. Both take discrimination to the extreme.

The prejudiced non-discriminator is an individual who believes that another group is inferior but
does not discriminate against that group. Today it is illegal to refuse service to anyone based on
their race. That does mean though that the store owner who refused service in the 60s is no
longer prejudiced. It just means that this store owner now waits on everyone to avoid
prosecution, but still believes that the other group is inferior. However, there still may be
differences in the kind of service you provide. Non-whites may not be excluded from the store
but may be more likely to have to wait a long time for help or are kept under surveillance
because of their skin color (we will return to this in a moment).

The non-prejudiced discriminator is someone who does not believe that the other group is
inferior but discriminates anyway. Imagine that you are a white shop keeper in the 60s south.
You don’t believe that whites are superior to non-whites. However, if you serve non-whites in
your shop, whites won’t shop there. So, you discriminate against non-whites for economic
reasons, even though you are not prejudiced. A less obvious form of this is a belief by
shopkeepers that being non-white they have less money to spend so non-whites get ignored as a
potential customer—in this case the skin color is a signal about economic status.

The non-prejudiced non-discriminator is the last category. This is the person who believes that
all people are equal and treats everyone equally.

Lecture 3

Now that we have anti-discrimination laws, racism and discrimination have become more covert.
As I mentioned above shop employees sometimes follow non-white customers and monitor them
for potential shoplifting. While it is illegal, there are subtle employment differences. For
example, in many restaurants the wait staff that deal with customers are white and the kitchen
staff likely to be hidden are non-white. Recently there is much made of racial profiling that is
manifest through the high likelihood of black commuters being pulled over in white
neighborhoods even though they have not broken a traffic law—other than the crime of “driving
while black”. These examples are well documented, and in the case of the DWB phenomenon,
are under investigation by the federal government. A recent study of traffic stops on 8-Mile here
in Detroit found that non-whites driving east (and therefore technically within the City of
Detroit) were stopped much less often than those driving west (and therefore technically in
Eastpointe). The NAACP sued the City of Carmel, Indiana for discriminatory ticketing of non-
whites—and what won the suit for them was evidence that non-white workers, on their way to a
call center (a low-wage employer hiring poor non-whites from Indianapolis) had a tag on their
license plates signifying they worked in Carmel, we hardly ever stopped by the police. These are
all examples Institutional racism, where discrimination gets woven into the fabric of our social
institutions making inequality the norm for society.

Scapegoat theory argues that when things are not going well in your life, you look for someone
else to blame. If you are poor and struggling to get and hold a job, you are likely to blame
another group for your failures. The example of Vincent Chen applies here. The Detroit
autoworkers were looking for a scapegoat to blame for the failing auto industry. Rather than
blaming the quality of their product (Japanese cars were better built) or the government for not
controlling imports, they blamed the Vietnamese man that they believed to be Japanese. It is
easier to blame a scapegoat who outwardly looks different or acts different than you. In his case
he paid for it with his life. Another form of this can be seen in studies of union versus non-union
counties in the coal mining regions of West Virginia. When there was no union, white workers
saw the problem as one of cheap Black workers looking to “steal” jobs—but the outcome was
that even though whites earned much more than Blacks, overall wages were low. In strong union
counties, workers all understood that the problem was with the mine owner so overall wages
were higher, even though because of discrimination Black workers still earned less money
(though closer to parity).

Minority groups are often the target for discrimination. A minority group is not necessarily the
group with the smallest numbers. It is always the group with the least social power. Minority
group status changes over time as well. For example, during the Great Immigration the newest
immigrant group was the targeted minority, and each group took its turn. The Irish, the
Germans, the Polish, the Italians, the Puerto Ricans all took their turn as the minority group of
the day until they assimilated. Assimilation is easier if you are distinguished by language and
culture only, and not also by race.

Today, no northern European group is classified as a minority. And yet, like most social
problems we revisit the same issues repeatedly. Pat Buchannan, a presidential candidate for the
Republican Party in the 90s, argued that it was time to close our borders…a sentiment that is felt
by many since the World Trade Center bombings and has become a focus in the current political

Lecture 3

climate among many. In an ironic twist of fate racial profiling now refers to type-casting Arabs
(ironically Arabs are classified as white in the US Census) and there has been less attention to
traditional DWB type of racial profiling. Buchanan argued that immigrants were taking jobs,
overtaxing our resources and could be a danger to our communities. Lou Dobb even accused
illegal immigrants of bringing disease into the country even though there is no evidence of this,
and the claim was refuted by the Center for Disease Control. This is the same argument that the
nativists used during the Great Immigration. We have a movement to deport all illegal
immigrants from Mexico as well, using the identical arguments. For the past year or two thee is
renewed focus on the experiences of African-Americans (George Floyd and the Black Lives
Matter movement) and less concern over Muslims and people from the Middle East. Most
recently, there is an increase of attacks on Asian-Americans (since COVID and our
disagreements with China) and a reminder of the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin in Detroit (see
https://www.cnn.com/2022/06/23/us/vincent-chin-death-40-anniversary-cec/index.html).

We should remember that “racial” categories are social categories, invented by society to
“explain” or “label” one group as being substantively different than the rest of society.
Sometimes the consequences are more or less benign, sometimes that can cost people their lives,
but never is it justified by “science” and is always artificially motivated—and hence clearly a
social problem.

1

SOC 2020
Lecture Ten

Prof. D. Fasenfest

Global Inequality

My father was born in 1913 and died in 2006. In the course of his lifetime, it took him
half a day to travel by wagon from his village in Poland to the nearest big city. By the time he
passed away he could go literally halfway around the world in the same time. A letter took
months to travel from Paris to New York around the 1800s, but with the invention first of the
telegraph and then telephone the potential for information transmission across great distances in
a matter of minutes depended only on the investment of capital to lay the cable necessary to
carry those signals. Indeed, while you could call Los Angeles from New York with little
difficulty in 1950, there were still areas in the most rural and poorest parts of this country that
did not have more than one phone in some central location like a church or community store.
Trying to call someone in Asia or Africa was a challenge in the best of times.

Today we experience almost instantaneous communication using the Internet, wireless
telephones and other forms of satellite-based transmission of information. From a time when
everyone thought the world was flat, through a period when we did not have a clear
understanding of our world to the present where almost everyone has seen a photo of the earth
from some space capsule orbiting our planet, the planet has gotten smaller. At the same time the
population of the world has grown by leaps and bounds, and the ability of people to travel great
distances means that we are much more likely to encounter people from other countries than our
great grandparents ever imagined (in their day meeting people from another part of their own
country was a great curiosity).

We have spent most of the semester exploring the nature and extent of a variety of social
problems in this country. Now we must consider that the same problems—to greater and lesser
extent—exist everywhere in the world and to some degree the more serious the problems abroad
the more likely it is that they will impact on our lives here. Take, for example, population
growth globally. At first thought we can ask…so what? Why does poverty in Russia or hunger
in Africa or child labor in Asia affect us here in our country? The answer is complex, and yet
easy to understand at the same time. Poverty in Russia means that people who contract diseases
that are more or less contained in our country cannot deal with them properly. Typically once
the symptoms disappear the expensive drugs are no longer taken. In some cases (and for an
increasing number of diseases) the rapid reproduction of virus and bacteria cells results in the
survival and then domination of drug resistant strains. Infections may take days or even longer
to turn into fully developed symptoms, and in that time given the increased global mobility the
drug resistant strains can make their way to our country and at best result in much higher public
health costs, at worst create serious health problems in this country.

Similarly, hunger in Africa creates social and political unrest, first in local areas, then in
regions, and in some cases, it turns into major civil and military conflict that threatens regional
and even global security. This process takes time to develop, but by the time it is a serious

2

problem the solution is expensive, and as we have seen for the past 50 years can lead to costly
and significant involvements by our country’s military—draining our own resources. Child
labor in Asia has been blamed for creating—along with intense poverty and population growth—
an environment of low cost labor. This has been true for a long time, but only in the past 30-50
years have transportation advances meant that large amount of material can be transmitted long
distances at a low cost. In addition, our economy has experienced significant changes in the way
we work and the skills needed. The consequence, generally labeled as globalization, has been a
significant change in where work is performed and has arguably resulted in large numbers of
unemployed in this country and other advanced industrial nations. Jobs in the US have gone to
China and India most recently, but in some industries, they have gone to the Philippines, Mexico,
Malaysia and other low cost regions of the world (we should be mindful that this is little more
than the extension of the pattern of jobs leaving the old industrial regions of the Northeast for the
low cost areas of the South and later the Southwest of this country).

The incredible and rapid global transformation has been driven by both the population
changes and technological advances described in the text. To get a feel for the way technology
impacts upon our daily life and how society is organized consider the telephone. At first a
revolutionary apparatus that allowed instant communication, as noted above it was a capital-
intensive enterprise requiring massive wiring of regions, cities, streets and even houses (I bet you
all still live in homes with phone wires along side the electric and more recently cable wires
coming into the building). The penetration of telephones into a society—that is, the number or
share of households with phone service—was a mark of industrial development and the general
wealth of a society. Whole regions of the world outside of North America and Europe were
without reliable phone service—certainly outside major or capital cities—because there was not
enough of a market to warrant the investment (keep in mind that most countries got phone
service through national monopolies…so the point was not whether lines could be laid, but
whether the customer base could afford the service, and therefore would provide enough revenue
to justify the expense).

The invention and subsequent reduction of production costs of wireless phone service
meant that whole regions of the world required only a series of transmission towers or access to
satellite signals in order to connect isolated communities by phone. In some parts of the world
there are no phone lines, just wireless service—and even if it is not reliable it provides a link to
the global economy. Even in the US people are opting out of a land line to cut out one of their
monthly bills. Something that was a luxury even 10 years ago is now a necessity and hardly a
teenage in this country is without a cell phone. In some markets—Norway the best example—
people can do almost anything with one’s phone, up to and including paying for a soft drink at a
vending machine. Banks now advertise checking your balances via text messaging, and phones
serve as calendars, music players, cameras and video recorders, and access to the Internet.

Without question this technological change has brought about many positive changes in
our lives. But it is also behind the ability to control production around the world from one
central office—and the factory of old, with management in one building beside the factory next
store has resulted in the global factory of today. This new technology has brought us to the
world, and the world to us. When there is anything of interest happening, we see images of it
almost immediately as people capture the drunken fall of a celebrity or the mass demonstrations

3

in Tibet with the same camera phone technology, whose image is immediately broadcast via
YouTube to a world hungry for information. Take any teenager from a relatively well-off
country and that person can be in a mall almost anywhere in the world and find more or less the
same stores (and laid out in more or less the same way). Fashion, culture, art and everything else
that constitutes “culture” is now global.

And so are the desires and expectations of more and more of the world as they become
acutely aware of all that they do not have, all that they are denied because of their poverty and
the squalor of their existence. For some the lure is from the country to the city (and even when
the lure is not there, changes in the country drive many people off the land—much as early
technology converted agriculture in Europe and North American and drove workers to the cities)
in search of a better life and greater economic opportunities. For others the lure attracts Pilipino
workers to jobs in Dubai, North Africans to France and Italy, Latin Americans to the US—by
whatever means possible. All are in search of a better life. But for some the response is outrage,
whether it is at the culturally bankrupt societies of the west from the vantage of religious
fundamentalism (of all types of religions) or at the unjust political processes at home and abroad
that seem to keep populations poor and deny people simple things like clean water, simple
medical treatment, adequate housing and schooling, safe communities to live and reasonable jobs
to provide for one’s children.

Last week we discussed urban issues, and it bears looking at the urban structure of the
developing world to understand the nature and depth of the challenge facing the world (and by
extension our society). In 1950 just under 2 billion people world-wide lived in a rural
environment, about 0.75 billion people lived in urban settings in the industrialized (more
developed) world, and just over 100 million people in the developing world lived in what was
classified as urban areas. Projections are that by 2030 the rural population will have grown to
just over 3 billion people—with environmental damage as they move into forest lands, clearing
the trees to create cultivatable plots—the developed urban population will grow to about 1.2
billion people (a 50% increase for both), but the urban less-developed population will balloon to
over 4 billion people, over a 5-fold increase in a relatively short period of time (at most about 3
generations).

The economic and social (not to mention political) consequences of this growth in
countries without the social and economic infrastructure to support it will mean widespread
poverty and political tension. Mike Davis, in his book Planet of Slums (2006, Verso), outlines
the range of issues and concerns—from housing and sanitation to the supply of water, to the
economic drain on struggling economies—this growth has and will continue to have on much of
the world. Even in our country today the issue of sufficient drinking water pits the demand of
farmers for irrigation water against the demand of cities like Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Las
Vegas (rising out of the dessert). Here in Michigan, there is concern that the economics of
bottled water has a negative impact on the State’s water table and may harm the Great Lakes.
And so it goes—one can only imagine the issues that rise up in countries that can’t afford to deal
with the problem.

What, then, are the prospects for change, and why should we be concerned about what
happens outside of the US? First, you can get a sense of the kinds of difference in living

4

standards by looking at the weekly food consumption of families in a variety of countries (see
the file GLOBAL COMPARISONS OF FOOD BUDGETS in your Course Material directory).
By comparing visually and economically the range and cost of a week’s worth of food laid out in
front of a typical family we can begin to get a sense of the differences across countries as well as
an idea of what is happening in the very poorest of nations. Sadly, in many countries without
enough food for their own populations agricultural production is reserved for export crops
because a) there is not a good market for local production (people don’t have money to buy the
food), and b) even with the costs of transportation cash export crops provide the landowners with
more income. Industrial crops like cotton and flaxseed and specialty consumer crops like
macadamia nuts and cashews are exported to the developed world, and agricultural production
does little to improve the food supply in those exporting countries.

Technology only goes so far in helping, and often makes the situation worse. Improved
farming techniques from chemical fertilizers to increase yield to better machines for planting and
harvesting require capital and end up being used for export crops. To get to the size of farm big
enough to warrant these new technologies small family farmers are driven off the land and into
the cities where they can no longer eek out even a subsistence income. We now face new
concerns about our water supply as traditional water filtering systems cannot clean out many of
the new boutique drugs that enter our ecology further threatening the availability of water
necessary for almost all human activity. Communication technologies improve the flow of
information, only to create a better understanding among the worlds poor exactly what is
happening to them and how bad their lives are in comparison.

SOC 1020
Lecture Seven

Prof. D. Fasenfest

HEALTH

Health refers to the general mental, physical and emotional well-being of the population. Our
understanding of health is culturally informed. What is healthy to us may be unhealthy to another
culture. For example, there is a small tribe in Africa of which 99% of the members have a skin
disorder called “Pinto”, named after the bean, that it resembles. An uncooked pinto bean has
stripes and spots of brown mixed with white. The members of this tribe have hyper pigmented
skin so that they resemble the markings on the bean. In this culture, if you are part of the 1%
that doesn’t have this disorder (which is hereditary and recessive) you are considered less
healthy, less attractive and less desirable as a marriage partner. If we picked that entire tribe up
today and relocated them to Detroit, the 1% without the skin affliction would be considered
healthier and more attractive.

Medical sociologists are extremely important in our understanding of health. Social
epidemiology is the practice of tracking the origin of disease. One of the most well-known and
important examples of epidemiology in recent years is the discovery of how AIDS was being
spread. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tracks any unusual outbreak of disease. With
the AIDS epidemic, the alert came from an individual who was tracking the dispersal of
antibiotics. She noticed that there were more treatments being prescribed in New York and Los
Angeles for a rare form of pneumonia and alerted the proper individuals. At the same time, the
tumor registry (a database for tracking cancers) showed an increase in Kaposi’s sarcoma, a rare
form of skin cancer that was likely to be seen in older Mediterranean males. Another odd thing
about the outbreak was that it was showing up in young men of all ethnic backgrounds, also in
New York and L.A. This triggered a study by the CDC’s team of epidemiologists. An
epidemiological team includes medical doctors, sociologists, psychologists, biologists, infectious
disease experts and other disciplines as needed for the problem at hand. This team began to talk
to individuals that were affected by these outbreaks. Over time they were able to trace this new
infection back to a single individual, an airline steward. They were also able to determine that
the disease was sexually transmitted and appeared to be limited to the homosexual population.
Eventually, when it spread to others, the team was able to identify that it was carried in the blood
and through breast milk, putting anyone who had received a transfusion at risk and showing that
our blood supply was tainted. After a time, it also began to show up in the intravenous drug
using population, as they shared needles and passed infected blood to one another.

More recent examples of epidemiological cases are the recent SARS epidemic and the recent E
Coli outbreak linked to tainted spinach. The sociologist on this team would be responsible for
examining the behaviors of the infected parties and finding where their paths had crossed. For
example, the SARs victims had either attended a recent religious convention in China or had
close contact with someone who had. All of the victims of the E Coli outbreak had eaten raw
spinach is some form in the preceding days.

Health, and health access is a function of income. Think about the things that we are advised to
do to stay healthy. Watch our intake of calories and fat. Exercise daily. Lower our stress. Get
regular physicals. Make healthy food choices. Obesity is currently an epidemic in our country
and the poorer you are; the more likely you are to be obese. Often physicians argue that they
don’t understand why we are having such a problem since healthy guidelines are well publicized.
Those that are not obese are likely to blame the individual for their obesity.

If you’ve gone grocery shopping lately, you should have noticed that chicken, the healthiest
meat, is also the most expensive. Hamburger and organ meats (like liver) are the unhealthiest and
the cheapest cuts available. Fresh fruits and vegetables are the most expensive and canned are
the least expensive. Canned varieties also have the fewest nutrients. Eating healthy is the most
expensive way to eat. What about exercising? Fitness magazines are always touting that
everyone can walk and/or run so there is no excuse for not exercising. All you need is a good
pair of shoes. That good pair of shoes is expensive close to $130. How does the individual in a
poor neighborhood get out and walk or run? They likely work long hours and would have to go
outside with inappropriate shoes in an unsafe neighborhood after dark. Researchers of childhood
obesity urge parents to get their kids out on bicycles and ride bike trails…but those at highest
risk—inner city and rural poor—cannot afford bikes or live near safe bike paths. Also, it is not
only the poor in our society that are obese. The middle classes are also likely to be overweight.
Long work hours mean that many of us don’t cook at home most nights. We stop for pizza or
fast food on the way home and settle exhausted in front of our T.V. sets when we get home.
Ever wonder why the commercials on evening television focus on beer and snack food—either
store bought, or for home delivery or a quick trip through the drive through window.

Along with the poor, elderly are more likely to be unhealthy. Partly this is because our bodies
run down as we age. Our eyesight diminishes, our hearts tire out and our bones become more
brittle. Since women live longer than men, females are more likely to have several health
conditions as they age. Men on the other hand are more likely to have one health issue that kills
them, like a heart attack or stroke. As mentioned above, as medicine improves our chances of
living longer, we also need to expect a higher reliance on the medical profession to keep us
going…and that requires a growing pharmaceutical industry, medical technology, hospitals as
businesses, para-medical and medical technicians, in addition to more doctors and nurses. It is
little wonder that health care costs are skyrocketing, insurance is a major concern, and industrial
representatives and lobbyists press to keep us from doing anything that controls costs (for
example, many of you may know people who buy drugs in Canada, where prices and profits are
controlled—something that we cannot or will not do in this country as industry groups fight any
legislation that would permit such across the board cost savings).

We also have culturally induced behaviors that hurt our health. Smoking is one with Americans
continuing to smoke regardless of the health and economic consequences of the behavior. One
reason that people smoke is to self-medicate stress. Another is peer pressure, with teenager girls
currently the group most at risk to smoke (and develop smoking related illnesses). Another is
problem that is culturally driven is anorexia. The intense cultural pressure on females to be thin
and physically perfect has created a near epidemic of eating disorders. Females as young as 9
and 10 reports that they want to lose weight or are on a diet. While the reality us that many of

our children are overweight, diets can get out of control for the adolescent. Also, for the first
time, we are seeing an increase in the number of males diagnosed with anorexia.

For the most part, we practice western medicine in the U.S., relying on intervention from a
trained physician. This may mean that we take drugs or have surgery. Either way, we go to the
doctor when we are ill, and the hospital when we are very ill. Holistic medicine is also gaining
popularity as an alternative for some and an addition to the health care needs of others. Holistic
medicine focuses on prevention as well as treatment and takes into account the complete physical
and social environment of the patient. So a patient being seen by a traditional physician for stress
might be prescribed an anti-anxiety medication for the stress and another medication for high
blood pressure. A holistic provider would try to identify the triggers for the stress in the person’s
life and make recommendations on ways to reduce stress. They might teach the patient to
meditate or recommend exercise. Drugs might also be prescribed, but they would more likely be
the last choice of care than the first.

The difference between “western” and holistic or culturally normed medical practices can be
seen by the following parable: A village living close to a cliff has its members falling over and
breaking bones or experiencing serious harm, and soon the local hospital is over crowded.
Western medical practice is to advocate an expensive expansion in the hospital, building room
for more beds and hiring more doctors and nurses to deal with the problem. Sustainable,
culturally sensitive proposals call for building a fence at the top of the cliff. Now, this is
somewhat simplistic, but the point is that once we come to rely on technology and “special”
knowledge we forget that sometimes simpler and more effective solutions are possible.

Despite the fact that we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world, our citizens have
inadequate access to health care and we spend more money out of pocket than any other country
of our economic status. What do you suppose it is like for the working poor to access health
care? We tend to view the poor in society as lazy, but, they typically work longer hours and
more than one job for lower wages than those in the middle class. If someone works two jobs,
for example McDonald’s and Taco Bell, for the minimum wage they may be putting in more
than 40 hours a week, but both jobs are part time and will have no health benefits. If they get
sick, they will lose wages from work for the day. There little incentive to call in sick if it costs
you in your current paycheck and may also result mean fewer hours scheduled later if you are
seen as unreliable. People knowingly would not want someone with the flu preparing food and
likely passing the bug along. In reality that is exactly what happens. The sick individual
continues to work until the infection forces them to seek medical care, infecting others in the
process. When they seek medical care, they not only lose the day’s wages, but also get an
expensive bill they likely cannot afford to pay. They eventually return to work, deeper in debt,
struggling harder to make ends meet with the missing wages. One remedy to this would be a
non-punitive and comprehensive medicine system that provides preventive care as well as
dealing with sick people (many insurers only pay for a remedy, not more than one general
physical a year)..

National health care or socialized medicine treats health care as a right of citizens rather than a
privilege. In Canada for example, every citizen gets a medical card. It entitles them to treatment
without fee for most of what ails them. This results in a healthier country with less out of pocket

expenses. The criticism of this type of program centers on the concern that our taxes will
increase to cover the added costs. This is true; however, many of us already pay huge
contributions to our health care, easily $400+ a month or more deducted from our pay for family
coverage if we have some. This doesn’t include the costs of co-pays and drugs. When compared
to all the costs of medical care now we would likely pay less or usually no more than we already
pay if health care was nationalized. Several studies have compared the benefits Europeans get
for their higher taxes against the taxes and further out-of-pocket expenses Americans pay for all
sorts of social services and it turns out Americans pay more for fewer services. Another
criticism is that we will not be able to select our own doctors, or we will be wait listed for
essential treatment. In reality, this is already true. Since the introduction of HMOs (Health
Maintenance Organizations) and PPOs (preferred provider organizations) true choice in
physician has been eliminated. Both of these insurance programs require you to see physicians
who have agreed to a structured fee plan. In exchange for charging less for a procedure, the
insurance company sends all of its patients to the doctor. Doctor salary increases accrue due to
higher volume of patients offsetting the lower cost of procedures per patient. This also translates
into less time for care as overbooked medical staff offer less personalized care. Just think about
the time you wait in the outer office, and then in examining room, only to see you doctor for just
a few minutes (often later than the appointment) as the doctor is in a hurry to get through the
patient load for the day. Another problem with these plans is that pre-approval is required for
procedures or there are strict rules on how and when to make a referral to a specialist. This
means that your doctor examines you and decides what needs to be done. S/he then asks the
insurance company for permission to do the procedure. The insurance company then decides if
the treatment is warranted, even though they have not seen you and the decision maker may not
even be a physician.

Another reality of health care is that you are indeed put on a waiting list for treatment. Most of
you have likely been to an ER and undergone the triage process. This means that the severity of
your symptoms is ranked, and you are seen in order of severity, not arrival. If you need an organ
transplant, you are also ranked by your need, and may be ranked by your age and lifestyle as
well. If we have two equally needy patients, one a 17-year-old with their entire life ahead of
them and one a 70-year-old, who will get the new heart? Does the new liver go to the hepatitis
victim who was not responsible for their infection or the alcoholic who destroyed their liver?
Celebrity status may bump you up the list. Mickey Mantle (a famous baseball player from the
50s and 60s), David Crosby (a member of an 80s group Crosby, Stills and Nash) and Larry
Hagman (JR on Dallas, Major Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie) all needed liver transplants due to
alcohol and substance use. Each was able to get a nearly immediate transplant due to celebrity
and money.

We cannot look at health without looking at the part we play as the patient. Talcott Parsons
developed the theory of the Sick role. He argued that when we become a patient, we must first
accept the fact that we are sick. This means that we change our behaviors to that of a sick
person. We take time off from our regular activities, work, school, play. We seek medical
treatment, and we actively work to get better. The temporary cessation of activities is an allowed
deviance from our normal productivity that is socially acceptable. We are however given a time
limit. If you continue to use this excuse to skip class or miss work, you will be labeled a

malingerer…someone who is lazy and avoiding work. The sick role has the expectation that you
will get better—and works for just so long.

I will end with a discussion of the COVID pandemic which has occupied so much of our world
for the past two years. First, one can get a sense of the impact globally by looking at current data
(regularly updated): https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries Of course, data are
only as good as those reporting accurately and completely. A comment by a recent President in
the US suggested if we just stop testing we won’t have the virus—not a good solution, but it does
speak to the viability of data reporting. A worker in Florida was fired for making public the
incidence of COVID in that state kept by its Department of Health. Again, who benefits if we
don’t have the information.

The COVID pandemic pointed to the problems in the US health care system. First, a country
comparison is worth exploring (see https://www.finder.com/healthcare-costs-by-country). The
US generally has the most expensive per person cost of healthcare with one of the lowest
qualities of health-related outcomes. Partly that is due to how our system functions. Of the 35 or
so most industrial high-income countries only the US does not have a national healthcare system
of one sort or another. Rather, we rely on private insurance schemes (for most people with
insurance that means what is provided—if anything—by their employer), and for the very poor
or elderly there are government programs but with various limitations and private costs. What
COVID revealed was that when millions lost their jobs due to the shutdown during the height of
the pandemic, suddenly a large segment of our society lost access to healthcare at the very
moment when it was most needed. That helps explain why almost 90 million people contracted
COVID in this country, more than double the next country in absolute terms (India). Fully 1 out
of every 6 people who died from COVID lived in the US, perhaps the world’s richest country.

Some countries tried to fully contain the disease through high levels of testing and isolation
(China comes to mind as one of the more draconian efforts, but countries like Australia used
similar strategies), which worked well at first, but once the virus entered those countries the
spread was rapid and healthcare facilities were stressed. Others used high rates of vaccination
plus testing and tracking (letting people know whether they came into contact with a COVID-
infected person) which enabled those countries to manage both the spread of COVID and the
impact on their healthcare system. The response in the US was idiosyncratic with lots of
resistance to various recommendations like mask wearing, social distancing and limits to public
gathering. As a result, the US had one of the highest rates of “super spreader events” where this
highly infectious virus infected many people.

We now have an uncomfortable relationship to COVID. With higher rates of vaccination even
as people get infected the symptoms seem to be milder, almost flu-like. This has resulted in a
more casual approach to prevention. What remains to be seen is what doctors are now calling
“long COVID” or a pattern of lingering effects even as the immediate infection does not
hospitalize as many people. The jury is out because there has not been a long time to study this
effect—but reports are that impaired brain functions, long-term lung damage and other maladies
can be traced to lingering impact of having had COVID.

SOC 1020
Lecture Eight

Prof. D. Fasenfest

Work and the Workplace

You can’t examine the economy without also examining the workplace. The workplace in the
US is in a state of flux, which some view as problematic and others view as progress. As we
move into the information age, more and more jobs are high skilled. We are becoming
deindustrialized. In my father’s generation, and only slightly less so in mine, you could drop out
of school and get a job that paid a living wage. A high level of education was not required to
work on the assembly line in one of the big three. With the recession of the late 70s, early 80s, a
lot of these jobs disappeared, and it became harder to get a blue collar job that paid a living
wage. The high school diploma had been the key to entry level white collar or pink-collar jobs.
Your generation will have a harder time finding employment without a higher education. The
BA is increasingly the requirement for entry level work.

Take a secretarial job as an example. In the 1970s the skills most sought after in a secretary were
fast and accurate typing, a good speaking voice, shorthand knowledge and good organizational
skills. Today, along with being a good typist, the secretary must be knowledgeable with a variety
of computer software packages and may be required to speak more languages than English. S/he
may be responsible for managing others in the office as well. These increased responsibilities
have led to a redefining of the occupation, with most secretaries now called administrative
assistants, or in some cases, personal assistant. This new term better describes the variety of
administrative tasks that are required for this job. Also, this job is often viewed as an entry level
opening into a field. So a person graduating with a BA in business or a social science may work
as an administrative assistant in an advertising agency as they work their way up the ladder to
manage accounts.

Notice we speak about “she” when we think about a secretary—we discussed the gendering of
jobs and the allocation of women to particular types of work. But consider the secretary and the
operator of a console that controls production machines. Most likely that person is a man. Each
has to work with a keyboard inputting information, each has to be able to manage simple
machines—a computer of one kind or another. And each need about the same level of skill.
Yet secretaries tend to make less, and their job ladder is more or than not limited to one day
becoming an executive secretary. The machine operator is paid more and through the workplace
can keep getting higher and higher paid work—though likely that person in today’s world will
not become a manager. Those people are hired right out of higher education programs like an
MBA (and often relying on the operator or secretary to get them going at work!).

The US has dual labor market. The primary labor market provides jobs that have a living wage
and good benefits. The secondary labor market provides jobs that have low wages and few, if
any, benefits. Those in the secondary labor market often work more than one job to make ends
meet, have no job security and are economically insecure. In other words, the primary labor
market has what used to be good blue-collar jobs and more recently the kind of information
processing work like stockbrokers, insurance agents, and other “mental” jobs with upward

mobility. The secondary labor market worker remains in the low end of the service sector—at the
bottom are what we call hamburger flippers, but it also includes retail clerks, low-end sales
workers, janitorial and maid services, and most temporary workers to name a few. These jobs are
filled by people who are easily replaced, offer little if any benefits, and do not provide a job or
career ladder for future advance and salary gains.

Is it problematic that the high wage/low skill jobs are leaving the U.S.? One problem with the
outsourcing of our jobs is that they are leaving at a time that we still have an untrained labor
force. Individuals displaced by factories closing are often not trained to take on a non-
manufacturing job. Therefore, they end up either unemployed or underemployed. However, in
order to be competitive in the next market, we have to make the shift to non-manufacturing jobs
as the bulk of our production. Therefore, this shift will allow us to remain competitive. As
Durkheim and later Ogden argued, it takes a while for a change to filter through the social
structures. So, it will take a while for education and training to catch up with the technological
changes that are currently affecting our economy.

Another problem with the workplace is the McDonaldilization of Society. This theory suggests
that jobs are created for efficiency, predictability, uniformity and automation. These
characteristics limit the creativity of humans that are involved in the job, further alienating that
human being by Marxian standards. Also, more and more agencies use temporary workers.
These workers may be high skilled or low skilled and can go into any work setting. Temps may
work fulltime for a temp agency, or they may work part time for an agency or independently.
Either way the temp may have fewer chances for stability and promotion than a typical worker.
Females are far more likely to be employed as temps.

In fact, females are far more likely to be paid less in any occupation than men, except for one.
Sex work is the only occupation where women are paid more. Male waiters make more. Male
nurses make more. Male teachers make more. Men make more than women even when taking on
jobs that are gendered towards females, such as nursing. Along with making less, women are
more likely to hit the “glass ceiling”; the barrier that keeps women from progressing to the
highest levels of responsibility in their occupation. In the US, white males still predominate in all
the highest paying and highest prestige jobs with women and non-whites predominating in the
lower paid, lower prestige jobs.

There are two other major issues with the workplace. One is danger to the workers. Along with
workplace violence, which is often highly publicized even while it is rare, there are dangers that
are innate to the job that we often take for granted. Construction for example can be very
dangerous. You likely all remember the equipment failure that took the lives of three workers on
the I-280 overpass in Toledo a few years ago. Recently, nine firemen lost their lives fighting a
warehouse fire. A female professor working with Mercury a few years ago accidentally poisoned
herself. Deaths in mining are frequent…in fact mining may be the most dangerous job in the

U.S. While we have many laws that have been designed to keep these dangers to a minimum, but
the nature of many of these occupations means that danger is inherent and will never be fully
eliminated. In 2005, 2.2 million workers were disabled in work related accidents and 6000 lost
their lives.

Another major issue with the workplace is the growing isolation of the worker. Think about this
class. I sit here at my home computer, no company but my dog, writing these notes. You will
read them under similar conditions and submit your work. We have no interpersonal interaction.
More and more jobs require us to be plugged into a computer screen for 8 or more hours a day.
When we do our job through telecommuting, we don’t even have someone in the office next
door to drop in on to add a social element to our day. And we love jobs that allow us the freedom
of telecommuting. I can guarantee you, on any given day, walk into your local Panera bread and
count the number of folks sitting alone, working on a laptop or talking on a cell phone. Panera is
a good example due to the free wireless access it provides. Another downside is that we are
never away from work as our laptops, cell phones and wireless internet allow us to take the
office with us virtually everywhere we go.

In the US, the growth in compensation is lagging far behind that of the productivity of the
American employee. Between 1948-1979, the growth in productivity vs wages were relatively
similar, with an increase of 108% and 93%, respectively. But between 1979-2019, whilst net
productivity has continued to increase by an expected 70%, hourly compensation in the country
is less than a fifth of that at just 12%. That is, the growth in productivity has more than doubled
that of hourly compensation for U.S. workers since 1948. With net productivity in the country
growing by roughly 253 percent in the last seven decades, hourly compensation has increased by
just 116 percent. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a surge in economic inequality in the
U.S., as millions of workers remain permanently unemployed from the job they had before the
virus reached the country. However, COVID-19 and subsequent economic hardships are only
exacerbating an already serious decline in worker prosperity, and data shows how worker
productivity has increased at a much faster rate than hourly compensation over the last decades.

Let’s consider the minimum wage versus what most economists consider to be a “living wage”
that allows a family of four to have a reasonable existence (housing, food, clothing, etc.). In the
US, living wage statistics show that the 2019 living wage was $16.54 per hour or $68,808 per
year before taxes for a family of four. That is just about what the highest minimum wage is in

the US, at about $15/hr…though it is only a minimum for Federal workers. States get to set their
own minimum wages. So, only NYC and Washington DC have a minimum that high. By
contrast, Georgia and Wyoming have state minimum wages of only $5.15 per hour. Clearly,
how one can live depends on the local economy, and in some states with low costs low wages are
less of a problem. Nevertheless, there is not enough variation in things like food, energy and
clothing costs to make that much of a difference—the main variant in family budgets is the cost
of housing, and even that is rising faster than wages. In the end, about 44% of all jobs in the US
are categorized as receiving low or minimum wages; that translates to about 55 million
Americans. At that level, families are “one paycheck” away from homelessness, hunger and the
breakup of families.

Some facts:

• In 2020, 8% of all hourly-paid workers earning wages at or below the federal minimum
were in the leisure and hospitality industry.

• Females represented 37.9% of all part-time hourly-paid workers with wages at or below
the federal minimum in 2020.

• In 2020, about 50,000 African Americans were federal minimum wage workers.
• 247,000 workers earned the actual federal minimum wage in 2020.
• The percent of the workers in the US earning minimum wage or less declined from 1.9%

in 2019 to 1.5% in 2020.
• Raising the federal minimum wage could cut 1.4 million jobs in the US by 2025.
• 1% of the hourly-paid workers had a bachelor’s degree and higher.

A look at other industrial countries is instructive:

• While minimum wages increased substantially between 1 January 2021 and 1 January
2022 in nominal terms, the real-life impact does not signify a boost to living standards
when rising inflation is taken into account. During the same period, minimum wage
workers in 15 out of the 21 Member States with a statutory minimum wage saw a decline
in their wages in real terms.

• If present inflation trends continue, minimum wages will barely grow in real terms in any
country in 2022, and significant losses in the purchasing capacity of minimum wage
earners will become a dominant theme unless the issue is addressed by additional uprates
or other support measures for low-paid employees during the year. Countries with
automatic indexation mechanisms, such as Belgium, France and Luxembourg, were
quicker in uprating wages in line with inflation; but additional increases can be also
introduced ad hoc, as in Greece.

• The proposed EU directive on adequate minimum wages is already prompting a few
Member States to refocus debates on the topic and prepare for change in areas such as
setting the criteria for wage setting or raising wages in line with the ‘international
reference values’ mentioned in the proposal. Germany, for example, has decided to
uprate its minimum wage to €12 per hour, or about 60% of median wages, in October
2022.

• New findings indicate that substantial debates among national actors on how to promote
collective bargaining and increase bargaining coverage are taking place in only Denmark,

Latvia and Norway. Establishing action plans to promote collective bargaining is an
important element of the new EU directive on adequate minimum wages and will be a
key requirement for Member States.

• Minimum wages can play a critical role in reducing wage inequality. For example,
findings relating to Spain demonstrate that the impact of the 22% increase in the
minimum wage in 2019 led to the greatest reduction in wage inequality in the EU27
Member States in the same year. This is likely to have been a result of the minimum
wage increase, which counteracted the high level of wage inequality in Spain, a gap that
had grown in the year before the hike.Share

SOC 1020
Lecture Six

Prof. D. Fasenfest

AGING

Perhaps one of the most profound changes in the last 100 years is the role that the aged play in
our society. Two things happened following the industrial revolution. The first is that life
expectancy increased dramatically. Prior to the mid-1800s, the chance of seeing your fifth
birthday was 10%. Antibiotics and childhood immunizations did not exist. Not only was
surviving childhood a gamble, but adults also fought to survive in these times. A cut that we
would have stitched up and lathered in Neosporin, healing within a few days, could likely and
often did turn into a serious fatal blood infection. The flu killed people by the thousands. In
1918 a flu epidemic that began in Kansas swept the world and at the end 100 million people were
dead. In 1952 nearly 60,000 Americans had polio, 21,000 were paralyzed and 3,000 died.
Needless to say, when these diseases are around people die at a younger age. When they are
controlled, people live longer. Infants born in 1850 had a life expectancy of between 38 and 42
years. Children born in 2007 can expect to live well into their 70s. So now we have a society
that not only has more old people, but they are living to much older ages than in previous
generations. (See http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005140.html )

Complicating this change in general demographics is the Baby Boom generation. This is the
generation born between roughly 1943 and 1964 (there is some debate on when the baby boom
ended, some marking it as early as 1960). The Baby Boom was a time after WWII when more
babies were born than we should have expected. Since the youngest of the baby boomers just
applied for Social Security, we will have more people in or approaching old age than any other
earlier generation. The predictions for 2020 are that we will have 2 people on social security of
every person in the labor market. This is often referred to as the “graying of America”.

Another thing that has happened to the aged in society is that they are no longer revered for their
wisdom and skills. When a culture is dependent upon an oral history older individual are
important. They are the only link to the past and hold an honored position. Also, they are able to
assist with childcare and light manual tasks in the home and so they remain productive. In these
societies there may actually be a gerontocracy, where the elders have the wealth, prestige and
power in society. In our society, we no longer refer to the aged as elders…we refer to them as
elderly. The status of age is no longer an honored title, but rather an adjective that implies frailty
and dependence. Because people live to older ages, health issues make the old in our society
dependent. By age 85, 50% of individuals have Alzheimer’s. Diabetes, heart disease, high blood
pressure, and stroke are just a few other things that plague the very old in our society. This
means that families will be faced with choices: put the senior in a nursing facility though that
may be expensive, or care for them at home though that may be too stressful. We have a society
with a sandwich generation, adults caring for young dependent children at the same time they are
caring for old dependent parents.

The age of the population has grown to the point that we now break our older generations into
three categories. The young old are those individuals between 65 and 74. These people typically

enjoy good health, many may still be in the labor force, and they live independently. The older
old are those between 75 and 84. These people may still remain healthy and independent but are
less likely to be working and more likely to require some support services. Finally, the oldest
old, those over 84, are likely to be in declining health and require many support services.

Aging is more problematic for women than for men. Women tend to live longer than men. As
men age, they are likely to have an acute illness, like a heart attack, from which they do not
survive. Women typically have chronic illnesses, like glaucoma and diabetes, things that reduce
the quality of life and increase dependency but that are not fatal. So not only do women live
longer, but their health problems in old age are likely to be greater. Women are also likely to
live in poverty as they age. Many women in earlier generations did not work full time and so
they receive spousal benefits from Social Security. When their spouse dies, they get a pay cut.
Unfortunately, poverty for the elderly in our society is so bad that the nation was scandalized in
the early 90s when reports found that this group had been forced to add dog and cat food to their
diet in order to stretch their food budgets.

Non-whites have a lower life expectancy in general than do whites. Non-white females live
longer than non-white males. The health outcomes are lower for non-whites for a variety of
reasons. This group tends to be impoverished more than their white counterparts. The history of
poverty likely means that health care and prevention throughout the life span has been
inadequate and so there is a higher rate of chronic illnesses in the non-white population (diabetes,
high blood pressure, etc).

Along with the reduced prestige associated with the elderly in society, we actually are
encountering the phenomenon of ageism. Ageism refers to the discrimination against individuals
due to their age. We see this in several ways. First, it is extremely hard for a 50-year-old to get
a first job (or even a new job if unemployed) if they are on the job market, unless they are
applying for a job where age is associated with tenure and experience. An entry or mid-level job
is likely to go to a younger applicant (if nothing else they can be hired at a lower wage because
younger applicants tend to have less work experience). Recently widowed or divorced women
entering the labor force for the first time find it very hard to get work, and when they do it is at a
level well below the lifestyle they had experienced when they had a working husband.

Ageism also reaches into the community. Prior to Reagan’s first term in office, we had
mandatory retirement. At 65, you left your job, even if you were still able to work and wanted to
be productive. Reagan was older when elected than the mandatory retirement age, and so he
pushed Congress to pass a bill to eliminate mandatory retirement. You can work as long as you
want as long as you are able to do your job. On the surface, this seems like a very good thing,
given that life expectancy was increasing. However, one thing that retirement did was to get one
generation to leave the labor force thereby creating job vacancies for the next generation to fill.
When people stopped retiring, jobs got harder to find for younger workers (consider that the
average age of auto workers in Michigan is very close to retirement age since few new workers
have been hired for a long time). This created tension and anger for younger workers with fewer
openings in the market as they finished school. Ageism works both ways. The older generation
is society is typically frightened or threatened by the younger generation. There is always the
perception that the younger generation is out of control and destroying the culture.

Finally, the growing tensions between the generations have led to elder abuse. There are many
theories about the causes of elder abuse. Is the stress on the sandwich generation so great that
rage is driving abuse in previously non-abusive families? Elder abuse is hard to detect for a
variety of reasons. As we age, our skin gets thinner which makes us prone to injury. A fall that
would have bruised in younger years now may break an arm. A bump that would have gone
unnoticed may now leave a nasty bruise or torn skin. The elderly are often clumsy due to poor
eyesight or reduced strength and lose their footing so falls are frequent and damaging. Also,
elders are less likely to tell anyone that they are being abused due to shame or guilt. They may
feel responsible for creating a stressful situation.

Can adult children be held responsible for their parent? Yes, they can. Is this legal? Hard to
say. A few years ago, a man with Alzheimer’s was found in an airport. He was dressed in all
new clothes and had no identification. He didn’t remember his name. An investigation revealed
that he had been living with his daughter who had tried unsuccessfully to get her sibling to help
out with his care. She had finally gotten to her breaking point, dressed her father in new clothes
and dropped him off the airport, telling him that his son would meet him there. She believed that
he would be discovered quickly and without identification would be placed in a state assisted
nursing home. Problem solved. She was prosecuted for abandonment and neglect. Why she
was prosecuted? Certainly, what she did was unethical to be sure. However, the law holds that
we are legally responsible for our children until they reach 18years of age. There is no
corresponding law that makes us responsible for our parents as they age. If this is the case,
shouldn’t the brother who didn’t help also be held accountable?

One of the things scientists are starting to consider is the fact that human development has been
gradual, and in the “modern” era it has taken millennia for humans to extend their life-spans.
200 years ago a long life was into a person’s 40s, and 100 years ago most people thought living
to 50 was a good thing. Retirement set at 65 was cynical because by the beginning of the 20th
Century people lived into their late 60s and employers (the system was created in Prussia) were
confident most people would not have many years with a pension. Today we live well into our
790s and 80s and one of the major worries of financial advisors is that people may well outlive
their pensions and savings plans.

But another, more ominous fact looms for us. The human brain evolved gradually as our body
clock developed, as we lived longer. But the sudden increase in life expectancy—made possible
by better diets and medical care—may put stress on our most important organ. We can get hip
replacements, heart and vital organ transplants and surgically reroute our blood vessels in our
extremities as the circumstance requires, but we can’t replace or repair our brain. Some
speculate the rapid increase in deteriorating brain function associated with dementia,
Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and a raft of other ailments may simply be the product of
having outlived the functional life of our brain organ!

As we approach a wave of Baby Boomers retiring analysts speculate that we will see a major
change in social policy and societal views—much like the changes that were wrought first as
these people were young adults and were part of the Student Movement for change, then as
young people supporting the Women’s and Civil Rights Movements that changed the laws of the

land, and later as the spearhead of the Sexual Revolution we had so much fun discussing the last
lecture! By the 1980s and 1990s this generation fueled the great Consumer Society as we
experienced rising income and expectations, spending madly on homes, cars and luxury goods.
Today, as this generation can look over the fence at their imminent retirement we are embroiled
in a discussion about heath care, medical insurance, and the desire for our later years to continue
to provide for the quality of our day to day existence. Long gone are the days of looking forward
to a gold watch and a rocker on the front porch!

Lecture Two, page 1

SOC 1020
Lecture Two

Prof. D. Fasenfest

When we look at how money is distributed, we need to look at both Income and Wealth.
Income refers to money earned in wages or salary from employment. Wealth refers to the value
that you have stored as assets and savings. To arrive at a measure of your economic situation,
you would need to look at your total income, add your savings and assets (value of home, value
of car, jewelry, etc.), and then you subtract the total money that you owe.

Assume a person has the following income, assets, and debt.

Income, assets Debt
Salary $50,000. Mortgage $100,000.
Car $15,000. Visa $500.
Home $150,000. Student loan $10,000.
Savings $3,000. Car loan $10,000
Checking $1,000.
Retirement $50,000.

Total $269,000. Total $125,000.

This person’s economic situation is $144,000. But we must remember that income is a “flow”
and assets minus debts are a “stock” in this narrative. Flows can go up or down, so some years
we make more (lots of overtime, for example), and some years we make less (a temporary lay-
off or out of work looking for a new job). Stocks tend not to change much, and unlike flows
change in large jumps. That is why we sometimes call people “house poor” because they have a
house worth a lot if sold but have no or little income. You can’t “eat” using the value of your
house and at the same time selling your house (or car) is not an option.

In the U.S., 80% of all wealth is controlled by 20% of the population. By contrast, 50% of all
income is earned by 20% of the population. The lowest 20% in society measured by income
owns less than 1% of the wealth. After many years of getting closer, the gap between the
wealthy and the poor now gets larger every day. The budget exercise shows how much one
depends on income and not assets to live comfortably (or at all).

We tried to even out the disparity in wealth and income by using progressive taxation. This
means that the higher your income is, the larger percentage will be taken as taxes, with the
richest paying approximately 30% in federal taxes and the poorest paying about 3%. State and
local taxes are not progressive. If you live in the city of Detroit, you pay 3% of your income in
city taxes. So if you make $100,000 you pay $3,000 and if you make $10,000 you pay $300.
Also, taxes on purchases are not progressive. Everyone in Michigan pays a 6% sales tax. We all
pay the state rate on gasoline, telephone services, cigarettes (if you smoke) etc. This means that
a larger percentage of total income is required by the poor to survive. Think of gas prices over

Lecture Two, page 2

the past year. If you make $2000 a week and you pay $50 a week for gasoline you may not like
it, but it doesn’t make you struggle. If you make $250 a week, you spend the same $50 for gas,
but it makes it hard to pay for the rest of your necessities.

We can stratify our society using an income-based classification scheme. In this country there
are the poor-poor, poor, working class, middle class, upper class or upper-upper class of society.
The poor-poor are those who do not earn enough to maintain even the most basic quality life in
our society. The homeless would be included in this classification. The poor are those families
whose incomes fall at or slightly below the poverty line. The poverty line is a fluctuating number
that refers to the smallest amount of money needed to support a family scaled by family size. In
2007, this was set at $20,650 for a family of four. Ironically, working full time at minimum
wage would still put a family in the ranks of the poor…what many refer to as being among the
working poor. Approximately 13% of American families live in poverty.

There is the belief in our society that the poor are lazy or somehow responsible for their poverty.
(See: http://www.city-journal.org/html/17_1_sndgs01.html ) The reality is that the poor work
more hours than the wealthy, they earn less for those jobs and have fewer benefits, such as
vacation, sick time and health insurance. The article above holds single mothers accountable for
their poverty, passing a judgment on these women as if they are immoral and ignorant. Included
in the ranks of single mothers are not only poor women who have given birth without benefit of
marriage, but also wealthy women who have done the same. Divorced women fall into these
ranks (many non-custodial parents, men and women alike, do not pay child support and many
States do not enforce the court order for support—though that is changing). Widowed women
fall into these ranks as well. We can see the difficulty of surviving at the bottom, rather than
assuming people are lazy or prefer not to work, looking at Barbara Ehrenreich’s recent book
Nickeled and Dimed. Next are the working class, many who might fall in the middle class by
income standards ($40,000 – $79,999) but they typically have blue collar occupations, or manual
labor occupations with low prestige. Middle and Upper-middle class workers (earning between
$80,000 and $170,000) typically have white collar occupations, or jobs with higher levels of
social prestige. The Upper class and the Upper Upper class are those individuals who are very
wealthy.

There are several theories that are used to explain poverty. Some argue there is a Culture of
Poverty theory whereby the poor do not internalize the same values of hard work and success
that the non-poor internalize and so poverty becomes a way of life. This theory is criticized for
the fact that it “blames the victim”, holding the poor responsible for poverty rather than focusing
on any structural system of inequality. Another theory to explain poverty is social
disorganization, arguing that poor communities suffer from a breakdown in social order that is
caused by rapid change. This is a structural functionalist theory stating that a rapid change in the
institutions of society, like the industrial revolution, will create a ripple effect of social problems
in the other areas of social life. Conflict theorists are more likely to argue that poverty is the
outcome of social struggles in which some groups—whether because of limited access to
education, whether because of their gender or skin color, whether because of the very way a
capitalist system operates…and perhaps a combination of more than one factor—are unable to
do more that scrape together a meager income.

Lecture Two, page 3

Some argue that inequality may be useful to society. Consider the person who collects trash in
your neighborhood. Most of you are getting a college education to keep from needing to do a
job like this. In reality, this individual who is likely employed by a city or state government is
paid an reasonable wage and has very good benefits—though not always, and often not without
some sort of organization like a union to promote and ensure decent wages. For some menial
positions pay rates are better than say teacher salaries. Why is this so? According to the Davis
Moore thesis, jobs that are important to society must carry sufficient reward to ensure that these
jobs are undertaken. In fact, social stratification is important to society in order to properly
function. If everyone went to medical school and no one collected garbage, all of the extra
doctors could help cure us of the diseases that result from living in pestilence. M.D.s and Ph.D.s
on the other hand get higher incomes and more social prestige because health and higher
education are important for a society to grow. However, the educational commitment postpones
beginning one’s career for several years past that of their peers who don’t pursue the higher
education, requiring sacrifice and postponed gratification. Therefore, the reward at the end of
the degree has to be sufficient to attract individuals who have many options open to them. Yet, if
everyone was wealthy, who would work in the service industry? Who would pick produce or
bag groceries? Davis and Moore argued that inequality is necessary to get people to do the jobs
that others don’t want to do. Conflict theorists would suggest that this is why there may be
thriving illegal immigration, to fill positions that are menial and do not pay well enough to
induce someone to take that job. It is not only illegal immigration…the State of New York has
long had a policy of allowing in effect “guest workers” who come for set periods of time to help
with agricultural harvesting—usually in apply orchards—at wages that are low by our standards
but good for the Caribbean migrants. In this way corporate farms can take advantage of both
race and citizenship status to avoid paying more for these jobs.

We might argue that we live in a class-based, racist, and patriarchal society. This means that
wealthy white males are in the main recipients of good jobs and high pay (a friend pointed out
that this continues to be true—otherwise we would not need laws making blatant preference for
white males illegal). It is therefore a combination of race, class and sex that determines how
well we will do in society. Non-whites fair worse than whites. Females fair worse than males.
Black females may have the worst outcomes. When we discuss health, mortality rates and life
expectancy we will see how this hierarchy imposes itself.

Today we have many of the same problems that we faced in the early days of the industrial
revolution. We have homelessness issues, which we’ll discuss more later in the semester. We
have substandard housing and education. We have drug resistant strains of diseases like
tuberculosis that have not been a problem for decades. Although we are one of the wealthiest
countries in the world, we have some of the worst health outcomes when compared to our peers.

The problem before us as a society is what to do about poverty and its consequences. Clearly the
solutions proposed will be in large part a function of why you believe people live in poverty.
Let’s reflect for a moment on the welfare system over the past several decades. Popular
literature depicted life at the end of the 19th century. Think of all those Dickens novels with poor
houses, orphanages, and living in squalor on the streets of the major cities of England. Or recall
the stories of the depression in this country, like John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Social
reformers like Jane Adams depicted the worst aspects of urban slums and novelists like Upton

Lecture Two, page 4

Sinclair chronicled the dangers and realities of the worst jobs at the lowest wages. I could go on,
but the point was that eventually to address many of these problems a system emerged in the
period between 1930 and 1950 designed to provide a basic safety net for people. Programs like
social security tried to ensure that no one went without if possible.

By the 1960s, with the publication of Michael Harrington’s Other America the full scope of the
poverty the still existed in the country that was considered the wealthiest country ever, not just
among the slums of the urban (and usually non-white) poor but also in the fields and backwoods
of rural America, generated a political will to pass even more legislation to help the poor.
Without listing them all, programs providing nutritional assistance to poor women who were
pregnant, programs designed to help young children get a head start in school (education was
viewed from a very early moment in our history a way to end poverty), provided housing
subsidies to help people find reasonable homes or induce investors to build affordable housing,
and assured some minimal health care for all were generally understood to Welfare. It was
driven by a sense of social responsibility, and in large measure was seen as helping people who
through no fault of their own did not have the means to help themselves.

Its history is a complex one, but over time some in society saw this as a basic right of the poor,
and others came to see it as a reason the poor remained poor. With the growth in the ranks of the
poor, especially in the fast-growing urban centers of this country, the cost of social welfare grew
very large. Some of these programs—like Social Security and Medicare—remain today and we
constantly discuss whether as a society we can afford to continue them, and whether we can
afford not to. In the 1990s, however, many people came to view Welfare in all its forms a
detriment to solving poverty and the reason taxes were so high. From a social ethos in the 1950s
of how we can afford not to help the poor we became a society by the 1990s that wondered how
we could afford to continue to help the poor who won’t help themselves.

Welfare reform and its aftermath was based on the notion that the poor lacked the motivation to
work because of the social largess of government programs. Many talked about “welfare
mothers” as women who knew they would get support for their children regardless as if that was
an “occupational choice” for poor women. Others countered that the programs were structured
so that a poor woman with a child received benefits only if she had no husband but did not
consider whether or not the husband was able to find work. In short, many people in society
began to assume welfare was a program of cheaters who chose marginal poverty (with the
occasional story of the “welfare Cadillac”) over honest work. Welfare Reform was passed
limiting how long one can continue to get benefits and requiring many on welfare to find a job.

But let’s consider the premises. Many assistance programs have eligibility requirements that are
tied to multiples of the poverty line—for example does your family earn less than 150% of the
poverty level for a family your size. In our example above, a family of four making less than
$30,975 a year might be eligible for certain programs. Other programs had a 125% of poverty
threshold, and so forth. But consider this family of four at 150% of poverty—their after tax
income (yes, everyone pays taxes—at minimum there are Medicare and Social Security taxes—
that will take about 25% of your take home, sometimes less when you figure on the tax refunds)
is only about $22,230 a year, or less than $2000 per month to pay for rent, clothing, utilities,
food, medicine, and on and on. Let’s also consider what someone can earn. If you get paid

Lecture Two, page 5

$7.50 per hour (until recently more than the minimum wage) your annual income is only $15,000
per year. For a family of four both adults would have to work full-time at $7.50 per hour and
they would still qualify for most welfare programs if the threshold was $30,975 for the year!

Now, if we pass a law, as we did, requiring you to work full time and limits your eligibility for
welfare what is this family to do? Furthermore, in many well publicized examples families who
received the full array of social support under welfare—including Medicaid and Food Stamps—
found that once they found jobs the loss of benefits required that they do without things like
health care because their jobs—while paying more than welfare—did not provide benefits of any
kind. Ironically, the plight of these households worsened even as they “pulled” themselves out
of the welfare status.

But all this is based on the assumption that people who are poor have done this to themselves, or
on a softer version that the programs designed to help poor people have made it impossible for
them to help themselves. The solution proposed is to argue we can no longer afford to pay for
these programs, or we can no longer keep people dependent on public support and we must
provide “incentives” for them to find jobs and support themselves.

But if we consider that people prefer to be self-sufficient if only the jobs paid a living wage (that
is, above poverty by more than a fraction), that the support levels of welfare are not sufficient to
allow most families to live above the poorest conditions, and that welfare is a very socially
stigmatizing system then we would propose programs that do not punish the poor for being poor.
Rather, we would look to ways that build workforce experience, provide human dignity and
ensure that the jobs pay a living wage.

I will end this with two examples of social actions and programs that illustrate what a different
orientation to poverty might look like. The first is a situation in Germany, when a major
employer of a central industry of that city was going to close and lay off thousands of workers.
In this country they would have become unemployed and eventually become a cost to the social
and political structure of society. The solution in Germany was for the local government to keep
the operation functioning at a subsidy per worker (under municipal ownership). When I asked
the Lord Mayor (that is what they are called) why his response was pure logic and yet reflected
the different ethos of our societies. In short, he said, the social cost of various welfare
programs—for retraining the worker, providing food and other forms of financial support, of the
consequence of increase delinquency of children—was more than the per worker subsidy. The
added benefit is that the worker and his/her family retain self-respect, and once the industry
rebounds or some other industry can take its place the city can recoup its investment in its
citizens.

The second example is a model of welfare support once more common in Sweden. When you
lost your job and could not find another—that is when you became eligible for social welfare—
the government would place you in a job that reflected your skills, most likely asking you to go
to a community or employer that needed your skills but could not afford to hire you, and paid
some or all of your salary. The result was that you continued to work, no one knew you were on
welfare so there was no social stigma, as soon as you could you found a job more to your liking,

Lecture Two, page 6

and all the while the government continued to collect back in the form of tax revenues this
worker paid a portion of the cost of this form of welfare.

In the two examples above, the assumption is that the worker or citizen is now poor for reasons
usually not under the control of the individual, and the solution is some program designed not to
be punitive but to provide social security. Consider what happens here if a plant closes and
people lose their jobs—in a shrinking economy that person eventually runs out of meager
benefits and loses self-respect as they are forced into a demeaning system. Eventually they are
treated as if their poverty is one of personal failing—the reasons for their poverty long forgotten.
And as many have noted (an older study worth visiting still today is Eliot Lebow’s Street Corner
Society) once the chance of finding work diminish, and the chance for the next generation is even
worse, by the third generation work no longer is seen as a life course option and a whole spate of
social problems emerge as a result.

There is an old saying that Money is the Root of All Evil. We might consider an alternative:
Poverty is the Basis of All Ills!

YOUR EXERCISE

ITEM Proposed Budget

Rent
Phone
Other Utilities
INS-Car
INS-Home
INS-Medical
Food
Car Financing
Car Maintenance
Car operating costs
Entertainment
Cable TV
Clothes
Dependent Care
Personal Needs–Misc
Vices (cigarettes, alchohol)
Medical expenses
Retirement
Vacation
Education
Debt payment (loans other than car)

TOTAL MONTHLY NET

Lecture Two, page 7

I want you all to consider what you think a family of four needs to allocate each month on these
items—I leave some lines blank in case I missed something you want to add—and add it up. In
your first response this week tell me what you think an average family of four needs for an
annual household income by 1) adding this list, 2) dividing by 0.70 to get an monthly gross
income before taxes to generate this disposable income, and 3) multiply the number in 2 by 12.
For example, if I get a $5,000 per month net expenditures, that means I have to earn $7,143 per
month before taxes or $85,716 a year in income.

This calculation becomes the basis of your extra credit (optional) exercise.

Social Problems

Most of the readers of this book are among the world’s privileged people—those who have
enough to eat, a comfortable place to sleep, and who have the special opportunity to study the
human condition. I offer this book in the hope that it will stimulate thinking about those who
are in need, the state of our planet, and spark action toward making our world a better place.

S
C

H
R

O
E

D
E

R
A

la
in

/H
em

is
/A

la
m

y
S

to
ck

P
ho

to

Social Problems

EIGHTH EDITION

John J. Macionis
Kenyon College

Copyright © 2020, 2018, 2015 by Pearson Education, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Printed in the United
States of America. This publication is protected by copyright, and permission should be obtained from the
publisher prior to any prohibited reproduction, storage in a retrieval system, or transmission in any form
or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise. For information regarding
permissions, request forms and the appropriate contacts within the Pearson Education Global Rights &
Permissions Department, please visit www.pearsoned.com/permissions/.

Executive Portfolio Manager: Jeff Marshall
Content Producer: Mary Donovan
Content Developer: Hope Madden
Portfolio Manager Assistant: Heather Torres
Product Marketing Manager: Candice Madden
Sr. Field Marketing Manager: Kelly Ross
Content Producer Manager: Amber Mackey
Content Development Manager: Brooke Wilson
Art/Designer: Integra Software Services, Pvt Ltd.

Digital Studio Course Producer:
Elissa Senra-Sargent

Full-Service Project Manager: Integra
Software Services, Pvt Ltd.

Compositor: Integra Software Services, Pvt Ltd.
Printer/Binder: LSC Communications, Inc.
Cover Printer: Phoenix Color/Hagerstown
Cover Design: Jennifer Hart Design
Cover Credit: Juanmonino/Getty Images

Access Code Card:
ISBN-10: 0-13-522793-3
ISBN-13: 978-0-13-522793-0

Revel Combo Card:
ISBN-10: 0-13-556058-6
ISBN-13: 978-0-13-556058-7

Rental Edition:
ISBN-10: 0-13-524704-7
ISBN-13: 978-0-13-524704-4

Loose-Leaf Edition:
ISBN-10: 0-13-522924-3
ISBN-13: 978-0-13-522924-8

Instructor’s Review Copy:
ISBN-10: 0-13-524714-4
ISBN-13: 978-0-13-524714-3

Acknowledgments of third-party content appear on the page, which constitute an extension of this
copyright page.

PEARSON, ALWAYS LEARNING, and Revel are exclusive trademarks in the United States and/or other
countries owned by Pearson Education, Inc., or its affiliates.

Unless otherwise indicated herein, any third-party trademarks that may appear in this work are the property
of their respective owners and any references to third-party trademarks, logos, or other trade dress are for
demonstrative or descriptive purposes only. Such references are not intended to imply any sponsorship,
endorsement, authorization, or promotion of Pearson’s products by the owners of such marks, or any
relationship between the owner and Pearson Education, Inc., or its affiliates, authors, licensees, or distributors.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Macionis, John J., author.
Title: Social problems / John J. Macionis.
Description: 8 Edition. | New York, NY : Pearson, [2019] | Revised edition of

the author’s Social problems, [2016] | Includes bibliographical references
and indexes.

Identifiers: LCCN 2018042984| ISBN 9780135247143 | ISBN 0135247144
Subjects: LCSH: Social problems.
Classification: LCC HN16 .M24 2019 | DDC 361.1–dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018042984

Brief Contents
PART I Sociology’s Basic Approach

1 Sociology: Studying Social
Problems 2

PART II Problems of Social Inequality

2 Economic Inequality 32

3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality 68

4 Gender Inequality 102

5 Sexuality and Inequality 136

6 Aging and Inequality 170

PART III Problems of Deviance,
Conformity, and Well-Being

7 Crime, Violence, and
Criminal Justice 198

8 Alcohol and Other Drugs 238

9 Physical and Mental Health 272

PART IV Problems of Social Institutions

10 Social Media 302

11 Economy and Politics 332

12 Work and the Workplace 360

13 Family Life 390

14 Education 416

15 Urban Life 444

PART V Global Problems

16 Population and Global Inequality 470

17 Technology and the Environment 498

18 War and Terrorism 522

v

Preface xix
About the Author xxv

PART I Sociology’s Basic Approach

1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems 2

Constructing the Problem 2

Seeing Patterns: The Sociological Imagination 4

Social Problems: The Basics 5
Social Problems over Time 6
The Social-Constructionist Approach 6
Claims Making 8
Problems and Social Movements 10
Social Problems: Eight Assertions 11
Social Problems: A Global Perspective 13

Analyzing Social Problems: Sociological Theory 13
The Structural-Functional Approach 13
The Social-Conflict Approach 15
The Feminist Approach 16
The Symbolic-Interaction Approach 17

Finding the Facts: Sociological Research 18
Research Methods 18
Truth, Science, and Politics 20
Truth and Statistics 20

Responding to Social Problems: Social Policy 21
Policy Evaluation 21
Policy and Culture 22
Policy and Politics 22

Politics: Constructing Problems and Defining
Solutions 23

The Political Spectrum 23
Conservatives, Liberals, and Radicals 23
Social Issues 24
Economic Issues 24
Who Thinks What? 25

Going On from Here 26

A Defining Moment: A Call to Action:
The Message of Martin Luther King Jr. 27

Defining Solutions 28
Getting Involved: Applications and Exercises 29

Making the Grade: Chapter Summary 30

PART II Problems of Social Inequality

2 Economic Inequality 32

Constructing the Problem 32

Economic Inequality in the United States 35
Inequality of Income and Wealth 35

The Trend toward Increasing Economic Inequality 38
Taxation 39

The Rich and the Poor: A Social Profile 40
The Rich 40
The Poor 41
Who Are the Poor? A Closer Look 43
Working Families: Working Harder 44
The Working Poor 45
The Nonworking Poor 46
The Underclass 46

Problems Linked to Poverty 46
Poor Health 47
Substandard Housing 47
Homelessness 47
Limited Schooling 48
Crime and Punishment 48
Political Alienation 49

Responding to Poverty: The Welfare System 49
A Brief History of Welfare 49

A Defining Moment: U.S. Society Discovers Poverty 52

The 1996 Welfare Reform 53

Theories of Poverty 53
Structural-Functional Analysis: Some
Poverty Is Inevitable 53
Symbolic-Interaction Analysis: Defining the Problem 55
Social-Conflict Analysis: Poverty Can Be Eliminated 56
Feminist Analysis: Poverty and Patriarchy 57

Politics and Economic Inequality: Constructing
Problems and Defining Solutions 59

Conservatives: Personal Responsibility 59
Liberals: Societal Responsibility 60
The Radical Left: Change the System 61

Going On from Here 62
Defining Solutions 64

Getting Involved: Applications and Exercises 65
Making the Grade: Chapter Summary 66

3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality 68
Constructing the Problem 68

Race and Ethnicity 71
Race 71
Ethnicity 72
Minorities 73
White Privilege 73
Immigration 74

Patterns of Majority–Minority Interaction 75
Genocide 75
Segregation 77

Contents

vi

Contents vii

A Defining Moment: Saying No to Segregation 77

Assimilation 78
Pluralism 79

The Social Standing of U.S. Minorities 79
Native Americans 79
African Americans 80
Asian Americans 82
Hispanic Americans/Latinos 83
Arab Americans 85

Prejudice 86
Stereotypes 86
Racism 86
Measuring Prejudice: The Social Distance Scale 87
Institutional Racism: The Case of Racial Profiling 87
Causes of Prejudice 88
Multiculturalism 89

Discrimination 89
Institutional Discrimination 89
Prejudice and Discrimination: A Vicious Circle 90
Microaggression 90
Affirmative Action: Reverse Discrimination or
Cure for Prejudice? 90

Theories of Racial and Ethnic Inequality 92
Structural-Functional Analysis: The Importance
of Culture 92
Symbolic-Interaction Analysis: The Personal
Meaning of Race 93
Social-Conflict Analysis: The Structure
of Inequality 93

Politics, Race, and Ethnicity: Constructing
Problems and Defining Solutions 94

The Far Right and Conservatives: Culture and
Effort Matter 94
Liberals: Society and Government Matter 95
The Radical Left: Fundamental Changes
Are Needed 96
Going On from Here 96

Defining Solutions 98
Getting Involved: Applications and Exercises 99

Making the Grade: Chapter Summary 100

4 Gender Inequality 102

Constructing the Problem 102

What Is Gender? 104
Patriarchy 104
The Problem of Sexism 106

Gender and Social Institutions 106
Gender and the Family 107
Gender and Education 107
Gender and the Mass Media 108
Gender and Politics 109
Gender and Religion 109
Gender and the Military 110
Gender and Work 112

Gender Stratification 114
Income 114
Housework 116
Violence against Women 117
Sexual Harassment 118
Sexuality, Beauty, and Reproduction 119
Women: A Majority Minority? 120

Theories of Gender Inequality 120
Structural-Functional Analysis: Gender
and Complementarity 120
Symbolic-Interaction Analysis: Gender in
Everyday Life 121
Social-Conflict Analysis: Gender and Inequality 122
Intersection Theory: The Case of
Minority Women 123

Feminism 123
Feminist Foundations 124
Types of Feminism 124

A Defining Moment: Elizabeth Cady Stanton:
Claiming Women’s Right to Equality 125

Politics and Gender: Constructing Problems
and Defining Solutions 128

Conservatives: The Value of Families 128
Liberals: The Pursuit of Equality 128
The Radical Left: Change the System 129
Going On from Here 130

Defining Solutions 132
Getting Involved: Applications and Exercises 133

Making the Grade: Chapter Summary 134

5 Sexuality and Inequality 136

Constructing the Problem 136

What Is Sex? 139
Sex: A Biological Issue 139
Sex: A Cultural Issue 139

Sexual Attitudes in the United States 140

A Defining Moment: Alfred Kinsey:
Talking Openly About Sex 140

The Sexual Revolution 141
The Sexual Counterrevolution 141
The Continuing Sexual Revolution: Older People 142

Sexual Orientation 142
Homosexuality 142
What Determines Sexual Orientation? 143
Homosexuality, Inequality, and Public Policy 145
Same-Sex Marriage 146
The Gay Rights Movement 146
The Transgender Movement 146

Sexuality, Inequality, and Controversy 147
Pornography 147
Sexual Harassment 149
Prostitution 151
Teenage Pregnancy and Parenthood 153

viii Contents

Abortion 154
Sexually Transmitted Infections 156

Theories of Sexuality 159
Structural-Functional Analysis: Controlling
Sexuality 160
Symbolic-Interaction Analysis: Defining
Sexuality 160
Social-Conflict Analysis: Feminist Theory
and Queer Theory 161

Politics and Gender: Constructing Problems
and Defining Solutions 163

Conservatives and the Far Right: The Value of
Traditional Morality 163
Liberals: Sex and Individual Choice 163
The Radical Left: Go to the Root of the Problem 164
Going On from Here 164

Defining Solutions 166
Getting Involved: Applications and Exercises 167

Making the Grade: Chapter Summary 168

6 Aging and Inequality 170

Constructing the Problem 170

Growing Old 172
Industrialization and Aging 173
Life Expectancy 174

The Graying of the United States 174
Elders: A Diverse Population 175

Problems of Aging 177
Social Isolation 177
Retirement 177
Ageism 178
Victimization of the Elderly 180
The Growing Need for Caregiving 181
Poverty 182
Age Stratification 182
Housing 182
Medical Care 184
Death and Dying 184

A Defining Moment: A Good Death:
Cicely Saunders and the Birth of Hospice 187

Theories of Aging and Inequality 187
Structural-Functional Theory: The Need
to Disengage 187
Symbolic-Interaction Theory: Staying Active 188
Social-Conflict Theory: Age and Economic
Inequality 189
Feminist Theory: Aging and Gender 189
Intersection Theory: Multiple Disadvantages 190

Politics and Aging: Constructing Problems
and Defining Solutions 191

Conservatives: More Family Responsibility 191
Liberals: More Government Assistance 191
The Radical Left: Capitalism and the Elderly 192
Going On from Here 192

Defining Solutions 194
Getting Involved: Applications and Exercises 195

Making the Grade: Chapter Summary 196

PART III Problems of Deviance,
Conformity, and Well-Being

7 Crime, Violence, and
Criminal Justice 198

Constructing the Problem 198

Understanding Crime 200
Norms, Law, and Crime 201
Crime Statistics 201
Violent Crime: Patterns and Trends 202
Property Crime: Patterns and Trends 203
“Street Crime”: Who Are the Criminals? 205

Other Dimensions of the Crime Problem 207
Juvenile Delinquency 207
Hate Crimes 207
White-Collar Crime 208
Corporate Crime 208
Organized Crime 209
Victimless Crime 209

Violence 210
Is Violence a Social Problem? 210
Serious Violence: Mass Murder and Serial Killings 211

A Defining Moment: U.S. Society Discovers
Child Abuse 212

The Mass Media and Violence 213
Poverty and Violence 214
Youth Gangs and Violence 214
Drugs and Violence 215
Guns and Violence 215

The Criminal Justice System 218
Due Process 218
Police 218
Courts 219
Punishment 219
Community-Based Corrections 222

Explaining Crime: Biological and
Psychological Theories 223

Biological Causes 223
Psychological Causes 225

Explaining Crime: Sociological Theories 226
Structural-Functional Analysis: Why Society
Creates Crime 226
Symbolic-Interaction Analysis: Socially
Constructing Reality 228
Social-Conflict Analysis: Crime and Inequality 229
Feminist Analysis: Crime and Gender 230

Politics and Crime: Constructing Problems and
Defining Solutions 231

The Far Right: Crime and National Decline 231

Contents ix

Conservatives: Crime, Violence, and Morality 231
Liberals: Crime, Violence, and Jobs 231
The Radical Left: Crime and Inequality 232
Going On from Here 233

Defining Solutions 234
Getting Involved: Applications and Exercises 235

Making the Grade: Chapter Summary 236

8 Alcohol and Other Drugs 238

Constructing the Problem 238

What Is a Drug? 240
Drugs and Culture 241
Drugs, Race, and Ethnicity 241
Changing Views of Alcohol 242

The Extent of Drug Use 242
Why Do People Use Drugs? 243
Use and Abuse 244
Addiction and Dependency 244

Types of Drugs 244
Stimulants 244
Depressants 247
Hallucinogens 249
Cannabis 250
Steroids 250
Prescription Drugs 251

Drugs and Other Social Problems 251
Problems of Family Life 251
Homelessness 252
Health Problems 252
Crime 253
Global Poverty 253
Terrorism 254

Social Policy: Responding to the Drug Problem 254
Strategies to Control Drugs 254

A Defining Moment: Bill Wilson:
Alcoholics Can Learn to Be Sober 256

The War on Drugs 256
A New Initiative: Decriminalization 258

Theories of Drug-Related Social Problems 262
Structural-Functional Analysis: Regulating
Drug Use 262
Symbolic-Interaction Analysis: The Meaning
of Drug Use 263
Social-Conflict Analysis: Power and Drug Use 263

Politics and Gender: Constructing Problems
and Defining Solutions 264

Conservatives: Just Say No 265
Liberals: Reform Society 265
Radicals: Understanding Drugs from the
Margins of Society 265
Going On from Here 266

Defining Solutions 268
Getting Involved: Applications and Exercises 269

Making the Grade: Chapter Summary 270

9 Physical and Mental Health 272

Constructing the Problem 272

Health and Illness: A Global Perspective 274
High-Income Nations 275
Low-Income Nations 275
Rich and Poor Compared: The AIDS Epidemic 275

Health Policy: Paying for Care 277
Socialist Systems 277
Capitalist Systems 278

Health Care in the United States: A System in Crisis? 280
The Cost Problem 281
Who Pays? 282
The Coverage Problem 283
The 2010 Health Care Law 283
Health: Class, Ethnicity, and Race 284
Health: Rural and Urban Places 285
Health: The Importance of Gender 285
People with Disabilities 286
The Nursing Shortage 287

Mental Health and Illness 288
Types of Mental Disorders 289
Mental Illness: A Myth? 289
Mental Illness: Class, Race, and Gender 289
Treatment Strategies 290

A Defining Moment: Dorothea Dix:
Mentally Ill People Deserve Our Help 291

Mental Illness on Campus 292

Theories of Health and Illness 293
Structural-Functional Analysis: Health and
Social Roles 293
Symbolic-Interaction Analysis: The Meaning
of Health 293
Social-Conflict Analysis: Health and Inequality 294
Feminist Analysis: Health and Gender 294

Politics and Health: Constructing Problems
and Defining Solutions 295

Conservatives and the Far Right: Free Markets
Provide the Best Care 295
Liberals: Government Must Ensure
Universal Care 296
The Radical Left: Capitalism Is Unhealthy 297
Going On from Here 297

Defining Solutions 298
Getting Involved: Applications and Exercises 299

Making the Grade: Chapter Summary 300

PART IV Problems of Social Institutions

10 Social Media 302

Constructing the Problem 302

What Is the Media? 304
Mass Media 304
Social Media 305

x Contents

Apps 306

A Defining Moment: The Birth of the Internet 307

Issues and Controversies Involving Media 307
Media and the Message 308
Media Shaping Reality 309
Media Bias 309
Media Literacy 310
The Digital Divide 310

Social Media: Problems for Individuals 312
Social Media and the Presentation of Self 312
Social Media and Empathy 313
Social Media and Conformity 314
Social Media, Multitasking, and Attention Span 314
CyberBullying 314
Social Media and Depression 314
Social Media and Addiction 315

Social Media: Problems for Relationships 316
Social Media and the Changing Importance
of Physical Location 316
Social Media and Parenting 317
Social Media and Predators 317
Social Media and Dating 317

Social Media: Problems for Society 318
Social Media and Culture 319
Social Media and Work 320
Social Media and Politics 320
Social Media and Problems Involving Information 321

Theories of Social Media 322
Structural-Functional Theory: The Functions
of Social Media 322
Symbolic-Interaction Theory: Social Media
and Reality Construction 323
Social-Conflict Theory: Social Media and
Inequality 323
Feminist Theory: Social Media and Gender 324

Politics and the Media: Constructing
Problems and Defining Solutions 325

Conservatives: Honoring Tradition 325
Liberals: Supporting a Progressive Agenda 326
The Radical Left: Media as Big Business 326
Going On from Here 326

Defining Solutions 328
Getting Involved: Applications and Exercises 329

Making the Grade: Chapter Summary 330

11 Economy and Politics 332

Constructing the Problem 332

Economic Systems: Defining Justice, Defining Problems 335
The Capitalist Model 335
The Socialist Model 335
Mixed Systems 336

The Economy and Politics 338
Democracy 338

A Defining Moment: Store Wars:
Is Walmart the Problem or the Solution? 339

Authoritarianism and Monarchy 340

Problems of the U.S. Political Economy 340
The Power of Corporations 340
Monopoly and Oligopoly 341
Conglomerates and Other Linkages 342
The Power of Money 343
Campaign Financing 343
Voter Apathy 344
Who Votes? Class, Age, Race, Ethnicity, and Gender 346
The Gender Gap: Seeing Problems Differently 347
Voting Laws for Persons Convicted of Serious Crimes 347
Social Movements: How Much Change? 348

Theories of Economic and Political Problems 348
Structural-Functional Analysis: Rule by the Many 348
Social-Conflict Analysis: Rule by the Few 349

Politics and the Economy: Constructing Problems and
Defining Solutions 351

The Far Right: Make America Great Again 351
Conservatives: The System Is Working 351
Liberals: The Need for Reform 352
The Radical Left: Call for Basic Change 352
Going On from Here 353

Defining Solutions 356
Getting Involved: Applications and Exercises 357

Making the Grade: Chapter Summary 358

12 Work and the Workplace 360

Constructing the Problem 360

Structural Changes in the U.S. Economy 362
The Industrial Revolution 363
The Information Revolution 364
Deindustrialization 364
Globalization 365

Other Problems of the U.S. Workplace 365
The Dual Labor Market 365
Danger to Workers 366
Workplace Alienation 368
McDonaldization and “McJobs” 369
The Temping of the Workplace 369
The Gig Economy 370
Unemployment 370
The Problem of “Missing Workers” 371
The “Low-Wage Recovery” 372
Race, Ethnicity, and Gender 372
Workplace Segregation 373
Labor Unions 373

A Defining Moment: Eugene Debs: Standing
Up for the Union 376

New Information Technology:
The Brave New Workplace 377

The Home as Workplace 378

Contents xi

Workplace Isolation 378
Workplace Supervision 378
The “Deskilling” of Workers 378

Theories of Work and Work-Related Problems 379
Structural-Functional Analysis: Finding
a New Equilibrium 379
Symbolic-Interaction Analysis: The Meaning
of Work 380
Social-Conflict Analysis: Work and Inequality 381
Feminist Analysis: Work and Gender 381

Politics and the Workplace: Constructing
Problems and Defining Solutions 382

Conservatives: Look to the Market 382
Liberals: Look to Government 383
The Radical Left: Basic Change is Needed 384
Going On from Here 384

Defining Solutions 386
Getting Involved: Applications and Exercises 387

Making the Grade: Chapter Summary 388

13 Family Life 390

Constructing the Problem 390

What Is a Family? 392
Debate over Definitions 393
A Sociological Approach to Family Problems 393

Family Life: Changes and Controversies 393
Living Together: Do We Need to Marry? 394
Postponing Marriage 394
Parenting: Is One Parent Enough? 395
Families, Race, and Poverty 395
Conflict between Work and Family Life 397
Child Care 397
Divorce 398
Child Support 401
Remarriage: Problems of Blended Families 401
Gay and Lesbian Families 402

A Defining Moment: Same-Sex Marriage:
The Massachusetts Decision 402

Brave New Families: High-Tech Reproduction 404

Theories of Families and Family Problems 405
Structural-Functional Analysis: Family
as Foundation 405
Symbolic-Interaction Analysis: Family and Learning 406
Social-Conflict Analysis: Family and Social Class 406
Feminist Analysis: Family and Gender 407

Politics and Family Life: Constructing
Problems and Defining Solutions 408

Conservatives: Traditional “Family Values” 408
Liberals: Many Types of Families 409
The Radical Left: Replace the Family 409
Going On from Here 410

Defining Solutions 412
Getting Involved: Applications and Exercises 413

Making the Grade: Chapter Summary 414

14 Education 416

Constructing the Problem 416

Problems of Education: A Global Perspective 418
Low-Income Countries: Too Little Schooling 419
High-Income Countries: Unequal Schooling 420
Education in U.S. History 421

Problems with U.S. Education 422
The Academic Performance of U.S. Schools 422
Academic Performance: Race, Class, and Gender 422
The Effects of Home and School 422
Dropping Out 423
Functional Illiteracy 424
School Segregation and Busing 424

A Defining Moment: Linda Brown:
Fighting to Desegregate the Schools 425

School Funding 426
Tracking 427
Gender Inequality 428
Immigration: Increasing Diversity 429
Schooling People with Disabilities 429
Finding Enough Teachers 430
School Violence 431

Theories of Education and Education-Related Problems 432
Structural-Functional Analysis: The Functions
of Schooling 432
Symbolic-Interaction Analysis: Labels in the Schools 433
Social-Conflict Analysis: Schooling and Inequality 433
Feminist Analysis: Schooling and Gender 434

Politics and Education: Constructing Problems and
Defining Solutions 435

Conservatives: Increase Competition 435
Liberals: Increase the Investment 436
The Radical Left: Attack Structural Inequality 438
Going On from Here 438

Defining Solutions 440
Getting Involved: Applications and Exercises 441

Making the Grade: Chapter Summary 442

15 Urban Life 444
Constructing the Problem 444

Cities: Then and Now 447
Colonial Villages: 1565–1800 447
Westward Expansion: 1800–1860 447
The Industrial Metropolis: 1860–1950 448
Postindustrial Cities and Suburbs: 1950–Present 448

Problems of Today’s Cities 449
Fiscal Problems of the 1970s 449
The Postindustrial Revival 449
The Recent Recession and New Fiscal Problems 450
Urban Sprawl 450
Edge Cities 451
Poverty 451
Housing Problems 453

xii Contents

A Defining Moment: Jacob Riis: Revealing
the Misery of the Tenements 454

Racial Segregation 455
Homelessness 455
Snowbelt and Sunbelt Cities 457
Cities in Poor Countries 458

Theories of Urbanization and Urban Problems 458
Structural-Functional Analysis: A Theory
of Urbanism 458
Symbolic-Interaction Analysis: Experiencing
the City 460
Social-Conflict Analysis: Cities and Inequality 461

Politics and Urban Life: Constructing
Problems and Defining Solutions 462

Conservatives: The Market and Morality 462
Liberals: Government Reform 464
The Radical Left: The Need for Basic Change 464
Going On from Here 465

Defining Solutions 466
Getting Involved: Applications and Exercises 467

Making the Grade: Chapter Summary 468

PART V Global Problems

16 Population and Global Inequality 470

Constructing the Problem 470

Global Population Increase 472
Population by the Numbers 473
Causes of Population Increase 473
Measuring Population Increase 475
The Low-Growth North 476
The High-Growth South 477
The Social Standing of Women 477
Explaining the Population Problem:
Malthusian Theory 477

A Defining Moment: Thomas Robert Malthus:
Claiming Population Is a Problem 478

A More Recent Approach: Demographic
Transition Theory 479

Global Inequality 479
High-Income Nations 480
Middle-Income Nations 481
Low-Income Nations 481
The World’s Poverty Problem 481
Poverty and Children 483
Poverty and Women 483
Slavery 483

Theories of Global Inequality 484
Structural-Functional Analysis: The Process
of Modernization 484
Social-Conflict Analysis: The Global Economic System 486

Politics and Global Inequality: Constructing
Problems and Defining Solutions 489

Conservatives: The Power of the Market 489

Liberals: Governments Must Act 490
The Radical Left: End Global Capitalism 491
Going On from Here 491

Defining Solutions 494
Getting Involved: Applications and Exercises 495

Making the Grade: Chapter Summary 496

17 Technology and the Environment 498

Constructing the Problem 498

Ecology: Studying the Natural Environment 500
The Role of Sociology 501
The Global Dimension 501
Population Increase 501
Poverty and Affluence 502
Technology 502
Cultural Patterns: Growth and Limits 503

Environmental Problems 505

A Defining Moment: Rachel Carson:
Sounding an Environmental Wake-Up Call 505

Solid Waste: The Disposable Society 506
Preserving Clean Water 507
Air Pollution 508
Acid Rain 509
The Disappearing Rain Forests 510
Climate Change 510
Declining Biodiversity 511

Theories of the Environment and
Environmental Problems 512

Structural-Functional Analysis: Highlighting
Connections 512
Social-Conflict Analysis: Highlighting Inequality 512

Politics and the Environment: Constructing
Problems and Defining Solutions 514

Conservatives: Grounds for Optimism 514
Liberals: Grounds for Concern 515
The Radical Left: Grounds for Fundamental Change 515
Going On from Here 516

Defining Solutions 518
Getting Involved: Applications and Exercises 519

Making the Grade: Chapter Summary 520

18 War and Terrorism 522

Constructing the Problem 522

War and Peace: Basic Definitions 524
The Increasing Destruction of War 525
The Causes of War 525
The Economic Costs of Militarism 527
The Economic Costs of War 527
The Human Costs of War 527
Social Class and the Military 529
Mass Media and War 530
War in the Nuclear Age 531
Strategies for Peace 532

Contents xiii

Terrorism 533

A Defining Moment: Mohandas Gandhi:
Sending a Message of Peace 534

The Extent of Terrorism 535
The Costs of Terrorism 536
Terrorism as a Type of War 536
Strategies for Dealing with Terrorism 536

Theories of War and Terrorism 538
Biological Theories of Conflict 538
Structural-Functional Analysis: The Functions
of Conflict 538
Symbolic-Interaction Analysis: The Meanings
of Conflict 539
Social-Conflict Analysis: Inequality
and Conflict 540

Politics and War: Constructing Problems
and Defining Solutions 540

The Far Right and Conservatives: Peace
through Strength 541
Liberals: The Dangers of Militarism 542
The Radical Left: Peace through Equality 542
Going On from Here 542

Defining Solutions 544
Getting Involved: Applications and Exercises 545

Making the Grade: Chapter Summary 546

Glossary 548

References 553

Name Index 586

Subject Index 588

Revel™
This title is available as part of the Revel program. Revel is
the new and powerful digital learning experience.

Compared to a bound book, Revel offers a number of clear
advantages.

Interactivity. Bound books encourage passive reading.
Revel transforms graphs and maps into interactive learn-
ing exercises that spark curiosity and encourage active en-
gagement.

Accessibility. Bound books come in a single format. Revel
allows readers to adjust font size according to their own
preferences, alternative text for images and screen reader
compatibility are available for students with visual impair-
ments, and full audio presentation is available to those who
prefer sound to visual access.

Available on all devices. Revel is available on your desktop
or laptop and can be used on your tablet or smartphone—
both iOS and Android devices—through the free Revel app.
The Revel app also allows for offline access so you can read
even if you don’t always have a data connection.

Integration. Pearson provides Blackboard Learn™,
Canvas™, Brightspace by D2L, and Moodle integration,
giving institutions, instructors, and students easy access
to Revel. Our Revel integration delivers streamlined access
to everything your students need for the course in these
learning management system (LMS) environments.

Single Sign-on. With single sign-on, students are ready on
their first day. From your LMS course, students have easy
access to an interactive blend of author’s narrative, media,
and assessment.

Grade Sync. Flexible, on-demand grade synchroniza-
tion capabilities allow you to control exactly which Revel
grades should be transferred to the LMS gradebook.

Greater currency. Because electronic delivery allows in-
stant updating, the content of Revel is not static but will be
updated by the author over the course of an edition.

New chapter on social media. The new edition contains
the first social media chapter to be found in a social prob-
lems title.

Total updating of all data and research. There are more
than one thousand statistics in Social Problems. In the Eighth
Edition, each one is new and represents the latest available
data. More than five hundred new research citations sup-
port descriptions and analysis in this revision.

Major revision to the chapter on sexuality. The Seventh
Edition’s “Sexuality” chapter is now a new chapter called
“Sexuality and Inequality,” which has been moved to Part
II and deals with social inequality. The chapter now has a
focus not only on the diversity of sexual identity in our so-
ciety but also how sexuality is linked to social stratification.

New topics plus the latest examples and illustrations. The
new edition provides students with the latest on sexual ha-
rassment, including the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements;
the extent of gun violence, including school shootings; the
rise and significance of the alt-right in U.S. politics; the con-
tinuing trend toward greater economic inequality; the in-
creasing number of women in political office; recent changes
to laws and public attitudes about marijuana use; the ex-
panding opioid crisis; the expansion of the gig economy; the
state of same-sex marriage around the world; how the Trump
administration has reacted to global warming; and the latest
trends in global conflict, including war and terrorism. This
revision includes discussion of the 2016 presidential election
and its consequences, including immigration policy, the 2017
changes to the tax law, and the 2018 midterm elections.

New “Understanding the Other” interactive learning
exercises. These five interactive exercises, written by John
Macionis, are unique to this social problems title. The five
exercises, based on recent research, present real-life, ev-
eryday situations in which race, class, gender, and sexual
identity have profound—and often unrecognized—effects
on social outcomes. As students see the world through the
eyes of others, they come to understand the power of soci-
ety to confer disadvantage as well as privilege on catego-
ries of people.

What’s New in Social Problems,
Eighth Edition

xiv

What’s New in Social Problems, Eighth Edition xv

Additional content. Revel provides content not available
in a bound book, including special graphics, primary read-
ings, engaging videos, thought-provoking journaling exer-
cises, engaging surveys, and interactive assessment with
results reported directly to faculty.

Lower cost. Revel is available to students at less than half
the cost of a new bound book. Learn more about Revel at
http://www.pearsonhigher-education/com/revel/.

Boxes

SOCIAL PROBLEMS IN FOCUS
Increasing Economic Inequality:
When Does It Become a Problem? 37

Let Them Stay or Make Them Go?
The Debate over Unauthorized Immigrants 76

Sex Discrimination in the Workplace: The Hooters
Controversy 113

Gather Around the Radio: How Roosevelt’s
Fireside Chats Saved the Nation 321

Corporate Welfare: Government Handouts
for Big Business 341

Should You Prepare a Premarital Agreement? 400

Increasing Population: A Success Story or the
Greatest Crisis? 492

Getting Right with the Environment: How about You? 517

Has Our All-Volunteer Army Turned into a
Warrior Caste? 530

SOCIAL PROBLEMS IN GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE
The Global Village: Problems around the World 13

Sweden Tries to Take Gender Out of the Classroom 107

Female Genital Mutilation: Using Violence to
Control Women 119

Prostitutes and Johns in Sweden: Who Is Breaking
the Law? 151

Children and Sex Tourism 152

Will the Golden Years Lose Their Glow?
Growing Old in Japan 174

Organized Crime: All over the World 210

The Social Roots of AIDS: Poverty, Culture, and Gender 279

Sweatshop Safety: How Much Is a Life Worth? 488

Turning the Tide: Reclaiming Solid Waste in Egypt 507

DIVERSITY: RACE, CLASS, & GENDER
The United States: A Land of Poor Children 44

Beauty: What’s It Really About? 120

Female, Male, or Something Else? The Muxes of Mexico 144

Reality Check: Five False Stereotypes about
African American Families 396

The “Savage Inequalities” of Schooling in the
United States 427

Women, Power, and Contraception: The Key to
Controlling Population 475

Women in the Military: An Equal Right to Kill? 539

SOCIAL POLICY
C. Wright Mills: Turning Personal Troubles
into Social Issues 5

An Undeserved Handout? The Truth about “Welfare” 50

Nursing Home Abuse: What Should Be Done? 181

The Death Penalty: Problem or Solution? 224

The Drug Wars: Safer Streets or Police State? 258

Who Favors “Big Government”? Almost Everybody! 353

Low-Wage Jobs: On (Not) Getting By in America 366

More Than Just Talk: The Politics of Bilingual Education 430

When Work Disappears: Can We Rescue the Inner City? 452

PERSONAL STORIES
The Reality of Poverty: Living on the Edge 42

After the Children: Getting Back in the Game 116

Is Aging a Disease? 179

Stalking: The Construction of a Problem 204

Dying for Attention: One Student’s Story 246

Deinstitutionalization: When Good Intentions
Have Bad Results 292
School Choice: One Family’s View 437

xvi

Maps

ANTARCTICA

30° 30°

30°

0°30° 30°60°90°

120°150°

60° 90° 120° 150°

30°

0° 0°

EUROPE

20°20° 40°

60°

40°

Women’s Social Standing

High

Above average

Average

Below average

Low

No data

Saeeda Jan, age 20, lives in Afghanistan,
a low-income nation that limits the rights
and opportunities of women.

Area of inset

West Bank

Puerto Rico (U.S.)

French Guiana
(Fr.)

ICELAND

SPAIN

NORWAY

IRELAND

UNITED
KINGDOM

DENMARK

POLANDGERMANY
NETH.

BEL.

LUX.
AUS.

CZECH
REP.

PORTUGAL

SWITZ.

ITALY

FRANCE SLO.
CROATIA

BOS. & HERZ.

FINLANDSWEDEN

ROMANIA
HUNG.

SERBIA

SLVK.

ESTONIA

LATVIA
LITHUANIA

UKRAINE

MOLDOVA

BELARUS

ALB.

BULGARIA
MAC.

GREECE

MONT.
KOS.

RUSSIA

TURKEY

MALTA CYPRUS

MONGOLIA

CUBA

DOM. REP.

GUATEMALA
EL SALVADOR

BELIZE

HONDURAS

COSTA RICA
PANAMA

COLOMBIA

BOLIVIA

VENEZUELA
NICARAGUA

HAITIJAMAICA

ECUADOR

PARAGUAY

ARGENTINA
URUGUAY

PERU

GUYANA

CHILE

BAHAMAS

TRINIDAD & TOBAGO

ANTIGUA & BARBUDA
DOMINICA
ST. LUCIA
BARBADOSGRENADA

U.S.

U.S.

ST. VINCENT & THE GRENADINES

ST. KITTS & NEVIS

KAZAKHSTAN

BRAZIL

New
Caledonia

(Fr.)

UNITED
STATES

CANADA

Hong
Kong

Macao
Taiwan

TUVALU

SAMOA

FIJI

TONGA

NEW
ZEALAND

AUSTRALIA

SOLOMON
ISLANDS

PAPUA
NEW GUINEA

TIMOR-LESTE

VANUATU

PALAU

KIRIBATI

MARSHALL
ISLANDS

FEDERATED STATES
OF MICRONESIA

NAURU

KYRGYZSTAN

CHINA

BHUTAN

TAJIKISTAN

I N D O N E S I A

SRI
LANKA

PHILIPPINES

MAURITIUS

LESOTHO
SWAZILAND

MOZAMBIQUE

MALDIVES

SEYCHELLES

COMOROS

SAO TOME & PRINCIPE

REP. OF THE CONGO

EQ. GUINEACÔTE D’IVOIRE
TOGO

GAMBIA
GUINEA-BISSAU

GUINEA
SIERRA LEONE

LIBERIA

CAPE
VERDE

LIBYAALGERIA

SYRIA

DEM. REP.
OF THE
CONGO

UZBEKISTAN

TURKMENISTAN

AFGHANISTAN

PAKISTAN

MYANMAR
(BURMA)

Singapore

OMAN

NEPAL

IRAN

MALAYSIA
BRUNEI

CAMBODIA

VIETNAM

INDIA

BANGLADESH
LAOS

THAILAND

MADAGASCAR

SOUTH
AFRICA

NAMIBIA
BOTSWANA

ZIMBABWE

ZAMBIA
MALAWI

TANZANIA
BURUNDI

KENYA

ANGOLA

GABON

UGANDA
CAM.

CENT.
AFR. REP. ETHIOPIA

DJIBOUTI
SUDANCHAD

KUWAIT

NIGER

BENIN

MALI
SENEGAL

BURKINA
FASO

NIGERIA
GHANA

SAUDI
ARABIA

EGYPT
U.A.E.

JORDAN

IRAQ

BAHRAIN
QATAR

ISRAEL
LEBANON

AZERBAIJAN
ARMENIA

TUNISIA

RWANDA

ERITREA
YEMEN

S.
SUDAN

SURINAME

AUSTRALIA

I N D O N E S I A

SOMALIA

MEXICO

MOROCCO

MAURITANIA

Western Sahara
(Mor.)

JAPAN
SOUTH
KOREA

NORTH
KOREA

Greenland
(Den.)

RUSSIA

GEORGIA

Astrid Brügger, age 19, lives in Norway; like
most girls growing up in high-income
nations, she enjoys most of the rights and
opportunities available to men.

SOURCE: Data from United Nations Development Programme (2015).

GLOBAL MAPS: Window on the World
1–1 Women’s Childbearing in Global Perspective 14

4–1 Women’s Power in Global Perspective 105

4–2 Female Genital Mutilation in Global Perspective 118

5–1 HIV Infections in Global Perspective 158

7–1 Capital Punishment in Global Perspective 222

9–1 Infant Mortality in Global Perspective 276

10–1 Internet Use in Global Perspective 311

11–1 Economic Freedom in Global Perspective 337

12–1 Service-Sector Employment in Global
Perspective 364

13–1 Legal Same-Sex Marriage and Registered
Partnerships in Global Perspective 403

14–1 Illiteracy in Global Perspective 420

15–1 Urbanization in Global Perspective 459

16–1 Population Growth in Global Perspective 476

16–2 Economic Development in Global Perspective 482

17–1 Energy Consumption in Global Perspective 503

18–1 Peace in Global Perspective, 2017 526

18–2 Nuclear Weapons in Global Perspective 532

xvii

xviii Maps

Percentage of
Population below the
Poverty Level, 2014

32.6 and over

24.7% to 32.5%

19.6% to 24.6%

14.7% to 19.5%

11.1% to 14.6%

11.0% and under

U.S. average: 15.9%

Anna Mae Peters lives in Nitta Yuma, Mississippi. Almost
everyone she knows lives below the government’s poverty line.

Julie Garland lives in Greenwich, Connecticut,
where people have very high income and there
is little evidence of poverty.

ARIZONA

NEVADA

CALIFORNIA

OREGON

WASHINGTON

IDAHO

MONTANA

NORTH
DAKOTA

MINNESOTA

SOUTH
DAKOTA

NEBRASKA

WYOMING

COLORADO

NEW
MEXICO

TEXAS

LOUISIANA

ARKANSASOKLAHOMA

KANSAS
MISSOURI

IOWA

WISCONSIN

MICHIGAN

ILLINOIS
INDIANA

OHIO

KENTUCKY

TENNESSEE

MISSISSIPPI

ALABAMA
GEORGIA

SOUTH
CAROLINA

NORTH
CAROLINA

VIRGINIA

WEST
VIRGINIA

DELAWARE

NEW JERSEY

MARYLAND

PENNSYLVANIA

NEW
YORK

CONNECTICUT
RHODE ISLAND

MAINEVERMONT

NEW HAMPSHIRE
MASSACHUSETTS

FLORIDA

UTAH

HAWAII

D.C.

ALASKA

NATIONAL MAPS: Seeing Ourselves
2–1 Poverty across the United States 45

3–1 Language Diversity across the United States 78

3–2 The Concentration of Hispanics/Latinos,
African Americans, Asian Americans,
and Arab Americans, by County 84

4–1 Women’s Political Power across
the United States 110

4–2 The Earnings Gender Gap across the
United States 115

5–1 Teenage Pregnancy Rates across the
United States 155

6–1 The Elderly Population across the
United States 176

7–1 Who’s Packin’? Concealed Weapon Laws
across the United States 217

7–2 Inmates on Death Row across the United States 225

8–1 Marijuana Laws across the United States 259

9–1 Life Expectancy across the United States 284

10–1 Internet Access across the United States 312

11–1 Voter Turnout across the United States 345

12–1 “Right to Work” Laws across the United States 377

13–1 Divorce across the United States, 2016 399

14–1 Public School Teachers’ Pay across the
United States 431

15–1 Foreclosures across the United States, 2008 447

15–2 Population Change across the
United States, 2000–2010 457

17–1 Risk of Cancer from Air Pollution across
the United States 509

SOURCE: US Census Bureau, Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) Program 2017.

Our nation’s Pledge of Allegiance ends with the
words “… with liberty and justice for all.” This
statement may reflect our collective hope, but

does it describe our reality? Certainly, some categories of
the population (the rich, men, white people, heterosex-
ual people) have greater freedom than others (the poor;
women; people of color; homosexual, bisexual, and trans-
gender people). Then, too, a large share of this country’s
population has serious questions about the extent of so-
cial justice, especially in the Trump era. We are living in
a time of political division and widespread frustration:
Two-thirds of all U.S. adults say that the country is “on
the wrong track.” Globally, armed conflict and terrorism
threaten the planet’s peace, and there is increasing concern
about the state of the natural environment and the future
consequences of global warming. Clearly, this is a time
when we need to understand more about social problems.

Facts, Theory, and Politics
Sociology offers a path to understanding the problems
that we face in today’s world. Sociology is also a path to
change. Our discipline extends an invitation to action—to
become involved in the political debates and movements
that are reshaping society. As the leading title for this
course, Social Problems, Eighth Edition, offers a broad inves-
tigation of social problems, both domestic and global. This
title provides all the facts, highlighting historical trends
and explaining today’s social controversies. We build this
understanding using sociological theory, which ties facts to-
gether to create meaning and deepen insight.

Just as important, this title stands alone by providing
readers with political analysis. As a source of understanding
and a call to action, politics matters. Where a person or a society
stands on the political spectrum shapes what issues are de-
fined as social problems. Just as important, political position
also shapes what policies are defined as solutions. Becoming
a good citizen depends on learning about various issues and
also gaining fluency in politics so that one can decide which
positions are worth supporting and which are worth resisting.

Social Problems, Eighth Edition, not only urges people
to become involved, but it also explains what politics is all
about. From the first chapter to the last, this title explains
the attitudes and values that define various positions on
the political spectrum. Social Problems applies these polit-
ical points of view to dozens of issues—from increasing
economic inequality to terrorism—so that students under-
stand today’s debates and are able to develop and defend
political positions for themselves.

A guiding principle of this text is that politics involves
competing points of view. Social Problems presents diverse
political viewpoints for four reasons. First, all points of
view are part of the political debate that goes on across the
United States. Second, no one can hold personal political
beliefs with any conviction without understanding the ar-
guments of those who disagree. In other words, to be, say,
a good liberal, one needs to understand not just progres-
sive politics but conservative, far-right, and radical-left
positions as well. Third, while anyone is likely to favor
one political position over others, most of us can find, in all
the political positions, at least some element of truth. In the
political arena, as in the classroom, reasonable people can
and do disagree. Understanding all positions is a major
step toward reducing our nation’s angry political divide
and, in its place, promoting civil and respectful discourse.
Fourth, and finally, by being inclusive, Social Problems in-
vites all students to share their ideas, which encourages
more lively class discussion.

The Social-Constructionist
Approach
The most important reason to put the politics in when
teaching a social problems course is to understand how
politics guides the process of defining and responding to
social problems. This title differs from all others in that it
does not adopt one (implicit or explicit) political point of
view by presenting a series of “problems” and identifying
a sequence of “solutions” as if everyone agreed about what
these are. Rather, all chapters highlight the importance of
political attitudes in the selection of some issues and not
others as problems, as well as in the favoring of certain
polices as solutions. With this fact in mind, we can under-
stand why people disagree about what the problems and
their solutions are. Indeed, one person’s problem may well
be another’s solution. From this insight, true conversation
can begin.

Another benefit of using a social-constructionist ap-
proach is recognizing how and why our society came to
recognize a problem at a certain point in our history, often
as a result of claims made by social movements. For exam-
ple, the behaviors we now call child abuse, environmental
racism, and sexual harassment may always have been with
us, but our society did not always define these as prob-
lems. On the contrary, problems came into being only after
courageous individuals sparked successful social move-
ments that brought about change both in our hearts and,
more importantly, in our laws.

Preface

xix

xx Preface

2016 presidential election. New data provide the latest on
the social standing of various racial and ethnic categories
of the U.S. population. A new Understanding the Other in-
teractive exercise, “Traffic Stops by Police: The Difference
Race Makes,” provides a data-driven analysis of racial bias
on the streets. Twenty-one new research citations inform
the revised chapter.

Chapter 4: Gender Inequality New data track the in-
creasing number of women in Congress between 1918 and
2018. Updates include analysis of women’s roles in recent
films, contrast the power of women in relation to men in
nations around the world, report the share of women in
the U.S. labor force, indicate the share of degrees earned by
U.S. women, identify the most sex-segregated occupations,
track the pay gap between women and men, and indicate
the share of women in the U.S. military. There is expanded
discussion of gender, housework, and child rearing. The
coverage of sexual harassment has been updated and ex-
panded to include the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.
New discussion traces the rising power of feminism in
the United States since the 2016 presidential election. The
revised chapter is informed by thirty-two new research
citations.

Chapter 5: Sexuality and Inequality This chapter has
been moved to a new position and recast to focus on how
sexuality is linked to social stratification. The chapter-
opening story highlights the national attention now
directed at sexual harassment. Coverage of the transgen-
der movement has been greatly expanded. The discussion
of teenage pregnancy has been updated and expanded to
include teenage parenthood. Attention is given to Trump
administration efforts to limit access to abortion. Updates
include the latest on violence directed against LGBTQ
people, the extent of homosexual and bisexual identity,
the extent of same-sex marriage worldwide, the extent of
pornography use in the United States, patterns of arrest
and the extent of public support for prostitution, the rate
of births to teenage women in nations around the world,
the extent of abortion in the United States, public attitudes
about abortion under various circumstances, the extent of
sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and new national
and global data on HIV and AIDS. There is a new Under-
standing the Other interactive exercise called “Jobs and
Income: The Hidden Injuries of Transgender Workers.”
There are thirty-four new research citations in this revised
chapter.

Chapter 6: Aging and Inequality There is updated dis-
cussion of euthanasia laws across the United States and in
other nations. Attention is given to the effects of Trump
administration policies on older people. Find the latest
statistical data on the number of seniors in the United
States, the increasing average age of retirement, the extent

Your Fully Involved Author
John Macionis is personally involved in every element of
Social Problems. In addition to keeping the manuscript up
to date with the latest research, data, and relevant exam-
ples and illustrations, he selects all the photos and other
images, writes all the captions, develops all the testing ma-
terial, prepares the instructor’s manual, and creates all the
interactive content in the Revel electronic version. John
corresponds regularly with colleagues and students, which
makes Social Problems an always-evolving project. For
the latest in the Macionis texts, visit his personal website:
www.TheSociologyPage.com or www.macionis.com.
Among other things, you will find there a series of new Pow-
erPoint presentations, based on current research and free for
downloading. A full suite of instructor resources is available
from Pearson at www.pearsonhighereducation.com.

What’s New in the Eighth Edition
The new edition of Social Problems is different and
improved in the following ways:

Chapter 1: Studying Social Problems Find the latest
data on the share of the public claiming that this country
is on the wrong track. There is new and expanded anal-
ysis of the state of U.S. politics in the wake of the 2016
presidential election and the 2018 midterms. Included are
the latest survey data identifying what the public thinks
are the most serious social problems and the distribution
of U.S. adults on the political spectrum. Discussion is
supported by inclusion of recent social movements, in-
cluding #MeToo and #TimesUp. A new Understanding
the Other interactive exercise, “First Day of College: The
Invisible Baggage of Class,” explores how social class
shapes the experience of being on campus. This revised
chapter is supported by twenty-two new research cita-
tions.

Chapter 2: Economic Inequality The revised chapter has
the latest on the distribution of both income and wealth.
New data provide a profile of people in the richest 1 per-
cent. Economic data by class, race, and ethnicity have
all been updated. The most recent statistics document
increasing economic inequality between 1980 and 2016.
The discussion of poverty in the United States provides
updated analysis by age, race, ethnicity, gender, and re-
gion. The changes in the 2017 tax law are discussed. This
revised chapter is supported by forty-one new research
citations.

Chapter 3: Racial and Ethnic Inequality In the age of
Trump, political analysis has been expanded to explain
how the alt-right views race, ethnicity, and immigration.
New discussion explores immigration policy—including
the border wall and the fate of the Dreamers—since the

Preface xxi

Chapter 9: Physical and Mental Health The revised chap-
ter has updated and expanded coverage of AIDS around
the world; the discussion reflects the increasing share of
minorities among people infected with HIV. The profiles of
health care systems in the United States and various other
nations have all been updated to reflect the latest policies
and trends. The chapter highlights changes to the nation’s
health care system under the Trump administration. There
are new data on longevity in the United States including
analysis by race, class, and gender. The chapter reports the
share of the U.S. population defined as obese, the share
experiencing a mental illness, the link between poverty
and illness in the United States and around the world, and
trends in infant mortality in the United States and around
the world. Find the latest statistics and research on the cost
of providing health care in the United States, salaries paid
to nurses and physicians in the United States, and patterns
of mental health on campus. Thirty-six new research cita-
tions inform the revised chapter.

Chapter 10: Social Media This entirely new chapter
responds to perhaps the most important development in
the last generation—the rise of social media and the rapid
expansion of internet-based communication. The chapter
briefly traces the rise of mass media and explains its impor-
tance for modern societies. Attention then turns to social
media, pointing out ways in which it differs from earlier
mass media. There is extensive discussion of social net-
working sites and other apps.

Problems linked to the media begin with ways in
which various media shape the content that they transmit.
An issue with special importance in the wake of the 2016
presidential election is media bias and claims of fake news.
Discussion highlights what we know about bias in the me-
dia and also instructs readers in pursuit of greater media
literacy. Analysis of differential access to the internet and
social media explains the digital divide both in the United
States and around the world.

Individuals use social media to construct a social
identity and build self-esteem. Research suggests that use
of social media reduces people’s capacity for empathy,
encourages conformity, and may reduce attention span.
Research links use of social media to the experience of
cyber-bullying and also increasing rates of clinical depres-
sion. There is mounting evidence to support the conclu-
sion that social media may become addictive. Social media
also shapes our relationships, including patterns of dating
and parenting. Social media is also linked to the problem
of online predators.

Social media brings change to popular culture and
encourages young people to develop an oversexualized
social identity. Social media also bring both positive and
negative changes to the workplace, politics, and other
institutions.

of elder abuse, living patterns among older people, the in-
creasing number of complaints of age discrimination, and
income and poverty data contrasting older and younger
people. New discussions include the increasing pay gap
between older women and men, why older stars such
as Meryl Streep and Samuel L. Jackson are the excep-
tions rather than the rule in the entertainment business,
and a nod to Mick Jagger, who has turned seventy-five.
There are thirty-four new research citations in this revised
chapter.

Chapter 7: Crime, Violence, and Criminal Jus-
tice There is updated and expanded coverage of mass
shootings in the United States. Recent global data show
that two-thirds of all mass shooting fatalities occur in the
United States. There is also expanded discussion of the
national debate over guns and deadly violence. Cover-
age of hate crimes is also expanded. The chapter reflects
changes in marijuana laws right up to 2018. The revised
chapter has the latest crime statistics for all major prop-
erty and person crimes, new profiles of who is arrested
for serious crimes, and arrest data for street crime that
are analyzed by age, gender, race and ethnicity, and social
class. All the crime statistics show trends over the last half
century and provide the latest data for 2016. A National
Map provides the most recent laws, state by state, regu-
lating gun ownership. The latest data inform the discus-
sions of mass incarceration and the death penalty in the
United States. Current examples and illustrations include
the 2017 automobile murder of an anti-white-supremacy
protestor in Charlottesville, the 2018 mass shooting at the
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Santa Fe High
School, the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the on-
going gang violence crisis in Chicago, and expanding
violence linked to the opioid epidemic throughout the
United States. Where appropriate, new Trump adminis-
tration policies and their consequences are noted. A new
Understanding the Other interactive exercise called “On
the Street: Do I Look Dangerous to You?” links race to per-
ceptions of criminality. Forty-eight new research citations
inform the revised chapter.

Chapter 8: Alcohol and Other Drugs There is updat-
ed and expanded discussion of the opioid crisis in the
United States. New topics include the shifting federal
drug policy under the Trump administration. There are
updates on a record high in public support for legal mar-
ijuana, the latest in state laws permitting marijuana use,
changes in European laws regarding marijuana, binge
drinking by college students, the share of U.S. adults
who define drug use as a social problem, the share of the
adult population using various categories of legal and
illegal drugs, and the extent of cigarette smoking around
the world. Fifty-five new research citations inform this
revised chapter.

xxii Preface

Chapter 14: Education The revised chapter has new
discussion of the 2018 teachers’ movement for higher sal-
aries and greater public investment in education. There is
expanded and updated discussion of school violence and
coverage of the student movement to end mass murder in
schools. There is new discussion of education policy un-
der the Trump administration. The revised chapter has up-
dates on the educational attainment of the U.S. population
and the share of women and men in U.S. higher education.
Updated coverage includes educational performance ac-
cording to race, class, and gender; rates of illiteracy in the
United States and around the world; the global ranking of
the United States in measures of academic performance;
and the rates of dropping out of school for various catego-
ries of the U.S. population. The chapter notes with sadness
and respect the death of racial segregation activist Linda
Brown. This revised chapter is supported by twenty-six
new research citations.

Chapter 15: Urban Life The revised chapter has updates
on the extent of racial segregation in U.S. cities, the extent
of bankruptcy of U.S. cities, the rate of urban sprawl, the
poverty rates for various sectors of urban and rural places,
the extent of homelessness in U.S. society, the population
shift from snowbelt to sunbelt cities, and the increasing
size of cities in developing nations. This revised chapter is
supported by seventeen new research citations.

Chapter 16: Population and Global Inequality There is
updated and expanded discussion of how women’s social
standing is fueling global population increase. There is ex-
panded coverage of the importance of gender in patterns of
global poverty and also the extent of global poverty among
children. The revised chapter provides the latest data for
all demographic indicators, including fertility, mortality,
and population increase. Find the latest statistics for world
population and its rate of increase. There are also the most
current data for global inequality with comparisons to na-
tional inequality data in the United States. Discussions of
global slavery and global sweatshops have been expand-
ed and updated. This revised chapter is supported by
twenty-nine new research citations.

Chapter 17: Technology and the Environment The re-
vised chapter has updated and expanded discussion of the
increasing global shortage of fresh water. There is also new
and expanded discussion of climate change, including the
Trump administration withdrawal from the Paris climate
accords. The revised chapter has updates on the upward
trend in global carbon emissions, the declining rate of
population increase, the environmental consequences
of rising global affluence, and the increasing production of
solid waste. This revised chapter has the most recent data
available and is supported by twenty-six new research
citations.

The new chapter highlights the power of social media
to advance social movements, including the #MeToo and
#TimesUp responses to sexual harassment. The content
of this new chapter reflects several dozen recent research
citations.

Chapter 11: Economy and Politics The chapter con-
tains a new discussion of the rising power of the far right in
U.S. politics. There is updated and expanded discussion of
Trump administration policies and increasing political po-
larization in the United States. There is new and expanded
discussion of campaign financing and how money drives
U.S. politics. The revised chapter analyzes the role of wom-
en voters in the 2016 presidential election. There are up-
dates on the level of trust the U.S. public has in government
and other national institutions, the extent of political free-
dom in nations around the world, the share of the economy
represented by government for the United States and oth-
er nations, and the size of economic conglomerates in the
United States. Also covered is voting turnout in the 2016
elections by age, race, ethnicity, and gender. Twenty-three
new research citations support this revised chapter.

Chapter 12: Work and the Workplace A new chapter-
opening story describes gender imbalance in the work-
force of high-tech companies in the United States. The
revised chapter has a new discussion of the gig economy
and also describes changes to conditions in the workplace
under the Trump administration. There are updates on the
unemployment rate, including data by age, gender, and
race; the median income for U.S. workers by race, ethnic-
ity, and gender; the distribution of U.S. workers in three
sectors of the economy; the intersection of race and eth-
nicity with the type of jobs people hold; relative wages for
workers around the world; the number of workers killed
or injured in the workplace; the level of workplace vio-
lence; and the current state of labor unions in the United
States. There is a new Understanding the Other interactive
exercise called “Finding a Job: The Hidden Importance
of Race.” This revised chapter is supported by seventeen
new research citations.

Chapter 13: Family Life A new chapter-opening story il-
lustrates change over time in our cultural definition of the
family. Discussion of gay and lesbian families in the Unit-
ed States and around the world has been expanded and
updated. The revised chapter provides the latest data on
trends in marital status, cohabitation, age at first marriage,
single parenting, and divorce. The most recent statistics
inform analysis of the links between income, poverty, and
type of family. International data contrast divorce rates in
the United States to rates in other nations. Maps showing
divorce across the United States and the legal status of
same-sex marriage around the world have been updated.
This revised chapter is supported by twenty-two new re-
search citations.

Preface xxiii

– Journal assignments at the end of each major sec-
tion ask students to apply what they learn to their
own lives.

– Where Do You Stand? writing opportunities end-
ing each Defining Solutions feature encourage stu-
dents to state their own positions on controversial
issues and choose policies that support their solu-
tions to social problems.

– Shared Writing: Envisioning a Better Society
prompts, found at the end of each chapter, encourage
students to use what they have learned to imagine
how to improve their social world. These exercises
can form the basis of lively class discussion.

– Essay prompts are from Pearson’s Writing Space,
which allow instructors to assign both automatical-
ly graded and instructor-graded prompts. Writing
Space is the best way to develop and assess concept
mastery and critical thinking through writing. Writ-
ing Space provides a single place within Revel to
create, track, and grade writing assignments, access
writing resources, and exchange meaningful, person-
alized feedback quickly and easily to improve writ-
ing. Writing Space provides everything students need
to complete and track their writing assignments, to
access assignment guides and checklists, to write or
upload completed assignments, and to receive grades
and feedback—all in one convenient place. For ed-
ucators, Writing Space makes assigning, receiving,
and evaluating writing assignments easy. It’s simple
to create new assignments and upload relevant ma-
terials, to see student progress, and to receive alerts
when students submit work. Writing Space uses
customized grading rubrics so students can receive
personalized feedback. Writing Space can also check
students’ work for improper citation or plagiarism by
comparing it against the world’s most accurate text
comparison database available from Turnitin.

The Documentary Sociology/Pearson Originals highlight
stories that bring sociological concepts and today’s politi-
cal controversies to life. These outstanding videos connect
students with the problems, politics, and controversies of
today’s world.

Supplements
Make more time for your students by using instructor re-
sources that offer effective learning assessments and in-
crease classroom engagement. Pearson’s partnership with
educators does not end with the delivery of course materi-
als; Pearson is there with you on the first day of class and
beyond. A dedicated team of local Pearson representatives
will work with you to not only choose course materials
but also integrate them into your class and assess their

Chapter 18: War and Terrorism This revised chapter
has updates on the “doomsday clock” indicating the risk
of global destruction, the number of active military con-
flicts in the world, the loss of life in all U.S. wars, the size
of the U.S. military budget, and the number of recent acts
of terrorism. Changes in military policy under the Trump
administration are also highlighted. The revised chapter is
supported by twenty-five new research citations.

Revel for Social Problems
Providing educational technology for the way today’s stu-
dents read, think, and learn, Revel is an interactive learn-
ing environment that offers a fully digital experience. It uses
frequent updates of articles and data to illustrate the current
state of society. Students can interact with multiple types of
media and assessments integrated directly within the author’s
narrative:

• Chapter-opening Trending Now features provide arti-
cles written by the author that put breaking news and
current events into the context of sociology. Examples
include the increasing suicide rate in the United States,
the record level of racial and ethnic diversity in the Con-
gress that opened in 2019, the record level on women
in positions of political leadership in 2019, Trump ad-
ministration efforts to define sex in binary terms, recent
mass shootings and the debate over gun control, the
controversy over vaping, concerns about addiction to
social media, the increasing number of states that have
increased the minimum wage, the controversy over
separating parents and children on the border, activ-
ism among the nation’s public school teachers, and the
record loss of life from wild fires in California.

• Understanding the Other interactive learning exercises
in five chapters offer data-driven snapshots of day-to-
day situations from the perspective of marginalized
individuals, providing the opportunity for students to
see the world from a new perspective.

• Interactive maps, figures, and tables feature Social
Explorer technology, which allows for real-time data
updates and rollover information to support the data
and show movement over time.

• Chapter Evaluate features include a reflection ques-
tion to encourage students to critically assess the in-
sights gained from theoretical analysis.

• Assessments tied to primary chapter sections, as well
as full chapter exams, allow instructors and students
to track progress and get immediate feedback. All as-
sessments are written by the author, John Macionis.

• Integrated Writing Opportunities: To help students
reason and write more clearly, each chapter offers three
varieties of writing prompts:

xxiv Preface

exams can be easily authored and saved online and then
printed for classroom use, giving you ultimate flexibility
to manage assessments anytime and anywhere. To learn
more, visit www.pearsonhighered.com/mytest.

PowerPoint Presentations The Lecture PowerPoint slides
follow the chapter outline and feature images from the
textbook integrated with the text. Additionally, all of the
PowerPoints are uniquely designed to present concepts in
a clear and succinct way. They are available to adopters for
download from the Pearson Instructors Resource Center at
www.pearsonhighered.com/irc.

In order to support varied teaching styles while
making it easy to incorporate dynamic Revel features in
class, two sets of PowerPoint presentations are available for
this edition: (1) A set of accessible lecture PowerPoint slides
outlines each chapter of the text. (2) An additional set of the
lecture PowerPoint slides includes LiveSlides, which link to
each Social Explorer data visualization and interactive map
within the Revel product. These presentations are available
to adopters in digital formats at the Instructor’s Resource
Center (www.pearsonhighered.com/irc) or in the Instruc-
tor’s Resources folder within the Revel product.

I offer this new edition of Social Problems in the hope that
this new digital age will elevate teaching and learning to a
new level of excellence.

As always, please feel free to contact me by email:
[email protected]

With my best wishes to my colleagues,

John J. Macionis

effectiveness. Our goal is your goal—to improve the qual-
ity of instruction with each semester.

Pearson is pleased to offer the following resources to qual-
ified adopters of Macionis’s Social Problems. Several of these
supplements are available to instantly download from Revel
or on the Instructor Resource Center (IRC); please visit the IRC
at www.pearsonhighered.com/irc to register for access.

Instructor’s Manual Create a comprehensive road map for
teaching classroom, online, or hybrid courses. John Macionis
has prepared this Instructor’s Manual and Test Bank for every
chapter in this title. Each chapter in the Instructor’s Manual
includes the following resources: Chapter Update; Author’s
Note; Chapter Outline; Learning Objectives; Detailed Teach-
ing Objectives; John’s Chapter Close-Up; John’s Personal
Video Selection; Research for a Cutting-Edge Classroom;
Teaching Suggestions, Exercises, and Projects; Revel Features;
Essay Questions; and Film and Video List. Designed to save
preparation time and to make your lectures more effective,
this extensive resource gathers together useful activities and
strategies for teaching the Social Problems course. Available
within Revel and on the IRC.

Test Bank Also available is a Test Bank of more than 900
multiple-choice and essay questions. You can easily cus-
tomize the assessment to work in any major learning man-
agement system and to match what is covered in your
course. Word, Black-Board, and WebCT versions are avail-
able on the IRC, and Respondus versions are available on
request from www.respondus.com.

MyTest This powerful assessment generation program in-
cludes all of the questions in the Test Bank. Quizzes and

John Macionis recently retired from full-time teaching
at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, where he served as
Professor and Distinguished Scholar of Sociology. During
his long career at Kenyon, he chaired the Sociology De-
partment, directed the college’s multidisciplinary program
in humane studies, presided over the campus senate, was
president of the college’s faculty, and taught sociology to
thousands of students. Kenyon recognized his decades of
service by awarding him an honorary doctorate of humane
letters in 2013.

Professor Macionis has been active in academic pro-
grams in other countries, having traveled to some fifty na-
tions. He writes, “I am an ambitious traveler, eager to learn
and, through the texts, to share much of what I discover
with students, many of whom know little about the rest
of the world. For me, traveling and writing are all dimen-
sions of teaching. First and foremost, I am a teacher—a
passion for teaching animates everything I do.”

At Kenyon, Macionis taught a number of courses, but
his favorite classes were always Introduction to Sociology
and Social Problems. He continues to enjoy contact with
students across the United States and around the world.

John works every day on his Pearson titles. In his free
time, he enjoys tennis, swimming, hiking, and playing old-
ies rock-and-roll. Macionis is an environmental activist in
the Lake George region of New York’s Adirondack Moun-
tains, working with a number of organizations, including
the Lake George Land Conservancy, where he served for
more than a decade as president of the board of trustees.

JOHN J. MACIONIS [pronounced ma-SHOW-nis] has
been in the classroom teaching sociology for more than
forty years. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsyl-

vania, John earned a bachelor’s degree from Cornell Uni-
versity and a doctorate in sociology from the University of
Pennsylvania.

His publications are wide-ranging, focusing on com-
munity life in the United States, interpersonal intimacy in
families, effective teaching, humor, new information tech-
nology, and the importance of global education.

In addition to authoring this best-seller, Macionis
has also written Society: The Basics, the most popular in-
troductory title in the field, now in its fifteenth edition.
The full-length Macionis introductory title is Sociology,
which is now in its seventeenth edition. He collaborates
on international editions of these titles: Society: The Basics:
Canadian Edition, Sociology: Canadian Edition, and Sociology:
A Global Introduction. All the Macionis titles are available
for high school students and in various foreign-language
editions.

All the texts are now offered in low-cost electronic
editions in the Revel program. These exciting learning ma-
terials encourage students to read and provide an interac-
tive learning experience on a variety of electronic devices.
Unlike other authors, John takes personal responsibility
for writing all electronic content, just as he authors all the
assessment and supplemental materials. John proudly
resists the trend toward outsourcing such material to
non-sociologists.

In addition, Macionis edited the best-selling anthology
Seeing Ourselves: Classic, Contemporary, and Cross-Cultural
Readings in Sociology, also available in a Canadian edition.
Macionis and Vincent Parrillo have written the leading
urban studies text, Cities and Urban Life, currently in a
sixth edition.

Follow John on his Facebook author page, John J.
Macionis, [author page, John J. Macionis, and find the
latest information on all the books. You can also access
downloadable teaching material at his website: www.
macionis.com or www.TheSociologyPage.com. A full suite
of instructor resources is found at the Pearson site: www.
pearsonhighered.com.

In 2002, the American Sociological Association
presented Macionis with the Award for Distinguished
Contributions to Teaching, citing his innovative use of
global material as well as the introduction of new teaching
technology in his textbooks.

About the Author

xxv

2

1.4 Discuss the methods sociologists use to
study social problems.

1.5 Identify factors that shape how societies
devise policy to respond to social problems.

1.6 Analyze how political attitudes shape the
process of constructing social problems and
defining solutions.

1.1 Explain the benefits of learning about
sociology and using the sociological
imagination.

1.2 Define the concept “social problem” and
explain how the people in a society come
to define some issues—and not others—as
social problems.

1.3 Apply sociological theory to the study of
social problems.

Chapter 1

Sociology: Studying Social
Problems

Constructing the Problem

Learning Objectives

W
ill

ia
m

T
ho

m
as

C
ai

n/
S

tr
in

ge
r/

G
et

ty
Im

ag
es

.

A
le

x
W

on
g/

G
et

ty
Im

ag
es

.

C
on

or
C

af
fr

ey
/S

ci
en

ce
S

ou
rc

e.

What turns an issue into a social
problem?

Social problems come into being as
people define an issue as harmful and
in need of change.

Aren’t we always dealing with the
same problems?

Most of today’s problems differ from
those that concerned the public several
generations ago.

Isn’t a social problem any condition
that is harmful?

Many conditions harmful to thousands
of people are never defined as social
problems.

Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems 3

Tracking the Trends

Researchers try to gauge the public’s confidence in the country by asking gen-
eral questions such as this one:

“Do you think the country is on the right track or the wrong track?”

In early 2016, 65 percent of U.S. adults said they thought that the country was
“on the wrong track,” more than twice the share who thought the country was
“going in the right direction.” Back in 2002, just 35 percent of U.S. adults said the
country was on the wrong track. In recent years, dissatisfaction with government
emerged as the most commonly cited social problem in the United States. Polls
taken at the end of 2017 show two-thirds of U.S. adults disapprove of President
Trump’s performance in office—further evidence of widespread dissatisfaction
with the country’s direction. Do you think the country can continue without the
confidence of a majority of the people?

Survey Question: “Do you feel things in this country are
generally going in the right direction or do you feel things

have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track?”

P
er

ce
nt

ag
e

R
es

po
nd

in
g

0%

2002
Year

20142004 2006 2008 2010 2012

100%

90%

80%

70%

60%

50%

40%

30%

20%

10%

2016

“Wrong Track”

“Right Track”

SOURCE: CBS News/New York Times Poll, January 12, 2016.

4 Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems

Chapter Overview
This chapter introduces the study of social problems by defining the sociological
imagination, explaining sociology’s theoretical approaches, and describing the ways
sociologists carry out research. You will learn how people’s political attitudes define
the issues they are likely to view as social problems and what policies they are likely
to favor as solutions. You will gain the ability to describe the political spectrum and to
analyze social issues from various positions on the political spectrum.

Marcos Jorman was already late as he rushed out the
door of his apartment. He ran down the stairs, briefcase
in hand, and crashed through the old wooden door of the
apartment building. He looked north up Chestnut Street.
What luck! The bus was right there, just half a block away!
Catching his breath, Marcos climbed aboard as the bus
pulled out into the heavy traffic. He saw Jan, a neighbor
and co-worker, standing in the rear of the bus.

“I just got a text from Sandra,” Jan blurted out, look-
ing a little desperate. “She says everyone is getting laid
off. We’re all out. The company is shutting down the whole
division and moving operations out of the country.” Her
head dropped along with her spirit. “What am I going to
do? How am I going to manage with my kids?”

Marcos checked his own phone. He, too, had messages—
several from co-workers who had already arrived at work
and confirmed the bad news. “Oh, man, it’s true,” he said
softly. The two stood silently for the rest of the ride.

The day turned out to be one of the toughest in Marcos’s
entire life. He knew the start-up company was struggling
with rising costs and heavy competition. Only two months
earlier, new management had come in to “reorganize” and to
cut costs. The decision to close local operations was the result.

As he entered his workstation, he was handed a short
letter spelling out the dismissal. He joined dozens of others
at a brief meeting with a human relations officer and then
went back to pack up his things. He was home again by
early afternoon.

Marcos sat in his apartment with a cup of tea looking
out the window at nothing in particular. He felt weak, al-
most ill. He kept telling himself that we live in a world full
of risks. He knew the company was in trouble. But, some-
how, he could not shake the idea that the job loss was his
own fault, his own personal failure.

This story could be told millions of times because
millions of people—including those who work in construc-
tion, sales, communications, management, and teaching—
lose their jobs every year.

Seeing Patterns: The
Sociological Imagination
1.1 Explain the benefits of learning about sociology

and using the sociological imagination.

Living in a society that teaches us to feel personally respon-
sible for whatever happens to us—good or bad—we easily
understand Marcos’s reaction to being laid off. We imagine
Marcos second-guessing himself: Should he have majored
in something else? If only he had taken that other job in
Atlanta! If only he had listened to his father and stayed in
school. We all tend to personalize our lives and blame our-
selves for our troubles.

However, when we apply the sociological imagination,
a point of view that highlights how society affects the experiences
we have and the choices we make, the picture changes. Using the
sociological imagination, we see that the operation of U.S.
society—including an economy that makes unemployment
a normal part of doing business—causes the loss of millions
of jobs every year. These losses are far greater in times of eco-
nomic recession. For this reason, losing a job can hardly be
said to be simply a matter of bad personal choices.Fr

an
ck

re
po

rt
er

/E
+/

G
et

ty
Im

ag
es

Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems 5

By helping us to see the world in a new way, the socio-
logical imagination gives us power to bring about change.
But a sociological viewpoint can also be a bit disturbing. A
course in social problems asks us to face the fact that many
people in our communities lose their jobs, become victims of
crime, and go to bed hungry through no fault of their own.
When the economy turns bad, as it did when a recession
began in 2008, tens of millions of people suddenly find that
they are unemployed and many of them may still be out of
work a decade later. In this richest of nations, even during
“good times,” some 45 million people (especially women
and children) are poor. The study of social problems helps
us see these truths more clearly. It also encourages us to play
a part in shaping the future of our nation and the world.

Social Problems: The Basics
1.2 Define the concept “social problem” and explain

how the people in a society come to define some
issues—and not others—as social problems.

A social problem is a condition that undermines the well-being
of some or all members of a society and is usually a matter of
public controversy. In this definition, the term “condition”
refers to any situation that at least some people define as
troublesome, such as not having a job, having huge college
loans, living in fear of crime, being overweight or living in
poor health, or worrying about the effects of toxic chemi-
cals in our drinking water.

Sociology is the systematic study of human societies.
Society refers to people who live within some territory and
share many patterns of behavior. As sociologists study society,
they pay attention to culture, a way of life including wide-
spread values (about what is good and bad), beliefs (about what is
true), and behavior (what people do every day).

Cultural patterns in the United States are diverse,
but one widely shared value is the importance of
individualism, the idea that, for better or worse, people
are responsible for their own lives. In the case of Marcos
Jorman, it is easy to say, “Well, he lost his job because he
decided to sign on with a start-up company in the first
place. He really brought this on himself.” In other words,
our common sense often defines personal problems—even
when the problems affect millions of people—as the result
of personal choice. Without denying that individuals do
make choices, sociologists point to ways in which society
shapes all our lives. Thinking sociologically, we see that
widespread unemployment may be a personal problem
(especially to people who lose their jobs), but it is also a
social issue.

Sociology’s key insight is that many of the personal
troubles people face are really social issues with their roots in
the operation of the larger society. As the U.S. sociologist C.
Wright Mills (1916–1963) explained, using the sociological
imagination helps us “kick it up a level” and see how soci-
ety shapes our personal lives. The Social Policy box takes
a closer look at how sociology can help you do this for
yourself.

SOCIAL POLICY

C. Wright Mills: Turning Personal Troubles into Social Issues
All of us struggle with our own problems, which might include
unemployment, falling into debt, falling out of love, drug or alcohol
abuse, poor health, or suffering from violence. We experience these
problems; we feel them, sometimes on a gut-wrenching level. Our
problems are personal. But C. Wright Mills (1959) claimed that
the roots of such “personal” problems lie in society itself, often
involving the ways our economic and political systems work. After
all, the normal operation of our society favors some categories
of people over others: the rich over the poor, white people over
people of color, middle-aged people over the very young and the
very old. When people see their problems as personal, all they
can do is try to deal with their troubles as one individual. Isolating
one life in this way keeps people from seeing the bigger picture of
how society operates. In the end, as Mills explained, people feel
that “their lives are a series of traps. They sense that within their
everyday worlds, they cannot overcome their troubles” (1959:3).
Because we live in an individualistic culture, we are quick to
conclude that the troubles we experience are simply our own fault.

A more accurate and more effective approach is to
understand that it is society that shapes our lives. The
sociological imagination transforms personal troubles into social
issues by showing us that these issues affect not only us but
also countless people like us. This knowledge gives us power
because, joining with others, we can improve our lives—and
break free of our traps—as we set out to change society.

What Do You Think?
1. Provide three examples of personal problems that Mills

would define as social issues.

2. To what extent do you think people in the United States
believe that problems such as unemployment result from
bad personal choices or even bad luck? Explain.

3. Have you ever taken part in a movement seeking change?
What was the movement trying to achieve? What were your
reasons for joining?

6 Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems

Washington, D.C., and the election of Donald Trump as
president, dissatisfaction with government and political
leadership topped the list in 2017. Of course, concern about
the economy was still with us in 2017, along with fears
about terrorism, immigration, and deep political division
across the nation.

Comparing the two lists in the table, we find three
issues on both: the economy, unemployment, and dissatis-
faction with government. But the other issues are different,
showing that the public’s view of social problems changes
over time. Terrorism, for example, was not a widespread
concern in 1935, although it has become a major issue today.
Sometimes, public opinion shifts dramatically even over
short periods. In the months after the allegations of sexual
assault against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in
2017, women as well as men across the country mobilized
against sexual harassment leading to additional allega-
tions against hundreds of important people and millions
of women breaking their silence as they joined the #MeToo
movement (Chira, 2017; Patel & Miller, 2017).

The Social-Constructionist Approach
The fact that over time, people define different issues as
social problems points to the importance of the social-
constructionist approach, the assertion that social problems
arise as people define conditions as undesirable and in need of
change. This approach states that social problems have a
subjective foundation, reflecting people’s judgments about
their world. For example, the public has yet to include
obesity on the list of serious social problems, even though
health officials say that most adults in the United States are
at risk of poor health because they are overweight. This is
true despite the objective fact that illness brought on by
obesity claims the lives of hundreds of thousands of people
in our country each year, which is many times the num-
ber of people who die as a result of terrorist attacks or the
number of soldiers who were killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Figure 1–1 explains the subjective and objective foun-
dations of social problems. Box A includes issues—such as
homicide—that are objectively very harmful (more than
16,000 people are murdered each year in the United States)
and cause widespread concern (polls show that a major-
ity of U.S. adults worry about gun violence and want the
government to reduce crime) (Pew Research Center, 2016).
Box  B includes issues—such as the use of automobiles—
that, objectively speaking, cause even greater harm (more
than 32,000 people in the United States die each year in auto
accidents), and yet hardly anyone sees these issues as social
problems. Of course, one reason people overlook the high
death toll on our highways is that we can’t imagine our
way of life without automobiles. Box C represents issues—
such as school shootings—that, objectively speaking, cause
relatively limited harm (only a few dozen people have

A condition that “undermines the well-being” hurts
people, either by causing them immediate harm or, per-
haps, by draining their spirit or limiting their choices. For
example, poverty not only deprives people of nutritious
food and safe housing, but it also takes away their dignity,
leaving them passive and powerless.

Because any issue affects various segments of our
population differently, a particular social problem is rarely
harmful to everyone. During the recent recession, some
executives earned huge salaries and bonuses, just as some
corporations (such as Walmart, which sells at very low
prices) actually did pretty well. Even war that brings injury
and death to young soldiers brings wealth to the compa-
nies that make and sell weapons and confers greater power
on the military leaders who head our country’s armed
forces. As a result, the full consequences of any particular
social problem are rarely simple or easy to understand.

Social problems spark public controversy. Sometimes
a social problem (such as the mass shooting in Las Vegas
in 2017) rocks the whole world. In other cases (such as
the spread of the Zika virus in 2016), a small number of
government leaders and public health officials take action,
perhaps by stockpiling vaccine and restricting travel to
areas where infections have been reported (Tavernise, 2016).

Social Problems over Time
What are our country’s most serious social problems? The
answer depends on when you ask the question. As shown
in Table 1–1, the public’s view of problems changes over
time. Back in 1935, a survey of U.S. adults identified the
ten biggest problems facing the country, which we can
compare to a similar survey completed in 2017 (Gallup,
2017). In the mid-1930s, the Great Depression was the
major concern because as much as 25 percent of U.S. adults
were out of work. Not surprisingly, unemployment topped
the list of problems that year. After years of gridlock in

Table 1–1 Serious Social Problems, 1935 and 2017

1935 2017

1. Unemployment and a poor
economy

1. Dissatisfaction with
government/poor leadership

2. Inefficient government 2. Terrorism

3. Danger of war 3. Health care/insurance

4. High taxes 4. Economy in general

5. Government overinvolvement 5. Unemployment/jobs

6. Labor conflict 6. Race relations/racism

7. Poor farm conditions 7. Lack of national unity

8. Inadequate pensions for the
elderly

8. Illegal immigration

9. High concentration of wealth 9. Moral/ethical/family decline

10. Alcohol consumption 10. International problems

SOURCE: Gallup (2017).

Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems 7

died from such incidents, which is actually fewer than the
number of people who die each year from bee stings), but
these issues are widely viewed as horrifying and serious
problems all the same (National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration, 2017; U.S. Department of Justice, 2017).
Finally, Box D includes the use of cell phones, football, and
a host of other activities that are not thought to be harmful
and do not show up on survey listings of “problems.”

Over time, issues may move from one box to another.
In the years after the invention of cell phones in the 1980s,
for example, few people worried about their use even by
those operating motor vehicles. With little evidence that
this practice posed a threat, cell phones belonged in Box D.
More recently, however, studies have reported that the use
of cell phones by people driving automobiles plays some
part in more than 1.6 million accidents a year, claiming
thousands of lives. As the number of deaths linked to cell
phone use increases, this issue will move toward Box  B.
By 2018, as a result of increasing public concern, fifteen
states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois,
Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New
York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and
West Virginia) plus the District of Columbia banned talking
on handheld phones while driving; thirty-eight states have
outlawed cell phone use by new drivers, and forty-seven
states have prohibited texting by anyone behind the wheel.
Before long public opinion could define cell phone use in
cars as a serious problem, moving the issue from Box  B
to Box A (Governors Highway Safety Association, 2017;
National Safety Council, 2017).

Any issue that is not considered a problem now may
be viewed quite differently at some point in the future. For
example, there are few things as American as football, a
game that has gained popularity over recent decades and is
now the most popular sport in the country. In recent years,
however, an increasing number of players and ex-players
have spoken out about possible concussion-related brain
injury called chronic traumatic encephalophy (CTE). The
National Football League has acknowledged that a problem
exists and that efforts are being made to more carefully mon-
itor the well-being of players. Exactly how widespread CTE
is among players remains an open question. The 2015 film
Concussion starring Will Smith raised concern about CTE
among the general public (Siegel, 2015; Kindelan, 2016).
Should this concern over potential injuries increase, football
might well move from Box D to Box C, Box B, or even Box A,
depending on how many people are found to be harmed.

Another change in public opinion involves government
efforts to track people’s movement, telephone calls, and
internet activity. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks,
most people in the United States did not know much about
efforts by the National Security Administration and other
government agencies to identify suspicious behavior on the
part of potential terrorists. When asked about government

Does it objectively
cause serious harm
to thousands of
people?

Is it subjectively considered a
very serious problem?

Yes

Yes

No

No

A
Homicide

C
School

shootings

D
Use of

cell phones

B
Use of

automobiles

Figure 1–1 The Objective and Subjective
Assessment of Social Issues

This figure shows that some issues (such as homicide) are both
objectively harmful and widely seen as problems. But many issues
that are objectively harmful (the use of automobiles results in more
than 32,000 deaths each year) are not perceived as serious social
problems. Likewise, some issues that are viewed as serious social
problems (school shootings, for example) may be tragic but they
actually harm relatively few people. Many other issues (such as using
cell phones or playing football) are not viewed by most people as
harmful, although this may change at some point in the future.

tracking of individuals, most people offered the opinion
that this was good and necessary. There was little public
awareness of how government can use computer technol-
ogy to threaten personal privacy (Scherer, 2013). As a result,
the government’s use of computer technology fell in Box D.
In recent years, revelations about the extent of government
monitoring of people’s movement and communication
have convinced an increasing share of the public that this
issue poses a real danger to the personal freedom of every-
one. For this reason, this issue appears to be moving to Box
B. Perhaps, at some point in the future, most people will
consider government monitoring of the public to be a seri-
ous social problem, placing the issue in Box A.

Recognizing that the subjective and objective impor-
tance of social issues may differ opens the door for a
deeper understanding of social change. Consider this curi-
ous pattern: A century ago, it was objectively true that the
social standing of women was far below that of men. In
1900, nine out of ten adult men worked for income, and
nine out of ten adult women remained in the home doing
housework and raising children. Women didn’t even have
the right to vote.

Although some people condemned what they saw as
blatant inequality, most people did not define this situation
as a problem. Why not? Most people believed that because
women and men have some obvious biological differences,
the two sexes must have different abilities. Thinking this
way, it seemed natural for men to go out to earn a liv-
ing while women—who were thought back then to be
the “weaker sex”—stayed behind to manage the home.

8 Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems

A much greater threat to the public than any terror-
ism is gun violence. For years, more than 30,000 deaths
due to gun violence (including murder, suicide, and acci-
dents) have occurred annually, which is about 100 deaths
every day. And for years, few people defined gun violence
as a social problem. In the 2017 listing of the most serious
social problems in the United States, gun violence is not to
be found.

The point is that much public concern is directed
against immigrants, the vast majority of whom pose very
little danger to anyone; far less public concern is directed
against far-right extremists who pose far greater danger.
Even more significant, gun violence involving tens of
thousands of deaths each year has long been ignored and
has only recently gained widespread public attention. Put
another way, someone in the United States is 5,000 times
more likely to be killed by gun violence than by a jihadist
terrorist. Subjective fear does not necessarily reflect objec-
tive facts (Kristof, 2015; Bergen, 2016; Blinder & Victor, 2018).

Claims Making
For gun violence to be defined as a serious social problem,
more of the political leadership in the United States—
starting with the president—will have to stand up to
special interests and recognize the harm involved.

Claims making refers to efforts by officials, individuals,
and organizations to convince others that a particular issue or sit-
uation should be defined as a social problem. This process begins
by rejecting the status quo (Latin words meaning “the situa-
tion as it is”) and calling for change. Put another way, claims
making creates controversy by defining the existing situation
as unacceptable. The process continues as people explain
exactly what changes are needed and why they are needed.

Claims making is illustrated in the history of another
issue that has been with us for almost forty years. Back
in 1981, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
first received reports of a strange disease that was killing
people. The victims were mostly homosexual men. The
disease came to be known as “acquired immune deficiency
syndrome” (AIDS). For several years, even as the numbers
of cases in the United States climbed into the thousands,
AIDS received limited media coverage and there was little
public outcry. By 1985, however, the public as a whole had
become concerned about the danger of AIDS, and this dis-
ease was defined as a serious social problem.

What brought about this change? For any condition
to be defined as a social problem, people—usually a small
number at first—make claims that the situation is unac-
ceptable and that change is needed. In the case of AIDS,
medical officials first sounded the alarm, and the gay com-
munities in large cities (notably San Francisco and New
York) mobilized to spread information about the dangers
posed by this deadly disease.

Objectively, gender inequality was huge; subjectively,
however, it was rarely defined as a social problem.

Today, women and men are far closer to being socially
equal than they were in 1900. Yet awareness of a “gender
problem” in the United States has actually become greater.
Why? Our cultural standards have changed, to the point that
people now see the two sexes as mostly the same, and so we
expect women and men to be socially equal. As a result, we
view even small instances of gender inequality as a problem.

Would anyone doubt that sexual violence was a bigger
problem in 1900 than it is today? The norms of the time—
and, in many cases, the laws as well—made husbands’ use
of physical discipline against wives either “acceptable”
or a “private matter” to be resolved within a household.
Today, despite a decline in sexual assault and the fact that
such behavior is now widely condemned and everywhere
against the law, public concern is greater than ever. Just con-
sider how many millions of women and men have signed
on in support of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.

When we investigate social issues, it is important to
consider both objective facts and subjective perceptions.
Both factors play a part in the social construction of social
problems.

What powerful people say about issues can have big
consequences for public opinion. In 2016, for the first time,
immigration showed up on the public’s list of the most seri-
ous social problems. To some extent, this concern reflects
the fact that thousands of people cross the southern U.S.
border illegally each year. But much of the concern reflects
fear that immigrants from the Middle East might engage in
terror. After his election in 2016, President Donald Trump
fanned these fears and called for “building a wall” and
enacted a “travel ban” barring people from a number of
mostly Muslim countries from entering the United States
until the government could ensure that no would-be jihad-
ists were admitted (Suleiman, 2018).

Does this subjective fear square with the objective
facts? The truth is that, since the 9/11 attacks in 2001, some
390 people have been charged with crimes relating to jihad-
ist terrorism, but nine in ten of these people have been
U.S. citizens or people who have permanent legal resi-
dency (green cards). An isolated case of a recent immigrant
engaging in deadly jihadist terrorism is Tashfeen Malik
(a legal U.S. resident) who, along with her husband Syed
Rizwan Farook (a natural-born U.S. citizen), killed fourteen
people in a 2015 terror attack in San Bernardino, California.

Almost all terrorism that takes place in the United
States is “home grown” and is not the work of immi-
grants. In addition, the number of people killed by right-
wing extremists (who strike out against the power of the
U.S. government) is also high. But while fears of jihadist
terrorism have figured into national political debate (espe-
cially on the part of Republicans), far-right terrorism is not
widely viewed as a social problem.

Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems 9

the shooting death of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin,
an activist in California posted a statement that “black lives
matter.” Another activist transformed these words into the
hashtag #blacklivesmatter, and this claim suddenly spread
across the country, sparking a social movement. By 2018, in
response to the deaths of African Americans at the hands
of police, the phrase “black lives matter” was tweeted
some 50 million times.

In other cases, the process of claims making may
result in change only after many years. As noted earlier,
although experts estimate that talking on handheld cell
phones while driving causes hundreds of deaths every
year, only fifteen states have passed laws banning this
practice (Governors Highway Safety Association, 2017).
The people of Flint, Michigan, spoke out for several years
before public officials began to respond. Individual women
have complained about sexual harassment and assault for
decades before, helped by the power of social media, they
succeeded in defining this issue as a serious social problem
in 2017.

As the process of claims making gains public atten-
tion, it is likely to prompt counterclaims from opponents.
In other words, most controversial issues involve claims
making from at least two different positions. Take the
abortion controversy, for example. One side of the debate
claims that abortion is the wrongful killing of unborn
babies. The other side claims that abortion is a woman’s
right, a reproductive choice that should be made only
by the woman herself. Politics—how power plays out in
a society—is a process built around claims and counter-
claims about what should and should not be defined as
social problems.

How do we know when claims making brings about
change? The people of Flint will know they have been
heard when scientists confirm that their water is safe. In

Of course, public officials and powerful individuals
often engage in the “loudest” claims making. We can see
this process today with increasing attention given to the
opioid epidemic of government officials. But ordinary peo-
ple can make claims more powerful by joining their voices.
In 2016, people in the city of Flint, Michigan, began to
come together and speak out about the dirty-looking and
foul-tasting tap water that was coming into their homes
from the city water supply. Scientists at a university labora-
tory were engaged and confirmed the presence of danger-
ously high levels of lead in the city’s water (Smith, 2016).

Social media have greatly increased the potential
impact of claims making. Along with television, radio,
and newspapers, our computers and smart phones quickly
spread information to tens of millions of people who can
join together in groups actively seeking change. Stories in
the mass media about the dangers of tap water in Flint,
Michigan, as well as the use of social media by the pub-
lic, not only elevated this situation into a major problem
that led to criminal charges against public officials but also
alerted people in other cities to the risk of water contam-
ination. In the last year, social media have been responsi-
ble for fueling the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements in
opposition to sexual harassment and assault.

In general, the greater the media coverage of a topic and
the more media stories argue for change, the more likely the
issue in question is to develop into a social problem. Media
outlets devote far more attention to tornados than they do
to a disease like asthma. Perhaps this is why the public per-
ceives tornados as more serious despite the fact that such
storms kill several dozen people a year while the death toll
from asthma runs well into the thousands (Pinker, 2018).

In an age when social media connect people as never
before, success in claims making can occur quickly. In 2013,
shortly after a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman in

Claims making is the process of defin-
ing certain issues as social problems.
In 2017, sexual harassment rose to the
level of a national problem as a result of
the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements
that carry forward the message that
women would no longer remain silent
about the experience of sexual abuse.

Sundry Photography/ Shutterstock.

10 Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems

Problems and Social Movements
The process of claims making almost always involves the
deliberate efforts of many people working together. A
social movement is an organized effort at claims making that
tries to shape the way people think about an issue in order to
encourage or discourage social change. Over the past several
decades, social movements have played a key part in the
construction of numerous social problems, including the
AIDS epidemic, family violence, the debate over a national
health insurance program, and sexual harassment.

Stages in Social Movements Typically, social move-
ments progress through four distinct stages, shown in
Figure 1–2, in the effort to define a condition as a social
problem (Blumer, 1969; Mauss, 1975; Tilly, 1978):

1. Emergence. The emergence of a movement occurs
when people (initially just a few) come together shar-
ing their concern about the status quo and begin to
make claims about the need for change. In 2011, for
example, a group of activists proposed a gathering of
people in New York City’s Zuccotti Park, and this ef-
fort launched the Occupy Wall Street movement. The
protestors drew attention to increasing economic in-
equality, corporate greed, and the great influence that
large businesses (especially those on Wall Street) have
on the U.S. system of government.

2. Coalescence. The coalescence of a movement occurs as
a new organization begins holding rallies and demon-
strations, making public its beliefs, and engaging in
political lobbying. After the initial “encampment”
in the Wall Street area of New York, similar protests
spread to dozens of other cities across the country and
in other nations. The mass media began to discuss the
claims made by the Occupy movement.

3. Formalization. Social movements become formalized
as they become established players on the political
scene. Although social movements usually begin with
only volunteers, at this stage the organization is likely
to include a trained and salaried staff. The Occupy
movement has attracted many volunteers and has de-
veloped a strong presence on Facebook and other social

many other cases, success in claims making is marked by
the passing of a law. Enacting a law is a clear statement that
some behavior is now defined as wrong, and the power of
government will be used to enforce it. In recent decades,
the passage of laws against stalking and sexual harass-
ment have clearly defined these behaviors as problems and
directed the criminal justice system to act against offenders
(Welch, Dawson, & Nierobisz, 2002).

One important dimension of claims making is the delib-
erate use of language. Consider the case of the Affordable
Care Act, enacted in 2010. Under this law, health insurance
companies could no longer refuse insurance to someone
who was already sick. Opponents of the law character-
ized this policy as “socializing” risk, meaning that the law
forces other people to subsidize the cost of the sick individ-
ual’s insurance. The word “socializing” (which sounds a
lot like “socialism”) suggests that this policy is outside this
country’s tradition of people taking personal responsibil-
ity for their own health and insurance. On the other hand,
supporters of the health care law praised an end to what
they called “discrimination against those with preexisting
conditions.” The use of the word “discrimination” implies
that such refusal is unjust and a violation of people’s basic
rights. In the same way, young people brought to the coun-
try without documentation are described as “Dreamers”
by those who support their right to stay and as “illegals”
by those who oppose their presence.

The same careful use of language applies to debates
about how to solve problems. In general, advocates choose
language that makes their policy seem reasonable and nec-
essary; by contrast, opponents describe the same policy in
language that makes it seem unreasonable and perhaps
even dangerous. In 2013, for example, Chicago mayor
Rahm Emanuel tried to address his city’s budget crisis by
closing some public schools and moving their students to
other, nearby schools. Supporters cheered what they saw as
a responsible and necessary step toward a balanced budget.
Opponents, alarmed at the thought of children having to
walk through unfamiliar neighborhoods that might have
gang activity, condemned the mayor’s policy as “killing our
children” (Rogers, 2013). In short, people on both sides of
any issue use language to spin claims in one way or another.

Emergence
(Initial claims are made)

Coalescence
(Claims are publicized)

Formalization
(Claims are recognized
as part of political debate)

Decline
(Public interest in
claims goes down)

Figure 1–2 Four Stages in the Life Course of a Social Movement

Social movements typically pass through these four stages over time. How quickly this process
unfolds varies from movement to movement.

Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems 11

salary policies, and government tax policies that dis-
tribute income more and more unequally. In the same
way, the loss of industrial production in the United
States means that millions of people are finding only
low-paying jobs or no jobs at all. In other words, prob-
lems such as income inequality and unemployment
have their roots in the way our economic and politi-
cal systems operate. For this reason, correcting social
problems requires change to society itself.

2. Social problems are not caused by bad people. This is
the flip side of the first assertion. Especially when some
individual harms a lot of innocent people—as when
Bernard Madoff swindled investors out of $65 billion
or when Stephen Paddock shot and killed fifty-eight
people attending a Las Vegas concert—we think of the
problem in terms of bad actions by evil people. The law
holds us as individuals accountable for our actions.

But, in general, pointing to “bad people” does little
to explain social problems. It is true that some people
commit serious crimes that hurt others. But whether
the crime rate is high or low depends not on individu-
als but on how society itself is organized. As Chapter 7
(“Crime, Violence, and the Criminal Justice System”)
explains, how many police we hire, how many pris-
ons we build, whether the economy is strong or not,
and whether all categories of people have access to
good jobs or not will go a long way toward explaining
whether the crime rate is low or high. In the same way,
the policies toward firearms that we adopt have a lot
to do with the amount of deadly violence we endure.

3. Problems are socially constructed as people define
a condition as harmful and in need of change.
Whatever the objective facts of any situation, people
must come to see the condition as a serious social
problem. Claims making is the process of defining a
condition as a social problem.

4. People see problems differently. Some issues, such as
the high unemployment rate during the recent recession,
are widely regarded as serious problems. But most is-
sues are matters of controversy. For example, the Obama
administration created the Affordable Care Act (ACA),
which supporters see as a needed step toward the goal of
providing everyone with health insurance. Opponents
of this law, including leadership in the Trump admin-
istration, claim that government is inefficient, so giving
government greater control over health care is likely to
make care less affordable and reduce people’s range of
choices about their care. As this example suggests, one
person’s “solution” may be another person’s “problem.”

5. Definitions of problems change over time. The pub-
lic’s views on what constitutes a serious problem
change as time goes on. A century ago, the United
States was a much poorer nation where no one was

media. By 2014, however, Occupy was not as prominent
as it had been years before, and it now seems clear that
it never did develop the level of formalization needed
to remain a part of the political scene. But the message
of the movement has certainly been adopted by the
Democratic Party, and the issue of economic inequal-
ity was widely discussed during the 2016 presidential
election, especially by candidate Bernie Sanders.

4. Decline. Becoming established is no guarantee of con-
tinuing success. Social movements may decline because
they run out of money, because their claims fail to catch
on with the public, or because opposing movements are
more convincing. Sometimes, the powers that be simply
have the clout to crush a social movement that threatens
the status quo. The legacy of the Occupy movement will
depend on whether the trend toward income inequality
continues as well as on the share of our population that
is willing to become invested in change, as indicated by
the extent to which the Democratic Party embraces the
goal of reducing economic inequality.

At the same time, a movement can decline simply
because it is successful. If enough people demand greater
economic equality, and changes to our economic and polit-
ical systems are made, movements such as Occupy Wall
Street may no longer be necessary. Even when organiza-
tions succeed in reaching an initial goal, however, they
may adopt new goals so that they continue to operate. The
feminist movement began with the goal of getting women
the right to vote and moved on to improving the stand-
ing of women in the workplace and in the home. More
recently, MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) shifted
its attention from combating drunken driving to the goal of
opposing another movement that seeks to lower the drink-
ing age from twenty-one to eighteen.

Social Problems: Eight Assertions
To conclude this section of the chapter, the following eight
assertions describe how sociologists approach social prob-
lems. These statements sum up much of what has already
been presented in this chapter, and they form the founda-
tion for everything that follows.

1. Social problems result from the ways in which
society operates. Society shapes the lives of each and
every one of us. Because U.S. culture stresses individu-
alism, we tend to think that people are responsible for
their own lives. As C. Wright Mills (1959) pointed out,
however, a sociological perspective shows us that so-
cial problems are caused less by personal failings than
by the operation of society itself. For example, the in-
creasing income inequality in the United States results
not from the fact that some people are working harder
than others but from our economic system, corporate

12 Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems

problems for some people are advantageous to others,
and sometimes those who benefit are powerful enough
to slow the pace of change or to prevent change entirely.

The driving force behind the ACA was the fact
that the United States was and remains the only in-
dustrial nation without a tax-funded system that helps
pay for everyone’s medical care. When Congress en-
acted this new system, 33 million people still lacked
health insurance, largely due to strong political oppo-
sition to universal health care (especially a system that
is entirely government funded) and lobbying by orga-
nizations representing physicians and insurance com-
panies. During its first year, the Trump administration
made several failed attempts to repeal the ACA.

Even problems that everyone wants to solve
sometimes defy solution. For instance, almost every-
body hopes researchers find a cure for AIDS. But, de-
spite advances that make “living with AIDS” a reality,
the research breakthrough that finally cures this dis-
ease may lie years in the future.

8. Various social problems are related. Because social
problems are rooted in the operation of society, many
social problems are related to one another. This means
that addressing one problem—say, reducing the num-
ber of children growing up in poverty—may in turn
help solve other problems, such as the high rate of
high school dropouts, drug abuse, and crime.

It is also true that solving one problem may create a
new problem that we did not expect. For example, the in-
vention of the automobile in the late 1800s helped people
move about more quickly and easily, but as decades went
by, automobiles were polluting the air and causing tens
of thousands of traffic deaths every year (32,166 in 2015).

surprised to find many rural people living in shacks
and many city people living on the streets. But as living
standards rose, members of our society began to think
of safe housing as a basic right, and so bad housing and
homelessness emerged as social problems. Going in
the other direction, some “problems” of the past have
largely gone away because people no longer think of
them as problems. For example, sixty years ago, inter-
racial marriage was looked down upon and was actu-
ally illegal in many places; such marriages, however,
are now widely accepted and are legal everywhere in
the country.

6. Problems involve subjective values as well as objec-
tive facts. Today, about one-third of people who have
ever been married have also divorced. But does this
mean that there is a “divorce problem”? Facts are im-
portant, but so are subjective perceptions about any
issue. People who value traditional families are likely to
view a high divorce rate as a serious problem. But oth-
ers who think family life can limit individual opportu-
nities, especially those of women, are likely to disagree.

7. Many—but not all—social problems can be solved.
One good reason to study social problems is to improve
society. Sociologists believe that many social problems
can be effectively addressed, if not eliminated entirely.
Back in 1960, for example, 35 percent of elderly men
and women in the United States lived below the pov-
erty line. Since then, rising Social Security benefits and
better employer pensions have reduced the poverty
rate to about 9.3 percent of all seniors, which is less
than one-third of what it used to be.

But sociologists do not expect that every social prob-
lem will be solved. As already noted, situations that are

Compared with women fifty years ago, women today are much more equal to men in terms of rights
and opportunities. Actress Emma Stone, for example, makes as much money for a film as her male
costars. Yet today’s women are more likely to see gender inequality as a problem. Can you explain
this apparent contradiction?

D
Fr

ee
/S

hu
tt

er
st

oc
k

Th
e

A
dv

er
tis

in
g

A
rc

hi
ve

s/
A

la
m

y
S

to
ck

P
ho

to
.

Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems 13

Guatemala, three children is the norm. In the poorest
nations, the number goes even higher: In Ethiopia, four
children is common; in Nigeria, it’s five; and in Somalia,
it’s more than six.

Analyzing Social Problems:
Sociological Theory
1.3 Apply sociological theory to the study of social

problems.

Sociologists weave various facts into meaning using
theory, a statement of how and why specific facts are related.
Building a theory, in turn, depends on a theoretical
approach, a basic image of society that guides theory and
research. Using a particular theoretical approach leads
sociologists to ask certain questions. The following sec-
tions present the discipline’s most widely used theoretical
models: the structural-functional, social-conflict, feminist,
and symbolic-interaction approaches.

The Structural-Functional Approach
The structural-functional approach is a theoretical framework
that sees society as a system of many interrelated parts. Sociologists
describe the main parts of this system as social institutions,

Together, these eight assertions form a sociological
understanding of social problems. We now turn to another
important idea: Addressing many social problems requires
the use of a global perspective.

Social Problems: A Global Perspective
Many beginning students of sociology find it hard to imagine
just how serious problems such as poverty and hunger are
in the poorest regions of the world. To help you understand
the seriousness of global problems, the Social Problems in
Global Perspective box describes patterns of inequality in a
world represented by a village of 1,000 people.

Adopting a global perspective also shows us that
some social problems cross national boundaries. For exam-
ple, Chapter 16 (“Population and Global Inequality”)
explains that Earth’s increasing human population threat-
ens the well-being of everyone on the planet. Chapter 17
(“Technology and the Environment”) offers another example,
showing how people living in rich countries are consuming
the planet’s resources very quickly and, as they use up these
resources, they are polluting the planet’s air and water.

Finally, a global perspective shows that many dimen-
sions of life—and many of life’s challenges—may be quite
different elsewhere. Global Map 1–1 shows us that in rich
countries such as the United States, the typical woman
has one or two children. But in a poorer country such as

SOCIAL PROBLEMS IN GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE

The Global Village: Problems around the World
To see just how desperate the lives of many of the world’s 7.6
billion people really are, imagine the entire planet reduced to
the size of a “global village” of 1,000 people. The global village
contains 599 Asians (including 187 citizens of the People’s
Republic of China), 160 Africans, 101 Europeans, 86 Latin
Americans, 5 residents of Australia and the South Pacific, and
49 North Americans, 44 of them from the United States.

The village is a very rich place with a vast array of goods
and services. Yet anything beyond the basics is too expensive
for almost everyone. This is because of economic inequality: The
richest 1 percent of all villagers—the ten richest people—earn 15
percent of all income, and the richest 100 villagers (10 percent)
earn about half of all the income. By contrast, the worst-off 200
villagers (20 percent) earn just 2 percent of all income. These
people are hungry every day and even lack safe drinking water.
Because of their deprivation, the poorest villagers have little
energy to work and fall victim to life-threatening diseases (Ortiz &
Cummins, 2011; Milanovic, 2016).

Villagers boast of their fine schools, yet only 67 people (6.7
percent) have a college degree, and 137 of the village’s adult
population (13.7 percent or one in seven) cannot read or write.

Many troubling issues such as health, illiteracy, and
poverty are much worse elsewhere in the world than in a rich
nation such as the United States. In fact, 15 percent of the
world’s people live on less than $2 a day—a standard of living
far below what we in the United States consider “poor.” This
harsh reality of suffering—detailed in Chapter 16 (“Population
and Global Inequality”)— is one good reason to take a global
perspective in our study of social problems (Milanovic, 2016;
Population Reference Bureau, 2017; UNESCO, 2017; World
Bank, 2017).

What Do You Think?
1. Do any of the facts presented in this box surprise you?

Which ones? Why?

2. As a person living in a rich nation, do you think you have a
responsibility to help solve problems in poor nations? Why
or why not?

3. Can you see ways that you, personally, benefit from the
economic inequality of our world? Can you point to ways
that you are harmed by inequality? Explain.

14 Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems

were quick to assume that pathologies must be caused
by bad or weak people. The English sociologist Herbert
Spencer (1820–1903) made the claim that the problem of
poverty was the result of some people lacking the ability
and personal discipline to work. Spencer based his think-
ing on the ideas of the biologist Charles Darwin, who
published a groundbreaking theory of evolution in 1859.
Spencer’s “social Darwinism” viewed the rich as society’s
most successful members and the poor as those who could
not keep up. To Spencer, the harsh competition of the mar-
ketplace was good for society because it guaranteed, as he
put it, the “survival of the fittest.” For this reason, Spencer
opposed social welfare programs as harmful to society
because they transfer wealth from the people he consid-
ered the most able to the ones he regarded as the weakest.

There is no surprise in the fact that Spencer’s ideas
were very popular among the rich industrialist owners of
his day. But sociologists gradually turned against Spencer
because there is no scientific evidence that the rich and pow-
erful are any more worthy than others or that a competitive

major spheres of social life, or societal subsystems, organized to meet
a basic human need. For example, the structural-functional
approach might explore how the family is a system to ensure
the care and raising of children, how schools provide young
people with the skills they need for adult life, how the econ-
omy produces and distributes material goods, how the
political system sets national goals and priorities, and how
religion gives our lives purpose and meaning.

Early Functional Theory: Problems as Social Pathology
A century ago, the structural-functional approach stud-
ied society as if it were a living organism. This view led to
social pathology theory, a model that treats social problems
as a disruption in society’s normal operation, in the same
way that a disease upsets the operation of the human body.
Crime, truancy, and premarital sex were all seen as pathol-
ogies (from a Greek word meaning “disease”) that threat-
ened the health of society.

What caused society to break down? Because early
functionalists viewed society as good and healthy, many

Average Number of
Births per Woman

6.0 and higher

5.0 to 5.9

4.0 to 4.9

3.0 to 3.9

2.0 to 2.9

1.0 to 1.9

Cindy Rucker, 29 years old, recently
took time off from her job in the
New Orleans public school system
to have her first child.

Although she is only 28 years old,
Baktnizar Kahn has four children,
a common pattern in Afghanistan.

Area of inset

ANTARCTICA

TUVALU

SAMOA

FIJI

TONGA

NEW
ZEALAND

SOLOMON
ISLANDS

VANUATU

PALAU

KIRIBATI

MARSHALL
ISLANDS

FEDERATED STATES
OF MICRONESIA

NAURU

BRUNEISRI
LANKA

PHILIPPINES

MAURITIUS

LESOTHO
SWAZILAND

MOZAMBIQUE

MALDIVES

SEYCHELLES

COMOROS

SAO TOME & PRINCIPE

REP. OF THE CONGO

EQ. GUINEACÔTE D’IVOIRE
TOGO

GAMBIA
GUINEA-BISSAU

GUINEA
SIERRA LEONE

LIBERIA

CAPE
VERDE

ST. VINCENT & THE GRENADINES

BAHAMAS

TRINIDAD & TOBAGO

ANTIGUA & BARBUDA
DOMINICA

ST. LUCIA
BARBADOSGRENADA

GUYANA

CHILE

ECUADOR

URUGUAY

HAITIJAMAICA

NICARAGUA

CUBA

DOM. REP.

GUATEMALA
EL SALVADOR

BELIZE

HONDURAS

COSTA RICA
PANAMA

U.S.
ST. KITTS & NEVIS

SOUTH
AFRICA

BOTSWANA

EGYPT
LIBYAALGERIA

Macao

New
Caledonia

(Fr.)

TaiwanPuerto Rico (U.S.)

French Guiana
(Fr.)

Martinique (Fr.)

ZAMBIA

GABON

DJIBOUTI

NIGERMALI

NIGERIA

DEM. REP.
OF THE
CONGO

SUDANCHAD

KENYA

BENIN

MADAGASCAR

MAURITANIA

SENEGAL

SOMALIA

BURUNDI

TANZANIA

NAMIBIA ZIMBABWE

ANGOLA MALAWI

UGANDA
RWANDA

CAM.

CENT.
AFR. REP.

ETHIOPIAS.
SUDAN

YEMENERITREA

BURKINA
FASO

GHANA

IRAQ

RUSSIA

SURINAME

PARAGUAY

ARGENTINA

PERU

COLOMBIA

BOLIVIA

VENEZUELA

BRAZIL

OMAN

IRAN

INDIA

BANGLADESH

KUWAIT

SAUDI
ARABIA

MOROCCO

U.A.E.

JORDAN BAHRAIN
QATAR

ISRAEL
LEBANON SYRIA

AZERBAIJAN
ARMENIA

TUNISIA

West Bank

KYRGYZSTAN
TAJIKISTAN

UNITED
STATES

CANADA

GEORGIA KAZAKHSTAN

UZBEKISTAN

TURKMENISTAN

PAKISTAN

Greenland
(Den.)

JAPAN

NORTH
KOREA
SOUTH
KOREA

I N D O N E S I A

BHUTAN
NEPAL

MYANMAR
(BURMA)

Hong
Kong

VIETNAM

LAOS

THAILAND

CAMBODIA

MALAYSIA
SINGAPORE

PAPUA
NEW GUINEA

TIMOR-LESTE

MEXICO

AFGHANISTAN

U.S.

AUSTRALIA

CHINA

RUSSIA

MONGOLIA

Western Sahara
(Mor.)

SPAIN

ANDORRA

NORWAY

IRELAND

UNITED
KINGDOM

DENMARK

POLANDGERMANY
NETH.

BEL.

LUX.
AUS.

CZECH
REP.

SWITZ.

ITALY

FRANCE SLO.
CROATIA

BOS. & HERZ.

FINLANDSWEDEN

ROMANIA
HUNG.

SERBIA

SLVK.
UKRAINE

MOLDOVA

BELARUS

ALB.

BULGARIA
MAC.

GREECE

MONT.
KOS.

PORTUGAL

ESTONIA

LATVIA
LITHUANIA

ICELAND

Global Map 1–1 Women’s Childbearing in Global Perspective

How people live and the challenges they face differ dramatically around the world. If you are a
woman living in a high-income nation, the chances are that you will have one or two children during
your lifetime. But had you been born in one of the low-income nations of Africa, four, five, or even
six children would be the rule. Can you point to several reasons for this global disparity?

SOURCE: Population Reference Bureau (2017).

Window on the World

Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems 15

on various forms of sexual violence that promises to produce
some lasting changes for the better.

EVALUATE

Although the structural-functional approach has been influen-
tial for more than a century, its importance has declined in recent
decades. For one thing, many of today’s sociologists have a
renewed interest in activism and shy away from a “hands-off”
approach that they think defends the status quo. For another, by
viewing society as a smoothly functioning system, the structural-
functional approach pays little attention to social divisions based
on race, class, and gender. Since the 1960s, more attention has
been paid to a second theoretical framework: the social-conflict
approach.

CHECK YOUR LEARNING In a sentence, how does the
structural-functional approach view society? How has this approach
explained social problems in terms of social pathology, social disor-
ganization, and social dysfunction?

The Social-Conflict Approach
The social-conflict approach is a theoretical framework that
sees society as divided by inequality and conflict. In general,
conflict theories claim that social problems arise from the
division of our society into “haves” and “have-nots.”

Marxist Theory: Problems and Class Conflict Marxist
theory, sometimes called “class conflict theory,” is an
explanation of social problems guided by Karl Marx’s the-
ory of class struggle. Marx (1818–1883), a German-born
thinker and social activist, was amazed by how much the
new industrial factories could produce. Yet Marx criticized
society for concentrating most of this wealth in the hands

economy benefits everyone. Social Darwinism has little
support among sociologists today. But understanding this
approach is important if only because lots of people, includ-
ing some of our political leaders, still think this way.

The Chicago School: Problems as Disorganization A
second type of structural-functional theory—often called the
“Chicago School” because it originated at the University of
Chicago, home of the first sociology department in the United
States—linked problems not to deficient people but to social
“disorganization” (Park & Burgess, 1970, orig. 1921). Social
disorganization theory holds that problems arise when society
breaks down due to social change that occurs too rapidly.

A century ago, evidence of disorganization was easy
to find as industrial cities grew rapidly with the arrival of
millions of immigrants. Many saw traditional family pat-
terns and long-held attitudes breaking down. Schools were
filled to overflowing, there was not enough housing for
everyone, and crime seemed to be rising out of control.

In response to such problems, many Chicago sociolo-
gists in the 1920s and 1930s became active reformers. They
supported local settlement houses, set up programs to
teach English to immigrants, and in a few cases even ran
for public office (Faris, 1967).

More Recent Functionalism: Problems as Dysfunctions
By about 1950, the structural-functional approach had
changed its emphasis from activism to scientific analysis.
Sociologists then began to study the positive functions (or
“eufunctions”) of patterns like sports; they identified both
functions that are intended and widely recognized (the
“manifest functions”) as well as others that are unintended
and less well known (called “latent functions”). A manifest
function of sports is improving phys-
ical fitness; a latent function of sports
is strengthening the cultural values of
individual effort and personal achieve-
ment. Sociologists noted that social
patterns also have negative functions
(called “dysfunctions”). For example,
one important dysfunction of sports on
many campuses is leaving college ath-
letes with little time for their studies.
From this point of view, social problems
can be thought of as the dysfunctions of
various social patterns.

These sociologists also pointed out
that just as “good” things such as sports
can have some bad consequences, “bad”
things such as sexual assault can some-
times do some good for society as a
whole. For example, the many incidents
of sexual harassment and assault have
greatly harmed many women, but in
2017 they also sparked a national debate

The structural-functional approach points to the contribution young people working in
factories in Indonesia make to their families’ income. The social-conflict approach provides
a different insight: Many of the products popular in the United States are made by young
people in sweatshops that pay pennies an hour to workers.

D
ea

n
C

on
ge

r/
C

or
bi

s
H

is
to

ric
al

/G
et

ty
Im

ag
es

.

16 Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems

Inequality”) points out, white people continue to enjoy
privileges based on race, and racial and ethnic minorities
remain disadvantaged and at higher risk of poverty, poor
health, street violence, and numerous other social problems.
In addition, racial and ethnic prejudice is great enough on
the part of some people that they see the very presence of
minorities in their communities as a social problem.

EVALUATE

Offering a striking contrast to the structural-functional view of society
as a well-integrated system, various social-conflict approaches now
dominate the study of social problems. But taking a social-conflict
approach also has limitations.

Critics fault this approach for overstating the extent of social divi-
sions. They point out that, because of the general pattern of upward
social mobility over the past century, few members of our society today
show interest in the type of revolution advocated by Marx. Although
there is still much to be done, progress has been real: Over the past
century, living standards have risen and African Americans and other
minorities have far more opportunities than they did in the past.

A second criticism is that social-conflict analysis rejects scien-
tific objectivity in favor of political activism, which calls into question
the truth of some of its claims. Marxists and multiculturalists con-
cede that their work is political, but as they see it, so is any theo-
retical approach, including structural-functionalism. They add that
functionalism escapes the criticism of being biased only because it
supports the status quo.

CHECK YOUR LEARNING In a sentence, how does the social-
conflict approach view society? Explain what Marxist theory and
multicultural theory identify as the causes of social problems.

The Feminist Approach
The feminist approach, also called the “gender-conflict”
approach, is another type of social-conflict approach in
sociology. Because of its increasing importance to sociolo-
gists, this approach is appropriately treated on its own terms.

Feminism is a political movement that seeks the social
equality of women and men. Feminists claim that women
suffer more from poverty and many other social problems
because society places men in positions of power over
women. Gender-conflict theory explains social problems in
terms of men’s dominance over women.

Chapter 4 (“Gender Inequality”) points out that
although the social standing of women and men has
become more equal during the past century, women work-
ing full time still earn just 80.5 percent as much as men
do (Semega et al., 2017). In recent decades, an increasing
share of the poor is made up of women (especially single
women) and their children. Just as important, working
women remain concentrated in a number of low-paying
jobs, and from childhood to old age, women are subject
to everyday disadvantages—from subtle prejudice to out-
right violence—at the hands of men.

of a few. How, he wondered, could a society so rich contain
so many people who were so poor?

Marx devoted his life to analyzing capitalism, an eco-
nomic system in which businesses are privately owned by
people called “capitalists” who operate them for profit. To
Marx, social problems are the inevitable result of the normal
operation of a capitalist economy. The industrial technology
of modern societies produces enough to meet everyone’s
needs; modern society therefore has the productive capacity
to end human suffering. Yet, Marx observed, allowing this
technology to operate under a capitalist economy means
that this bounty will be distributed to only a few. Capitalism,
explained Marx, is a system that does not serve the people
but only seeks profit for the small share of people who own
factories and other productive property. Therefore, he con-
cluded, it is a system that does not operate to meet human
needs. As a result, the normal operation of the capitalist
system creates social problems such as poverty.

Marx was critical of modern society, but he was also
optimistic about the future. He predicted that, as a sys-
tem that failed to meet the needs of most people, capital-
ism would bring about its own destruction. In the short
term, Marx concluded, the rich would become richer and
richer, while the poor would have less and less. Industrial
workers, whom he called “proletarians,” performed hard
labor in factories for low wages while facing the ever-present
threat of being replaced by machines. In the long term, Marx
was certain that workers, holding little hope for the future,
would join together, rise up, and end this oppressive system.

As Chapter 2 (“Economic Inequality”) explains, how-
ever, such a revolution has not yet happened, at least not
in industrial-capitalist nations. But followers of Marx
still support a radical restructuring of society—especially
the economy—as the best means to address most social
problems.

Multiculturalism: Problems of Racial and Ethnic Inequality
Sociologists study conflict based not only on class but also on
color and culture. Societies attach importance to skin color and
cultural background, which leads to ranking people in a hier-
archy based on race and ethnicity. Multicultural theory explains
how social problems arise from racial and ethnic inequality.

The great social diversity of the United States and the
rest of the Western Hemisphere is the result of centuries
of immigration. Every person who lives anywhere in the
Americas, from the northern reaches of Canada to the
southern tip of Chile, either migrated here from someplace
else or has an ancestor who did. Here in the United States,
some categories of people (especially white Anglo-Saxon
Protestants, or WASPs) have enjoyed higher social stand-
ing than others (especially people of color).

In 1865, the United States ended centuries of slavery, an
important step in the process of giving people more equal
standing before the law. Yet as Chapter 3 (“Racial and Ethnic

Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems 17

loneliness or as a means of economic survival. Whatever
the reason, Davis found, the women she studied gradually
“drifted” toward prostitution, usually taking years to learn
the skills, norms, and attitudes that characterize the profes-
sional sex worker. In short, people learn such roles one step at
a time, eventually reaching the point where the role becomes
their livelihood as well as part of their social identity.

Labeling Theory: Problems and Social Definitions The
symbolic-interaction approach also explores how people
socially construct reality. Labeling theory states that the
reality of any particular situation depends on how people
define it. For example, the spirited consumption of alcohol
that young people view as normal partying may be labeled
by college officials as dangerous binge drinking.

The distinction between a “social drinker” and a “prob-
lem drinker” often depends on which audience is watching
(do parents view drinking the same way that friends do?), who
the actor is (do we view women who drink the same as we
view men who do?), where the action takes place (is drinking
in a park the same as drinking at a bar?), and when the action
occurs (is drinking on Sunday morning different from doing
the same thing on Saturday night?). Obviously, many factors
come into play as people socially define a given situation.

EVALUATE

Like Marxism and multiculturalism, feminism seeks to change the
status quo just as it challenges the structural-functional view of society
as a well-integrated system. In recent decades, feminism has become
a widely supported point of view in sociology, and it is commonly used
in the analysis of social problems. But, like Marxism and multicultur-
alism, this variant of the social-conflict approach also has limitations.

In the same way that critics fault Marxism for overstating “class
warfare,” critics claim that feminism overstates the degree of inequal-
ity that separates the sexes. Over the course of the past century, the
opportunities for women—in politics, in the workplace, and in other
arenas such as sports—have increased dramatically. Without deny-
ing that gender inequality is still a reality, critics claim that women (like
all minorities) enjoy far greater opportunities than they did in the past.

The charge of political bias is also made against feminism by its crit-
ics. The fact that feminism explicitly seeks social change means that this
approach is clearly a form of social activism. As in the case of Marxism
and multiculturalism, defenders of feminism respond that they are com-
mitted to the pursuit of social justice. They also point out that any analy-
sis is political in that it either calls for social change or it does not.

A final criticism, which applies to both the structural-functional
and all the social-conflict approaches, is that these macro-level
approaches make use of broad generalities that seem removed from
how individuals actually experience their world. This concern has
led to the development of a third theoretical model: the symbolic-
interaction approach.

CHECK YOUR LEARNING In a sentence, how does feminist
theory see the world? Explain how feminist theory understands
social problems.

The Symbolic-Interaction Approach
The goal of describing society more in terms of how people
experience the world underlies the symbolic-interaction
approach, a theoretical framework that sees society as the
product of individuals interacting with one another. We can
apply this approach to social problems by asking two
questions: How do people become involved in problem-
atic behavior? And more generally, how do people come to
define issues as social problems in the first place?

Learning Theory: Problems and the Social Environment
Why do young people in one neighborhood get into more
trouble than those who live in another neighborhood?
Learning theory claims that people learn troublesome atti-
tudes and behaviors from others around them. The point
here is that no one sets out to become a burglar, a Wall
Street swindler, a drug abuser, or an industrial polluter;
rather, people gradually engage in such behavior as they
learn skills and attitudes from others.

A learning approach guided Nanette Davis (1980,
2000) in her study of thirty women performing sex work.
Interviewing these women, Davis discovered that no one
simply decides to sell sex. A woman might turn to such a life
for any number of reasons, perhaps as a way to cope with

Reality is often less a matter of what people do than of how they
define their own behavior. Studies show that many college students
consume large amounts of alcohol on a regular basis. To these
students, drinking heavily may just be “partying.” College officials,
however, may define such behavior as “binge drinking” or “alcohol
abuse,” which can result in serious penalties.

S
ha

w
n

Th
ew

/E
PA

/R
E

X
/S

hu
tt

er
st

oc
k.

18 Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems

poor people, or are successful people also victimized in
this way? After interviewing 100 of the most successful
African American men and women in the United States,
Benjamin concluded that success provides no escape from
racial prejudice. Even African Americans at the top of their
fields encounter racial hostility in their daily lives.

William Julius Wilson (1996) conducted interviews
and examined available data in a major study of poor peo-
ple living in Chicago. He found that people who have lived
in poverty for many years contend with a host of social
problems, including joblessness, unstable families, and,
perhaps worst of all, a loss of hope. Wilson found that the
major reason for this poverty is the disappearance of good
jobs from Chicago’s inner city.

These brief accounts are just a few examples of the
research being done by thousands of sociologists across the
country. The following sections provide a brief description
of the research methods used by Ehrenreich, Benjamin,
Wilson, and many others to study social problems—and to
make the world a better place.

Research Methods
Sociologists use four major research methods in their
investigation of social problems: surveys, field research,
experimental research, and secondary analysis.

Survey Research: Asking Questions The most widely
used research procedure is the survey, a research method
in which subjects respond to items on a questionnaire or in an
interview. A questionnaire is a series of items a researcher
presents to subjects for their response. Researchers may
deliver questionnaires in person, send them through the
mail, or use e-mail.

Of course, the success of a project depends on your
ability to locate the people you want to survey. If you are
studying, say, homeless people, identifying and tracking
down subjects may be difficult because many have no

EVALUATE

The symbolic-interaction approach adds a micro-level or “real-world”
view of social problems. But by highlighting how individuals differ in
their perceptions, this approach overlooks the extent to which social
structure, including class and race, shapes people’s lives. In other
words, pointing out that prostitution involves both learning and labeling
is worthwhile, but we don’t want to forget the broader issue that men
dominate society and cast women into sexual roles in the first place.

CHECK YOUR LEARNING How does the symbolic-interaction
approach view society? How do learning theory and labeling theory
help us to understand social problems?

This completes the introduction to sociology’s major
theoretical approaches, summarized in the Applying
Theory table. But sociologists not only use theory to ana-
lyze social problems, they also engage in research to gather
relevant facts. We turn next to the ways in which sociolo-
gists conduct research.

Finding the Facts:
Sociological Research
1.4 Discuss the methods sociologists use to study

social problems.

Many sociologists devote their lives to investigating the
nature and causes of social problems in the hope of mak-
ing the world a better place. Barbara Ehrenreich (2001),
for example, spent months working alongside low-wage
workers in Florida, Maine, and Minnesota, documenting
the many challenges faced by this country’s “working
poor.” The willingness to work hard, she found, is some-
times not enough to escape poverty, as millions of people
throughout the United States know all too well.

The sociologist Lois Benjamin (1991) investigated the
problem of racial prejudice. Is prejudice directed only at

APPLYING THEORY

Sociology’s Major Theoretical Approaches

Structural-Functional
Approach

Social-Conflict and
Feminist Approaches

Symbolic-Interaction
Approach

What is the level of
analysis?

Macro-level Macro-level Micro-level

What is the basic image
of society?

Society is a system of interrelated
parts, all of which contribute to its
operation.

The social-conflict approach sees society as
a system of social inequality in which some
categories of people benefit at the expense
of others.
The feminist approach highlights inequality
between men and women.

Through social interaction, we con-
struct the variable and changing reality
we experience.

How do we understand
problems?

Society is basically good; problems
are the result of deficient people,
too rapid change, or dysfunctional
consequences.

Problems result from inequality in terms of
class (Marxism), gender (gender-conflict
theory and feminism), and race
(multiculturalism).

People learn attitudes and skills for all
patterns of behavior; this approach
explores how people may or may not
define situations as problems.

Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems 19

time, often a year or more. Finally, field researchers have to
balance the demands of being a participant, who is person-
ally involved in the setting, with those of an observer, who
adopts a more detached role in order to assess a setting or
situation more objectively.

Experimental Research: Looking for Causes Why are
this country’s prisons so violent? Philip Zimbardo and his
colleagues investigated this question using an experiment,
a research method for investigating cause-and-effect relationships
under tightly controlled conditions. Unlike field research,
which takes place almost anywhere, most experiments
are carried out in a specially designed laboratory. There,
researchers change one variable while keeping the others
the same. Comparing results allows them to identify spe-
cific causes of patterns of behavior.

To investigate the causes of jailhouse violence,
Zimbardo built an artificial prison in a basement at
Stanford University. He recruited male students as volun-
teers and then assigned the most physically and mentally
healthy subjects to the roles of inmates and guards. After
the “prison” had been in operation for just a few days,
Zimbardo was alarmed to see that on both sides of the
bars, people performing their assigned roles were becom-
ing hostile and violent. In fact, the aggression was so great
that Zimbardo had to end the research for fear that some-
one would get seriously hurt.

Zimbardo’s research highlights the responsibility
researchers have for the safety and well-being of their
subjects. His study also points to a fascinating conclusion:
The prison system itself—not any personal problems on
the part of inmates or guards—can trigger prison violence
(Zimbardo, 1972; Haney, Banks, & Zimbardo, 1973).

Secondary Analysis: Using Available Data Sometimes
all that is needed to study social problems is a trip to
the local library. Easier still is going online, where a
vast amount of sociological information can be found.
Secondary analysis is a research method that makes use of data
originally collected by others. In simple terms, why go to the
trouble and expense of collecting information for yourself
if suitable data already exist?

Just because data are easy to find does not mean that
the data are accurate. Much information that is readily
available on the internet, for example, is misleading, and
some of it is just plain wrong. Always look carefully to
learn as much as you can about the source: Is it a repu-
table organization? Does the organization have a politi-
cal bias? Asking these types of questions and using more
than one source will improve the quality of the data you
find.

The federal government is a good source of data about
almost all aspects of U.S. society. The Census Bureau contin-
uously updates a statistical picture of the U.S. population—
counting people, tracking immigration, assessing patterns

stable addresses. Alternatively, it would not be hard for
researchers studying the medical system from the patient’s
point of view to find sick people in hospitals, but gaining
access to them and getting them to complete a question-
naire may be challenging.

The interview is a more personal survey technique in
which a researcher meets face-to-face with respondents to
discuss some issue. This interactive format allows an inves-
tigator to probe people’s opinions with follow-up ques-
tions. Interviews take a lot of time, of course, which usually
limits the number of people one can survey in this way. A
good way to think about surveys is this: Questionnaires
offer the chance for greater breadth of opinion, and inter-
views can provide greater depth of understanding.

Whether you use a questionnaire or an interview for-
mat, the key to a successful survey is selecting a sample
of people that represents the larger population of interest.
For example, researchers try to reach conclusions about all
the police officers in a city by studying only a small num-
ber of them. To make a sample representative of the larger
population, researchers typically use various techniques to
select subjects randomly.

Sometimes, researchers pursue a case study, in which
they focus on a single case: a person (say, a divorced
mother), an organization (a college or a gambling casino),
or an event (a rock concert or a hurricane). The advantage
of this approach is that focusing on a single case allows
greater detail and depth of understanding. However,
because this strategy involves a single case, researchers are
not able to generalize their results.

Field Research: Joining In Have you ever walked
through an unfamiliar neighborhood and observed the
people who lived there? If so, you have some experience
with field research (also called participant observation),
a research method for observing people while joining them in
their everyday activities. Field research might mean inves-
tigating a particular community to understand the prob-
lems and hopes of its people. Elijah Anderson (1999) did
this when he studied families in some of Philadelphia’s
poor African American neighborhoods. Anderson discov-
ered that although most people in these neighborhoods
had “decent” values, some had come to accept what
Anderson calls the “code of the streets.” Such people
were likely to have weak family ties, to use drugs, and,
especially if they were males, to engage in episodes of
violence in an effort to defend themselves and to gain the
respect of others.

Field studies involve a number of challenges. For exam-
ple, the researcher benefits from observing people in their
natural surroundings, but as Anderson’s work suggests,
fieldwork can be dangerous, especially to a researcher
working alone. In addition, although this method makes
sense for researchers with little money, it requires a lot of

20 Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems

is. In defense of this value commitment, many sociolo-
gists (especially those using the social-conflict approach)
argue that objective research is impossible because what-
ever theory we use or whatever we may say (or not say)
about the world, we end up taking some position (even
if we do so by remaining silent). If this is true, then all
knowledge is political, and trying to be neutral is itself a
political position that ends up favoring the status quo. In
the end, critics of Weber’s view say, all sociologists must
take one side or another on any issue they study. This
activist orientation was the hallmark of Karl Marx, who
summed up his view of this controversy in words placed
on his tombstone: “The philosophers have only inter-
preted the world in various ways; the point, however, is
to change it.”

Truth and Statistics
Finally, a brief word about statistics, the numerical results
that researchers often include when they report their
findings. Statistics are easy ways to characterize a large
number of subjects, as when a professor announces that
members of a class had an average grade of 90 on a mid-
term examination.

Many of us have been brought up to think of statis-
tics as “facts.” How often have we been told that “numbers
don’t lie”? But numbers are not always so truthful, for two
reasons.

First, like all research findings, numbers must be inter-
preted. A class exam average may be 90, but does that
mean the students studied hard or that the exam was fairly
easy? Similarly, one person can point out that the official
U.S. unemployment rate fell to about 3.7 percent in 2018
and interpret this as good news because the rate has come
down in the past few years, while another claims the same
number is bad news because it accepts the fact that mil-
lions of people are out of work. In addition, the official
unemployment rate understates unemployment because
it does not include people who have given up looking for
work. Second, organizations, politicians, and even sociol-
ogists often present statistics that support some preferred
conclusion. How are we to know whether the statistics we
read are presented in a misleading way? There is no easy
answer, but here are three tips to make you a more critical
reader:

1. Check how researchers define their terms. How peo-
ple define terms affects the results. Even the most care-
ful counts of the poor will vary widely, depending on
how each researcher defines poverty.

2. Remember that research is never perfect. Even if we
agree on how to define the poor, actually counting
millions of poor women, men, and children is a very
difficult task. This is especially true of those who are

of health, and reporting levels of employment, income,
education, and much more. Other government agencies
also collect specific information; for example, the Federal
Bureau of Investigation publishes detailed statistics on
crime in the United States.

Secondary analysis is often quick and easy, but this
approach has its own problems. For one thing, a researcher
who has not collected the data personally may be unaware
of any bias or errors. Fortunately, however, the quality of
most government data is high, and enough material is
available to satisfy almost any researcher.

Truth, Science, and Politics
Once sociologists have data in hand, they must decide what
to do with them. Sociologists turn to science in order to gather
their data, but science cannot solve problems for us. Science
can help us learn, say, how many U.S. families are poor, and
it may even yield some insights as to why they are poor. But
science cannot tell us what we should do about poverty.

When we confront a social problem, we may use sci-
ence to gather facts, which represent one kind of truth. But
deciding how to respond to the problem always involves
another kind of truth: our political values. How should
sociologists tackle important and controversial issues such
as poverty, family violence, and abortion? Should we sim-
ply try to discover the “facts”—reporting what is happen-
ing and perhaps why—and leave the political decisions
about what the problems and solutions are to others? Or
should we take a stand and actively try to change society
for the better?

Sociologists have long debated how to square science
and politics. No one wrestled more with this question
than the German sociologist Max Weber (1864–1920), who
urged his colleagues to focus on the facts in an effort to
make research value-free. Weber knew that personal values
lead people to choose one topic over another. But, Weber
insisted, once a topic is selected and research is under way,
social scientists should keep a professional objectivity in
their work. This means that as much as possible, research-
ers should hold their personal politics in check to avoid
distorting the results. In practice, for example, a researcher
who personally supports the death penalty must be will-
ing to accept any and all results—even those that show
that capital punishment has little or no effect on the mur-
der rate. For Weber, the sociologist’s main goal should be
discovering truth rather than engaging in politics and pro-
moting change.

In recent decades, however, an increasing number of
sociologists have taken an opposing view. Many believe
that sociologists have a responsibility not just to learn
about the world but also to help improve the lives of
people who suffer from poverty and prejudice. This pur-
suit of social justice might seem like taking sides—and it

Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems 21

Responding to Social
Problems: Social Policy
1.5 Identify factors that shape how societies devise

policy to respond to social problems.

How does a society respond to social problems? This ques-
tion brings us to the topic of social policy, formal strategies
that affect how society operates. Organizations, including
governments and colleges, create social policy to get their
work done and to address social problems. Sociologists
play an important role in developing social policy. Over the
years, sociologists have helped direct our nation’s policy in
dealing with racially segregated schools, poverty, pornog-
raphy, health care, gun regulations, homelessness, racial
discrimination, problems of family life, sexual harassment,
and many other issues.

Policy Evaluation
How do we know whether a policy works? To evaluate
any policy, we must answer the following, often difficult,
questions:

1. How do we measure “success”? There is more than
one way to measure the success of any policy or pro-
gram. Take, for example, a rehabilitation program for
young people who abuse drugs. Does “success” mean
that those completing the program stay “clean” for a
year? Five years? Show a greater rate of completing
high school? Or finding a job? There are many ways
to measure the success or failure of any policy or
program, so researchers must look at more than one

homeless and therefore difficult to contact. In most
cases, researchers end up undercounting the poor and
especially the homeless.

3. Researchers may spin their statistics. What does a
“steep decrease” in the homicide rate really mean?
“Low unemployment” means low in relation to
what? There are countless ways to select and present
statistics, and researchers often present their findings
in a way that advances the argument they wish to
make.

Use special care when reading tables and graphs.
Figure 1–3 illustrates the problem with three graphs show-
ing changes in the U.S. unemployment rate. All three
figures are drawn using data from the U.S. government.
Graph (a) might be titled “Unemployment Goes Up and
Down!” because it presents data across a time frame that
shows both a decreasing and an increasing rate of unem-
ployment. Graph (b) uses the same time frame but changes
the scale to flatten the line, supporting a title such as
“Unemployment Holds Steady!” Graph (c) uses a limited
time frame over just five years to display the decline in
unemployment from 2009 to 2016. Here we can announce
“Unemployment Coming Down!”

Ideally, sociologists strive for accuracy, clarity, and
fairness in their work and use statistical data with the
intent to convey information rather than to mislead read-
ers. But, keeping in mind that researchers have to make
choices about how to present their numbers, you should
always think critically about statistical information and
how it is presented, whether it appears in textbooks
or anywhere else. Never assume that statistics are the
absolute truth.

P
er

ce
nt

o
f

La
b

o
r

Fo
rc

e
(%

)

P
er

ce
nt

o
f

La
b

o
r

Fo
rc

e
(%

)

P
e r

ce
nt

o
f

La
b

o
r

Fo
rc

e
(%

)

Year(a) (b) (c)Year Year

0

20

40

60

80

100

1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015 2020 1984 1988 1992 1996 2000 2004 2008 2012 2016 2020

0

2

4

6

8

10

12

2012 2014 2016 2018 2020

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Figure 1–3 Do Statistics Lie?

Analysts, including sociologists, can “spin” their data to encourage readers to reach various
conclusions. These three graphs are based on the same factual data. Yet the way we construct each
graph suggests a different reality. The scale used in graph (a) gives the impression that the employment
rate displays a lot of volatility, rising and falling over time. Graph (b) changes the scale to flatten the line,
thus giving the impression that the unemployment rate has changed little. Graph (c) presents data only
for the years 2011 through 2018, giving the impression that the unemployment rate is sharply falling.

SOURCE: Data from U.S. Department of Labor (2018).

22 Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems

to eliminate it; a policy to guarantee a minimum income
would end the problem very quickly. But because our way
of life stresses self-reliance, there is not much support for
what would be widely criticized as “handout” policies.
Guided by a culture that defines people as responsible for
their social standing, we tend to see the poor as “unde-
serving” of assistance. Such cultural values were at work
in 1996 when Congress and the White House acted with
widespread public support to change public assistance
programs so that fewer people were dependent on govern-
ment support.

Policy and Politics
The kinds of policies people favor depend on their political
point of view. People with a politically conservative outlook
usually turn to the past for guidelines about how to live
in the present and how to shape the future. Conservative
people try to limit the scope of societal change. They tend
to view the existing society as good, leading them to con-
clude that problems arise mostly because of the actions and
choices of bad individuals. This is why conservatives favor
policies that treat problems as shortcomings of particular
individuals rather than as shortcomings of society. If the
problem is unemployment, for example, conservatives
might suggest helping jobless people get more schooling
or learn new skills in order to make them more attractive to
employers. By supporting policies that place more respon-
sibility on individuals to take care of themselves, conserva-
tives accept society as basically good the way it is. In short,
they support the status quo.

By contrast, people with more liberal views see problems
in the organization of society itself and favor greater social
change. They are more likely to understand unemployment,
for example, as caused by a society’s economy. Therefore, to
combat unemployment, liberals seek societal reforms, such
as strengthening antidiscrimination laws, expanding the
power of labor unions, or calling for government to create
enough jobs to provide work for the people who need it.

People with radical-left views seek policies that go
beyond the reforms suggested by liberals. From their point
of view, social problems exist because the entire system
is flawed in some basic way. For example, Marxists claim
that replacing the market-based, capitalist economy with
a government-controlled economy is the only real answer
to problems such as high unemployment and increasing
economic inequality. Because radical policies are, by defi-
nition, outside the political mainstream, they spark both
committed support and widespread opposition.

We conclude this chapter—and each of the remaining
chapters—with a discussion of how political attitudes lead
people to define certain situations as problems in the first
place and to define certain kinds of policies and programs
as solutions to those problems.

before deciding whether a particular program is a fail-
ure or a success.

2. What are the costs of the policy or program? We live
in a world of limited budgets and competing priorities,
so policy evaluation means weighing results against
costs. It may be possible to improve schools by increas-
ing funding, for example, but a local community may
not support raising property taxes.

The costs of any program involve not just money
but ethical concerns as well. For example, installing
surveillance cameras on public streets may reduce
crime or at least drive criminal activity elsewhere. Yet
many citizens object to having their movements—
including which stores they visit and with whom they
strike up a conversation—recorded in computer files
by public officials. In short, street surveillance may be
successful in reducing crime but may involve an unac-
ceptable cost by taking away people’s privacy.

3. Who should get the help? In assessing a social pol-
icy, another key question is whom the policy should
target for assistance. To combat poverty, should agen-
cies work with adults who need jobs? Provide a good
breakfast to poor children in school? Provide prenatal
care to pregnant women? All of these things may be
helpful, but limited budgets require agencies to make
choices about whom to target.

One guideline for making such decisions is
Benjamin Franklin’s old saying, “An ounce of preven-
tion is worth a pound of cure.” Generally, the earlier the
intervention, the more successful a policy is and the
lower the costs. For example, helping boys before they
get into trouble costs less—and accomplishes more—
than putting them in jail later on.

Sherry Deane of the National Black Child
Development Institute says that too many programs
kick in too late: “We spend so much more money after
the problem has occurred—after a baby is born at low
birth weight, after a child begins to fail in school, after
a child is in trouble with the law—instead of making an
early investment in the child with prenatal care, preven-
tive health care, early education” (Goldman, 1991:5).

Policy and Culture
Social policy is also shaped by cultural values. That is,
societies respond to a social problem in a particular way
not necessarily because that approach is cheapest or works
best but because a particular response, according to the
society’s culture, seems to be “the right thing to do.”

There are more than 40 million poor people in the
United States, many living with inadequate nutrition,
unsafe housing, and little or no medical care. Poverty
persists in this country not because no one knows how

Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems 23

2010 elections marked a shift to the right. In 2012, President
Obama was reelected in another shift leftward, and
Republican gains in Congress marked another rightward
shift in 2014. In 2016, in a closely contested election, Donald
Trump won the presidency and shifted national politics fur-
ther to the right.

But at any time, there is always wide variation in this
nation’s political thinking. Some of this variation is regional:
The people of Massachusetts and Minnesota almost always
elect liberal candidates, just as those living in Mississippi
and Texas usually elect conservatives. Similarly, some eth-
nic categories, such as African Americans, Jews and, to a
lesser extent, Hispanics, historically have favored liberal
positions; others, such as Asian Americans, tend to be rela-
tively more conservative.

Conservatives, Liberals, and Radicals
What do labels such as “conservative,” “liberal,” and “rad-
ical” really mean? Here is a brief statement to get us going.
The deeper meaning of these three concepts will become
clear as you read through the chapters that follow, apply-
ing each point of view to various issues.

Conservatives look to the past for guidance about
how to live. They believe that the past is a store of wisdom
developed by countless generations who have already con-
fronted many of the same questions and issues that we face
today. A good society, from the conservative point of view,
is respectful of traditions and tries to conserve what earlier
generations have learned. Conservatives have a special
interest in the family and religion—the social institutions
that transmit our moral traditions. Conservatives also
typically seek to limit the size and scope of government.
They tend to see “big government” as a problem because
it threatens individual freedom and undermines people’s
responsibility to take care of themselves. Typically, conser-
vative people tend to support the Republican Party and
the Libertarian Party more than the Democratic Party.

Liberals have a different view of the world. In simple
terms, liberals (from a Latin word for “free”) think people
should be free from the past to decide, on their own, ques-
tions about how to live. A good society, from a liberal point

POLITICS

Constructing Problems
and Defining Solutions
1.6 Analyze how political attitudes shape the process of

constructing social problems and defining solutions.

The social-constructionist approach described earlier is
useful for exploring how political views guide people as
they define social problems and devise solutions. Let us
begin with a look at the political spectrum.

The Political Spectrum
We become part of the political process as we form attitudes
about various issues. Social scientists measure people’s
opinions using a model called the political spectrum, a
continuum representing a range of political attitudes from “left”
to “right.” As shown in Table 1–2, attitudes on the political
spectrum range from the far left at one extreme through
“middle of the road” views at the center to the far right at
the other extreme.

The data in Table 1–2 show that 27.7 percent of peo-
ple consider themselves liberal or left of center to some
degree (adding the numbers at points 1, 2, and 3 together);
36.0 percent say they are moderates (falling in the middle
at point 4); and 32.4 percent say that they are conservative
or right of center to some degree (adding the numbers
at points 5, 6, and 7 together). The remaining 3.9 percent
of respondents did not know or simply did not answer
the question. Grouping people another way, we see that
a majority of people place themselves near the middle of
the political spectrum (points 3, 4, or 5), and just a small
percentage describe themselves as holding what might be
called a radical view, either at the far left (at point 1 on the
continuum) or the far right (point 7 on the continuum).

Over time, political attitudes may shift to the left (as
they did during the 1960s) or to the right (as they did in
the 1980s). Recent years reveal short-term political trends:
In 2008, the election of Democratic candidate Barack Obama
marked a shift to the left, and the Republican gains in the

Table 1–2 The Political Spectrum: A National Survey, 2016
Survey Question: “We hear a lot of talk these days about liberals and conservatives. I’m going to show you a
seven-point scale on which the political views people might hold are arranged from extremely liberal—point 1—to
extremely conservative—point 7. Where would you place yourself on this scale?”

SOURCE: The data in this figure are from General Social Surveys, 1972–2016 (Chicago: National Opinion Research Center, 2017).

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Extremely liberal Liberal Slightly liberal Middle of the road Slightly conservative Conservative Extremely conservative

4.7% 12.2% 10.8% 36.0% 13.3% 14.9% 4.2%

[Don’t know/no answer 3.9%]

24 Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems

marijuana, the death penalty, immigration, transgender
rights, gender inequality, and sexual harassment.

Leaning Left People who lean to the left on social issues
are called “social liberals.” In general, social liberals think
that people should be free to shape their lifestyles for
themselves. In practice, then, social liberals are broadly
tolerant of various alternative lifestyles. They also favor
expanding opportunities for women, oppose all forms of
sexual assault, support the pro-choice side of the abortion
controversy, look favorably on racial and ethnic diversity
and welcome immigrants coming to the United States,
support legal marriage for gay and lesbian people, and
favor expanding rights for transgender people. On the
other hand, social liberals oppose the death penalty partly
because, in the past, states have been more likely to exe-
cute African Americans than whites and the poor rather
than the rich, even considering people convicted of the
same crimes.

Leaning Right People who lean to the right on social
issues are called “social conservatives.” Social conser-
vatives are respectful of traditional values and want to
conserve them. Conservatives criticize what they see as
too much tolerance in today’s society, which amounts to
moral decline. Social conservatives favor the pro-life side
of the abortion controversy. In addition, they are con-
cerned about controlling this country’s borders, both to
uphold the law and also to protect our cultural traditions.
Social conservatives also support the traditional family in
which women and men have different roles and responsi-
bilities. Social conservatives also endorse the death pen-
alty as a necessary moral response to especially brutal
criminal acts.

Economic Issues
The second type of issues involves economics. Economic
issues are political debates about how a society should produce
and distribute material resources. These debates typically
focus on the degree to which the economy should be under
the control of government or a market system. (Chapter 11,
“Economy and Politics,” explores these issues in depth.)

Leaning Left In general, economic liberals (who lean
to the left on economic issues) favor government regu-
lation of the economy in order to reduce inequality. A
free-market system, liberals claim, too often works to
the advantage of a select few and leaves everyone else
behind. For this reason, economic liberals support strong
government that is able to regulate the economy through
policies such as raising the minimum wage, setting high
taxes especially on the rich, and using tax revenues to
pay for health care, free education, and other social ser-
vice programs that help average families and, especially,
the poor.

of view, is one in which people are able to make choices
for themselves. This requires that society be both tolerant
and respectful of individual rights. It also requires that cat-
egories of people be more or less equal in terms of basic
rights and opportunities. Therefore, liberals have a special
interest in the economy and politics because these are the
social institutions that distribute wealth and power. Liberals
typically seek to expand the size and scope of government.
They see government power as a solution because it is an
effective way to reduce inequality and to make other pro-
gressive changes that benefit everyone. In general, lib-
eral people support the Democratic Party more than the
Republican Party.

Although liberals and conservatives differ in some
important ways, both accept the existing political system,
at least in most respects. In contrast, people with more
extreme views seek more basic change in society. Such are
the attitudes of radicals (from Latin meaning “of the root”)
because they hold that the system must be changed right
down to its roots. Radicals point to some basic flaw in soci-
ety that is responsible for any number of social problems.
For people on the far right, the historical expansion of “big
government” is the basic flaw, leading to the claim that
government is involved in far too many dimensions of our
daily lives. In a few cases, people who hold far right views
try to escape the reach of government to remote places
where they live as “survivalists.” Radicals also include
people on the far left. For Marxists, the basic flaw in society
is the capitalist economic system that creates social classes;
as they see it, a socially just society could exist only after
the abolition of capitalism. Similarly, for radical feminists,
the basic flaw is the concept of gender that gives rise to
patriarchy, the power of men over women. They claim that
a socially just society could exist only with the abolition
of gender differences. Typically, people with radical views
do not support either the more mainstream Democratic
Party or Republican Party. Some may vote for the main-
stream candidate closest to their political position; others
may support “fringe” candidates; still others may choose
not to vote at all.

Can we sum up these different views of the world
in a single sentence? It might go something like this:
Conservatives talk about the importance of traditions and,
in most respects, keeping society the way it has been; lib-
erals talk about the need to reform society to make it more
equal; radicals talk about organizing society in some com-
pletely new way.

Social Issues
People hold political positions on two types of issues:
social issues and economic issues. Social issues are politi-
cal debates involving moral judgments about how people should
live. Some of today’s leading social issues include abortion,

Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems 25

likely to support government-enacted economic programs
that may benefit them, which makes them economically
liberal (Kohut, 2012).

Keep in mind that most of us—whatever our social
standing—tend to hold some combination of liberal and
conservative attitudes. This inconsistency helps explain
why so many people call themselves “moderates,” “cen-
trists,” or “middle-of-the-roaders.”

A Word about Gender Finally, what about any differ-
ences between women and men? Political analysts have
documented a modest gender gap in voting patterns that
paints women as slightly more liberal than men. Surveys
of voting behavior show that women are somewhat more
likely to vote for Democratic candidates, and men are more
likely to favor Republicans. In the 2008 presidential elec-
tion, for example, 56 percent of women but only 49 per-
cent of men voted for the Democratic candidate, Barack
Obama. This pattern was repeated in 2012 with 55 per-
cent of women compared with 45 percent of men voting
for President Obama. In the 2016 presidential election, 54
percent of women and 41 percent of men supported the
Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump won
the election with support of 53 percent of men and 42 per-
cent of women voters. In general, men express greater con-
cern about having a powerful military to ensure national
security (generally viewed as a conservative or Republican
issue), and women express greater concern about keeping
an adequate social safety net to help those in need (a liberal
or Democratic issue) (Pew Research Center, 2012; Tyson &
Maniam, 2016).

A Word about Political Parties and the 2016 Presidential
Election In general, people who lean left support the
Democratic Party and people who lean right support the
Republican Party. The presidential elections of 2004, 2008,

Leaning Right By contrast, economic conservatives (who
lean to the right on economic issues) call for a smaller role
for government in the economy. From their point of view,
the market—not government officials—can set wage levels
more fairly and efficiently. In addition, conservatives claim
that motivated individuals and the businesses they create
(rather than government agencies) are the key to growing
the economy, generating greater wealth that benefits every-
one. Government regulation of economic activity limits
economic growth and raises the cost of doing business and
also reduces personal choice and freedom. Economic con-
servatives support lower tax rates in the belief that peo-
ple should be able to keep more of their own earnings and
use this money as they choose to spend or to invest and
expand the economy. In doing so, people take responsibil-
ity for their own well-being.

Who Thinks What?
What types of people are likely to fall on each side of the
political spectrum? Social standing is a good predictor, but
it turns out that most people are actually liberal on one
kind of issue and conservative on another.

People of high social position, those with lots of
schooling and above-average wealth, tend to be liberal on
social issues. But they are more conservative on economic
issues. That is, most highly educated people are tolerant of
lifestyle diversity (the liberal view), but many privileged
people also seek to protect their wealth (the conservative
position).

People with less education and wealth show a differ-
ent pattern. Typically their values are more traditional so
that they tend to see moral issues as clear-cut choices that
are right or wrong, which is the socially conservative view.
At the same time, with less economic security, they are

Lower-income people tend to be very concerned about economic issues, for the simple reason that they
lack economic security. Recently, thousands of people marched in Los Angeles to demand a $15/hour
minimum wage. Higher-income people, by contrast, take economic security for granted. They are likely
to be more concerned about social issues, such as ending discrimination against LGBT people. The
people in the photo at the right are speaking up for transgender rights.

M
ic

ha
el

N
ig

ro
/P

ac
ifi

c
P

re
ss

/L
ig

ht
R

oc
ke

t /
G

et
ty

Im
ag

es
.

X
in

hu
a/

A
la

m
y

S
to

ck
P

ho
to

.

26 Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems

Keep in mind this key fact: Social problems are socially
constructed. Political attitudes guide what we define as a
problem and what policies we are likely to support as solu-
tions. Recognizing and respecting the diversity of political
attitudes in the United States, this text does not assume
that everyone will agree about what the problems are or
what the best solutions might be. On the contrary, we all
should expect and welcome disagreement. The goal is to
engage in conversation. The word “conversation” is closely
linked to the word “convert,” meaning “to change.” When
we engage in good-faith conversation, we take respon-
sibility for stating our own opinions, listening to others,
and asking and answering questions. Most of all, as we
exchange ideas with others, we should have a willingness
to change our positions as a result of learning more.

Throughout this text, you will read diverse analysis
explaining how the libertarian, conservative, liberal, and
left-radical political attitudes lead people to define social
problems and to decide what we ought to do about them.
Try to understand each of the various points of view. You
will soon see for yourself that to come to a point where
you can claim any one point of view as your own requires
familiarity with all points of view. In addition, understand-
ing various points of view helps to explain why our soci-
ety has such long-standing and intense debates over social
issues. Finally, gaining a diverse understanding of politics
also helps us understand that one person’s solution often
turns out to be another’s problem.

What should you expect by the time you have finished
this text? You will have learned a great deal about many
of the social issues that command the attention of govern-
ment officials and the public, both in the United States and
around the world. You will gain familiarity with sociology’s
theoretical approaches so that you can apply them to new
issues in the future. Finally, with a firm grasp of the various
political positions and arguments, you will find it easy to
analyze new issues as you confront them. With this ability,
you become an active participant in the political process.

A social problems course is an invitation to get
involved in political debates and political action. Each
chapter of this text provides a feature called “Constructing
Social Problems: A Defining Moment” that shows how
easy—and how important—it is to become involved in
the political life of our nation. Throughout the text photo
essays provide a look at people and organizations mak-
ing a difference in the country and in the world. You will
find many examples of “ordinary” people like you or me
who decided to take some action in a way that made a dif-
ference. Let us be inspired by them and live in a way that
inspires others!

2012, and 2016 yielded two victories for Democrats (Obama
in 2008 and 2012) and two victories for Republicans (Bush
in 2004 and Trump in 2016). This pattern suggests that,
over the years, power tends to shift back and forth from
one major party to the other.

In 2016, the election of Donald Trump was not good
news to Democrats. But Trump is also not a conventional
Republican; news reports indicated, for example, that
no one in the Bush family voted for him. Trump had the
support of many pro-business Republicans and many
religious or Evangelical Republicans. But his victory was
based on a high turnout among people who, in the past,
were less likely to vote at all. These voters included rural
people, working-class urban people, and people without
college degrees. They are concentrated in regions of the
country that have experienced economic downturns—
especially in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and
Pennsylvania—all of which were carried by Trump. What
all these various Trump voters had in common is that they
felt left behind by both major parties. In addition, they see
the United States as being in decline, losing our economic
power, military might, and cultural heritage. In short,
Trump victory depended on support from people who
wanted to “make America great again.” The major reason
most analysts (and probably even Trump himself) were
surprised at the outcome of this election is that these “dis-
affected voters” turned out in far greater numbers than
anyone expected.

A year in to Trump’s term, polls showed party affili-
ation to be a strong predictor of people’s support for the
president. Not surprisingly, support was highest among
people who claimed to be Republican (about 80 percent)
and lowest among those who said they are Democrats (7
percent). With President Trump’s approval rating hovering
around 40 percent, the nation remains bitterly divided—
especially in the wake of Brett Kavanaugh taking a seat
on the Supreme Court, there may be a significant political
shift in the 2018 midterm elections (Burlij & Agiesta, 2017;
Dugan, 2017; Gallup, 2018).

Going On from Here
This chapter has presented important information that you
will need in order to understand the rest of the book. Each
chapter that follows focuses on important issues that are
debated by politicians and the public across the country. To
make better sense of these issues, each chapter will present
research findings and will also apply sociology’s major theo-
retical approaches—the structural-functional, social-conflict,
feminist, and symbolic-interaction approaches—to the issues.

Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems 27

Martin Luther King Jr. is one of only four people in the history
of our country whose birthday has become a national holiday
(George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Christopher Colum-
bus are the others). When we celebrate King’s life, we recognize
that our society has grappled with the issue of racial inequality for
centuries and that this problem has yet to be solved.

CONSTRUCTING SOCIAL PROBLEMS

A Defining Moment
A Call to Action: The Message of Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968) was born in Atlanta at a
time when black people and white people were kept apart by a
strict system of racial segregation. Taught in racially segregated
classrooms, King graduated from high school at the age of fifteen.
Then, like his father and grandfather, he earned a bachelor’s
degree from Morehouse College, a traditionally black institution.

Also like his father and grandfather, King set out to become
a preacher. He enrolled at the Crozer Theological Seminary in
Pennsylvania, where his mostly white classmates elected him
president of the senior class. He received his theology degree
in 1951. King continued his studies at Boston University, which
awarded him a doctorate in 1955.

In 1954, King was appointed pastor at the Dexter Avenue
Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Quickly, he became a
community leader, heading up not only his church but also the
local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People (NAACP). The city of Montgomery—like the rest
of the South—was still racially segregated, and people of color
were restricted to their own businesses and neighborhoods and
required to sit in separate sections at the rear of city buses. King
condemned racial segregation as morally wrong and decided
to take action to challenge the status quo. In December 1955,
he led a nonviolent social movement that came to be known as
the Montgomery bus boycott. Thousands of people pledged
that they would no longer ride the buses until the city allowed
all people equal access to seats on public transportation. The
boycott continued for more than a year, ending only after the
U.S. Supreme Court declared that the racial segregation of public
transportation was unconstitutional.

King had won a great victory, but there was still powerful
resistance to racial equality, which made his life difficult and
dangerous. King faced hostility not only from members of the
public but also from police. He was arrested dozens of times,
his home was attacked, and some opposed to his cause made
threats against King’s life. But King held firm in his beliefs.
In 1957, he was elected president of the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference, emerging as the leader of the national
civil rights movement. His activism continued for another decade,
culminating in a civil rights march in Washington, D.C., that
included more than 250,000 people who gathered to hear him
deliver his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

King was a great national and international change-maker,
and he stands among a handful of people in the United States
honored with a national holiday each year (celebrated on the third
Monday in January, near King’s birthday). But King was the first to

say that his life should not be taken to mean that only great people
can accomplish great things; he saw his own life as evidence the
power to make a difference is within the reach of everyone. King
held the view that anyone can be great because anyone can serve
others. He did not think that great people had to be rich or well
educated. Rather, he reminded us that to serve others, all anyone
needs is a heart full of grace and the desire to help.

King’s message is an invitation to each and every one of
us to learn more about our society and to recognize that, as
human beings, our lives are bound up with the lives of everyone
else whether they live around the corner or around the world.
Following King’s example, look for a way in which you can make
a positive difference in the life of at least one other person. Get
involved!

B
et

tm
an

n/
G

et
ty

Im
ag

es
.

Whose problem is it?

This chapter has explained that different political attitudes lead people to disagree about what
the problems are. And even when we do agree about the problems, we are likely to define differ-
ent courses of action as solutions. Over the past several years, almost everyone has recognized
increasing economic inequality that leaves millions of families without economic security. Look
at the accompanying photos to see two different approaches to fixing the problem.

Defining Solutions
CHAPTER 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems

The more we favor the left side of the political spectrum, the more we look to government to manage the economy and
ensure that families are secure. From a left point of view, best represented in the 2016 presidential campaign by Bernie
Sanders, a job is a right to be guaranteed by government, which should set a minimum wage of at least $15 an hour rather
than allow pay to reflect market forces of supply and demand.

K
ev

in
L

am
ar

qu
e/

Th
om

so
n

R
eu

te
rs

(M
ar

ke
ts

) L
LC

.

28

Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems 29

Hint: A key difference between the two sides of the political spectrum is how economic life

should be organized. Seen from the political right, the economy should be based on a market

system in which people freely act according to their individual interests. Therefore, primary

responsibility for finding and holding a job lies with the individual. Conservatives tend to support

the free market, and they distrust “big government” as a threat to personal freedom and limiting

to economic expansion. From the political left, by contrast, the government should represent the

public interest, regulating the economy through policies such as setting minimum wage levels

and mandating working conditions. When operating on its own, liberals claim, “big business”

creates economic inequality by concentrating wealth in the hands of a few. As for personal

responsibility, liberals believe that because many problems are rooted in society, individuals

cannot solve such problems for themselves. In the 2016 presidential campaign, the Democratic

candidates Hillary Clinton (a moderate liberal) and especially Bernie Sanders (farther to the left)

both claimed that people’s success or failure is not so much about who is smarter or works

harder but how wealth and power are distributed in the United States. Republicans candidates,

including Donald Trump, took a more conservative position, claiming that a productive and

free society rests on a market system that allows people to pursue their dreams. Democrats

called for higher taxation to reduce economic inequality and fund new government benefits;

Republicans, however, won the election and went on to reduce taxes on individuals and,

especially, on corporations with the goal of encouraging investment and economic growth.

1. Explain how the following slogans from bumper
stickers are examples of claims making: (a) “Build the
Wall”; (b) “Guns Don’t Kill People; People Kill Peo-
ple”; (c) “It’s a Child, Not a Choice”; (d) “When You
Elect Clowns, Expect a Circus”; and (e) “I’m a Republi-
can: I work so you don’t have to.”

2. What kinds of questions might you ask about, say, pov-
erty, using the structural-functional, symbolic-interaction,
feminist, and Marxist social-conflict approaches?

3. Identify several national politicians—try to include
your own members of Congress—who fall on the

conservative and liberal sides of the political spectrum.
What are their views on social issues such as sexual vi-
olence and transgender rights and on economic issues
such as U.S. corporations moving abroad and raising
taxes to reduce income inequality?

4. Explain how people’s political attitudes affect the
kinds of issues they are likely to define as social prob-
lems. For example, do conservatives or liberals see the
“breakdown of the traditional family” as a social prob-
lem? Why? Are conservatives or liberals more con-
cerned about economic inequality? Explain.

Getting Involved: Applications and Exercises

The more we favor the right
side of the political spectrum,
the more we expect people to
set their own goals and to solve
economic problems for them-
selves. Conservatives claim that
a job is a personal responsibility,
and they suggest that, to find a
good job, people have to ensure
that they have the necessary
personal skills and ambition as
well as sufficient training for the
type of job they are seeking.

Gilles Mingasson/Getty Images.

30

Making the Grade
CHAPTER 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems

Seeing Patterns: The Sociological
Imagination

1.1 Explain the benefits of learning about sociology
and using the sociological imagination.

Sociology is the systematic study of human societies.

• Sociologist C. Wright Mills coined the expression
“the sociological imagination” to encourage people to
view their own personal problems as connected to the
workings of society.

Social Problems: The Basics

1.2 Define the concept “social problem” and explain
how the people in a society come to define some
issues—and not others—as social problems.

A social problem is a condition that undermines the
well-being of some or all members of a society and is usu-
ally controversial.

• A social-constructionist approach holds that a social
problem is created as society defines some condition
as undesirable and in need of change.

• The specific conditions defined as social problems
change over time.

• At any particular time, the objective facts and the sub-
jective perception of any social issue may or may not
be the same.

• A global perspective is important because many social
problems cross national boundaries. Also, many prob-
lems, such as poverty, are more serious elsewhere in
the world than in the United States.

Claims making refers to efforts by officials, individuals,
and organizations to convince others that a particular issue
or situation should be defined as a social problem. Claims
made by one group of people typically prompt counter-
claims by other groups.

Social movements typically go through four stages: emer-
gence, coalescence, formalization, and decline.

sociological imagination (p. 4) a point of view that highlights
how society affects the experiences we have and the choices we
make
sociology (p. 5) the systematic study of human societies
society (p. 5) people who live within some territory and share
many patterns of behavior
culture (p. 5) a way of life including widespread values (about
what is good and bad), beliefs (about what is true), and behavior
(what people do every day)

social problem (p. 5) a condition that undermines the well-
being of some or all members of a society and is usually a matter
of public controversy
social-constructionist approach (p. 6) the assertion that social
problems arise as people define conditions as undesirable and in
need of change
claims making (p. 8) efforts by officials, individuals, and orga-
nizations to convince others that a particular issue or situation
should be defined as a social problem
social movement (p. 10) an organized effort at claims making
that tries to shape the way people think about an issue in order to
encourage or discourage social change

Analyzing Social Problems:
Sociological Theory

1.3 Apply sociological theory to the study of social
problems.

Sociologists use theoretical approaches to guide their
research and theory building. The major theoretical
approaches—structural-functional, social-conflict, femi-
nist, and symbolic-interaction—all provide insights into
various social problems.

Macro-Level
The structural-functional approach sees society as a com-
plex system of many different parts.

• Early social pathology theory viewed problems as dis-
ruptions in society’s normal operation.

• Later, social disorganization theory linked social prob-
lems to rapid change.

• More recently, functionalism views social problems in
terms of the dysfunctions of various social patterns.

The social-conflict approach highlights social inequality, in-
cluding inequality based on class and on race and ethnicity.

• Class conflict theory, based on the ideas of Karl Marx,
links social problems to the operation of a capitalist
economic system.

• Multicultural theory spotlights problems arising from
inequality between people in various racial and ethnic
categories.

The feminist approach highlights social inequality based
on gender. Feminist theory links social problems to men’s
domination of women.

Micro-Level
The symbolic-interaction approach helps us understand
how people experience social problems in their routine, ev-
eryday interactions.

Chapter 1 Sociology: Studying Social Problems 31

• The learning approach links social problems to the learn-
ing of undesirable skills and attitudes from others.

• The labeling approach investigates how and why people
come to define certain behaviors as problematic and
others as normal.

Social policy refers to strategies that societies use to
address problems.

• A society evaluates a social policy based on its
success, its cost, and whether the population it targets
represents the best solution to a social problem.

• Societies favor social policy that reflects important
cultural values.

• The kinds of policies individual people favor depend
on their political attitudes.

theory (p. 13) a statement of how and why specific facts are related
theoretical approach (p. 13) a basic image of society that guides
theory and research
structural-functional approach (p. 13) a theoretical framework
that sees society as a system of many interrelated parts
social institution (p. 13) a major sphere of social life, or a societal
subsystem, organized to meet a basic human need
social-conflict approach (p. 15) a theoretical framework that sees
society as divided by inequality and conflict
feminism (p. 16) a political movement that seeks the social equal-
ity of women and men
symbolic-interaction approach (p. 17) a theoretical framework that
sees society as the product of individuals interacting with one another

Finding the Facts: Sociological Research

1.4 Discuss the methods sociologists use to study
social problems.

Sociologists use a variety of methods to investigate social
problems.

Survey research can take different forms:

• A questionnaire is a series of items a researcher presents
to subjects for their response.

• An interview is a more personal survey technique in
which a researcher meets face-to-face with respon-
dents to discuss some issue.

• A case study focuses on a single person, organization,
or event.

Field research allows a researcher to observe people over a
long period of time.

Experimental research is carried out in a laboratory.
Researchers change one variable while keeping the others
the same in order to identify causes of patterns of behavior.

Secondary analysis of existing data can be quick and easy,
but a researcher must be careful not to rely on data that
may be incorrect or contain a political bias.

survey (p. 18) a research method in which subjects respond to
items on a questionnaire or in an interview
field research (participant observation) (p. 19) a research
method for observing people while joining them in their everyday
activities
experiment (p. 19) a research method for investigating cause-
and-effect relationships under tightly controlled conditions
secondary analysis (p. 19) a research method that makes use of
data originally collected by others

Responding to Social Problems: Social
Policy

1.5 Identify factors that shape how societies devise
policy to respond to social problems.

social policy (p. 21) formal strategies that affect how society
operates

POLITICS
Constructing Problems and Defining
Solutions

1.6 Analyze how political attitudes shape the process of
constructing social problems and defining solutions.

The political spectrum is a model representing people’s
attitudes about social issues and economic issues.

Conservatives claim that social problems arise from the
shortcomings of particular individuals or the bad choices
people make about how to live.

• Conservatives see the family and religion as import-
ant social institutions transmitting the moral traditions
that guide people to live good lives.

Liberals claim that social problems arise from the operation
of society, including patterns of social inequality that pre-
vent categories of people from having equal opportunity.

• Liberals seek reform rather than radical change in so-
cial institutions.

On the radical left, Marxists claim that social problems re-
sult from the operation of the capitalist economic system.

• From the far-left point of view, the solution to social
problems requires radical change to our society’s insti-
tutions, beginning with the economy.

The radical right claims that the most serious problem
our society faces is the growth of big government, which
threatens individual freedoms.

• Some people on the far right withdraw from society
altogether to live as survivalists in remote areas.

Generally speaking, conservatives favor the Republican
Party, while liberals favor the Democratic Party.

political spectrum (p. 23) a continuum representing a range of
political attitudes from “left to right”
social issues (p. 24) political debates involving moral judgments
about how people should live
economic issues (p. 24) political debates about how a society
should produce and distribute material resources

32

2.4 Explain the changing ways our society has
used the social welfare system to respond to
poverty.

2.5 Apply sociological theory to the issue of
poverty.

2.6 Analyze economic inequality from various
positions on the political spectrum.

2.1 Describe the distribution of income and
wealth in the United States.

2.2 Assess differences in the lives of the rich
and the poor in the United States.

2.3 Analyze how poverty is linked to other
social problems.

Chapter 2

Economic Inequality

S
lim

A
ar

on
s/

P
re

m
iu

m
A

rc
hi

ve
/

G
et

ty
Im

ag
es

.

C
on

T
an

as
iu

k/
D

es
ig

n
P

ic
s

In
c/

A
la

m
y

S

to
ck

P
ho

to
.

Lu
cy

N
ic

ho
ls

on
/T

ho
m

so
n

R
eu

te
rs

(M

ar
ke

ts
) L

LC
.

Constructing the Problem

How much economic inequality
is fair?

The richest 20 percent of U.S. families
earn almost as much as the remaining
80 percent combined; the richest
1 percent of families control 40 percent
of the country’s wealth.

Do you think U.S. society is
becoming more equal?

In recent decades, income inequality
in the United States has increased.
The richest 1 percent of families own
a larger share of wealth than at any
time over the last fifty years.

Is there significant poverty in the United
States?

In 2016, 40.6 million people were counted
as poor.

Learning Objectives

Chapter 2 Economic Inequality 33

Tracking the Trends

Survey Question: “How much opportunity does the average person have to get ahead?”

Year

0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

90

100

1952 1998 2011 2013 2016

P
er

ce
n

ta
g

e
R

es
p

o
n

d
in

g

“Not much opportunity”

“Plenty of opportunity”

SOURCE: Gallup (2016).

One of the defining qualities of U.S. society has always been providing
opportunity for people to get ahead through their own effort. For decades, the
Gallup organization has asked survey questions about how much opportunity
our country provides. Here are two such questions:

Some people say there’s not much opportunity in America today—that
the average person doesn’t have much chance to really get ahead. Others
say there’s plenty of opportunity and anyone who works hard can go as
far as they want. Which comes closer to the way you feel about this?

Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the opportunity for a person
in this nation to get ahead by working hard?

In 1952, 87 percent of U.S. adults expressed the view that “there is plenty of
opportunity” in the United States. As recently as 1998, 81 percent of people
agreed with this view. In the following decade, however, this confidence erod-
ed and just 52 percent held the same view in 2013 with a modest increase to
70 percent by 2016. The flip side of this trend is that, back in 1952, just 8 percent
of adults claimed that “there is not much opportunity.” By 1998, that share had
more than doubled, and by 2013, 43 percent were dissatisfied with the oppor-
tunity for a person to get ahead. The latest data for 2016 show that 28 percent
of people say they feel this way. Over the long term, then, people are far less
confident about the chances to get ahead.

34 Chapter 2 Economic Inequality

Chapter Overview
How unequal is U.S. society in terms of income and wealth? This chapter documents the
extent of economic inequality and describes the contrasting lives of this country’s rich
and poor. You will analyze a range of problems—including poor health, unsafe hous-
ing, and political alienation—that are linked to poverty. You will learn what our society
has done—and has not done—to assist the poor over the course of our nation’s history.
Finally, you will carry out theoretical analysis of social inequality and learn how political
attitudes guide people to construct certain “problems” and favor certain “solutions.”

in a clean but decades-old trailer in Buena Vista Mobile
Home Park, paying $800 a month to rent a site.

Sandra and Roberto were drawn to Palo Alto by the city’s
schools, which are among the best in the country. They knew
that graduating from the local high school would give their
daughters an excellent chance to get a college education and
to have a much richer life than their parents have known.

But the family’s future in Palo Alto suddenly became un-
certain. The mobile home park, like all the local land, had be-
come very valuable. The park owners decided to sell the land
to a group of investors who planned to close the mobile home
park and build luxury apartments. In 2014, after a hearing
that included statements by both park owners and park resi-
dents, the city officials decided to allow the park to be closed
and the land sold. That decision meant that the roughly 400
people in Buena Vista would be forced to find other housing
with assistance by the park owners and the city.

Many residents of the larger community were concerned
that closing this neighborhood—in which 80 percent of the
people were Hispanic and almost all had relatively low

Twelve-year-old Jennifer Muñoz Tello keeps an eye on her
two-year-old sister as she looks down the street hoping to see
a friend come out to join her. On this June afternoon in Palo
Alto, California, the girls enjoy the sunshine in front of the
trailer where they live with their mother, Sandra, and their
father, Roberto. Sandra works long days cleaning houses,
and Roberto works almost until sundown in construction.

The Muñoz Tello family is not like most of the people
who live in their community. Palo Alto has a median in-
come of about $137,000, making it one of the richest cities
in the United States. Many of the local people drive BMWs,
Audis, or one of the new Tesla electric cars. The average
home sells for about $2 million. This affluence is rooted
in the computer revolution, which transformed the whole
Silicon Valley region into an economic growth machine.

This widespread affluence hides the reality of people
like Jennifer and her family, who earn barely enough to
meet the high cost of living. Sandra could never hope to
live in one of the houses she cleans or one of the new homes
that Roberto helps to build. The Muñoz Tello family lives

Jerzy Dabrowski/Picture-alliance/Dpa/AP Images.

Chapter 2 Economic Inequality 35

striking contrast to small homes in need of repair across town.
Some children dress in the latest styles, eat nutritious meals,
have regular checkups at the doctor, and go on vacations to
destinations around the world. But others wear hand-me-
downs, eat unhealthy food, go to the emergency room when
they are injured or sick, and rarely travel anywhere.

These patterns are just some of the consequences of
social stratification, society’s system of ranking categories of
people in a hierarchy. Stratification produces social classes, cat-
egories of people who have similar access to resources and opportu-
nities. Being born into a particular social class affects people’s
life chances, including how much schooling they receive, the
kind of work they will do (or their chances of not finding a
job), and even how long they will live. Social stratification
is a powerful system, and few people realize just how eco-
nomically unequal people in the United States really are. We
begin, then, with some important economic indicators.

Inequality of Income and Wealth
Any discussion of economic inequality must begin with a
look at inequality in income, salary or wages from a job plus
earnings from investments and other sources. According to the
U.S. government, the median family income—that is, the
middle case of all families when ranked by income—was
$67,871 in 2016.

As the pie chart in Figure 2–1 shows, the highest-
earning 20 percent of U.S. families with income of at least

incomes—would wipe out most of Palo Alto’s low- income
housing and diminish the town’s social diversity. For
Jennifer and her sister, the thought of having to move had
a more personal consequence—threatening their dreams for
the future (Westervelt, 2013; City of Palo Alto, 2016).

In 2017, with widespread community support, the city
acted to purchase the park’s land and place it under the
Housing Authority of Santa Clara County. The homes of
the Buena Vista families have been saved (Kurhi, 2017).

Economic differences can be found in every community
across the United States, and often the differences are strik-
ing. Just as importantly, economic inequality in the United
States is increasing. This chapter examines poverty and
wealth in this country, explaining how income and wealth
are distributed. We begin with some basic facts about the un-
equal distribution of economic resources in the United States.

Economic Inequality
in the United States
2.1 Describe the distribution of income and wealth in

the United States.

It doesn’t take a sociologist to point out that some people have
much more money than others. The evidence of economic
inequality is everywhere: Large, fancy houses with swim-
ming pools and workout rooms in one neighborhood stand in

49.2%

9.2%

3.7%

Share of All U.S. Income Received
by Each 20% of Families (2016)

Share of
Population

Minimum
Annual Family Income

>$0100

Poorest 20%Fourth 20%Second 20%Richest 20% of families Third 20 %

0.1% $ 2,220,000

1 $ 481,000

5 $ 251,000

10 $ 200,000

20 $ 140,000

30 $ 125,000

40 $ 90,000

50 $ 72,000

60 $ 58,000

70 $ 43,000

80 $ 32,000

90 $ 20,000

22.9%

15.0%

Diversity Snapshot
Figure 2–1 Distribution of Income in the United States

Income is unequally distributed, with the highest-earning one-fifth of U.S. families receiving 49.2
percent of all income. This is more than thirteen times as much as the 3.7 percent of income earned
by the bottom one-fifth of U.S. families.

SOURCES: Internal Revenue Service (2017) and U.S. Census Bureau (2017).

36 Chapter 2 Economic Inequality

$0

$50,000

$100,000

$150,000

$200,000

$250,000

$300,000

$350,000

$400,000

$450,000

19
80

19
82

19
84

19
86

19
88

19
90

19
92

19
94

19
96

19
98

20
00

20
02

20
04

20
06

20
08

20
10

20
12

20
14

20
16

1$222,869

1$102,863

1$30,104

1$14,416

1$417

1$6,226

Year

C
o

n
st

an
t

20
16

D
o

lla
rs

Top 5 percent

Richest fifth

Fourth fifth

Second fifth

Poorest fifth

Third fifth

Figure 2–2 Mean Annual Income for U.S Families, 1980–2016 (in 2016 dollars, adjusted for
inflation)

The highest-income families are now earning much more than they did in 1980, while average families have seen only small
gains. The lowest-income families actually earned little more in 2016 than in 1980.

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau (2018).

$140,000 in 2016 and with an average (mean) of $239,486
received 49.2 percent of all income. At the other end of
the hierarchy, the lowest-paid 20 percent with income
below $32,000 in 2016 and averaging $18,202 received just
3.7 percent of all income. Comparing these categories,
we see that the high-income families earned more than
thirteen times as much as the low-income families. From
another angle, the highest-earning 20 percent of families
earned nearly as much as the remaining 80 percent of fam-
ilies combined (U.S. Census Bureau, 2018).

The table in Figure 2–1 gives a more detailed look at the
U.S. income distribution. In 2016, families in the top 10 percent
earned at least $200,000, those in the top 5 percent earned
at least $251,000, and families in the top 1 percent received
about $481,000. At the very top, in 2016, the highest-paid
one-tenth of 1 percent of families earned at least $2.2 mil-
lion. This means that a very small share of families earn as
much money in a single year as a typical family earns in an
entire lifetime.

Since about 1980, income inequality among U.S. fami-
lies has been increasing. As shown in Figure 2–2, between
1980 and 2016, the annual income of the highest-paid

20  percent of U.S. families (about half of the families
included in this category in 1980 were still there in 2016)
increased by 75 percent (from an average of $136,624
to $239,486). During this period, people in the middle
of the income distribution typically saw gains of about
25 percent. The lowest-paid 20 percent of U.S. families,
however, increased by just 2 percent, making an average
of $417 more in 2016 than they earned in 1980. In short,
economic gains have been huge for the rich and small for
average families. But the lowest-earning families today
are living on about the same money that they were thirty
years ago. Based on government data, income inequality
is now greater than at any time in the past fifty years
(U.S. Census Bureau, 2018). What do people think of
this   trend? The Social Problems in Focus box provides
some answers.

Economic inequality in the United States is even
greater when it comes to wealth, the value of all the eco-
nomic assets owned by a person or family minus any debts.
Wealth is made up of more than money earned; it
also includes the value of homes, automobiles, stocks,
bonds, real estate, and businesses. Figure 2–3 shows

Chapter 2 Economic Inequality 37

SOCIAL PROBLEMS IN FOCUS

Increasing Economic Inequality:
When Does It Become a Problem?
In the poorest communities in the United States—such as rural
Clay County, Georgia; Brooks County, Texas; and Holmes
County, Mississippi—the typical household manages to earn
barely $20,000 a year. In a rich community such as Palo Alto,
California, the average family earns eight time this much.
And in the richest communities—such as urban Greenwich,
Connecticut; Jupiter Island, Florida; and Winnetka, Illinois—the
typical household earns more than ten times that much.

In 2016, the average compensation of the 350 largest
company corporate chief executive officers (CEOs) in the United
States was $15.6 million (they earned more money in just two days
than the average worker earned all year). The very highest-paid
people in the country—the twenty-five top-earning investment
fund managers on Wall Street—averaged $436 million each in
income, any on of them earning more than all of Vermont’s public
school teachers and more than 1,100 times the salary paid to the
country’s president (Vermont Agency of Education, 2015; Mishel
& Schieder, 2017; Vardi, 2017; White House, 2017).

In any organization, we might well expect the people in
charge to earn more than ordinary workers. For example, public
high school principals earn 1.5 times as much as public high
school teachers. Similarly, hospital CEOs earn about 2.5 times
as much as the average hospital physician. The presidents of
small liberal arts colleges earn about 4 times as much as the
faculty who teach there. But the income gap can get huge in

the corporate world and on Wall Street. The CEOs of investment
banks earn 20 times as much as the typical investment banker.
Among the largest 500 corporations, CEOs earn almost 100
times as much as typical middle managers. And the 25 top
hedge-fund managers on Wall Street earn more than 2,800
times as much as the average investment fund manager (and
more than 20,000 times as much as the average U.S. worker).

Survey data indicate that an increasing share of U.S. adults
have real concerns about economic inequality and the extent of
opportunity for all. As we noted in the beginning of this chapter,
a slight majority of people say there is opportunity for people
who work hard, but this share is lower than it was several
generations ago. Almost half (45 percent) of U.S. adults now
say that our society is “divided into two groups, the ‘haves’ and
the ‘have-nots’.” When asked about the gap between middle-
class people and rich people, 70 percent of adults correctly say
that differences are greater than they were ten years ago.

Anyone who paid attention to the 2016 presidential
campaign knows that—at least among Democrats—economic
inequality is now widely defined as a serious social problem.
In addition, when researchers asked people to respond to the
statement “differences in income in America are too large,” 63
percent of U.S. adults agreed, 20 percent said they neither
agreed nor disagreed, and 16 percent disagreed (the remaining
1 percent had no opinion). Similarly, when asked if “there is

that the wealthiest 20 percent of U.S. families own about
88 percent of all privately held wealth. Near the top, the
very rich—those in the top 5 percent—own 65 percent
of all  wealth, and the super-rich, in the top 1 percent,
control 40 percent of all private assets (Wolff, 2014;
Ingraham, 2017).

The second 20 percent of U.S. families own about
9 percent of all wealth. People in this category own some
stocks and bonds, but most of their wealth is in the form
of home equity and the value of automobiles and other
consumer goods. Looking at the entire economic hierar-
chy, however, we see that about half of all U.S. families
have barely any wealth at all. In other words, most ordi-
nary families own a home and other personal property, but
the value of these assets is roughly balanced by what they
owe in home mortgages, car loans, and credit card debt.
This fact means that most families live from paycheck to
paycheck and lack cash reserves to carry them through an
emergency. In a world in which illness or unemployment
can strike unexpectedly, many families are only a paycheck
or two away from poverty.

Percentage of All U.S. Wealth

Second 20
percent: 9.3%

Third 20
percent: 2.7% Fourth 20

percent: 0.5%

Richest 20 percent
of families:

88.9%

Diversity Snapshot
Figure 2–3 Distribution of Wealth in the United States

Wealth is distributed much more unequally than income is. The
richest one-fifth of U.S. families control 88.9 percent of all privately
owned wealth; the poorest one-fifth of families have no wealth and
are actually in debt.

SOURCE: Wolff (2014).

38 Chapter 2 Economic Inequality

10 percent of all income. But by 1980, economic inequal-
ity was increasing once again. The top 1 percent earned a
larger and larger share of all income, peaking in 2007 at
almost the same level as just before the Great Depression.

The United States has always embraced a way of life
that emphasizes competitive individualism, and so most
people accept the idea that people’s rewards should reflect
their talents, abilities, and efforts. But most people now
say that our country’s economic differences are too large
(Smith et al., 2015). Even more disturbing, other surveys
find that a large majority of people in the United States
believe that our economic system is unfairly “rigged” so
that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” (Morin,
2012; Pew Research Center, 2012).

We know that many well-known people earn a lot
of money. Entertainers like Katy Perry (who earns about
$135 million a year) and Jay Z ($42 million), as well as
athletes LeBron James ($72 million) and Maria Sharapova
($30  million), earn far more money in a year than the rest of
us are likely to see in a lifetime.

But is income always a good measure of talent, ability,
and effort? In 2017, Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles
Dodgers topped the income scale of all major league ball-
players with $33 million in earnings. Even the legendary
Yankee Babe Ruth—arguably the greatest ballplayer of
all time—earned only $80,000 (or $1.1 million in today’s
dollars) in his highest-paid seasons (1930 and 1931).

In recent years, Democratic politicians (especially
2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders) have called
attention to the very high pay that goes to some people—
especially the leaders of large corporations. In 2016,
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, was the highest-earning CEO,
receiving total compensation of $150 million in salary,
bonus, stock options, and other perks. That year, the
country’s ten highest-paid CEOs averaged more than
$76 million each in earnings.

Rising CEO pay is an important dimension of increas-
ing economic inequality. Back in 1970, the compensa-
tion of top CEOs was about 40 times what the average
company employee earned. By 2016, top CEOs earned
271 times more than the average worker. This upward
trend shows no signs of ending: In 2016, these top earn-
ers saw their pay increase by about another 4 percent,

P
er

ce
n

ta
g

e
o

f
A

ll
In

co
m

e
E

ar
n

ed
b

y
th

e
R

ic
h

es
t

1%

19241913 1937 1950 1963 1976 1989 2002 2015

0%

3%

5%

8%

10%

13%

15%

18%

20%

23%

25%

28%

30%

Figure 2–4 Share of All U.S. Income Earned by the
Richest 1 Percent, 1913–2015

In 1929, the richest 1 percent of the U.S. population earned almost
one-fourth of all income. For several decades after that, the richest 1
percent’s share of income declined. But by 1980, this share began to
increase, peaking in 2007 at almost the 1929 level. The share fell during
the recent recession but then increased again to 22 percent in 2015.

SOURCE: Saez and Piketty (2016).

too much power in the hands of a few rich people and large
corporations,” 77 percent of U.S. adults agreed that this was
the case, and just 19 percent disagreed (again, the remainder
had no opinion). These responses are even more striking when
we keep in mind that the actual level of economic inequality
is much greater than the average person thinks it is (Pew
Research Center, 2013; Bloomberg News, 2015; Gallup, 2015;
Smith et al., 2015).

What Do You Think?
1. In your opinion, are economic differences in the United

States too big or not?

2. What evidence can you point to that economic inequality is
harmful to community life in this country?

3. What action, if any, should government take to address eco-
nomic inequality?

The Trend toward Increasing Economic
Inequality
In recent decades, the United States has experienced a rising
level of economic inequality. In fact, economic inequality in
this country has reached levels not seen since 1929, just before
the Great Depression. As shown in Figure 2–4, the 1920s was
a decade that saw steady gains in income for the highest-
earning 1 percent of the population who, just before the stock
market crash, received almost 25 percent of all income.

As the Great Depression came to an end, the eco-
nomic trend in the United States reversed itself and began
to move toward greater income equality. By the 1970s, as
the figure shows, the richest 1 percent received less than

Chapter 2 Economic Inequality 39

the government uses taxes to discourage certain types of
behavior; for example, high taxes on cigarettes discourage
smoking by making tobacco more expensive. Third, and
most important to this discussion, taxation can be a tool
to redistribute income and to reduce economic inequality.

The government reduces economic inequality using a
system of progressive taxation, a policy that raises tax rates
as income increases. This idea is a modern-day version of
the story of Robin Hood, with government taking more
from the rich in taxes and giving more to the poor in assis-
tance and benefits. As shown in Table 2–1, the 1 percent of
2015 tax returns reporting the highest income ($480,930 or
more) ended up paying 27 percent of this income in fed-
eral income taxes (federal inheritance taxes, state and local
income taxes, and all sales taxes are not included in this
figure). The top 10 percent of tax returns (reporting income
of $138,031 or more) paid 21 percent of earnings in fed-
eral taxes. The bottom 50 percent of tax returns (reporting
income of $39,274 or less) paid just 4 percent of earnings
in federal taxes. Under this progressive system, families
with lower incomes pay at a lower rate and receive more
financial benefits from the government, and those with
high incomes pay at a higher rate and receive fewer bene-
fits. When all deductions and benefits are considered, 77.5
million U.S. households (45.3 percent of the total) paid no
federal income tax at all in 2015 (even so, most of these
households paid a payroll tax and state or local income
taxes) (Tax Policy Center, 2015).

Looking at dollars rather than rates, income tax returns
filed by people earning more than $480,930 (the top- earning
1 percent) show an average payment of $402,038 in federal
income tax. Households earning less than $39,274 (the bot-
tom 50 percent of tax returns) show an average tax bill of
$582. Rich families, who on average earn ninety-eight times
more than lower-income families, pay almost 700 times
more in federal income tax. In other words, our country’s
progressive system taxes the rich seven times more heav-
ily than lower-income people, which has the consequence
of redistributing money and reducing income inequality
(Luhby, 2011; Internal Revenue Service, 2017).

more than the 1.1 percent increase received by the aver-
age U.S. worker (Mishel & Schieder, 2017; Social Security
Administration, 2017).

Defenders of such high earnings claim that companies
pay what it takes to attract the most talented people to top
leadership. A baseball pitcher in the major leagues may be
just marginally better than a farm-team pitcher, but even a
small difference helps win games and is important enough to
warrant much higher pay. Similarly, in the corporate world,
having the best leaders can help a company perform better
(Fishman & Sullivan, 2013). But critics counter that com-
pany performance is not clearly linked to CEO rewards. For
example, studies have found that some of the highest-paid
CEOs have some of the worst performance records and half
of the companies paying top salaries to CEOs actually lost
money during that year (Helman, 2011; Adams, 2014).

What about the rest of us? Do people who play by
the rules and work hard at their jobs have the opportu-
nity to get ahead? The idea that those willing to make the
effort can earn economic security and expect to improve
social standing over time is at the heart of the American
dream. In recent decades, while people at the top of the
income hierarchy have been generously rewarded, average
people who work hard have been struggling to hang on
to what they have. With good-paying jobs harder to find,
it is not surprising that the share of people who say that
they believe their family can achieve the American dream
declined, and confidence is lowest among people with the
least schooling (Gallup, 2013; Smith, 2017).

Taxation
Taxation is an important government policy that affects
income inequality. The government levies a tax on what
we earn and what we buy for three major reasons. First,
taxes provide the government with the money it needs to
operate. Taxes not only fund the salaries of government
employees, including members of the military, but also
pay for projects that benefit the public, such as building
roads, repairing bridges, and operating schools. Second,

Table 2–1 Progressive Federal Tax on Income, 2015

SOURCE: Internal Revenue Service (2017).

Share of Population
Adjusted Gross Income
on Tax Return Number of Tax Returns Average Tax Rate Share of Total Income Tax

Top 0.1% $2,220,264 or more 141,205 27% 19%

Top 1% 480,930 or more 1,412,046 27 39

Top 5% 195,778 or more 7,060,231 24 60

Top 10% 138,031 or more 14,120,463 21 71

Top 25% 79,655 or more 35,301,156 18 87

Top 50% 39,275 or more 70,602,313 16 97

Bottom 50% 39,274 or less 70,602,313 4 3

40 Chapter 2 Economic Inequality

The Rich and the Poor:
A Social Profile
2.2 Assess differences in the lives of the rich and the

poor in the United States.

President Obama (2013) has called economic inequality the
“defining challenge of our time.” The foundation for this
claim is the fact that the differences between the rich and the
poor are greater today than they have been for many decades.
Of course, most families in this country are neither rich nor
poor. But to sharpen your understanding of the extent of eco-
nomic inequality in U.S. society and to better understand the
differences that economic standing makes, we now take a
brief look at the two extremes: the rich and the poor.

The Rich
There is no standard definition of what it means to be rich.
To many of us, the rich are people who have a good bit more
than we do. A reasonable definition for this category of the
population might be people with family income in the top 10
percent of the distribution. By this standard, a rich family has
an income of at least $170,000 a year. Many men and women
with incomes in this range are successful in corporate life
and operating their own businesses; others are physicians,
lawyers, and college deans and presidents (although rarely
college professors). Over their working lives, a good portion
of the rich will become millionaires. There are about 10.4 mil-
lion households (about 9 percent of the total) in the United
States with at least $1 million in investment assets excluding
the value of a home. If one counts home values, the number
of millionaires is several times higher (Frank, 2016).

Well-off people typically live in large and well-
appointed homes, wear expensive clothes, and enjoy the
high regard of people around them. Many in this cate-
gory also have the power to make a difference—they have
access to political leaders, and they are decision mak-
ers in their own right as members of governing boards
of businesses and community organizations. High up in
this elite category, we find a number of names familiar to
people across the country and around the world. Oprah
Winfrey, for example, is one of the highest-paid people on
television and a highly successful businesswoman whose
net worth has soared to somewhere in the range of $3
billion (Alexander, 2017). Donald Trump earns $400,000
a year as president—far below the roughly $75 million
Winfrey earns each year—but he, too, has a net worth of
about $3 billion.

An estimate for 2017 placed the wealth of the ten rich-
est individuals in the United States at more than $610 bil-
lion, which is as much as the wealth of 10 million average
people at $61,000 each. Put another way, the nation’s ten
richest people have more assets than the combined wealth

At the very top of the income pyramid, people earn-
ing $2.2 million or more per year (who average $7.5 mil-
lion) typically paid about $2 million in federal income
taxes (Internal Revenue Service, 2017). The top one-tenth
of 1 percent of households in terms of income paid 19
percent of all income taxes collected by the federal gov-
ernment, and the bottom half of all U.S. households paid
only 3 percent of all federal taxes. This contrast helps us
see that income taxes, including tax cuts or tax increases,
typically have the biggest dollar effect on high-income
households.

Knowing this fact, many high-income people make
use of various legal strategies to lower their income taxes.
For example, executives may ask corporations to defer
some income until a later time when it will trigger less
tax, or wealthy people may make charitable contributions
that, under the tax law, they can use to reduce their taxable
income.

Because high-income people must also pay a share
of any inheritance that passes from one generation to the
next, they make use of policies such as trusts and tax-free
annual gifts to reduce these taxes. The 2017 tax law passed
by Congress and supported by the Trump administration
provides enormous benefits to wealthy families because it
doubles the amount of wealth that is exempt from estate
taxes from $5.5 million to $11 million for an unmarried
person, or $22 million for a married couple (Sahadi, 2018).

But, even without special strategies, many very
high-income people pay only about 15 to 20 percent of
their income in taxes. This low tax rate reflects the fact
that many of the very rich make most of their money not
from salaries or profits (which are taxed at a top rate of
37 percent) but from investment or “unearned” income
and capital gains, which is taxed at no more than 20 per-
cent. So any one person’s tax rate depends on not only the
level of income but also the source of the income (Johnston,
2005; Moore & Anderson, 2005; Ohlemacher, 2011; Internal
Revenue Service, 2017).

So how much does our progressive system of taxation
actually reduce income inequality? The answer is “some-
what.” One recent study concluded that income inequal-
ity with progressive taxation is about 20 percent less than
it would be without it. In other words, progressive taxa-
tion does make a difference, but not all that much (Wessel,
2015). Therefore, increasing the tax rate on high incomes
(from the current top rate of 37 percent to, say, 50 percent)
would further reduce income inequality but only by a few
percent (Orszag, 2015; Frankel, 2017).

Finally, keep in mind that not all government taxes are
progressive. The tax on gasoline or cigarettes, for example,
is a set amount per gallon or pack purchased. Although
everyone pays the same tax on the sale, these taxes are
regressive because a fixed tax takes a bigger bite out of
lower-income budgets.

Chapter 2 Economic Inequality 41

lived in a household with income below the official pov-
erty line, not counting the value of benefits such as food
stamps, Medicaid, and public housing.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture set the poverty
line to represent an annual income three times greater than
what a family has to spend in order to eat a basic, nutri-
tious diet. Every year, government officials adjust this dol-
lar amount to reflect the changing cost of living. In 2016,
the poverty line for a nonfarm family of four was $24,563.
Poverty thresholds by family size are shown in Table 2–2.

The U.S. government uses what might be called an abso-
lute poverty line—one directly linked to the cost of a basic
diet. European governments, by contrast, use a relative pov-
erty line, one set at 60 percent of the median income level.
What does this difference in defining “poverty” mean? In
the United States, poverty is defined as a condition in which
people may not have enough to get by. How everyone else is
doing does not figure in to the poverty rate. In Europe, where
there is greater concern for the degree of economic inequal-
ity, poverty is seen as a relative condition that prevents peo-
ple from being able to fully participate in social life because
they have much less income than everyone else. If the United
States were to use the European standard, the poverty line
for a family of four would be about $50,000 and our poverty
rate would be almost three times as high at about 35 percent.

With the poverty line set so low, how easily can a fam-
ily live on this level of income? Anyone who lives with this
limited income knows that it is extremely difficult. Some
analysts suggest that, to reach a minimum level of eco-
nomic security, a U.S. family would need income at least
25 percent higher than the poverty line—something a step
or two closer to the European standard. Some organiza-
tions go even further. A recent calculation by the Economic
Policy Institute (2016) estimates that a two-parent family
with two children living in a low-income region (such as
Laredo, Texas) would require an income of about $57,000—
more than double the government’s poverty line—in order

of the entire populations of Maine, New Hampshire,
Vermont, and Connecticut. For some years, the richest
of the rich has been Bill Gates, a founder of Microsoft
Corporation and its single largest shareholder. Gates,
is worth roughly $89 billion, which equals the wealth of
about 1.5 million ordinary people, or roughly the entire
population of Montana. In 2018, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos
surpassed Gates, amassing wealth that is estimated to be
in excess of $100 billion (Wolff, 2014; U.S. Census Bureau,
2015, 2018; Metcalf, 2018).

Which categories of people are most likely to be rich?
In general, older people have the most wealth because
earnings rise through middle age and savings increase
over time. Men have more wealth than women do, a pat-
tern detailed in Chapter 4 (“Gender Inequality”), because,
on average, a larger share of men work full time and,
when they do, they earn 21 percent more than comparable
women. Married couples out-earn single people because
most of these couples benefit from double incomes and
they save money by sharing their living expenses. Finally,
white people in the United States fare better than people
of color. The Census Bureau (2018) reports that 61 percent
of white families earn $50,000 or more annually, compared
with just 48 percent of Hispanic families and 41 percent of
African American families.

Should we define the rich as a social problem? On one
hand, the rich are successful people, many of whom are
living the American dream. Understandably, many people
see such achievement as good. On the other hand, a society
that distributes opportunity and wealth so unequally also
leaves others behind: the poor.

The Poor
In this nation of great wealth, tens of millions of people
living in cities and in rural areas scratch out a living on
too little income. Every day across the United States, tens
of millions of families struggle to get needed food, to pay
the monthly rent, and to stay healthy. Many poor fami-
lies experience the same daily struggle that is common in
low-income countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
(A full discussion of global poverty and hunger is found
in Chapter 16, “Population and Global Inequality.”)

The Poverty Line How many people in the United States
are poor? Back in 1964, when the federal government
launched a “war on poverty,” officials devised what they
called the poverty line, an income level set by the U.S. govern-
ment for the purpose of counting the poor. The poverty line rep-
resents a dollar amount of annual income below which the
government defines a person or family as “poor” and eli-
gible for government assistance. In 2016, some 40.6  million
people were counted among the poor, resulting in a poverty
rate of 12.7 percent of the U.S. population. These people

Table 2–2 U.S. Government Poverty Threshold,
by Family Type, 2016

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau (2017).

Family Size Annual Household Income

One person $12,228

Two persons 15,569

Three persons 19,105

Four persons 24,563

Five persons 29,111

Six persons 32,928

Seven persons 37,458

Eight persons 41,781

Nine or more persons 49,721

42 Chapter 2 Economic Inequality

yourself to what extent a family can meet basic needs on
income at the poverty line.

The Poverty Gap The poverty line in the United States is
set below a level that provides adequate income for fam-
ilies. Yet most poor families in the United States live on
much less than poverty line income. The poverty gap is the
difference between the actual income of the typical poor house-
hold and the official poverty line. The poverty gap has been
growing in recent years.

Considerable evidence suggests what poor peo-
ple already know—it is very difficult to live on poverty
line income. But the problem is worse than that. In 2016,
18.5 million people (45.6 percent of all those in poverty)

“to secure an adequate but modest living standard.” In a
high-income region (such as New York City), this same
family would need about $100,000 in annual income.
Averaging across the United States, such a family would
require about $66,000 in annual income, which is about the
national median figure.

Based on such data, critics echo many of the poor
themselves by saying that the government should raise
the poverty line to increase benefits to low-income people.
These analysts claim that the government sets the poverty
line at a very low level in order to make the poverty prob-
lem seem smaller. Yet this same policy harms the interests
of the poor (Lichter & Crowley, 2002; Economic Policy
Institute, 2016). The Personal Stories box lets you see for

PERSONAL STORIES

The Reality of Poverty: Living on the Edge
Zach Perkins, who lives in Richmond, Indiana, knows how
hard it is to live at the poverty line. Zach had worked for seven
years building school buses in a nearby factory before he
was laid off eighteen months ago. He now looks after seven-
year-old twins Michael and Sonya while Sandy Perkins, his
wife, works in a fast-food restaurant. Sandy barely earns
the minimum wage—she averages $7.50 an hour—for forty-
eight hours each week, year-round, for an annual income of
$18,720. Zach earns another $500 per month doing part-time
work, which boosts the family’s total annual earnings to about
$24,720, just above the official poverty line for a family of four,
which in 2016 was $24,563.

To buy food, the Perkins family budgets $6,000, almost
one-third of their income, which amounts to $16 per day. For
this amount to provide three meals for four people, the family
can spend just $1.25 per meal. “You know,” says Sandy with a
painful look, “that’s not even enough to eat in the Burger King
where I work.” Although it is enough to buy low-cost foods (such
as spaghetti, beans, and eggs), it is not enough to buy meals
with wholesome meat and fresh vegetables.

If the family manages to stay within their annual food
budget, they will have to meet all their other expenses for the
year with $15,000, or about $1,250 per month. Their monthly
rent on a simple but adequate mobile home is $700 (they were
lucky to find a rental unit well below the national average rent
level of about $850). But they also have to pay for utilities,
including gas, electricity, and water, and these add another
$200 monthly. Sandy also needs a car to get to work, and
the gasoline, insurance, and repairs for their old Honda add
another $200 to their monthly total. So far, total expenses come
to $1,100, leaving the Perkins family with $150 (about $5 per
day) to cover the cost of clothes for the entire family; everyone’s
medical and dental care; repairs on the washing machine,

television, and other home appliances; school supplies and
toys for the children; and other household items. Obviously, the
family goes without most of these things.

At this income level, the family also has little money for
entertainment, child care, or music lessons for the children.
Zach and Sandy were glad to see the price of gas come down
during the past year, but with the economy doing so badly, Zach
has more trouble finding work, and Sandy is fearful that she
could lose her job. Even if their income stays at the current level,
they realize that sending a child to college or someday owning
their home seems out of the question. “I have to be very careful
with my clothes,” jokes Zach. “By the time I can afford new ones,
these will probably be back in style.”

Zach knows how hard it is to make ends meet. But he adds
firmly, “This family will never ask for a handout.” Seated across
the room, Sandy nods in agreement. Like everyone else, the
poor are proud, even if they are barely able to pay their bills.

Can a family in the United States survive at the poverty
level? Barely. Getting by month to month demands careful
attention to every dollar spent. It also requires a bit of luck: The
family must avoid unplanned expenses, which means everyone
must manage to stay healthy. “Am I sure we can get by?” Zach
wonders, looking down at the floor. “I guess not. But I do know
one thing: We have to try.”

What Do You Think?
1. Can a family survive on an income near the poverty line?

Why or why not?

2. In what ways does growing up in a poor family limit the
chances of children to succeed as adults?

3. Would you support policies or programs to assist a family
like this? What should be done?

Chapter 2 Economic Inequality 43

In 1960, most poor families contained both men and women;
today, by contrast, 51 percent of poor families are headed by
a woman with no husband present, and just 11 percent are
headed by a single man (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017).

Family Patterns Marriage allows partners to combine
incomes and share expenses, which helps to build income
and wealth. Therefore, being married greatly reduces the
risk of being poor. The poverty rate for married people is
5.1 percent compared with 21 percent for unmarried indi-
viduals (the majority of whom are women) (U.S. Census
Bureau, 2017).

Why are single women with children at higher risk of
poverty? Because many single women (but rarely single
men) stay at home to care for their children or because they
cannot afford the child care they need to go to work. For
all single mothers, the poverty rate in 2016 was 27 percent.
Single minority women with children bear an added risk:
About 37 percent of single, African American mothers and
34 percent of single, Hispanic mothers had incomes below
the poverty line. If the mother is also young and has not
completed high school, poverty is almost a certainty (U.S.
Census Bureau, 2017).

Region The official poverty rate varies from state to
state, from a low of 6.6 percent in New Hampshire and
8.3 percent in Minnesota to a high of 21.8 percent in New
Mexico. By region, the South (14.1 percent) and the West
(12.8 percent) have higher poverty rates, followed by the
Midwest (11.7 percent) and the Northeast (10.8 percent)
(U.S. Census Bureau, 2017).

reported family income that was below half of their pov-
erty threshold (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017). In human
terms, this poverty gap means greater hardship caused by
poverty.

Who Are the Poor? A Closer Look
In 2016, the federal government counted 40.6 million
men, women, and children—12.7 percent of the U.S.
population—as poor. As shown in Figure 2–5, the pov-
erty rate was 22 percent in 1960, it fell to about 12 percent
by the mid-1970s, and the rate has risen and fallen since
then. Economic downturns, like the one that began in
2008, increase unemployment and raise the poverty rate.
Economic expansion, as we have seen in the last two years,
brings the poverty rate down.

As you might expect, the categories of people at
greatest risk of being poor differ from those most likely
to be rich. We can profile the poor in the United States
according to age, race, gender, family patterns, and
residence.

Age The age category at greatest risk of poverty is
children, who make up one-third of the U.S. poor. In
2016, 13.3 million young people under the age of eighteen
(33  percent of the total) were living in poor households.
More seriously, 32 percent of these children lived in fam-
ilies with incomes no more than half the poverty line
($12,000 or less for a family of four). A generation ago, the
elderly were most likely to be poor. Today, however, pov-
erty wears a youthful face, as the Diversity: Race, Class, &
Gender box explains.

Race Many people in the United States link being
poor with being African American or Hispanic. But far
more white people than black people are poor, and more
non-Hispanic than Hispanic people live in poverty.

It is true that the percentage of minority people who
are poor is higher than that of whites. In 2016, 22 percent
of African Americans (9.2 million people), 19.4 percent of
Hispanics (11.1 million people), and 10.1 percent of Asian
Americans (1.9 million people) were poor, compared with
8.8 percent of non-Hispanic whites (17.2 million people).
Therefore, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian
Americans are at higher risk of being poor than whites.
This is why more than half of all poor people in the United
States fall into one or more of these disadvantaged catego-
ries (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017).

Gender Women, too, are at greater risk of poverty. Fifty-six
percent of all U.S. adults who are poor are women, and 44
percent are men. The gender gap has become so large that
sociologists speak of the feminization of poverty to refer to
the trend of women making up an increasing share of the poor.

P
er

ce
n

ta
g

e
in

P
o

ve
rt

y

Year

1960 1968 1976 1984 1992 2000 2008 2016
0%

2%

4%

6%

8%

10%

12%

14%

16%

18%

20%

22%

24%

Figure 2–5 The Poverty Rate in the United States,
1960-2016

The poverty rate declined sharply in the 1960s, rising and falling
since then but always staying above 10 percent of the U.S.
population.

SOURCE: Data from U.S. Census Bureau (2017).

44 Chapter 2 Economic Inequality

Many people link poverty with the inner city. Most
poor people—just like most affluent people—do live in
urban areas. But as National Map 2–1 shows, rural areas
have a greater share of the population living below the
poverty level than do urban areas. Poverty is wide-
spread across Appalachia (including West Virginia and
Kentucky), along the Texas border with Mexico (where
many new immigrants live), and in parts of the Great
Plains and the Southwest (especially on American Indian
lands). In 2016, some 15.8 percent of the rural population
was poor compared with 12.2 percent for people in urban
areas or, looking more closely, 15.9 percent of people in
central cities and 10.0 percent of people in suburbs (U.S.
Census Bureau, 2017). Why do suburban areas show an
advantage when it comes to income? By and large, pov-
erty is lowest in areas that offer more jobs and more edu-
cational opportunity.

Working Families: Working Harder
Economic struggle is not limited to the poor. In recent
decades, the American dream—the belief that with hard
work, people can have a secure and improving way of
life—has been shaken by some disturbing facts. Beginning
about 1970, many U.S. families found themselves working
harder than ever yet feeling that they were falling behind.
The tough economy in recent years has only added to the

struggle. No one should be surprised that, in a recent sur-
vey, the share of people who say they believe that there
is plenty of opportunity in the United States has slipped
from almost 90 percent back in 1952 to 70 percent in 2016
(Newport, 2016).

What’s going on? For some families, of course, times
have never been better. But for a large share of work-
ers, income has nearly stalled. The earnings of a typical
fifty-year-old man working full time jumped 72 percent
between 1958 and 1973 (from $31,277 to $55,605 in con-
stant 2016 dollars). Between 1973 and 2016, however,
this same worker’s income increased just 9 percent, to
$60,614, so he had to work more hours to meet the rising
costs of groceries, housing, college tuition, and medical
care. Among younger workers, wage increases in recent
decades have also been very small. This is one major rea-
son that, in 2015, one in three women and men between
the ages of eighteen and thirty-four was living with one
or both parents. More broadly, young adults are taking
longer—often well into their thirties—to establish lives
independent of their parents (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017;
Vespa, 2017).

Underlying this pattern of stalled or declining earnings
are changes in the economy detailed in Chapter 12 (“Work
and the Workplace”). During the second half of the nine-
teenth century and the first half of the twentieth century,
the Industrial Revolution helped the U.S. economy create

DIVERSITY: RACE, CLASS, & GENDER

The United States: A Land of Poor Children
The United States is the richest country in the world. Even so,
almost one child in five under the age of eighteen—13.3 million
boys and girls—is poor. Since the “war on poverty” began in
1964, the nation has managed to cut poverty among senior
citizens by about two-thirds (from 29 percent in 1966 to 9.3
percent in 2016). Yet the rate of child poverty has declined far
less, from 23 percent in 1964 to 18 percent in 2016.

What is your mental picture of poor children? The common
stereotype is of African American children living in an inner city
with a teenage mother who is on welfare. The rate of child
poverty is higher for minorities than for whites, but in terms of
numbers, 62 percent of poor children are white (including some
who are Hispanics), and 60 percent live not in inner cities but in
other urban, suburban, and rural areas.

Why are so many children poor? Liberals point to the loss
of good-paying jobs in the United States. In inner cities, where
factories have closed, and in declining rural communities, many
people simply cannot find good jobs. Conservatives note the
role of family breakdown in the rising tide of poverty. They point
out that 59 percent of poor children live with a single mother,

which they link to the fact that 70 percent of these households
have no adult working full time (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017).

Everyone agrees that children, wherever they live, are not
to blame for their own poverty. Why, then, do we continue to
tolerate their suffering? The moral case to care better for our
children is compelling. There are practical reasons, too. Isn’t
reducing the crushing experience of child poverty far easier and
less costly than dealing with the problems that come later, such
as unemployment, drug use, and crime?

What Do You Think?
1. Of the liberal and conservative explanations for the high rate

of child poverty, which makes more sense to you? Why?

2. Few people think children themselves are responsible for
being poor. Why, then, isn’t there more popular support for
increasing assistance to poor families with children?

3. As the unemployment rate increased rapidly during the
recent recession, what do you think happened to the rate of
child poverty? Why?

Chapter 2 Economic Inequality 45

writer to spend several months in Florida, Maine, and
Minnesota, pretending to be in need of work, taking
whatever jobs she could find, and trying to live on what
she earned. Ehrenreich found that it was not easy. At the
end of her journey, she explained (2001:220):

I grew up hearing over and over . . . that hard work
was the secret of success. “Work hard and you’ll
get ahead” or “It’s hard work that got us where
we are.” No one ever said that you could work
hard—harder than you ever thought possible—
and still find yourself sinking ever deeper into
debt and poverty.

In 2016, according to the government, 10.6 percent
of the heads of poor families worked full time, at least
fifty weeks during the year, yet remained below the pov-
erty line. The reason is that low-wage work—Ehrenreich
worked as a waitress, motel room cleaner, and sales clerk

jobs with higher pay. This happened as low- paying farm
jobs were replaced with higher-paying factory work. Since
about 1950, as the Information Revolution has unfolded,
most new jobs have been in the service sector, including
sales positions, computer data processing, and food service
jobs that pay less than the factory jobs they are replacing.
At the same time, the economy has recovered from the
recent recession, but companies have not replaced all the
people they had laid off, relying on computer technology
and part-time workers to keep their labor costs down.
A lower demand for labor puts downward pressure on
wages (Gordon, 2016; Krugman, 2016).

The Working Poor
Barbara Ehrenreich, whose research is described in
Chapter 1, wanted to see for herself what it is like to be
a low-wage worker, so she left her comfortable life as a

Percentage of
Population below the
Poverty Level, 2014

32.6 and over

24.7% to 32.5%

19.6% to 24.6%

14.7% to 19.5%

11.1% to 14.6%

11.0% and under

U.S. average: 15.9%

Anna Mae Peters lives in Nitta Yuma, Mississippi. Almost
everyone she knows lives below the government’s poverty line.

Julie Garland lives in Greenwich, Connecticut,
where people have very high income and there
is little evidence of poverty.

ARIZONA

NEVADA

CALIFORNIA

OREGON

WASHINGTON

IDAHO

MONTANA

NORTH
DAKOTA

MINNESOTA

SOUTH
DAKOTA

NEBRASKA

WYOMING

COLORADO

NEW
MEXICO

TEXAS

LOUISIANA

ARKANSASOKLAHOMA

KANSAS
MISSOURI

IOWA

WISCONSIN

MICHIGAN

ILLINOIS
INDIANA

OHIO

KENTUCKY

TENNESSEE

MISSISSIPPI

ALABAMA
GEORGIA

SOUTH
CAROLINA

NORTH
CAROLINA

VIRGINIA

WEST
VIRGINIA

DELAWARE

NEW JERSEY

MARYLAND

PENNSYLVANIA

NEW
YORK

CONNECTICUT
RHODE ISLAND

MAINEVERMONT

NEW HAMPSHIRE
MASSACHUSETTS

FLORIDA

UTAH

HAWAII

D.C.

ALASKA

Seeing Ourselves
National Map 2–1 Poverty across the United States

This map shows that the poorest counties in the United States—where the poverty rate is more than
twice the national average—are in Appalachia, spread across the Deep South, along the border with
Mexico, near the Four Corners region of the Southwest, and in the Dakotas. Can you suggest some
reasons for this pattern?

SOURCES: US Census Bureau, Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) Program 2017.

46 Chapter 2 Economic Inequality

which means a big increase in the num-
ber of nonworking poor. Elkhart, Indiana,
the town that makes most of the nation’s
recreational vehicles, is a case in point.
When the economy turned down, sales
of RVs fell, pushing the town’s unem-
ployment rate above 20 percent (Wilson,
1996; O’Hare, 2002; Martin, 2009; U.S.
Department of Labor, 2012).

The Underclass
Poverty is most severe among the
underclass, poor people who live in areas
with high concentrations of poverty and
limited opportunities for schooling or work.
The largest concentration of people in
the underclass is found in inner cities
where people experience a condition
sociologists call hypersegregation, being
cut off from the larger society and hav-

ing no access to either good schools or good-paying jobs.
This type of social isolation means that children grow up
poor, and most remain poor as adults (Massey & Denton,
1989; Anderson, 1999).

Hypersegregation is also found in rural areas, which
can be just as isolated from the larger world as the inner
cities. Across the United States, the underclass includes
perhaps one in seven poor people, or 1 to 2 percent of the
total U.S. population.

For people who are part of the underclass, the real-
ity of everyday life is persistent poverty. But most peo-
ple in the United States who are poor are not part of the
underclass. For the society as a whole, temporary poverty is
more the rule. Over ten years, about one-fourth of the U.S.
population falls below the poverty line, usually because
of unemployment, illness, or divorce. When this happens,
the typical pattern is for a household to remain poor for
perhaps a year or two.

Whether poverty is a short-term or long-term experi-
ence, it is rarely a problem that exists all by itself. On the
contrary, poverty brings with it a wide range of additional
challenges, which we shall now examine.

Problems Linked to Poverty
2.3 Analyze how poverty is linked to other social

problems.

When families lack the income needed for a safe and secure
life, people suffer in many ways. The following sections take
a closer look at six problems linked to poverty: poor health,
substandard housing, homelessness, limited schooling, crime,
and political alienation.

at a discount store—rarely pays much more than the fed-
eral minimum hourly wage of $7.25 per hour, which was
set back in 2009. In early 2019, the federal minimum wage
was still at $7.25 an hour, but at least twenty-nine states
have set a higher minimum wage, with Washington pay-
ing the most at $11.50 and Massachusetts and California
at $11.00 per hour. Some large employers including
Walmart now pay at least $10 an hour and, in 2018,
Amazon announced it would raise its minimum wage to
$15. Keep in mind that $15 an hour means that full-time,
year-round work yields just $28,800, about $4,200 ($350
per month) above the poverty line for a nonfarm family
of four (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2018;
Kline, 2018).

The Nonworking Poor
Many poor families do not have a steady income from
work. Government data show that in 2016, 62 percent of
the heads of poor families did not work at all; another 28
percent remained poor while doing part-time work (U.S.
Census Bureau, 2017).

There are many reasons for not working. Some peo-
ple have a disability or other health problem; others lack
the skills or self-confidence needed to hold a steady job.
Some parents cannot afford to pay for child care because
it costs more than they can earn at low-wage work. For
many others, the problem is a lack of available employ-
ment. Most inner-city areas in the United States offer few
jobs. Similarly, many rural areas and small towns are in
economic decline, with stores and factories that have
closed their doors. The 2009 recession sent the unemploy-
ment rate in many communities to 15 and even 20 percent,

One way that we know that poverty is a social problem rather than simply an individ-
ual problem is by looking at poverty rates, which are very high in certain regions of the
country. Economic opportunity is all but gone from a number of rural areas, especially
in the Great Plains; as a result, entire communities suffer.

M
ik

e
G

ol
dw

at
er

/A
la

m
y

S
to

ck
P

ho
to

.

Chapter 2 Economic Inequality 47

years longer than poor women and wealthy men expect-
ing to live fourteen years longer. In short, increasing
income inequality in the United States has been accompa-
nied by increasing differences in longevity between rich
and poor (Congressional Budget Office, 2015; Bosworth,
Burtless, & Zhang, 2016; Tavernise, 2016).

In global perspective, increasing economic inequal-
ity has held down this country’s ranking in overall
patterns of health. One recent study found that, of
thirty-four high- income nations, the United States was
ranked twenty-seventh in terms of life expectancy at birth
(OECD, 2018).

Substandard Housing
In the United States, good housing is available to those
who can pay for it. For this reason, poor people take what
is left, sometimes living in crowded homes containing
dangerous lead-based paint, faulty plumbing, inadequate
heating, and even collapsing foundations and crumbling
ceilings.

Recent years have seen a steady decline in the num-
ber of low-rent apartments in the United States. As a
result, many poor families are forced to spend most of
what they earn for housing, leaving too little for food,
clothing, and other needs. In large cities across the
United States, where economic inequality is greater
than for the country as a whole, tens of thousands of
poor people are on waiting lists for assistance in secur-
ing housing. In some affluent communities, including
Palo Alto, described in the chapter-opening story, there
is little or no low-income housing (Westervelt, 2013;
Berube & Holmes, 2016; National Low-Income Housing
Coalition, 2017).

Not all people who face housing problems are poor.
After the onset of the housing crisis that began about 2007,
both lower-income and middle-income people struggled
to hold onto housing. After years of rising values, housing
prices fell dramatically, in some cases losing half or more
of their previous value. With home values falling below
the amount owed on a mortgage, many owners simply
stopped making mortgage payments and walked away
from their properties when banks foreclosed. Some states,
including Florida, Arizona, and Nevada, experienced a
full-blown crisis with a foreclosure rate more than five
times the national average. This housing crisis reduced the
wealth of many families and added to the struggle to hold
on to good housing (Christie, 2011).

Homelessness
In recent decades, the problem of homelessness, the plight
of poor people who lack shelter and live primarily on the streets,
has received a lot of attention. Researchers estimate that

Poor Health
There is a strong link between income and health. In fact,
there is a good deal of truth in the claim that “wealth means
health.” Poverty, disease, and illness often go together.

Good nutrition is the foundation of a healthy life. Yet
many poor people cannot afford nutritious foods. In 2016,
about 12.3 percent of all U.S. households and one-third
of poor households experienced “food insecurity” (U.S.
Department of Agriculture, 2018). But the challenges of
living poor go beyond having enough healthful food. In
addition, poverty breeds stress, encouraging the use of
tobacco and alcohol and raising the risk of drug abuse and
violence. Just as important, when illness or injury strikes,
poor people have fewer resources, including health insur-
ance, to fight back. As a result, poor people may put off
seeking medical care. A common pattern is for poor people
to show up at an emergency room facing a serious condi-
tion that could have been cured easily had it been treated
much earlier (Nord, Andrews, & Carlson, 2002; U.S. Census
Bureau, 2015; Kaiser Family Foundation, 2017).

Poverty affects health throughout the life course.
Among the poor, infant mortality, the risk of death during
the first year of life, is twice as high as it is among affluent
people (Singh, 2010). Among the very poor in the United
States, the death rate among newborns rises to levels we
commonly find in low-income countries such as Nigeria
and Vietnam. Recent studies point out that Mississippi’s
infant mortality is about the same as the low-income
African nation of Botswana; the rate in Alabama is higher
than in Sri Lanka and many other lower-income nations
(Romm, 2014; Ballesteros, 2017).

Income continues to shape health into adulthood.
When asked to rate their personal health, 77 percent
of adults living in families with incomes over $100,000
replied “excellent” or “very good.” But only 48 percent of
people whose families had incomes of less than $35,000
could say the same (Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, 2015).

Finally, a basic measure of health is how long, on
average, people can expect to live. Research confirms a
longevity gap by which well-off people live longer than
poor people. Low-income men and women are more
likely to die young from infectious diseases, violence,
and accidents. By contrast, most rich people die of cancer
and heart failure, diseases that typically take their toll in
old age. How great is the income-based gap in longevity?
For women born in 1920, life expectancy for those in the
top 10 percent of the income distribution was five years
greater than for those in the bottom 10 percent. Among
men of the same age, the wealthy outlived the poor by
six years. Moving ahead fifty years to look at people born
in 1970, the income gap in life expectancy has more than
doubled, with wealthy women projected to live thirteen

48 Chapter 2 Economic Inequality

transform low-income children into
low- achieving students who grow
up to be low-income adults. For the
country as a whole, almost 30 percent
of economically disadvantaged chil-
dren do not graduate from high
school. For the fifty largest U.S. cit-
ies, where poverty rates are high,
public schools graduate just half
of all students (U.S. Department of
Education, 2015). Under these con-
ditions, it is easy to see how poor
schooling can help pass poverty from
one generation to the next.

Even for those who stay in
school, rich and poor children typi-
cally have very unequal opportuni-
ties. Many schools use some form of
tracking, by which the schools divide
children into college-bound (aca-
demic) and job-oriented (vocational)

coursework. The stated goal of tracking is to teach accord-
ing to each child’s academic ability. But research suggests
that school officials often see privileged children as more
talented and label children as less able just because they
are poor. The result is that the most privileged children
get the best our public schools have to offer, while many
poor children are taught in crowded classrooms with
fewer computers, older books, and the weakest teachers
(Kozol, 1991; Thornburgh, 2006).

Crime and Punishment
Anyone who watches police reality shows on TV is bound to
conclude that most criminals are poor people. Assault, rob-
bery, burglary, auto theft—these so-called “street crimes” are
the offenses that get most of the public’s attention and are
featured most in the mass media. When it comes to street
crimes, the facts support the conclusion that economically
disadvantaged people are involved more often than afflu-
ent people as offenders and also as victims. But rich peo-
ple, too, commit crimes. However, the public pays far less
attention to the crimes that are most likely to be committed
by wealthy people, including tax evasion, stock fraud, false
advertising, bribery, and environmental pollution. This is
so despite the fact that such offenses almost certainly cause
greater harm to society as a whole.

Our society’s greater focus on street crime puts the poor
at risk of arrest, trial, and prison. Poor people who enter the
criminal justice system must also rely on public defenders
or court-appointed attorneys, typically lawyers who are
underpaid and overworked. Wealthy people in trouble can
afford to enlist the help of private lawyers who employ
expert witnesses to support their claims in court. Such an

554,000 people are homeless in the United States on any
given night, and as many as 1.6 million people are home-
less at some point during a year. The Trump administra-
tion has said little about this issue even as the number of
homeless people in the United States increased during the
president’s first year in office. Dozens of mayors across the
country claim that they cannot handle the problem without
federal assistance (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development, 2017; Walker, 2018).

There are many causes of homelessness, and how
much emphasis is given to any particular cause depends
on one’s political outlook. Conservatives point to personal
problems, noting that more than one-third of homeless peo-
ple suffer from a mental disorder or abuse alcohol or some
other drug. Liberals counter that homelessness has less to
do with personal shortcomings than with poverty, and they
point to increasing economic inequality, a rise in low-wage
jobs, and a lack of affordable housing as major causes.

A large majority of homeless people report that they
do not work; however, about 18 percent say that they do
hold at least a part-time job. Average income for homeless
individuals is low—just $350 per month; for families, the
figure is about $475. Such income is simply not enough
to pay for housing (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2015; U.S.
Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2015).

Limited Schooling
Poor children are less likely than rich children to
complete high school. Therefore, economically disad-
vantaged girls and boys face tough odds of going to col-
lege and even smaller odds of completing an advanced
degree. Too often, underperforming public schools

Homeless shelters provide necessary housing to hundreds of thousands of people across the
United States. But the larger question is why do so many people lack affordable housing in
the first place?

To
dd

B
en

ne
tt

/Z
U

M
A

P
re

ss
/N

ew
sc

om
.

Chapter 2 Economic Inequality 49

most worthy of support. The categories of people who
benefit from social welfare programs change along
with the level of resources that government makes
available according to the administration in power
and the political mood of the country.

2. Social welfare programs benefit most of the U.S.
population. Welfare programs include not only
assistance to poor families but also price supports
for farmers, the oil depletion allowance to petroleum
companies, the homeowner’s tax deduction for home
mortgage interest, pensions paid to the elderly, bene-
fits for veterans, and low-interest loans for students.
Government bailouts of giant corporations in re-
cent years are all examples of massive social welfare
assistance.

3. Overall, social welfare programs reduce economic
inequality, but only a little. To fund social welfare
programs, government takes from the rich (in taxes)
and gives to the poor (in benefits), which has the
effect of reducing economic inequality. But many
programs, such as corporate bailouts, benefit wealth-
ier individuals and families. Even among ordinary
people, the tax deduction on home mortgage inter-
est, worth about $80 billion annually, goes mostly
to affluent people who own larger homes. In 2018,
the home mortgage deduction was worth four times
more than what the government spent to provide
assistance to poor families in need of housing (U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services, 2016;
Woo & Salviati, 2017).

The ongoing welfare debate points out a hard truth:
People in this country like to think they are compassion-
ate, but our cultural emphasis on personal responsibility
makes many people uneasy with giving assistance to the
poor. The Social Policy box evaluates six common assump-
tions about public assistance.

A Brief History of Welfare
Social welfare has a long and controversial history in the
United States. The following discussion surveys welfare
policies in three historical periods—the colonial era, the
early industrial era, and the modern era after the Great
Depression—and concludes with a review of the 1996
welfare reforms (Trattner, 1980; Katz, 1990, 1996).

The Colonial Era During the 1600s and 1700s, early immi-
grants who came to the United States settled in small com-
munities where families struggled to survive in a strange
and uncertain world. Because almost everyone was poor,
family members and neighbors were quick to lend a help-
ing hand to one another.

Even so, some colonists, including the early Puritans
in New England, looked down on the very poor, seeing

advantage does not always get people off the hook, but it
does lower the chances of being charged with a crime or,
if charged, of being convicted. Perhaps this is why not one
of the executives of Wall Street’s Lehman Brothers invest-
ment bank—the people widely thought to have engaged in
the mortgage fraud that led to the collapse of the country’s
banking system—has faced prosecution (Holland, 2013).

Finally, for anyone who ends up serving time in jail,
finding a good job later on is difficult. Just as poverty raises
the risk of getting into trouble with the law, being con-
victed of a crime raises the odds that a low-income person
will end up staying poor. For this reason, some advocate
removing questions about criminal history from job appli-
cations (Western, 2002; Holodny, 2017).

Political Alienation
Given how hard the poor struggle to get by, you might
expect that they would support causes and candidates
that would bring about change. Sometimes poor people do
organize politically, but the fact is that many do not even
vote. In recent presidential elections, roughly 80 percent of
people earning $100,000 or more voted; slightly more than
half of people earning less than $40,000 did the same. This
pattern suggests that many poor people feel alienated from
a system that they think does not serve their interests (Pew
Research Center, 2015; U.S. Census Bureau, 2017). From
another angle, in the 2016 presidential election the appeal
of non-establishment candidates— including Democrat
Bernie Sanders and Republican Donald Trump—suggests
that a large share of U.S. adults would vote if they thought
their vote would make a difference.

Responding to Poverty: The
Welfare System
2.4 Explain the changing ways our society has used the

social welfare system to respond to poverty.

To address the problem of poverty, all high-income coun-
tries rely on various kinds of social welfare programs,
organized efforts by government, private organizations, or
individuals to assist needy people considered worthy of assistance.
Social welfare takes many forms, including government
benefits for workers who lose their jobs, Red Cross ben-
efits for flood victims, or simply people lending a hand
to their neighbors after a tornado destroys many homes.
The largest welfare programs, which are run by the federal
government and state governments, typically have three
characteristics:

1. Social welfare programs benefit people or activities
defined as worthy. The public and its leaders debate
and decide which categories of people or activities are

50 Chapter 2 Economic Inequality

Who gets government welfare? Corporations receive more money than poor people. In 2018, Amazon
carried out a search for a second headquarters. More than 200 cities submitted bids and twenty cities
across North America made the short list. In the end, Amazon decided to build a new headquarters
divided between New York City and a Virginia suburb of Washington, DC, in exchange for more than
$2 billion in tax forgiveness and other incentives.

SOCIAL POLICY

An Undeserved Handout? The Truth about “Welfare”
Are welfare assistance checks and food stamps just handouts
for people too lazy to work? What are the facts? Let’s evaluate
six widespread assumptions about public assistance.

1. “Most welfare goes to the poor.” Not true. If we look at all
government income programs, we find hundreds that offer
financial benefits—cash transfers or reduced taxes—to
many categories of people at all income levels, including
the wealthy. For example, almost all of the government
“bailout” money given to banks in 2008 and 2009 ended
up benefiting rich people. Corporations were the major
beneficiaries of the 2017 tax bill. Overall, no more than half
of all government benefits go to poor people.

Furthermore, large corporations are able to pay low
wages to workers only because families whose earnings
are below the poverty line can receive government as-
sistance. Therefore, as some see it, companies such as
Walmart and McDonald’s actually benefit the most from
welfare (Ritholtz, 2013).

2. “Most income assistance goes to able-bodied people who
should be working.” Not true. Most low-income people who
benefit from government assistance are either too old or

too young to work. Some programs do assist poor parents
who do not work. But these funds are primarily for support
of children, and this government assistance is provided
only for a limited time.

3. “Once on welfare, always on welfare.” Before the welfare
reforms of 1996, there was some truth to this. Back then,
half of families who ever enrolled in Aid for Families with
Dependent Children received public assistance for four
years or more. But because of limits in the current program
(including a lifetime benefit limit of five years), this is no
longer the case.

4. “Most welfare benefits go to African Americans and other
minorities.” Not quite true. Non-Hispanic whites receive 48
percent of all food assistance money. African Americans
receive 31 percent, Hispanics receive 15 percent, Native
Americans and Asian Americans receive 5 percent, with the
remainder of money going to people of unknown race and
ethnicity. So adding minority categories together, minorities
receive slightly more than half of these benefits, which is
about the same as the dollars white people receive (U.S.
Department of Agriculture, 2017). A higher share of minority

R
oc

ky
G

rim
es

/S
hu

tt
er

st
oc

k.

Chapter 2 Economic Inequality 51

the worst slums of a city, where a staff of social scien-
tists and reform-minded activists helped new immi-
grants get settled in their new surroundings. This social
movement also tried to influence public opinion with
the goal of making the public more compassionate
toward the poor.

The Twentieth Century By 1900, millions of immigrants
were streaming into the United States. The expansion of
poor neighborhoods in large cities along the East Coast
fueled hostility toward the poor. Within a few years, the
outbreak of World War I (1914–18) made matters worse by
raising suspicion about the “foreigners” in our midst. In
this fearful climate, there was little public support for any
type of welfare program.

Then, in 1929, the Great Depression rolled across the
United States. As many as one-fourth of all working peo-
ple lost their jobs, and the economic collapse suddenly sent
millions of families into the swelling ranks of the poor.
Banks closed, wiping out people’s life savings, and fam-
ilies in debt lost their farms and were forced from their
homes. Under such conditions, it became impossible to see
poverty as caused by people who were lazy or “different.”
It was then that U.S. society began to define poverty as a
social problem.

Franklin Roosevelt became president in 1933 on the
promise of what he called the “New Deal”, government
assistance to help millions made poor by the Depression.
Throughout the 1930s, the federal government enacted
many new programs to fight poverty, the most important
of which was Social Security. Today, this program pro-
vides monthly income to 58 million people, most of whom
are elderly.

Roosevelt’s reforms eased the suffering, and World
War II (1939–45) spurred the U.S. economy, ending
the Depression and also directing public attention

poverty as a sign of moral weakness. Throughout the col-
onies, free people looked down on slaves as personally
inferior and therefore morally undeserving. During this
period, there was hardly any government at all, and wel-
fare amounted to acts of personal kindness between kin
and neighbors.

The Early Industrial Era As the Industrial Revolution
began in the early 1800s, U.S. cities swelled with immi-
grants. The new industrial capitalist economy encour-
aged a spirit of individualism and self-reliance. The idea
that people were responsible for their own social position
remained popular, and as anonymity and social diver-
sity increased, attitudes toward the poor became more
negative. As a result, the public criticized charity as a
misguided policy that would only end up reducing peo-
ple’s need to work and encourage them to become lazy.
Some organizations such as the Salvation Army (founded
in 1865) did offer food and shelter to the poor, but they
included moral instruction reinforcing the belief that
the poor were weak and of bad character and in need of
reforming themselves.

But not everyone shared this harsh view of the poor.
In the 1870s, the scientific charity movement (really an early
form of sociology) began studying what categories of peo-
ple were poor, why people were poor, and what could be
done to help them. Researchers soon learned that most
poor people were not lazy but were men and women
for whom there were no jobs, children without parents,
women without husbands, victims of factory accidents,
and working people earning too little to support a family.
In short, scientific charity claimed that most poverty was
not the fault of the poor themselves but the result of how
society operates.

This new thinking helped guide the settlement house
movement. Settlement houses were buildings located in

people than white people receive food assistance because,
as we have already explained, these categories of the
population are at higher risk for being poor.

5. “Welfare encourages single women to have children.”
Not true. The average number of children among women
without husbands is the same whether or not families
receive welfare support. The case has also been made
that welfare assistance enabled some women to support
children without marrying. This may be true, but the trend
toward more single parenting is found among people of
all income levels and is evident in all high-income nations.

6. “Welfare fraud is a serious national problem.” Not really.
Social service agency employees will tell you that a few
people do take advantage of the system, but they also

confirm that the vast majority of benefits go to people who
are truly needy.

What Do You Think?
1. Did any of the facts presented in this box surprise you?

Which ones? Why?

2. In general, would you expand social welfare programs,
keep them the same, or reduce them? Explain your
answer.

3. Do you think that the recent economic recession affected
how people think about poverty and welfare assistance?
Explain your answer.

52 Chapter 2 Economic Inequality

presidents prompted U.S. society to face up to the con-
tinuing reality of poverty.

A glance back at Figure 2–5 shows that the War on
Poverty actually worked. The official poverty rate, which
was about 22 percent in 1960, fell to about 11 percent by

to other issues. Later, in the 1960s, researchers redis-
covered poverty in both cities and the rural country-
side (Harrington, 1962), prompting President Lyndon
Johnson in 1964 to launch his War on Poverty. The
Defining Moment feature takes a closer look at how two

Franklin Roosevelt, who was president from 1933 until 1945, established Social Security and other
programs that provide a social safety net to the U.S. population. A generation later, Lyndon Johnson,
who was president from 1963 until 1968, declared a national “War on Poverty” that succeeded in
reducing the poverty rate.

CONSTRUCTING SOCIAL PROBLEMS

A Defining Moment
U.S. Society Discovers Poverty
During the first centuries of our country’s history, so many
people lived with so little. Most people today could barely
imagine such widespread and extreme poverty. Back then,
however, most poor people accepted their situation because
when they looked around, everyone else was living pretty
much the same way.

With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, living standards
rose for the majority of the population. Yet the gap between
rich and poor became much bigger. Still, the poverty of those
left behind—in urban neighborhoods and rural communities—
provoked only passing public concern, probably because many
of the poor were becoming defined as “different” (they were
stereotyped as “immigrants” or “hillbillies”) by those who were
better off.

Another change took place with the Great Depression in
1929, when men and women in all social classes lost much of
the security they had previously taken for granted. Suddenly,
people started to talk about poverty as a serious social problem.
Facing up to poverty was encouraged by Franklin D. Roosevelt,
elected president in 1932, when he pointed out the problem
of “one-third of a nation ill-clothed, ill-housed, and ill-fed.” His

economic programs that came to be known as the New Deal—
most importantly, the Works Progress Administration (WPA)
employment projects and Social Security—addressed the
problem of poverty by providing a social safety net for the U.S.
population.

By the end of World War II, the Depression had given way
to a period of economic prosperity. But despite the fact that the
United States had become a very rich nation, anyone willing to
look could find a large underclass of poor people in both urban
and rural areas. Lyndon B. Johnson, president from 1963 until
1968, mobilized the country once again declaring that the
federal government would wage a “war on poverty.” He pushed
the government to “strike at the causes, not the consequences”
of poverty, and Congress reacted by passing programs such as
Title I federal funding for public schools in low-income districts,
Head Start for preschool children, and the Job Corps training
program for adults.

Together, Presidents Roosevelt and Johnson did more than
any other U.S. leaders to define poverty as a social problem.
Just as important, they directed the power of the government
toward creating a solution.

H
W

ill
ia

m
T

et
lo

w
/H

ul
to

n
A

rc
hi

ve
/G

et
ty

Im
ag

es
.

C
ec

il
S

to
ug

ht
on

/L
B

J
P

re
si

de
nt

ia
l L

ib
ra

ry
.

Chapter 2 Economic Inequality 53

the early 1970s. But by the 1980s, the mood of the coun-
try again turned against social welfare. Beginning with
the Reagan administration, the federal government scaled
back assistance programs, claiming (like critics a century
earlier) that welfare was discouraging personal initiative
and creating dependency.

The 1996 Welfare Reform
In the early 1990s, about 8 million poor households in the
United States were receiving public assistance totaling
some $40 billion annually, for an average of about $5,000
per family. The most important assistance program was
Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), a pro-
gram of the federal government that provided income to
poor mothers with children.

Changes in the welfare system began to take shape in
1992, when President Bill Clinton pledged to “end welfare
as we know it.” In 1994, the Democratic president and a
Republican Congress joined forces to produce the most
sweeping welfare reform since the Roosevelt era. The
purpose of the reform was suggested by its formal title:
the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity
Reconciliation Act. First, responsibility for helping the poor
shifted from the federal government to the states. The old
federal program, AFDC, was ended in favor of a state-level
program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
(TANF). The new rules were intended to increase the per-
sonal responsibility of the poor by requiring able-bodied
people seeking benefits to find a job or enroll in job train-
ing. In addition, the program limits the period of time that
families can receive benefits to two consecutive years with
a lifetime cap of five years.

Supporters of welfare reform
(mainly conservatives) call the policy
a success. They point to the fact that
the nation’s welfare rolls fell by half.
In addition, half of those who have
left welfare now have jobs, and most
of the remainder are attending school
or enrolled in training programs. But
critics (mostly liberals) counter that
most people who have left welfare for
work now have low-wage jobs that
leave them struggling to make ends
meet. They claim that this reform may
have reduced welfare assistance, but
it has done little to reduce poverty. A
recent study shows that today’s wel-
fare program fails to provide any cash
assistance to three out of four poor
families in the United States (Lichter
& Crowley, 2002; Lichter & Jayakody,
2002; Floyd, Pavetti, & Schott, 2017).

Theories of Poverty
2.5 Apply sociological theory to the issue of poverty.

Why does poverty exist in the first place? Some answers
can be found by applying sociology’s major theoretical
approaches to the issue of poverty.

Structural-Functional Analysis: Some
Poverty Is Inevitable
There are a number of structural-functional theories. Each
has something to say about why poverty exists.

Social Pathology Theories: Personal Deficiency Some
early sociologists argued in favor of a “bad apple” theory
by claiming that poverty resulted from personal flaws. For
example, Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) developed an anal-
ysis, called social Darwinism, which viewed society as a
competitive arena where the most able became rich and the
least able fell into poverty. Spencer described the operation
of a competitive society as the “survival of the fittest” in
which the “less fit” fell behind.

The social pathology approach is also found in the
work of the anthropologist Oscar Lewis (1961, 1966).
Lewis studied poor communities in San Juan (Puerto
Rico), Mexico City, and New York City, asking why
some neighborhoods remained poor from generation
to generation. His conclusion: They contain a culture
of poverty, cultural patterns that encourage poverty as a
way of life. Lewis claimed that people adapt to poverty,
accepting their plight and giving up hope that life can

In 1996, Congress reformed the nation’s welfare program, enacting the Personal
Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. As its name suggests, this policy
requires people who seek public assistance to enroll either in school or in a job training
program. Do you think that people who need income assistance should have to prepare for
work in this way? Why or why not?

Ji
m

W
es

t/
im

ag
eB

R
O

K
E

R
/N

ew
sc

om
.

54 Chapter 2 Economic Inequality

(measured by a lower rate of employment), declining
rates of marriage, and declining religious values. These
trends combine to weaken the social fabric of these com-
munities and to push up poverty rates. Overall, Murray
concludes, the United States is more and more breaking
apart into two societies—a small “new upper class” and
an enlarging “new lower class.”

Social Disorganization Theory: Too Much Change In
the 1920s and 1930s, sociologists at the University of
Chicago linked poverty to social disorganization, a
breakdown in social order caused by rapid social change.
Industrial factories drew tens of millions of people—
rural Midwesterners, men and women from towns in
Appalachia, African Americans from the South’s Cotton
Belt, and immigrants from Europe—to the rapidly grow-
ing cities of the North and Midwest.

People arrived too fast for a city’s neighborhoods,
schools, and factories to absorb them. Cities were chal-
lenged by overcrowded apartment buildings, overflowing
classrooms, and too many people for the number of avail-
able jobs. The overall result was poverty and related social
problems. Only with time could we expect local communi-
ties to respond to these imbalances to reduce the poverty
problem.

In recent years, the high rate of immigration to the
United States, especially from Latin America, has con-
tributed to high poverty rates in the West (especially the

Southwest), where new arrivals to this
country struggle to find housing and
work. In time, according to the social dis-
organization approach, we would expect
most of these families to improve their
situation.

Modern Functional Theory: Some
Inequality Is Useful Kingsley Davis
and Wilbert Moore (1945) asked, “Why
does inequality exist everywhere?”
Their answer was that inequality—
specifically, differences in the rewards
given to people who perform various
jobs—is useful for the operation of soci-
ety. Davis and Moore explained that
some jobs (say, work as a security guard)
have relatively less importance and can
be performed by just about anyone. But
other positions (for example, surgeons
and concert pianists) require rare talents
and extensive training.

How can society draw talent toward
more important work? How can soci-
ety motivate people to develop their

improve. Thinking this way, Lewis continued, people
may turn to alcohol or drugs, become violent, neglect
their families, and end up living just for the moment.
Doing so, they pass on the culture of poverty from one
generation to the next.

A more recent social pathology theory is the “bell
curve” thesis of Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray
(1994). Over the course of the twentieth century, they
argue, the United States became more of a meritocracy,
a system of social inequality in which social standing corre-
sponds to personal ability and effort. In today’s information
age, intelligence matters more than ever in the world of
work, and the marketplace greatly rewards personal abil-
ity. Therefore, the argument goes, the ranks of the rich are
increasingly filled by people who are both smart and pro-
ductive, leaving behind the poor who are more and more
likely to be people with limited intelligence. For this rea-
son, Herrnstein and Murray conclude, government pro-
grams can do only so much to improve the plight of the
poor: As Herbert Spencer said a century earlier, they are
capable of little more.

More recently, Charles Murray (2013) has studied
the diverging cultures of both high- and low-income
communities. He studied high- income communities
where he found ample evidence of optimism about the
future and a strong work ethic. By contrast, in white,
working-class communities he discovered widespread
pessimism about the future, eroding industriousness

Engineers and architects are among the higher-paid workers in the U.S. labor force.
From a structural-functional point of view, our society rewards work that requires rare
skills and expensive education. As you read on, try to develop a critical response to this
position based on social-conflict theory.

E
sb

in
-A

nd
er

so
n/

Th
e

Im
ag

e
w

or
ks

.

Chapter 2 Economic Inequality 55

Symbolic-Interaction Analysis:
Defining the Problem
Symbolic-interaction theory highlights the social construc-
tion of problems and solutions. This approach explores
how members of a society view the poor and come to
understand the causes of poverty.

For instance, the old structural-functional “personal
deficiency” approach, which is still widespread in our
society today, defines poverty as a reflection of the short-
comings of the poor themselves. From this point of view,
it is a lack of motivation or intelligence, or some other per-
sonal flaw that causes low social standing. Given our soci-
ety’s individualistic culture, it’s not surprising that many
people today are quick to define the problem of poverty as
resulting from traits of poor people themselves. In effect,
the poor are seen as responsible for their own condition.

William Ryan (1976) describes how society can define
people as responsible for their own poverty. He calls
this process blaming the victim, finding the cause of a
social problem in the behavior of people who suffer from it. He
explains that the process of blaming the victim involves
four simple steps:

1. Pick an issue that you see as a social problem. Almost
any problem will do; here, our focus is poverty.

2. Decide how people who suffer from the problem
differ from everyone else. It is easy to see that many
poor people don’t dress as well as others; many also
don’t speak English very well. Many have little school-
ing. Most poor people live in rundown housing. They
sometimes get into trouble with the police. The list
goes on and on.

3. Define these differences as the cause of the problem.
Blaming the victim rests on claims such as “Of course
those people are poor! Just look at them! Listen to
them speak! See where they live! Who is surprised
that people like that are poor? They deserve to be where
they are.”

4. Respond to the problem by trying to change the
victims, not the larger society. Think to yourself that
people would not be poor if only they would dress
better, speak better, live in better neighborhoods—in
short, be more like those who are well off.

However, if we were to view the poor as people
who are no different from anyone else, the picture would
change. Poor people would now be seen as individuals
who are struggling—often heroically—against disadvan-
tages that they face through no fault of their own. When
we view the poor this way, we come to see the society—not
any personal failings of poor people themselves—as the
main cause of poverty.

abilities and to gain the schooling they need to do import-
ant and demanding jobs? Davis and Moore claim the
answer is only by giving them greater rewards, such as
higher income, greater power, and more prestige. Linking
rewards to the importance of various jobs is therefore use-
ful. This means that social stratification—any system in
which some people receive greater rewards than others—
has some positive functions for a society.

Davis and Moore point out that any society could
provide equal rewards to people regardless of what job
they perform, but doing so would amount to saying that
it makes no difference who does what job or how well the
job is done. A society with no differences in rewards, they
claim, would not be very productive because it would give
people little incentive to strive for more important work
or even to work hard at their present job. In sum, a sys-
tem of unequal rewards—in short, a system of both rich
and poor—is a strategy that actually makes society more
productive.

Herbert Gans (1971) offers a critical response to
Davis and Moore’s theory, pointing out that inequal-
ity is useful but only to aff luent people. The function of
inequality, Gans claims, is to ensure that there is a sup-
ply of poor people willing to do almost any job, no mat-
ter how unpleasant. Other than poor people (who have
few choices in their lives), he asks, who would want to
perform farm labor, pick up garbage, or clean other peo-
ple’s homes? In addition, the poor also buy things no one
else wants, including rundown housing, old cars, rebuilt
appliances, and secondhand clothing. In short, Gans sug-
gests, poverty exists because well-off people benefit from
others being poor.

EVALUATE

All structural-functional theories share a key argument: At least some
poverty is a natural, expected part of life that has some useful conse-
quences. Critics, especially people who are more liberal, take issue
with these theories, particularly the idea that poor individuals are
somehow personally inferior. As they see it, poverty is not something
that people bring on themselves, nor is it inevitable. Rather, poverty
has economic causes, including unemployment, low wage levels
that leave even full-time workers poor, and our nation’s tolerance for
striking economic inequality.

Why, then, have such theories been popular? Perhaps because
locating the causes of poverty in poor people themselves justifies
the status quo and turns attention away from flaws in society itself.
In addition, these theories tend to appeal to the rich and powerful,
who (according to this analysis) are viewed as personally deserving
of what they have.

CHECK YOUR LEARNING Identify three types of functional
theory and give a brief statement of what each has to say about
poverty.

56 Chapter 2 Economic Inequality

overthrow capitalism in favor of a more just system that
would operate the economy in a way that would distrib-
ute wealth more equally (for details about how capital-
ism works and how socialism differs from capitalism, see
Chapter 11, “Economy and Politics”).

In the century and a quarter since Marx’s death, the
United States and other high-income nations have seen
living standards rise for all categories of people, a fact
that helps explain why the workers’ revolution that Marx
predicted has not taken place, at least not yet. Even so, most
income and wealth still go to a very small share of the peo-
ple. Just as important, economic inequality has been increas-
ing in recent decades, and the poor in the United States
have actually been losing ground. Following Marx’s think-
ing, although U.S. society has managed to avoid a workers’
revolution, the problem of poverty remains very real.

More Than Money: Cultural Capital More recent conflict
theories have explained that social inequality involves not
only income and wealth but also cultural capital, skills, val-
ues, attitudes, and schooling that increase a person’s chances of
success. Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron (1977)
argue that young people born into affluent families benefit
from a rich cultural environment. From an early age, par-
ents read to these children and enroll them in a wide range
of sports and other activities. The advantages that affluent
children gain, both at home and at school, all but ensure
their success.

On the other hand, those born to low-income families
have few such advantages and benefit from far less cultural
capital. Children who grow up in poor families may receive
less personal attention from parents (especially in activities
such as reading). Such children may have less opportunity
to develop their skills and imagination, they may see less
of the world, and they may develop less confidence in their
own abilities. As a result, low-income children are impov-
erished in more ways than one. As economic inequality
has increased, evidence suggests, differences in the cultural
capital gained by rich and poor children are also increasing
(Miller, 2015).

Multicultural Theory: Poverty, Race, and Ethnicity
The social-conflict approach also includes multicul-
tural theory, which links poverty to race and ethnicity.
To see how race and ethnicity affect income, consider
that, in 2016, the median income for non- Hispanic
white families was $65,041. For African American fam-
ilies, however, median family income was $39,490, or
61 percent as much as white families. The figure for
Hispanic families was $47,675, 73 percent of the white
income level.

This is why the risk of poverty for both African
Americans (22.0 percent are poor) and Hispanics
(19.4  percent) is more than twice as high as the risk of

Ryan suggests that instead of shaking our heads at the
rundown houses where poor people live, we should ask
why U.S. society allows so many people to live in such
inadequate housing. To offer another example, instead of
pointing out how little schooling poor people have, we
might ask why we tolerate an educational system that fails
to provide adequate schooling to so many students.

EVALUATE

Symbolic-interaction theory is useful in showing that poverty is not
simply an issue of money; it is also a matter of meanings, or how
people come to understand the larger world. Whatever the issue
we come to define as a problem, we can look for the causes of the
situation in the people who suffer or, as William Ryan suggests, in
the larger society. But saying that society is to blame only raises
additional questions. We also need to know exactly how and why
society makes some people poor. Such concerns bring us to the
social-conflict approach.

CHECK YOUR LEARNING Explain the process of “blaming the
victim,” pointing to ways we tend to blame the poor for their own
poverty.

Social-Conflict Analysis: Poverty Can
Be Eliminated
Social-conflict theory takes the view that poverty is in no
way inevitable or natural, and it is certainly a problem our
society needs to fix. This approach also rejects the idea that
poverty results from flaws in poor people themselves. On
the contrary, it places the blame for poverty in the opera-
tion of society itself.

Marxist Theory: Poverty and Capitalism Karl Marx
could see that the Industrial Revolution had greatly
increased economic production. He pointed out that,
applying industrial technology, society had the ability,
for the first time in human history, to bring an end to
poverty. But Marx explained that poverty was far from
over. In fact, economic inequality was becoming greater.
Poverty continued not because of any shortage of mate-
rial goods but because the industrial-capitalist economy
placed almost all of this enormous wealth in the hands
of very few people. In short, the owners of the means of
production became ever more rich and powerful. At the
same time, the workers in the capitalist economy, with
only their labor to sell, were powerless and faced a life of
low wages.

Marx pointed to what he called an internal contradiction
in the capitalist economy: A system that produced so much
ended up making the majority so poor. From this obser-
vation, Marx concluded that the only way to end poverty
was to replace the industrial-capitalist system. Therefore,
he spent his life encouraging workers to join together to

Chapter 2 Economic Inequality 57

ethnicity remain, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and
people in other minority categories enjoy greater affluence
and broader participation in our society than ever before. A
century ago, after all, the segregation of African Americans from
the larger society was a matter of law, and some categories of
people had yet to earn the right to vote. Such blatant examples
of inequality, say these critics, have all but disappeared. They
simply no longer exist.

CHECK YOUR LEARNING Why did Marx claim that poverty was
rooted in the capitalist economic system? How is culture as well as
money a dimension of poverty? What does multicultural theory tell
us about poverty?

Feminist Analysis: Poverty
and Patriarchy
Feminist theory is an important dimension of the
social-conflict approach that focuses on social inequal-
ity involving gender. This theory begins with the fact of
patriarchy, a social pattern in which males dominate females. In
practice, patriarchy means that men typically enjoy more
wealth, prestige, and power in our society than women do.
In addition, women of all racial and ethnic categories are at
higher risk of poverty than men.

The Feminization of Poverty We have already described
the trend by which women make up an increasing share
of the poor. A key reason for this trend is that the risk of
being poor is especially high for single women. The rate of
poverty among families with young children headed by a
woman (with no man present) is 27 percent, twice the rate
of 13 percent among families headed by a man (with no
woman present). For married-couple families, the rate is a
much lower 5 percent.

poverty among non-Hispanic white people (8.8 percent).
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have above-
average incomes ($81,431 in 2016) but a poverty rate of
10.1 percent, which is somewhat higher than the rate
for non-Hispanic white people. Chapter 3 (“Racial and
Ethnic Inequality”) presents a full discussion of this
issue.

EVALUATE

One of the earliest contributions of social-conflict theory is Karl
Marx’s claim that social inequality involves the struggle between
owners and workers within a capitalist economy. More recently,
social-conflict theorists have extended this analysis, pointing out
how society unequally distributes not only money and power but
also cultural capital. In addition, multicultural theory focuses on the
inequality involving race, ethnicity, and gender.

Marx argued that poverty is a normal part of any society with a
capitalist economy. Yet critics of Marxist theory point out that Marx
(who lived during the early industrial-capitalist era) did not foresee
ways that capitalist societies would eventually improve living stan-
dards for working people and greatly reduce the extent of poverty.
In fact, living standards for working people today are far higher than
they were during Marx’s lifetime.

Critics (speaking from a conservative point of view) also
ask, doesn’t being rich or poor at least partly reflect the choices
people make or the talents they have as individuals? If we deny
that people have any responsibility for their social standing, we all
end up being little more than passive victims of society. Critics of
the social-conflict approach also claim that there is considerable
meritocracy—the ability to rise or fall based on individual talent
and effort—in today’s society so that social position does reflect
personal talent and effort.

Finally, multicultural theory points out how our society puts
racial and ethnic minorities at high risk for poverty. But critics
respond that, although social differences based on race and

What makes low-income children different
from children born to affluent families? On
the face of it, these children lack the material
things others take for granted. In addition,
however, low-income children have less
cultural capital, and many experience less
attention from parents and other adults.
Researchers have documented how children
who lack social interaction with adults
develop more slowly, acquire a smaller
vocabulary, and gain fewer intellectual
skills.

Heiner Heine/imageBROKER/Alamy Stock Photo.

58 Chapter 2 Economic Inequality

linked to race and ethnicity: The 2016 median income of
non-Hispanic white men working full time was $55,080;
African American men typically earned just $38,997,
which is 71 percent as much; Hispanic men earned
$33,086, or 60 percent as much.

Now add in gender. Compared with African
American men, African American women (again, compar-
ing just full-time workers) earned $34,953, or 89.6 percent
as much. Hispanic women earned an average of $29,924,
or 90.4 percent as much as Hispanic men. These dispari-
ties are linked to gender.

Now combine the two dimensions. Compared with
non-Hispanic white men, African American women earned
just 63.4 percent as much; Hispanic women earned only
54.3 percent as much. By comparing all these numbers, we
see that race or ethnicity and gender not only operate alone
but also combine so that certain categories of people are
doubly disadvantaged (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017).

EVALUATE

Feminist theory is one type of social-conflict analysis that has gained
enormous importance in recent decades. Just as Marxist theory high-
lights inequality based on class position and multicultural theory shows
inequality based on race and ethnicity, so feminist theory focuses on
inequality based on gender. In addition, intersection theory combines
these dimensions of inequality, explaining how some categories of
people face multiple disadvantages based on a combination of class,
race, ethnicity, and gender.

Critics of feminist theory point out that these approaches
say little about how opportunities for women and minorities have
improved in the past hundred years. A century ago, for example,

Looking at this issue from another angle, while just
10 percent of all poor families with children are headed by
a single man, 38 percent are headed by a married couple,
and 52 percent are headed by a single woman (U.S. Census
Bureau, 2017).

The link between gender and poverty is actually stron-
ger than it was several generations ago. In 1960, just one in
four poor families was headed by a woman; in 2016, half
were. What explains this trend, which sociologists call the
feminization of poverty? One reason is that more of today’s
women are raising children by themselves, and single
mothers have a tough time earning the money they need
to support themselves and their children. But, as feminists
see it, the underlying factor that links gender and pov-
erty is that, even as more and more women have entered
the labor force, U.S. society still provides more income,
wealth, power, and prestige to men than to women. Our
culture defines most high-paying jobs (such as doctors, air-
line pilots, and college presidents) as “men’s work,” while
expecting that lower-paying positions (such as nurses, flight
attendants, and clerical workers) will be filled by women.

Intersection Theory: Multiple Disadvantages If women
are disadvantaged and African Americans and Hispanics
are also disadvantaged, are African American or Hispanic
women doubly disadvantaged? This question is the focus
of intersection theory, the investigation of the interplay of
race, class, and gender, often resulting in multiple dimensions
of disadvantage.

To see the intersection of various dimensions of
inequality in action, let’s start by noting the inequalities

The basic insight of intersection theory
is that various dimensions of social
stratification—including race and
gender—can add up to great disadvan-
tages for some categories of people.
Just as African Americans earn less
than whites, women earn less than
men. Thus, African American women
face a “double disadvantage,” earning
just 63 cents for every dollar earned
by non-Hispanic white men. How
would you explain the fact that some
categories of people are much more
likely to end up in low-paying jobs like
this one?

Audrey Popov/Shutterstock.

Chapter 2 Economic Inequality 59

few women in the United States worked for income and none even
had the right to vote. Although gender inequality still exists, crit-
ics continue, some differences between the sexes reflect different
choices people make, particularly about family obligations. Even so,
the gap between the social standing of women and men has been
steadily narrowing. The gender gap in pay is also getting smaller.
Back in 1980, among people from twenty-five to thirty-four, women
earned 67 percent as much as men. By 2016, women in this age
range were earning 87 percent as much as comparable men (U.S.
Census Bureau, 2017).

CHECK YOUR LEARNING What does feminist theory tell us
about social inequality? What additional insights do we gain from
intersection theory?

The Applying Theory table summarizes what each
theoretical approach teaches us about poverty.

POLITICS AND ECONOMIC
INEQUALITY

Constructing Problems and
Defining Solutions
2.6 Analyze economic inequality from various posi-

tions on the political spectrum.

What are we to make of the fact that economic inequality in
the United States is increasing? What about the fact that, in

APPLYING THEORY

Poverty

Structural-Functional
Theory

Symbolic-Interaction
Theory

Social-Conflict Theory Feminist Theory

What is the level of
analysis?

Macro-level Micro-level Macro-level Macro-level

What is the view of
poverty?

Early social pathology the-
ory and the later culture of
poverty theory see personal
flaws and the culture of poor
communities as the causes
of poverty.

Social disorganization theory
links poverty and other
social problems to rapid
social change.

The Davis and Moore theory
explains that a system of
unequal rewards draws
talent to important work
and encourages effort, in
the process creating social
stratification.

Gans points out that inequal-
ity is useful primarily to richer
people.

Symbolic-interaction theory
highlights the meanings peo-
ple attach to the poor.

Ryan describes a common
view of the poor as “blaming
the victim,” which is finding
the causes of poverty in the
attitudes or behavior of the
poor themselves.

Viewing the poor as no
different from anyone else
encourages the view that
society, rather than the poor
themselves, is responsible for
poverty.

Marx claimed that poverty
results from the operation
of the capitalist economic
system.

Poverty is a matter of not
only a lack of material
resources but a low level
of cultural capital as well.

Multicultural theory points
to the high poverty rates of
disadvantaged categories
of people including African
Americans and Latinos
and Latinas.

Feminist theory examines the
link between social standing
and gender. Feminists view
the high rate of poverty among
women as one consequence of
patriarchy.

Intersection theory links vari-
ous dimensions of inequality,
explaining how they result
in a pattern of multiple
disadvantages.

the richest nations on Earth, 46.7 million people are poor?
Like every other issue we deal with in a social problems
course, poverty and wealth are controversial. Some peo-
ple consider income inequality as inevitable and link eco-
nomic inequality to a free and productive society. Others
are highly critical of income inequality and define pov-
erty as a pressing national problem that can and must be
reduced. Let us now examine how conservatives, liberals,
and left-radicals construct the poverty problem and how
they define solutions.

Conservatives: Personal Responsibility
Conservatives (more to the right on the political spec-
trum) celebrate our way of life because it generates
remarkable prosperity. As they see it, almost all the pov-
erty in the United States is relative poverty. That is, only
a small percentage of the people that the government
defines as poor live anywhere close to absolute poverty,
where day-to-day survival is at stake. According to one
recent study, even the poorest 5 percent of U.S. families
have more income than 60 percent of the world’s people
(Milanovic, 2011).

In the United States, being poor means having less
than what government officials claim people living in our
rich society ought to have. Conservatives point out that
about one-third of families officially counted among the
poor own their homes, almost two-thirds have at least one
car, and almost all enjoy the use of a television set and a

60 Chapter 2 Economic Inequality

needs, as Republican leaders have said over and over, is
a vibrant and expanding economy that gives everyone the
opportunity to do better (Murray, 1984, 2013; Connerly,
2000; Bork, 2008; Porter, 2016).

Liberals: Societal Responsibility
Conservatives point to personal responsibility and a
market economy as the solutions to the problem of
poverty. But liberals think that helping the poor is a job
for everybody. From a liberal point of view, the causes of
poverty lie in society rather than in the traits of poor indi-
viduals. Most people become poor not because they are
lazy or because they make bad choices but because of the
way society operates. Most unemployment is caused by
economic recession, corporate mergers, downsizing, or
outsourcing of work overseas that reduces the number of
available jobs. In addition, increasing economic inequal-
ity has swelled the ranks of the poor.

The ways in which society causes poverty are also evi-
dent in the specific categories of people who are at high
risk of being poor. For example, because women are given
fewer opportunities than men to work for income and
because our society pays working women less than work-
ing men, women are at higher risk of being poor.

Liberals also take issue with the idea that even the
poor in the United States are well off by global stan-
dards. One recent study claims that the well-being of
U.S. people in poverty, as measured by life expectancy,
infant mortality, risk of homicide, and risk of incarcera-
tion, is about the same as in low-income nations (Shaefer,
Wu, & Edin, 2016).

Because liberals define poverty as a serious, socie-
tal problem, they look for societal solutions. They reject
the conservative arguments that individuals must take
responsibility for their own social position. According
to the liberal viewpoint, the U.S. economy is highly
productive, but it distributes income very unequally.
Progressive taxation is central to the liberal solution to
poverty and economic inequality. Liberals support taxing
investment (unearned) income at the same rate as earned
income. Many liberals also seek to expand the policy of
“income transparency,” which requires corporations and
other organizations to publish the income earned by all
employees—especially top executives (Gray, 2015). In
addition, liberals point out that many people are disad-
vantaged by racism and other forms of discrimination
that limit their access to good education and high- paying
work. Part of their solution to poverty, then, is active
enforcement of laws banning discrimination in education
and the workplace.

Liberals support government assistance programs that
offer some measure of financial security to everyone by

smart phone (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017). The big picture,
as conservatives see it, is that this country has enjoyed a
dramatic increase in living standards over the past cen-
tury. In this sense, our society has worked pretty well.

Conservatives hold the traditional value of self-
reliance, and therefore they support the idea that people
should take responsibility for their personal well-being.
They claim that U.S. society still offers opportunity and
rewards both individual talent and personal effort. It is
true that a few people in our society inherit great wealth;
conservatives claim that families have a right and perhaps
even a duty to pass along their property to their children.
But most successful people—and even most rich people—
are men and women who have spent many years in school
and who continue to work long and hard at their jobs
(Stanley & Danko, 1996).

Speaking for conservatives, the retired general and
former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell recalls that as a
young boy, he began his working life pushing a broom. He
explains that he always worked hard, doing his best and
learning whatever he could from the job he had. As soon as
he mastered one task, he asked for another one. He credits
discipline and determination—learned from his parents—
as the key to his success, helping him to rise to a top posi-
tion in the U.S. military and become one of this country’s
political leaders. In short, Powell argues, the most effective
way to prevent poverty may well be to teach children to
value personal responsibility and hard work (Powell &
Persico, 1995).

Conservatives claim that taking personal respon-
sibility for your life is one key to individual success. In
addition, they support a market system that rewards indi-
vidual effort not only because it provides a rich material
life but also because it gives us extensive personal freedom.
Is there a role for government in all this—especially in
the fight against poverty? Because conservatives believe
people should be responsible for their own social stand-
ing and because they support a market system, they want
to limit the size of government. Those on the far right
favor having the smallest government consistent with
maintaining national security. Still many more moderate
“compassionate conservatives” support welfare programs
that provide assistance to people who are poor through
no fault of their own—those with disabilities, the elderly,
and children. Most also think that the government should
provide a helping hand to veterans who have sacrificed
for their country and offer short-term help to anyone
thrown out of work. Conservatives supported the 1996
welfare reform in the belief that government assistance
should be targeted and limited so that it never replaces
personal responsibility. On the contrary, conservatives
claim, expanding government welfare programs can make
poverty worse by fostering dependency. What this country

Chapter 2 Economic Inequality 61

The Radical Left: Change the System
Radicals on the left agree with liberals that poverty is a
societal issue. Left-radicals also agree with liberals that
we cannot expect poor people to improve their situation
on their own. But, from a far-left perspective, more than
reform is needed because the problem of poverty is built
into the operation of a capitalist society (Liazos, 1982). In
other words, vast differences between the rich and the poor
result from the normal operation of a capitalist economic
system. Left-radicals point to the increasing economic
inequality in the United States—a trend that continues
despite the welfare programs supported by liberals—and
conclude that government assistance amounts to little
more than a bandage applied to the body of a person with
a terminal disease. In short, from the radical-left perspec-
tive, the problem goes far beyond poverty to its roots in the
capitalist economy.

Karl Marx identified widespread poverty as one of
the “internal contradictions” of capitalism. By the term
“contradiction,” Marx meant that industrial capitalism
produces great wealth but places production under the
control of an elite whose members gain most of the eco-
nomic benefits. Working families, by contrast, get little for
their efforts and, over time, are forced to get by with less
and less. For this reason, a very rich society such as the
United States can contain millions of people who are des-
perately poor.

The radical left claims that the way to solve the prob-
lem of poverty is to replace capitalism with a more humane
economic system that will greatly reduce economic
inequality. The goal of such a system would not be to feed

providing a social safety net. Dismissing conservative wor-
ries about creating dependency, liberals view assistance
programs as necessary; after all, they point out, millions
of people—especially children—are poor through no fault
of their own. Liberals also support higher taxes, especially
on the rich, to pay for such programs and also to reduce
economic inequality.

Liberals would direct tax revenue to social welfare
programs that would lift millions of poor families above
the poverty line. Public assistance benefits are quite
small—in 2013, one study found, the typical “welfare
family” received only $378 per month. Such assistance is
necessary to survive, liberals argue, but it does not offer
people enough to improve their lives. On the other hand,
more generous assistance might enable a poor working
mother to commute to a better job in a nearby suburb, to
purchase better medical care so that she loses fewer days
each year to illness, or to finish a high school diploma by
taking night courses. Many liberals also support estab-
lishing a guaranteed minimum income level for everyone
in the country—a plan that is currently being debated in
Canada and in several European nations. The idea is that
no one, including the sick, should experience life-twisting
poverty. Some feminists support this policy as a means to
recognize the value of housework historically performed
by women without pay (Shulevitz, 2016).

Finally, liberals point out that millions of poor people
never even apply for welfare benefits. Why not? In a cul-
ture that stresses personal responsibility, asking for help is
regarded as an admission of personal failure and a source
of shame (Mouw, 2000; Murray, 2000; U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services, 2015).

Conservatives claim that we should
all take personal responsibility for
our social standing; reducing pov-
erty, then, depends on the choices
and actions of the poor themselves.
Liberals claim that poverty is mostly
a matter of how society operates;
according to this view, government
should act to reduce poverty. Radicals
on the left claim that ending poverty
depends on replacing capitalism.
Which view is closest to your own?
Why?

Alison Wright/National Geographic Image Collection/Alamy Stock Photo.

62 Chapter 2 Economic Inequality

LEFT TO RIGHT

The Politics of Economic Inequality

Radical-Left View Liberal View Conservative View

What is the problem? The capitalist economic system con-
centrates most of the country’s wealth
in the hands of a small share of the
population.

Millions of men, women, and
children have too little income and
need assistance.

Many poor people are worthy and
should be helped, but social welfare
programs can discourage people’s
desire to work and may foster
dependency.

What is the solution? The capitalist economic system must
undergo fundamental changes toward
greater governmental control of the
economy.

Use higher taxes to expand
government assistance programs
and raise the income of the poor.

Provide short-term help to those who
really need it; strengthen families and
promote personal responsibility.

JOIN THE DEBATE
1. Assess the 1996 welfare reform from the radical-left, liberal, and

conservative points of view. From each political position, has the reform
been helpful or harmful? To whom? Why?

2. In recent years, Congress has become highly divided and extremely
partisan. As the confirmation process for Brett Kavanaugh

demonstrated, Democrats and Republicans seem unable to agree on
much of anything. Can you sketch out a national response to poverty
that the two sides might be able to support?

3. Which of the three political analyses of economic inequality included
here do you find the most convincing? Why?

the greed of the few but to meet the needs of the many. In
this way, radicals on the left reach the conclusion that noth-
ing less than a basic reformulation of the U.S. economy will
result in a solution to the problems of economic inequality
and poverty.

The Left to Right table sums up the views of all three
political approaches. To understand each of the political
positions, it is necessary to look closely at them all.

Going On from Here
This chapter describes the extent of economic inequality in
the United States and points to many of the consequences.
Certain categories of the population—men and white
people—are privileged by the way in which our society
distributes income and wealth. By contrast, women, chil-
dren, and people of color are at high risk of being poor.
People who are economically disadvantaged contend with
poor health, substandard housing, too little schooling, too
few jobs, and a higher rate of crime and violence.

What can we expect in the future? Keep in mind that
some trends are positive. Between 1960 and 2016, the
official poverty rate fell by almost half, from 22.4 percent
to 12.7 percent of the U.S. population. Among the elderly
population, the poverty rate dropped by more than two-
thirds, from 33.0 percent to 9.3 percent (U.S. Census
Bureau, 2017).

Looking back at Figure 2–5, we see that most of the
decrease in poverty in the United States occurred between
1960 and the early 1970s. Since then, the overall trend has
been slightly upward. Even more troubling, the age cate-
gory at greatest risk of poverty is now children: Overall,
18 percent of U.S. children are poor, with much higher
rates among African American (31 percent) and Hispanic
American (27 percent) youngsters. Perhaps the most press-
ing question for the future is what to do about the “new
poverty” in the United States involving households com-
posed of women and children. The dramatic decline in the
poverty rate among the elderly shows that this nation can
reduce poverty when the public supports doing so. The

Chapter 2 Economic Inequality 63

question is whether we will do as much for our children as
we have done for seniors.

Wealth and poverty in the United States have always
been controversial, and increasing economic inequality
only makes the debate more important. Conservatives
respond to the problem of poverty by calling for a strong
market economy and focusing on the need for personal
responsibility and strong families. They point out that not
having a job or having children without being married
dramatically raises the odds of being poor for both adults
and their children. Liberals call for raising the minimum

wage, expanding child care and job- training programs,
expanding the amount of low-income housing, and com-
bating workplace discrimination that harms women and
people of color. Liberals also support higher taxation,
especially on the rich, as a strategy to fund greater benefits
for the poor and to reduce economic inequality. Radical-
left voices claim that as long as we have a capitalist eco-
nomic system, our society will always favor the few and
leave more and more people behind. By understanding
all these political viewpoints, you can better develop your
own position and play a part in this continuing debate.

64

Is economic inequality a problem?

And whose problem is it? This chapter has explained that the way in which people under-
stand economic inequality depends on their political attitudes. What people say we ought to do
about the extremes of poverty and wealth also depends on politics. Look at the accompanying
photos to see two different ways to respond to this issue.

Defining Solutions
CHAPTER 2 Economic Inequality

Is being rich a solution or a problem? If you were more liberal, what type of tax system would you
support? What if you were more conservative?

To
m

as
A

ba
d/

A
la

m
y

S
to

ck
P

ho
to

.

Chapter 2 Economic Inequality 65

Getting Involved: Applications and Exercises
1. We hear many people refer to the United States as a

“middle-class society.” Based on what you now know
about economic inequality in this country, to what
extent is this description accurate? Offer specific ev-
idence to support your position.

2. Find out more about the extent of poverty in your
local area. U.S. Census Bureau reports are available
from the local library, and you can find census data on
the internet at https://www.census.gov/data-tools/
demo/saipe/saipe.html?s_appName=saipe&map_
yearSelector=2016 or by downloading the Census
Bureau app called dwellr.

3. Have you ever had a low-wage job? If not, this is
one good way to begin to understand what it means

to be working but poor. Many low-wage jobs are
available on or around campus. Whether you ac-
tually take such a job or not, work out a monthly
household budget for a family of three, and see
how far a minimum-wage job (the federal minimum
wage was $7.25 in early 2019) takes you toward sup-
porting a family.

4. Where on the political spectrum would you place the
various candidates in the 2016 presidential election?
Include at least Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on
the Democratic side and Donald Trump on the Repub-
lican side. How do these leaders differ in their under-
standing of economic inequality?

Hint: Liberals tend to see social structure (including class, gender, and race) as giving

privileges to some people and putting others at a disadvantage. From this point of view,

a homeless person needs assistance. A gift of money would be an act of kindness, but

because the problem of inequality is based on the way society is organized, the real solution

requires changes to society itself. Conservatives tend to see people as responsible for their

own situations. Again, a gift of money might be kind, but as long as people are able-bodied

and healthy, they should take care of themselves (and a handout only encourages more

panhandling). As for the issue of taxation, conservatives typically see wealth as a product of

personal talent and a lot of hard work; people are entitled to what they can earn. Liberals,

on the other hand, see wealth and poverty as twin products of a free market that should be

regulated by government, which should tax the rich (progressive taxation) to provide more for

the poor (in government benefits).

How would you react to confronting
this person on a New York City street?
If your politics were more liberal, what
would you say is the problem here?
What would you think should be
done about it? What if you were more
conservative?

Ian Allenden/123RF.

66

Making the Grade
CHAPTER 2 Economic Inequality

Economic Inequality in the United States

2.1 Describe the distribution of income and wealth in
the United States.

Income is distributed unequally in the United States, with
the richest 20% of families earning 49.2% of all income, ten
times as much as the lowest-paid 20% of families.

Wealth is even more unequally distributed, with the rich-
est 20% of families controlling 89% of all privately owned
wealth, while the poorest 20% of families are actually in
debt.

The recent trend has been increasing economic inequality.
The top 20% of families have made strong gains, while the
bottom 20% have stayed at about the same position.

• The underclass represents a small share of the poor,
cut off from the larger society, living in rural areas or
inner cities where poverty is widespread.

social stratification (p. 35) society’s system of ranking categories
of people in a hierarchy
social classes (p. 35) categories of people who have similar access
to resources and opportunities
income (p. 35) salary or wages from a job plus earnings from
investments and other sources
wealth (p. 36) the value of all the economic assets owned by a
person or family minus any debts
progressive taxation (p. 39) a policy that raises tax rates as
income increases

The Rich and the Poor: A Social Profile

2.2 Assess differences in the lives of the rich and the
poor in the United States.

• Rich families have incomes that average about
$225,000 (with some ten times this much or more).
Older people, white people, and men are overly repre-
sented among the rich.

• The government defines “poverty” as families living
with income below a poverty line roughly equal to
three times the cost of food. The 2016 poverty line was
$24,563 for a nonfarm family of four.

• In 2016, almost half of those in poverty reported in-
come below half of the poverty threshold, a difference
called the poverty gap.

• At the greatest risk of poverty are children, women
who head households, and racial and ethnic
minorities.

• The child poverty rate in the United States is high and
now stands at 18%.

• Sociologists call the trend of women making up a ris-
ing share of the poor (now 56%) the feminization of
poverty.

poverty line (p. 41) an income level set by the U.S. government
for the purpose of counting the poor
poverty gap (p. 42) the difference between the actual income of
the typical poor household and the official poverty line
feminization of poverty (p. 43) the trend of women making up
an increasing share of the poor
underclass (p. 46) poor people who live in areas with high
concentrations of poverty and limited opportunities for schooling
or work

Problems Linked to Poverty

2.3 Analyze how poverty is linked to other social
problems.

Poverty affects every aspect of life. The poor

• endure more illness
• receive less schooling
• experience more unemployment and crime
• are more likely to live in inadequate housing or to be

homeless
• are less likely to vote

homelessness (p. 47) the plight of poor people who lack shelter
and live primarily on the streets

Responding to Poverty: The Welfare
System

2.4 Explain the changing ways our society has used the
social welfare system to respond to poverty.

Public attitudes toward the poor and support for social
welfare programs have varied over the course of this
nation’s history.

• The settlement house movement in the late 1800s
offered a helping hand to poor immigrants and tried
to make the public more compassionate toward the
poor.

• President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s
was the first of many government poverty programs,
the most important of which was Social Security.

• In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared the War
on Poverty to address the growing underclass of poor
people in the United States.

Chapter 2 Economic Inequality 67

Theories of Poverty

2.5 Apply sociological theory to the issue of poverty.

Structural-Functional Analysis: Some Poverty Is
Inevitable
Social pathology theories (including Spencer’s social
Darwinism, Lewis’s culture of poverty thesis, and Herrnstein
and Murray’s bell curve thesis) view poverty mostly as the
result of shortcomings on the part of the poor themselves.

Social disorganization theory views poverty as the result
of rapid social change, which makes society unable to meet
the needs of all its members.

• More recent functionalism includes the Davis and
Moore thesis, which argues that society uses unequal
rewards to attract talent to the most important jobs.

• Herbert Gans states that the poor serve the needs of
the nonpoor in various ways, including doing work
that no one else wants to do.

Symbolic-Interaction Analysis: Defining the Problem
Symbolic-interaction theory highlights our socially con-
structed understandings of poverty. One common view is
blaming the victim, which claims that poverty results from
traits of the poor themselves.

Social-Conflict Analysis: Poverty Can Be Eliminated
Karl Marx claimed that poverty follows from the operation
of a capitalist economy. He believed the increasing mis-
ery of the working class would eventually lead people to
overthrow the capitalist system.

More recent conflict theory explains that inequality involves
not just money but also cultural capital—advantages in
skills, attitudes, and schooling—that are not available to
people born into poverty.

Multicultural theory highlights how African Americans
and people in other disadvantaged racial and ethnic cate-
gories are at higher risk of poverty.

Feminist Analysis: Poverty and Patriarchy
Feminist theory links the higher poverty rate among
women to the fact that men dominate women in our
society.

• In 1996, welfare reform pushed people off welfare
rolls and toward work and schooling. This reform de-
creased the number of people receiving benefits but
did little to lower the poverty rate.

POLITICS AND ECONOMIC
INEQUALITY

Constructing Problems and Defining
Solutions

2.6 Analyze economic inequality from various
positions on the political spectrum.

Conservatives: Personal Responsibility
• Conservatives believe that social standing is a matter of

personal responsibility; people can escape poverty by
taking advantage of the opportunities U.S. society offers.

• Conservatives claim that government social welfare
programs often make the poverty problem worse by
fostering dependency.

Liberals: Societal Responsibility
• Liberals believe that poverty is a societal problem,

stemming mostly from a lack of good jobs.

• Liberals consider poverty a societal responsibility;
they support government social programs that benefit
the needy.

The Radical Left: Change the System
• Radicals on the left claim that poverty results from the

normal operation of the capitalist economy, which ben-
efits the capitalist elite.

• Radicals on the left argue that solving the poverty
problem requires fundamental change to the economy
so that production meets social needs rather than in-
creasing private profits.

social welfare programs (p. 49) organized efforts by government,
private organizations, or individuals to assist needy people con-
sidered worthy of assistance

culture of poverty (p. 53) cultural patterns that encourage pover-
ty as a way of life
meritocracy (p. 54) a system of social inequality in which social
standing corresponds to personal ability and effort
social disorganization (p. 54) a breakdown in social order caused
by rapid social change
blaming the victim (p. 55) finding the cause of a social problem
in the behavior of people who suffer from it
cultural capital (p. 56) skills, values, attitudes, and schooling that
increase a person’s chances of success
patriarchy (p. 57) a social pattern in which males dominate
females
intersection theory (p. 58) the investigation of the interplay of
race, class, and gender, often resulting in multiple dimensions of
disadvantage

Intersection theory highlights the fact that inequality
based on the combined factors of race, class, and gender
results in greater disadvantage for some categories of
people.

68

3.5 Distinguish discrimination from prejudice
and show how the two concepts operate
together.

3.6 Apply sociological theory to patterns of
racial and ethnic inequality.

3.7 Analyze racial and ethnic inequality
from various positions on the political
spectrum.

3.1 Explain how race and ethnicity are socially
constructed.

3.2 Describe four major societal patterns of
interaction between majority and minority
populations.

3.3 Analyze the social standing of major racial
and ethnic categories of the U.S. population.

3.4 Discuss the causes and consequences of
prejudice.

Chapter 3

Racial and Ethnic Inequality

Learning Objectives

Constructing the Problem

M
ar

k
D

un
ca

n/
A

P
Im

ag
es

.

Fu
se

/C
or

bi
s/

G
et

ty
Im

ag
es

.

S
tu

ar
t F

ra
nk

lin
/M

ag
nu

m
P

ho
to

s.

Is race simply a matter of skin color?

Race involves socially constructed
categories that often give people
advantages over others.

Is a “minority” just some category of
people with small numbers?

Being a minority is mainly about power.
Societies construct minorities by giving
more power and privileges to some
categories of people than to others.

Is prejudice simply about what
people think?

Prejudice and discrimination do involve
individual attitudes, but both are also
built into the operation of society.

Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality 69

Tracking the Trends

Do race and ethnicity affect our life chances? We like to think that everyone in
the United States has equal opportunity to succeed. But when it comes to the
jobs people end up doing, the playing field is far from level. Take the sort of work
that most of us would consider a good job, such as being a financial analyst. As
the figure shows, the odds of a white person becoming a financial analyst are
about double the odds of a Hispanic American or African American becoming a
financial analyst.

The pattern is reversed when it comes to jobs people view as less desirable.
The typical African American has almost double the odds of a white person of
ending up with a low-wage job as a janitor, maid, or house cleaner. A Hispanic
American person has more than double the odds of ending up doing this type of
work as a white person. Do you think that race and ethnicity still matter in U.S.
society?

White African
American

Hispanic
American

White African
American

Hispanic
American

Relative Odds of Being a
Custodian or Housekeeper,

2016

Relative Odds of Being a
Financial Analyst,

2016

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Labor (2018).

70 Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality

Chapter Overview
What are race and ethnicity? How are they related to social inequality, shaping
people’s access to jobs and income? This chapter explores the social standing of
various racial and ethnic categories of the U.S. population. The chapter also explores
the history of social diversity in the United States, interpreting this country’s history
using the concepts of genocide, segregation, assimilation, and pluralism. You will
carry out theoretical analysis of racial and ethnic inequality and learn how people’s
political attitudes lead them to construct certain “problems” and favor certain
“solutions.”

people have reason to hold some opinion. Surveys show
that about 40 percent of U.S. adults favor building a “border
wall,” and 60 percent oppose the idea. About 40 percent of
survey respondents oppose granting legal status to immi-
grants who came to the United States illegally as children;
about 60 percent favor legalizing these young people (Suls,
2017; Tyson, 2018).

Most people know that the United States is a nation
of immigrants. This is true: The United States has a larger
number of foreign-born people residing here than any
other country. But most people do not have a good grasp
of the relative size of the immigrant population. For
example, when a recent survey asked what share of the
U.S. population was born in another country, the typical
person responded with a figure almost twice the actual
share, which is 13 percent. Clearly, most people exaggerate
the size of the immigrant population. They also overesti-
mate the share of immigrants that are in the United States
illegally. The actual share of all U.S. immigrants who do
not have legal documentation is about one in four (Pew
Research Center, 2015; Zong & Batalova, 2017).

Most immigrants come to the United States to work.
Surveys show that half of U.S. adults worry about immi-
grants taking jobs from those already here (Pew Research
Center, 2015). But the jobs they take are not likely to dis-
place others in the labor force. In most cases, immigrants
take jobs that people already living here do not want—
because the work is hard and the pay is low. At the same
time, some people who have better-paying jobs—such as
work as an engineer—are also immigrants. Typically, this
is because not nearly enough native-born people have the
training to fill these necessary jobs.

The United States is and has always been a nation of im-
migrants. Everyone who lives in the United States has an-
cestors who came here from some other part of the world.
But, as this opening story suggests, racial and ethnic differ-
ences are not only a source of strength for the United States,
they are also a source of tension and conflict. Race and eth-
nicity are also important dimensions of social inequality.

“I’m sorry if this is not what you believe or what you want to
hear,” Samantha explained to her cousin as they worked their
way through a pepperoni pizza, “but I don’t think this country
can have an ‘open door’ when it comes to immigration.”

“What are you afraid of?” Justin spoke quietly in
response.

“I’m not afraid of anything,” Samantha responded,
now on the defensive. “But I don’t like people coming here
illegally. They are breaking the law. Many immigrants get
on welfare. They take places in our classrooms. They take
jobs from Americans. We have enough to do taking care of
our own people. We don’t need to save the world.”

Immigration is one of the most hotly debated issues
in the United States today, and it has become a political
flash point during the Trump presidency. With more than
1 million immigrants entering this country each year, most

N
or

m
a

Je
an

G
ar

ga
sz

/A
la

m
y

S
to

ck
P

ho
to

.

Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality 71

Middle East. On the other hand, historically isolated people
have many physical traits in common. For example, almost
all people who live on the island of Japan have black hair.

When Was Race Invented? Centuries ago, as global
trade brought the world’s people into greater contact,
awareness of human diversity increased. By the late
1500s, Europeans began using the term “race” to catego-
rize people. By about 1800, European scientists settled on
three broad classifications for humanity. They coined the
terms Caucasian (meaning European and Western Asian)
to designate people with light skin and fine hair; Negroid
(derived from Latin meaning “black”) to refer to people
with dark skin and the coarse, curly hair typical of peo-
ple living in sub-Saharan Africa; and Mongoloid (referring
to the Mongolian region of Asia) to refer to people with
yellow or brown skin and distinctive folds on the eyelids.

Are Races Real? Sociologists are quick to point out that,
at best, racial categories are misleading and, at worst, they
are a harmful way to divide humanity. First, there are no
biologically pure races and the traits we think of as “racial”
represent only a tiny part of our complex biology. In fact, two
individuals randomly selected from within one racial pop-
ulation are about as genetically different as two individuals
randomly selected from two different racial populations
(Witherspoon et al., 2007). Second, because human beings
have migrated and reproduced throughout the world, ours
is a planet with remarkable physical diversity. For exam-
ple, Caucasian people can have very light skin (common in
Scandinavia) or very dark skin (common in southern India).
Similarly, Negroid people can be dark-skinned (common in
Africa) or light-skinned (the Australian Aborigines).

Race and ethnicity are the foundation for many issues
that people come to define as social problems. To under-
stand why this is the case, first we must answer some basic
questions: What are “race” and “ethnicity”? How do they
affect our everyday lives? How do they figure into prob-
lems of social inequality? This chapter will also explore a
range of related issues, including prejudice and discrimi-
nation, social processes such as assimilation and segrega-
tion, and policies including affirmative action. We start
with a look at the central concepts of race and ethnicity.

Race and Ethnicity
3.1 Explain how race and ethnicity are socially

constructed.

In the United States and other countries, race and ethnic-
ity are important aspects of social identity, just as they are
major dimensions of social inequality. Yet many people are
not quite sure what race and ethnicity are all about. Our
first step is to clarify the meanings of the concepts.

Race
Race is a socially constructed category of people who share
biologically transmitted traits that members of a society define as
important. For hundreds of years, people in most societies
have divided humanity into categories based on skin color,
hair texture, facial features, and body shape.

Racial characteristics do not make anyone more or less
human. All people everywhere belong to a single biological
species, Homo sapiens (Latin words meaning “thinking per-
son”), that first emerged in Africa some
250,000 years ago. As Homo sapiens lost their
body hair, our human ancestors developed
darker skin from a natural pigment called
“melanin.” Over thousands of generations
since then, physical differences developed
among people living in different regions of
the world. People who remained in Africa
retained darker skin. Among those people
who migrated away from Africa toward
cooler regions of the world (such as northern
Europe), skin color gradually became lighter.
In some cases, people with lighter skin
migrated back to hotter regions of the planet
(such as India) and their descendants gradu-
ally developed darker skin (Johnson, 2014).

Migration continues today, of course.
As people continue to move around
the world, all the physical traits carried
by human genes are spread ever more
widely. This genetic diversity is especially
pronounced among people living in the
world’s “crossroads” regions, such as the

The fact that race is a socially constructed category means that members of a society
may use any distinctive physical trait to assign people (including themselves) to a racial
category. In the early decades of the twentieth century, public opinion in the United
States turned against European immigrants as their numbers grew. For a time, many
southern Europeans—such as Italians—were “racialized” and defined as nonwhite.

Fo
to

te
ca

G
ila

rd
i/S

to
ck

by
te

/G
et

ty
Im

ag
es

.

72 Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality

simply do not describe human diversity very well (Boza,
2002; Harris & Sim, 2002).

Should Races Exist at All? If racial categories are mislead-
ing or even harmful, why do they exist? Some sociologists
argue that dividing humanity into racial categories is simply
a strategy to allow some people to dominate others (Bonilla-
Silva, 1999; Johnson, Rush, & Feagin, 2000; Zuberi, 2001).
That is, Europeans attached cultural traits to skin color in
order to set apart the “honest and rational” European from
the “beastlike” African and the “devious” Asian. Race, in
short, is a social device that lets people define themselves
as better than those they want to control. By defining peo-
ple around the world as being of a different racial category,
European colonists justified oppressing them. In North
America, European colonists defined native peoples in less
than human terms—as “red savages”—to justify killing
them and taking their land. Even among Europeans, when
people of English ancestry needed Irish and Italian immi-
grants to work for low pay, they defined them as racially
different (Ignatiev, 1995; Camara, 2000; Brodkin, 2007).

Well into the twentieth century, laws in many south-
ern states defined “colored” as anyone having as little as
one-thirty-second African ancestry (that is, one African
American great-great-great-grandparent). By 1970, such
“one drop of blood” laws were overturned by the courts,
allowing parents to declare the race of their child as they
wish (usually stated on the birth certificate). Even today,
however, most people still consider racial identity important.

Multiracial People An important trend is the increasing
number of people in this country who identify themselves
as “multiracial.” In a recent government survey, 9.7 million
people in the United States described themselves as multi-
racial, identifying with more than one racial category (U.S.
Census Bureau, 2017).

Marriage between people of different racial categories
is becoming more common and now accounts for 10 per-
cent of all marriages in the United States. One predictable
result is that the official number of multiracial births has
tripled over the past twenty years and represents about 14
percent of all births (Bialik, 2017). As time goes on, mem-
bers of our society will have increasing difficulty seeing
one another in terms of rigid racial categories.

Ethnicity
Race is a matter of what societies make of biological traits,
but ethnicity is a matter of culture. Ethnicity is a shared
cultural heritage, which typically involves common ancestors,
language, and religion. Just as U.S. society is racially diverse,
so the population contains hundreds of distinctive ethnic
categories. Table 3–1 shows the breadth of this nation’s
racial and ethnic diversity.

Although race and ethnicity are different, the two
may go together. For example, Korean Americans, Native

Other physical traits often linked to race do not always
line up the same way. For example, people with dark skin
can have kinky hair (common in Africa) or straight hair
(common in India). What this means is that from a scientific
standpoint, physical variation is real, but racial categories

Racial or Ethnic
Classification*

Approximate U.S.
Population

Percent of Total
Population

Hispanic Descent 55,199,107 17.3%

Mexican 35,110,480 11.0

Puerto Rican 5,275,008 1.7

Cuban 2,077,828 0.7

Other Hispanic 12,735,791 4.0

Non-Hispanic African
Descent

40,893,369 12.7%

Nigerian 286,424 0.1

Ethiopian 233,789 0.1

Somalian 126,060 <

Other African 40,247,096 12.4

Non-Hispanic Native
American Descent

2,084,326 0.7%

American Indian 2,555,417 0.8

Alaska Native Tribes 120,982 <

Other Native American 157,908 <

Non-Hispanic Asian or
Pacific Island Descent

16,934,241 5.3%

Chinese 3,801,177 1.2

Asian Indian 3,456,447 1.1

Filipino 2,750,811 0.9

Vietnamese 1,719,260 0.5

Korean 1,447,180 0.5

Japanese 781,977 0.2

Pakistani 437,028 0.1

Other Asian or Pacific
Islander

2,220,745 0.7

West Indian descent 3,019,686 0.9%

Arab descent 2,032,892 0.6%

Non-Hispanic European
descent

197,824,618 62.0%

German 44,754,050 13.8

Irish 32,304,175 10.0

English 23,835,787 7.4

Italian 16,896,518 5.2

Polish 9,258,128 2.9

French 7,962,052 2.5

Scottish 5,658,914 1.8

Norwegian 4,421,962 1.4

Dutch 4,044,507 1.3

Two or more races 9,752,947 3.1%

Table 3–1 Racial and Ethnic Categories in the United
States, 2016

*People (such as African Americans and American Indians) who say they are “non-Hispanic”
may still identify with more than one ethnic category. Figures therefore total slightly more
than 100 percent.
“<” indicates less than 1/10 of 1 percent.

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau (2017).

Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality 73

falls into a racial or ethnic minority category, and this share
is increasing. Minorities have already become a major-
ity in 63 of the country’s 100 largest cities. (In Santa Ana,
California, and Detroit, Michigan, minorities make up more
than 90 percent of the population.) A minority majority also
exists in four states—Hawaii, California, New Mexico, and
Texas—as well as the District of Columbia, and Nevada
(49 percent) and Maryland (48 percent) are very close. In
2012, for the first time, a majority of the children born in
the United States were minorities, and in 2013, a minority
majority existed among children younger than five. Over
the next fifty years, analysts project, minorities will account
for 88 percent of U.S. population increase. This means that,
by about 2043, racial and ethnic minorities will become a
majority of the U.S. population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017).

We take up the question of whether women—of any
race or ethnicity—should be counted as a minority in
Chapter 4 (Gender inequality”).

White Privilege
Just as minority standing confers disadvantages, so does
majority standing provide privileges. The concept white
privilege refers to the fact that white people, relative to those in
minority categories, enjoy social advantages. Many people in the
United States (especially those who are not minorities) do
not easily understand the disadvantages faced by minority
people. On the contrary, surveys show some whites feel
resentment at apparent advantages given to minorities with
little appreciation for the many ways minority standing
is hurtful and harmful on a daily basis. In the same way,
whites, who are the majority category, are even less likely to
think of themselves as somehow privileged.

Americans, and people of Italian or Nigerian descent share
not only certain physical traits but ethnic traits as well.

Minorities
A hard reality of life in the United States and elsewhere in
the world is that race and ethnicity are the basis for living
with less—less money, fewer choices, and lower respect
from others. Many people have also discovered that their
race and ethnicity keep them at the margins of U.S. society.
Sociologists use the term minority to refer to any category
of people, identified by physical or cultural traits, that a society
subjects to disadvantages.

Visibility Minorities share a distinctive identity, which
may be based on race (physical traits, which are difficult to
change) or ethnicity (including dress or accent, which peo-
ple can change). Men and women of Japanese ancestry pro-
vide an example of people changing their level of distinctive
visibility. Many people of Japanese ancestry in the United
States have little knowledge of their native language, most
speak only English in their homes, and more than half
of those who marry have non-Japanese partners. Thus,
Japanese Americans have become less of an ethnic cate-
gory, and by marrying people of other backgrounds, they
are becoming less distinctive as a racial category as well.

A minority’s ability to blend in with others depends on
the minority members’ desire to hold on to their traditions.
It also depends on the willingness of other people to accept
them. For instance, looking at government statistics, we see
that whites have a greater willingness to marry people of
Japanese ancestry than to marry people of African descent
(U.S. Census Bureau, 2015; Bialik, 2017).

Power A second char-
acteristic of minorities is
social disadvantage. Because
minorities typically have
less schooling and hold
lower-paying jobs, they
experience higher rates of
poverty. Of course, not all
people in any minority cat-
egory are disadvantaged. In
other words, despite lower
statistical averages, some
people of African, Asian,
or Latino ancestry have
very high social standing.
But even the most success-
ful individuals know that
a minority identity reduces
their standing in some peo-
ple’s eyes (Benjamin, 1991).

Numbers About 39 per-
cent of the U.S. population

If minorities face prejudice and other social challenges, do non-minorities enjoy social advantages?
People who answer “yes” claim that we need to acknowledge the reality of white privilege. Where do you
stand on this issue?

Ju
ic

e
Im

ag
es

/C
ul

tu
ra

/G
et

ty
Im

ag
ea

s.

74 Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality

than 50 percent (Glaab & Brown, 1967; Kasnitz et al., 2006;
U.S. Census Bureau, 2017).

Nativists and the Quota System Many people extended a
welcome to the newcomers, but others—called “nativists”—
opposed the high level of immigration (as some do today),
fearing that it would endanger this country’s mostly English
culture. Nativist attitudes were especially common after the
1900 immigration flow shifted from northern Europe to south-
ern and eastern Europe, where people had darker rather than
lighter skin, spoke a language other than English, and were
Catholic, Orthodox, or Jewish rather than Protestant.

Pressured by nativists, Congress soon enacted laws,
including the Immigration Act of 1924, which cut immigra-
tion and created a quota system that limited the number of
people entering the United States from various countries
around the world. These laws—coupled to the economic
depression that began in 1929—reduced immigration to a
trickle. The flow of immigrants to the United States stayed
low until the mid-1960s.

The End of the Quota System In 1965, Congress ended
the quota system, leading to another wave of mass immi-
gration. Again, the arrival of immigrants—by then mostly
from Mexico and other nations in Latin America as well as
the Philippines, South Korea, and other Asian countries—
became controversial. In 1986, Congress enacted the
Immigrant Control and Reform Act in another effort to
reduce the number of immigrants coming to this country.
This act outlawed the hiring of undocumented immigrants
and threatened businesses with fines for doing so. The idea
was that if immigrants could not get jobs, they would not
come here. But many workers produced fraudulent docu-

ments and were able to find work. In addi-
tion, the 1986 law granted amnesty to almost
3 million illegal immigrants already in the
country, which allowed these people to join
the mainstream of U.S. society and probably
also encouraged more people to cross the
border (Gamboa, 2003; Tumulty, 2006).

Nowhere is the immigration issue
more important than in California, the state
with the largest immigrant population,
a total of more than 10.7 million people
or 27 percent of the state’s total popula-
tion. In California, 44 percent of the peo-
ple speak a language other than English
at home. In 1994, in reaction to the rising
number of illegal immigrants, Californians
enacted Proposition 187, designed to
discourage illegal immigration by cut-
ting off social service benefits, including
schooling, health care, and food stamps,
to anyone entering the country illegally.
This law, however, was later declared

But white privilege is a reality. A white person who
receives a housing loan from a bank probably never thinks
that race has made the process easier. But research shows
that, everything else equal, white people do have greater
success than black people in obtaining a bank mortgage.
In the same way, young white people who hang out on a
street corner are unlikely to consider how their race protects
them. But African Americans who do the same thing are
at far higher risk of violence—from other people or from
police. As one researcher asked, how many white parents
worry about their children being killed when they go out
to play? How many African American parents can honestly
say that they never worry about the same thing? (Biss, 2015).

Immigration
This country’s remarkable racial and ethnic diversity is a
product of immigration. As noted previously, everyone
living in North America is descended from people who lived
elsewhere. Immigration is a key reason our society is here at
all. Even so, immigration is a source of difference causing
conflict. This conflict is nothing new, as you will soon see.

The “Great Immigration” What historians call the “Great
Immigration” started with the end of the Civil War in 1865
and lasted until the outbreak of World War I in 1914. During
this period, the Industrial Revolution created factory jobs
that attracted some 25 million people from other countries
who came to cities along the East Coast in search of eco-
nomic opportunity. In 1900, fully 80 percent of the people
living in New York City either had been born abroad or
had parents who were. Today, the share is slightly more

The television show Fresh Off the Boat presents the hopes, dreams, and frustrations of the
Huang family, who have made their way from Taiwan through Chinatown in the nation’s
capital to Orlando, Florida. Our country is struggling not only to develop an immigration
policy but also to understand the lives of the millions of people who recently have come
to these shores. How can the mass media play a constructive part in this process?

N
ic

ol
e

W
ild

er
/D

is
ne

y
A

B
C

T
el

ev
is

io
n

G
ro

up
/G

et
ty

Im
ag

es
.

Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality 75

opposing that plan (Jones, 2017). Perhaps the most difficult
question to resolve is what to do with the 800,000 young
people who entered this country illegally as children.
These “Dreamers” have been protected by an Obama-era
program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
(DACA). About 75 percent of U.S. adults support giving
legal status to “Dreamers.” By the end of 2018, Congress
had yet to resolve the fate of these young people (Bier,
2017; Tyson, 2018). The Social Problems in Focus box takes
a closer look at the current immigration issue.

Patterns of Majority–Minority
Interaction
3.2 Describe four major societal patterns of interaction

between majority and minority populations.

The way majority and minority populations interact can
range from peaceful to deadly. In studying such patterns,
sociologists use four models: genocide, segregation, assim-
ilation, and pluralism.

Genocide
Genocide is the systematic killing of one category of people by
another. Genocide amounts to mass murder. Even so, it has
taken place time and again in human history, often con-
doned and sometimes even encouraged by governments
and their people.

Beginning about 1500, the Spanish, Portuguese,
English, French, and Dutch forcefully colonized North
and South America, a policy that resulted in the deaths of
thousands of native people. Although most native people
died from diseases brought by Europeans to which they
had no natural defenses, many were also killed outright
(Matthiessen, 1984; Sale, 1990).

In the 1930s and 1940s, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi gov-
ernment murdered more than 6 million people that the
Nazis defined as “undesirables,” including homosexu-
als, people with disabilities, and most of Europe’s Jewish
population. The Soviet dictator Josef Stalin slaughtered
his country’s people on an even greater scale, killing some
30 million people, all of whom he defined as “enemies.”
Between 1975 and 1980, Cambodia’s Communist regime
butchered millions whom they saw as “Western” in their
cultural patterns. In recent decades, Hutus massacred
Tutsis in the African nation of Rwanda, Serbs systemati-
cally killed Croats in Eastern Europe, and several hundred
thousand people have been killed in the Darfur region of
Africa’s Sudan. In addition, the Syrian civil war has killed
as many as 500,000 people and displaced millions more. In
2016, the United States declared that ISIS was engaged in
genocide against Christians and other minorities in Iraq
and Syria (Isikoff, 2016).

to be unconstitutional by the courts. But the passage of this
law did reduce illegal immigration and it also hurt those
undocumented immigrants already in California.

The Current Immigration Controversy During the 1990s,
Congress continued to debate the immigration issue and
about 1 million people entered the United States each year.
This flow represented a larger number of people entering
the country than during the Great Immigration a century
ago, although these recent immigrants joined a population
five times larger. In 2016, the total U.S. population of about
319 million included about 42 million (13.2 percent) who
were foreign-born. Almost as many people have at least
one parent born abroad (Pew Research Center, 2015; U.S.
Census Bureau, 2017).

Especially since the election of Donald Trump, immi-
gration has become a major issue across the United States,
with the focus of the debate on illegal immigration. From
a total of about 500,000 people annually during the years
after 2000, the number of unauthorized immigrants fell
during the recession that began in 2008. As the flow of
people declined, the total number of undocumented immi-
grants in the country decreased from a peak of 12.2 million
in 2007 to about 11 million in 2009. The number of undoc-
umented immigrants began to increase slowly in 2012 as
the economy began to improve and has stayed fairly flat
since then so that, by 2017, the total was about 11.3 million
people (Baker & Rytina, 2013; Pew Research Center, 2015;
Newhauser, 2017).

Controlling the nation’s southern border, which
extends for almost 2,000 miles along the southern bound-
aries of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, is
a monumental task. Much of the border has no fence
or marking at all. In 2000, more than 1.5 million people
were apprehended attempting to enter the country ille-
gally. By 2014, as a result of both tighter border security
and the economic recession, the number of people appre-
hended crossing the border had declined to about 316,000
that year. Donald Trump ran for office on the promise to
reduce illegal immigration. After taking office, Trump
ordered more aggressive border enforcement so that the
number of people crossing the border declined signifi-
cantly. Estimating the number of people who manage
to avoid apprehension is difficult, obviously, but it is
likely that at least 150,000 people continue to enter the
country illegally each year (Pew Research Center, 2015;
Newhauser, 2017).

Congress has debated various proposals intended to
improve control of the border as well as decide how to deal
with illegal immigrants already living and working in the
United States. President Trump made the building of a bor-
der wall the centerpiece of his campaign. To date, no such
wall has been constructed and surveys show that just 40
percent of U.S. adults are in favor of a wall with 60 percent

76 Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality

SOCIAL PROBLEMS IN FOCUS

Let Them Stay or Make Them Go? The Debate over
Unauthorized Immigrants
For years, Congress has debated the issue of comprehensive
immigration reform. Despite enacting new laws in recent
decades, most people in the United States think there is still
much that needs to be done. However, exactly what the problem
and the solution are is a matter of disagreement.

Almost everyone agrees on one fact: A main reason
that people come to the United States is simple economics.
Wages in the United States are about five times higher than
in Mexico—the nation from which most undocumented
immigrants arrive. A large majority of today’s undocumented
immigrants arrive from lower-income nations. Among all
people who have entered the United States illegally, about
56 percent are from Mexico, 15 percent are from other Latin
American nations, 15 percent are from an Asian country,
and the remaining 14 percent are from African countries and
elsewhere (Zong & Batalova, 2017).

Many conservatives are troubled by high levels of
immigration and even more are concerned about unauthorized
immigration. They claim that entering the country illegally is a
crime, so illegal immigrants should face arrest and some form
of punishment or perhaps even deportation. Almost 3 million
unauthorized immigrants—largely people convicted of serious
crimes—were deported during the Obama administration
between 2008 and 2016.

There are problems with such a “get tough” approach.
For one thing, identifying and arresting an estimated 11.3
million people who are in this country illegally would be next to
impossible, and there are simply not enough jails to lock up even
half this many people. Even more important, any such effort
would spread fear throughout immigrant communities and drive
people into hiding. Finally, a policy of arrest and deportation
would inevitably split up families.

Nonetheless, many conservatives claim that only tough
measures will discourage even more people from coming to
this country illegally. In addition, conservatives support efforts
(including hiring more border patrol agents and perhaps building
a wall) to make our borders more secure.

There is increasing support among moderate conservatives
for allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the United
States as guest workers if they pay a fine, pay back taxes on
their earnings, and go to the end of the line among people
seeking citizenship.

About 30 percent of U.S. adults hold conservative views on
the immigration debate. Typically, they believe that immigrants are
a burden to the country because they are likely to receive welfare
assistance or, if they work, they will compete with the existing
workforce for jobs. Immigrants may also overtax our schools,
health care system, and housing supply. Some conservatives
also worry that immigrants’ ethnic differences will bring dramatic
changes to U.S. culture (Pew Research Center, 2015).

Liberals tend to see immigrants as a positive presence
in U.S. society. They point out that, through their hard work,
most immigrants (whether documented or not) contribute to
our economy, often doing jobs that others in our country do
not want to do. Much low-wage labor on farms, at hotels and
restaurants, and in private homes is performed by immigrants.

Liberals also remind us that more than 1 million of today’s
undocumented immigrants are children. In 2012, the Obama
administration created a program called Deferred Action for
Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allows children who came
to the United States illegally with their parents to apply for
protection against deportation. To date, some 800,000 young
people, often called “Dreamers,” have made use of this program
successfully. Because about 75 percent of U.S. adults support
giving legal status to “Dreamers,” it seems likely that Congress
will find a way to provide a path to citizenship for these young
people (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2015; Bier,
2017; Tyson, 2018).

Most liberals favor amnesty for unauthorized immigrants and
want to give them a path to citizenship. They take this position as
a way to free millions of men, women, and children from “living
in the shadows,” with no chance to apply for a scholarship to go
to a community college or even to get a driver’s license. Most
seriously, liberals point out, illegal immigrants must live in constant
fear that they or another family member may be arrested.

What is the radical-left position on the immigration debate?
Radicals on the left oppose any efforts to wall off this country
from the rest of the world and they support legalization and
citizenship for all immigrants already here. Most important,
they claim, the world must reduce the economic inequality that
separates the United States from other countries. Until that
happens, they claim, millions of people will keep coming to this
country, many risking their lives in the process.

Keep in mind that the immigration debate has political
consequences that could easily decide the outcome of
presidential elections. Allowing all undocumented immigrants
to become citizens would create more than 10 million new
voters. In the 2016 presidential election, 66 percent of Hispanic
or Latino voters supported Democrat Hillary Clinton and 28
percent voted for Republican Donald Trump (Pedraza & Wilcox-
Archuleta, 2017).

What Do You Think?
1. Do you view immigrants as a benefit or a liability to our

society? Why?

2. What would you do to address the almost 12 million unau-
thorized immigrants already living in this country? Why?

3. What do you think Congress will end up doing about this
issue?

Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality 77

and Livonia, Michigan, right across the city’s boundary, is 91
percent white (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017).

Intense segregation has been found in many inner-city
areas. In 1989, Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton docu-
mented the hypersegregation of some African Americans
who have little contact with people outside of their com-
munity. A study published a decade ago found that hyper-
segregation affected just a few percent of poor white
people but it affected one in four African Americans liv-
ing in about twenty-five of the largest U.S. cities (Massey
& Denton, 1989; Wilkes & Iceland, 2004). The number of
hypersegregated cities in the United States has declined by
half since 1970, but about twenty large cities continue to be
racially divided to this extreme. In cities including Detroit
and Chicago in the North and Memphis and Jackson,
Mississippi, in the South, at least half of the African

Segregation
Segregation is the physical and social separation of categories
of people. Sometimes minority populations decide that they
wish to segregate themselves; this is the case with religious
orders such as the Amish. Usually, though, the majority pop-
ulation causes segregation by forcing minorities to the mar-
gins of society, where they have to “stay with their own.”

Racial segregation in the United States began with the
economic policy of slavery and later included legally separate
hotels, restaurants, schools, buses, and trains for people accord-
ing to race. A number of court cases have largely eliminated de
jure (Latin words meaning “by law”) segregation in the United
States. However, de facto (“in fact”) segregation remains com-
mon because most neighborhoods, schools, hospitals, prisons,
and even cemeteries still contain mostly people of one race.
For example, the city of Detroit is 80 percent African American,

CONSTRUCTING SOCIAL PROBLEMS

A Defining Moment: Saying No to Segregation
A huge change to U.S. society began so routinely that no one
would have known history was being made. On December 1,
1955, Rosa Louise Parks, a young African American woman
living in Montgomery, Alabama, had just finished a day of hard
work as a seamstress. She was tired and eager to get home.
She walked to the street and boarded a city bus. At that time,
Montgomery city law required African Americans to ride in seats
designated for “coloreds” near the back of the bus, and Parks
did exactly that. Slowly the bus filled with people. As the bus
pulled to the curb to pick up some additional white passengers,
the driver turned and asked four black people to give up their
seats so that the white people could sit down. Three did as he
asked. But Parks refused to move.

Seeing Parks’s response, the driver pulled the bus to the
curb, stepped out of the door, and returned a few minutes later
with a police officer, who arrested Parks for breaking the city’s
segregation law. She appeared in court, and a judge found her
guilty as charged and fined her $14.

The story of Parks’s stand (or sitting) for justice quickly
spread throughout the African American community. In the age
before cell phones and Twitter, activists printed and distributed
thousands of handbills asking every African American to stay off
the buses the following Monday to protest the arrest and trial
and to demand an end to segregation of the city’s public buses.
“You can afford to stay out of school for one day. If you work,
take a cab, or walk. But please, children and grown-ups, don’t
ride the bus at all on Monday. Please stay off the buses Monday.”

African Americans in Montgomery successfully boycotted city
buses on that Monday. And the next day. And for 382 days after
that. A huge social movement was under way that forced the city of
Montgomery to officially end segregation on its buses. Nine years
later, in 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court banned racial segregation in
any and all public accommodations across the country.

Rosa Parks lived the rest of her life as a symbol of the quiet
determination to achieve justice. When she died in 2005, she
was hailed as the mother of the modern civil rights movement
in the United States, and her funeral was attended by national
leaders including three presidents. She will be remembered as a
leader of the civil rights movement and as proof of the power of
people—even one at a time—to change the world.

This photo shows Rosa Parks being fingerprinted by police in
Montgomery, Alabama. At the time of her arrest, the law de-
fined Parks as the problem. But the bus boycott that followed
her arrest soon changed that, defining racial segregation as the
problem.

G
en

e
H

er
ric

k/
A

P
Im

ag
es

.

78 Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality

alter their cultural values, and even affiliate with a new
religion.

Many people think of the United States as a “melt-
ing pot” where the different ways of immigrants blend
to produce one national lifestyle. There is some truth to
this image, but a closer look shows that minorities are the
ones who do most of the changing as they adopt the cul-
tural patterns of more powerful people who have been
here longer. In some cases, minorities imitate people they
regard as their “betters” in order to escape hostility and
to move up socially. In many cases, however, the major-
ity population forces change on minorities. For example,
by 2018, legislatures in thirty-one states had enacted laws
making English the official language. National Map 3–1
shows the share of people who speak a language other
than English at home in counties across the United States.

The amount of assimilation on the part of minorities also
depends on where they live. Latinas and Latinos living in
Ohio or New Hampshire (where they represent a very small
share of the population) are more likely to speak English than
their counterparts living in south Texas along the Mexican
border where, in many communities, Spanish-speaking

American population still resides in racially segregated
neighborhoods. But as a result of migration of African
Americans (especially to suburbs and to Sun Belt cities),
changes in mortgage lending policies that support racial
integration, and a social climate of increasing racial accep-
tance, researchers claim that U.S. cities are now less racially
segregated than they have been in a century (Glaeser &
Vigdor, 2012; Knoll, 2015; Sauter, Comen, & Stebbing, 2017).

Because minorities, by definition, have little power,
challenging segregation is not easy and may even be dan-
gerous. Sometimes, however, the actions of a single per-
son do make a difference. The Defining Moment feature
describes the actions of Rosa Parks, who sparked a social
movement to end segregation on buses and other forms of
public transportation throughout the South.

Assimilation
Assimilation is the process by which minorities gradually
adopt cultural patterns from the dominant majority population.
When minorities—especially new immigrants—assimilate,
they may change their styles of dress, use a new language,

Elvira Martinez lives in Zapata County, Texas,
where about 87% of the people in her
community speak Spanish at home.

Jeffrey Steen lives in Adams
County, Ohio, where almost
none of his neighbors speak
a language other than English.

Percentage of
Population That Speaks
a Language Other Than
English at Home

60.0% or more

30.0% to 59.9%

15.0% to 29.9%

4.0% to 14.9%

Less than 4.0%

U.S. average: 21.1%

LOUISIANA

TENNESSEE

MISSISSIPPI

GEORGIA

SOUTH
CAROLINA

VIRGINIA

D.C.

PENNSYLVANIA

NEW
YORK

MAINE

FLORIDA

ALABAMA

ALASKA

ARIZONA

NEVADA

CALIFORNIA

OREGON

WASHINGTON

IDAHO

MONTANA

NORTH
DAKOTA

MINNESOTA

SOUTH
DAKOTA

NEBRASKA

WYOMING

COLORADO

NEW
MEXICO

TEXAS

ARKANSASOKLAHOMA

KANSAS
MISSOURI

IOWA

WISCONSIN

MICHIGAN

ILLINOIS
INDIANA

OHIO

KENTUCKY
NORTH

CAROLINA

WEST
VIRGINIA

UTAH

VERMONT

HAWAII

DELAWARE

NEW JERSEY

MARYLAND

CONNECTICUT
RHODE ISLAND

NEW HAMPSHIRE
MASSACHUSETTS

Seeing Ourselves
National Map 3–1 Language Diversity across the United States

Of nearly 300 million people age five or older in the United States, the Census Bureau reports that
63 million (21.1 percent) speak a language other than English at home. Of these people, 62 percent
speak Spanish and 16 percent use an Asian language (the Census Bureau lists thirty-nine languages
and language categories, each of which is favored by more than 100,000 people). The map shows
that non-English speakers are concentrated in certain regions of the country. Which ones? Can you
explain this pattern?

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau (2017).

Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality 79

called “bringing civilization to the New World” was to
Native Americans the destruction of their ancient and
thriving civilizations. From a population in the millions
before Europeans arrived, the number of “vanishing
Americans” fell to barely 250,000 by 1900 (Dobyns, 1966;
Tyler, 1973).

At first, the U.S. government viewed native peoples
as independent nations and tried to gain land from them
through treaties. But the government was quick to use
superior military power against any who resisted. In the
1830s, soldiers forcibly removed the Cherokee and other
Indian nations from their homelands in the southeastern
United States, causing thousands of deaths along what
came to be known as the Trail of Tears. By 1850, few native
people remained along the East Coast.

In 1871, the United States declared American Indians
wards of the federal government. At this point, the official
goal was assimilation. This meant remaking native peoples
as “Americans” by moving them to reservations where
they were forced to adopt Christianity in place of their
traditional religions and where schools taught children
English in place of their ancestral language.

Since gaining full citizenship in 1924, many American
Indians have assimilated, marrying people of other
backgrounds. Yet many American Indians still live on res-
ervations where poverty rates are very high. As Table 3–2
shows, American Indians remain disadvantaged, with
below-average income, a high rate of poverty, and a low
rate of college graduation.

In the past decade, American Indian organizations
have received a large number of new membership appli-
cations, and many children are learning to speak native

people are a numerical majority. Of
course, wherever they live, some minority
categories end up assimilating more than
others. Looking back over the decades,
we also see that German and Irish people
have “melted” more than Italians, and
Japanese people have assimilated more
than people from China or Korea.

Pluralism
Pluralism is a state in which people of all
racial and ethnic categories have about the
same overall social standing. Pluralism
represents a situation in which no
minority category enjoys great priv-
ileges or is subject to disadvantage.
The United States is pluralistic to the
extent that—officially, at least—all peo-
ple have equal standing under the law.
But in reality, tolerance for diversity
(both among people in the majority and
including one minority population’s tolerance for another)
is limited. As just noted, for example, thirty-one states
have passed laws designating English as their official lan-
guage. In addition, the United States is not truly pluralistic
because the social standing of most minority populations is
below that of the white, European-origin majority.

The Social Standing
of U.S. Minorities
3.3 Analyze the social standing of major racial and

ethnic categories of the U.S. population.

The United States is a nation built on racial and ethnic
diversity. In order to better understand today’s racial and
ethnic inequality, it is important to know something of the
history of the largest minority categories. The following
sections provide brief historical profiles.

Native Americans
Native Americans, many of whom now prefer to be called
“American Indians,” are descendants of the first people
to come to North America across the Bering Strait from
Asia. Over thousands of years, they spread throughout the
hemisphere, forming hundreds of distinct societies. These
included the Aleuts and Eskimos (in Alaska), the Cherokee,
Zuni, Sioux, and Iroquois (farther to the south), the Aztec
(in Central America), and the Inca (in South America).

By 1500, the arrival of European explorers and colo-
nizers began centuries of conflict. What some Europeans

Despite media reports of the financial success that legal gambling on reservations has
brought to some American Indians, the majority of native people in the United States are
greatly disadvantaged. Scenes such as this one from the Hopi reservation near Tuba City,
Arizona, are more the rule than the exception.

K
ev

in
F

le
m

in
g/

C
or

bi
s

D
oc

um
en

ta
ry

/V
C

G
/G

et
ty

Im
ag

es
.

80 Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality

meet this demand for labor, slave traders (including Arabs
and Africans as well as Europeans and North Americans)
transported human beings across the Atlantic Ocean, in
chains and under horrific conditions with full support of
the law. Before 1808, when the United States declared the
slave trade illegal, 500,000 Africans were brought to the
United States, and 9.5 million came to other countries in
the Americas, North and South. Keep in mind that this
total represents just half the number who left Africa—the
other half died during the brutal journey (Tannenbaum,
1946; Franklin, 1967; Sowell, 1981).

Under the law and according to the norms of the time,
owners administered what discipline they wished to slaves
in order to force them to do just about anything. For their
part, slaves had neither legal rights nor the opportunity to
attend school. Slave owners routinely separated families as
they traded men, women, and children for profit.

Not all people of African descent living in the United
States were slaves. Roughly 1 million free persons of color
lived in the North and the South. Most of these people
farmed small parcels of land, worked at skilled jobs in cit-
ies, or operated shops or small businesses.

How could slavery exist in a society whose Declaration
of Independence claimed that “all men are created equal”
and entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”?
The obvious contradiction had to be resolved. But rather
than making all people free, national leaders decided that
African Americans were not really people. In the 1857 Dred
Scott case, the U.S. Supreme Court officially supported the
widespread belief that slaves were not citizens entitled to
the rights and protections of U.S. law.

In the northern states, where expanding industry
meant that slavery had less economic value, the practice
gradually came to an end. In the South, where the agrar-
ian economy depended on human labor, it took the Civil
War to abolish slavery. On January 1, 1863, as the guns
of war roared, President Abraham Lincoln issued the
Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that slavery
was abolished in the breakaway southern Confederacy.
When the fighting ended in 1865, Congress banned slavery
everywhere in the country with the Thirteenth Amendment
to the Constitution. In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment
reversed the Dred Scott decision, giving citizenship to all
people, regardless of race, born in the United States.

languages better than their parents (Nagel, 1996; Martin,
1997). These organizations are actively trying to improve
the portrayal of native people in public life. A number of
sports teams continue to use Indian caricatures in ways
that many American Indians find offensive. The Cleveland
Indians recently announced that the team would abandon
the “Chief Wahoo” logo beginning in 2019. The logo, which
originated in 1948, has long offended many people, espe-
cially Native Americans. More broadly, research shows
that the mass media very rarely present American Indians
in today’s world, and in the few cases where Indian people
are shown, almost all are associated with poverty or addic-
tion (Qureshi, 2016; Waldstein, 2018).

In fact, many American Indians operate a wide range
of successful businesses and engage in professional work.
It is widely known that some tribes have used the legal
autonomy of reservations to build gambling casinos.
These casinos produce enormous profits, but this wealth
has enriched only a few native tribes, with most of the
money going to non-Indian investors. In fact, if all the
money earned by casinos on Indian land were divided
equally among all American Indians, one person’s share
(about $11,000) would not be enough to exceed the pov-
erty line (Bartlett & Steele, 2002; Native American Rights
Fund, 2018). Overall, while some prosper, about one-fourth
of American Indians remain on reservations and most
American Indians remain severely disadvantaged and
share a profound sense of historical injustice suffered at the
hands of white people.

African Americans
People of African ancestry arrived in the Americas along
with the first European explorers. After 1619, however,
when a Dutch trading ship delivered twenty Africans to
Jamestown, Virginia, to work for whites, people came to
see dark skin as a marker of subordination. In 1661, Virginia
enacted the first slave law. By 1776, the year the United
States declared its independence from Great Britain, slav-
ery was legal in every state, and African Americans labored
as slaves throughout the North as well as the South.

The demand for slaves was especially high in the
South, where the plantation system required large num-
bers of people to work the cotton and tobacco fields. To

Median
Family Income

Percentage
Living in
Poverty

Percentage with Four or
More Years of College

(age 25 and over)

Entire U.S. Population $67,871 12.7% 30.3%

Native Americans 45,004 27.6 14.5

Table 3–2 The Social Standing of Native Americans, 2016

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau (2017).

Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality 81

But African Americans’ struggle for full participation in
U.S. society is far from over. People of African descent are
still disadvantaged, a fact supported by the data shown in
Table 3–3. African American families still have below-average
income, and the black poverty rate is more than twice as
high as the white poverty rate. Although about 87 percent of
African Americans now complete high school, their college
graduation rate is well below the national average.

By 2016, 45 percent of African American families earned
more than $50,000 a year. But most black families remain in
the working class, and about one in four lives below the
poverty line. On average, African American families earn
just 65 percent as much as white families. One reason for
the continued economic struggle of African Americans is
that factory jobs, a key source of income for people living in
central cities, have moved away from the United States to
countries with lower labor costs. This loss of jobs helps to
explain why black unemployment is double the rate among
white people. Among African American teenagers (ages
sixteen to nineteen), the unemployment rate in 2017 was
16.2 percent (twice the rate of white youth) (Wilson, 1996;
U.S. Census Bureau, 2015; U.S. Department of Labor, 2017).

But ending slavery did not mean
ending racial discrimination. States
soon enacted what came to be known
as “Jim Crow laws,” which barred black
people from voting and sitting on juries
and called for segregated trains, restau-
rants, hotels, and other public places
(Woodward, 1974).

After World War I, when Congress
closed the borders to further immi-
gration, the need for labor in the
booming factories sparked the “Great
Migration,” which drew tens of thou-
sands of men and women of color from
the rural South to the industrialized
cities of the North. These were times
of great achievements in African
American life as, for example, the
Harlem Renaissance (centered in
Harlem, the large African American
community in New York City) produced
writers such as Langston Hughes and
musicians such as Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.
Even so, racial segregation in neighborhoods, schools, and
jobs was a way of life in most of the United States.

But change was coming. In 1948, President Harry
Truman declared an end to segregation in the U.S. military.
Black legal scholars, including Thurgood Marshall (1908–
1993), who later served for thirty years on the U.S. Supreme
Court, led an attack on school segregation, leading to the
1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (Kansas).
In this landmark decision, the Supreme Court rejected the
practice of teaching black and white children in schools
that segregationists claimed were “separate but equal.”

A year later, the heroic action of Rosa Parks sparked
the bus boycott that desegregated public transportation in
Montgomery, Alabama. In the next decade, the federal gov-
ernment passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (prohibiting
segregation in employment and public accommodations),
the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (banning voting require-
ments that prevented African Americans from having a
political voice), and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (which
outlawed discrimination in housing). Together, these laws
brought an end to most legal discrimination in public life.

The mass media played a powerful role in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
Televised scenes such as this one in Birmingham, Alabama, when police turned dogs and
fire hoses on demonstrators, changed the mood of the nation in favor of the idea that all
people should have equal opportunity and equal standing before the law.

Median
Family Income

Percentage
Living in
Poverty

Percentage with Four or
More Years of College

(age 25 and over)

Entire U.S. Population $67,871 12.7% 30.3%

African Americans 44,531 26.2 21.0

Table 3–3 The Social Standing of African Americans, 2016

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau (2017).

B
ill

H
ud

so
n/

A
P

Im
ag

es
.

82 Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality

Asian men from marrying non-Asian women. Such norms
were soon enacted into law, beginning in 1920, as California
and other states passed laws banning interracial marriage
outright.

Many Asians settled in urban neighborhoods where
they could help one another. Chinatowns soon flourished
in San Francisco, New York, and other large cities, and
many found work in Chinese-owned restaurants, laun-
dries, and other small businesses. Self-employment has
been popular not only among the Chinese but also among
all minorities who find few employers willing to hire them
for good wages.

World War II brought important changes to both
the Japanese American and Chinese American popula-
tions. The war in the Pacific began in 1941 when Japan
attacked Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor naval base. The military
strike stunned the United States, and many people won-
dered which side Japanese Americans would take in the
conflict. Japanese Americans always remained loyal to
the United States. But fear of Japan’s industrial and mili-
tary might, coupled with racial hostility, pushed President
Franklin Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 9066 in early
1942, forcibly relocating all people of Japanese ancestry to
military camps in remote areas away from the coast. The
order forced more than 100,000 Japanese Americans to sell
their businesses, homes, and farms for a fraction of their
true value. Taken to camps, they lived under the watchful
eyes of armed soldiers until 1944, when the U.S. Supreme
Court declared the relocation policy unconstitutional. In
1988, Congress declared that this action had been wrong
and awarded a symbolic compensation of $20,000 to each
surviving camp inmate (Ewers, 2008).

Because China joined the United States in the fight
against Japan, in 1943 the federal government ended the
1882 ban on Chinese immigration and gave U.S. citizen-
ship to Chinese Americans born abroad. After the war, in
1952, the same offer was extended to foreign-born Japanese
Americans.

In the postwar period, many young people of Chinese
and Japanese descent entered college, believing that more
schooling was the key to success. By the 1980s, based on
their cultural emphasis on study and hard work, Asian
Americans were finding themselves described as the
“model minority.”

As Table 3–4 shows, all categories of Asian Americans
now have above-average income and education. So there
is some truth to the “model minority” idea. But poverty
rates also are close to or even above the national average
for some categories of Asian Americans. In addition, the
“model minority” stereotype is misleading because many
Asian families have multiple wage earners working long
and hard in low-paying jobs.

Some Asian Americans live in distinctive commu-
nities. The Chinatowns and Little Tokyos found in some

Asian Americans
Asian Americans include people with historical ties to
any of several dozen Asian nations. The largest number of
Asian Americans have roots in China (3.8 million), India
(3.5 million), the Philippines (2.8 million), Vietnam (1.7
million), South Korea (1.4 million), and Japan (782,000).
In 2016, Asian Americans numbered more than 17 mil-
lion, which was 5.4 percent of the total U.S. population.
According to the Census Bureau, Asian Americans are the
fastest-increasing racial or ethnic category of the U.S. pop-
ulation, with most of the increase coming from immigra-
tion (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017).

The flow of immigrants from China and Japan to
North America began back in 1849 when the Gold Rush
in California created a demand for laborers. Chinese men
answered the call, numbering 100,000 within a genera-
tion, and they were joined by a much smaller number of
Japanese immigrants. As long as cheap labor was needed,
whites welcomed them.

But as the economy slowed, whites began to view
Asian immigrants as an economic threat and soon labeled
them the “Yellow Peril.” Legislatures and courts were pres-
sured to bar Asians from certain jobs. In 1882, the federal
government went even further and passed the Chinese
Exclusion Act, which ended the flow of new immigrants
from China. A similar law directed against Japan was
enacted in 1908. These laws caused the Asian population
in the United States to decline because almost all the peo-
ple already here were men, and racial hostility prevented

From 1942 until 1944, more than 100,000 men, women, and children
of Japanese ancestry were forced to live in military detention camps.
This policy took away not just Japanese Americans’ liberty but also
most of their property because it forced families to sell homes and
businesses for a small share of what they were really worth.

B
et

tm
an

n/
G

et
ty

Im
ag

es
.

Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality 83

Hispanic Americans/Latinos
Hispanic Americans, also known as “Latinas” and
“Latinos,” are people with cultural roots in the nations of
Central and South America, the Caribbean, the Philippines,
and Spain. As a result, there are many Latino/a cultures.
On the 2010 Census Bureau forms, people of any race
could identify themselves as being Hispanic or Latino/a.
In racial terms, about half of all Latinos described them-
selves as white, 6 percent said they are multiracial, and
4 percent indicated that they are black. The remainder
claimed to identify primarily with Mexico, Puerto Rico, or
some other nation (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011).

In 2016, the official Hispanic population of the United
States stood at 55.2 million, making Hispanics the largest
U.S. minority with 17.3 percent of the population (exceed-
ing non-Hispanic African Americans at 39.7 million, or 12.3
percent).

National Map 3–2 shows the geographical concen-
tration of Latinos—as well as African Americans, Asian
Americans, and Arab Americans—across the United
States. Many Latinos reside in the Southwest because
almost two-thirds (35 million) are of Mexican origin. Next
in terms of numbers are Puerto Ricans (5.3 million) and
Cuban Americans (2.1 million) and smaller numbers from
dozens of other nations. Overall, Latinos are so numer-
ous and their cultural contributions so great that Spanish
has become the unofficial second language of the United
States.

Many Mexican Americans had lived for centuries on
lands that came under U.S. control following the Mexican
War (1846–1848) and became what are now Texas, New
Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, California, and Colorado.
Others are new arrivals, drawn to the United States by a
desire for higher wages and greater economic opportunity.

Puerto Rico, an island controlled by Spain for about
300 years, became a U.S. territory in 1898 at the end of
the Spanish-American War. Since 1917, all island res-
idents have been U.S. citizens, although Puerto Rico is a
commonwealth and not a state. The largest Puerto Rican

large cities may provide their people with social support,
but they can also limit job opportunities by discourag-
ing their residents from learning English (Kinkead, 1992;
Gilbertson & Gurak, 1993).

Today, more than 40 percent of all immigrants to
the United States each year are from an Asian nation.
Researchers project that Asian Americans will outnumber
Hispanic Americans to become the largest minority cate-
gory in this country by 2050 (Pew Research Center, 2015).

Many Asian Americans, especially those with high
social standing, have assimilated into the larger cultural
mix. For example, very few Japanese Americans live in
racially segregated neighborhoods. In fact, most people
of Japanese ancestry marry someone of another racial and
ethnic background.

Keep in mind, too, that “Asian American” is a large cat-
egory made up of many distinctive communities. Although
most Japanese Americans have assimilated, many Korean
Americans follow the example of immigrants a century
ago and settle in ethnic neighborhoods, sometimes for pro-
tection from racial and ethnic hostility.

The lives of Filipino Americans illustrate the complex-
ity of establishing a racial and ethnic identity. A recent study
of young Filipino Americans living in Los Angeles found
that less than half considered themselves to be Asian (com-
pared with about 95 percent of people of Chinese, Japanese,
and Vietnamese descent living in that city). Many young
Filipinos call themselves Asian, but just as many consider
themselves to be Latino, reflecting the fact that Spain dom-
inated the Philippines for 300 years. Some Filipinos also
report switching identities according to their location, iden-
tifying themselves as Asian in the company of people from
other Asian nations and taking on a Latino identity among
people with Spanish heritage (Ocampo, 2016).

In general, Asian Americans have fared better than
most minorities. Even so, anti-Asian prejudice remains
strong (Chua-Eoan, 2000; Parrillo, 2003; Parrillo &
Donoghue, 2005; Parrillo & Donoghue, 2013). Many Asian
Americans remain socially marginal, living in two worlds
while fully belonging to neither one.

Median Family
Income

Percentage Living in
Poverty

Percentage with Four or
More Years of College

(age 25 and over)

Entire U.S. Population $67,871 12.7% 30.3%

All Asian Americans 87,834 12.3 53.2

Chinese Americans 85,233 15.5 53.5

Japanese Americans 95,169 8.1 49.4

Korean Americans 70,975 14.4 54.1

Asian Indian Americans 110,904 7.7 72.7

Table 3–4 The Social Standing of Asian Americans, 2016

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau (2017).

84 Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality

Many Cubans fled to the United States after the revo-
lution led by Fidel Castro gained control of their nation in
1959. These men and women, numbering several hundred
thousand, included many affluent businesspeople and
professionals. Most settled in Miami, Florida, where they
established a vibrant Cuban American community.

Table 3–5 shows that the social standing of Hispanic
Americans is below the U.S. average. However, various
categories of Latinos have somewhat different rankings.

community off the island traditionally has been New
York’s Spanish Harlem. Since 1990, an outflow of people
to the suburbs and also movement back to Puerto Rico
reduced New York’s Puerto Rican population from almost
900,000 to about 695,000 in 2017. Especially after Hurricane
Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, most immigrants
came to Florida, which now has a Puerto Rican population
that exceeds 1 million people (Krogstad et al., 2107; U.S.
Census Bureau, 2017).

95.0% or more
70.0% to 94.9%
50.0% to 69.9%
25.0% to 49.9%
12.5% to 24.9%
5.0% to 12.4%
2.0% to 4.9%
0.0% to 1.9%

U.S. average: 17.8%

Hispanic/Latino
GA

AK

HI

AZ

NV

CA

OR

WA

ID

MT ND
MN

SD

NE

WY

CO

NM

TX LA

AROK

KS MO

IA

WI
MI

IN
OH

KY

TN

MS
AL

SC

NC

VA D.C.
WV

DE
NJ

MD

PA CT
RI

MEVT

NH
MA

FL

UT IL

NY

Seeing Ourselves
National Map 3–2 The Concentration of Hispanics/Latinos, African Americans,

Asian Americans, and Arab Americans, by County

In 2016, Hispanic Americans represented 17.3 percent of the U.S. population, compared with
12.3 percent for non-Hispanic African Americans, 5.4 percent for non-Hispanic Asian Americans,
and 0.2 percent for Arab Americans. These four maps show the geographic distribution of these
categories of people in 2016. Comparing them, we see that the southern half of the United States is
home to far more minorities than the northern half. But do the four minority categories concentrate in
the same areas? What patterns do the maps reveal?

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau (2017).

African American
70.0% or more
50.0% to 69.9%
25.0% to 49.9%
12.0% to 24.9%
5.0% to 11.9%
1.0% to 4.9%
0.0% to 0.9%

U.S. average: 13.3%

AZ

NV

CA

OR

WA

ID

MT ND
MN

SD

NE

WY

CO

NM

HI

AK TX LA

AROK

KS MO

IA

WI
MI

IL IN
OH

KY

TN

MS
AL GA

SC

NC

VA D.C.
WV

DE
NJ

MD

PA

NY

CT
RI

MEVT

NH
MA

FL

UT

Asian American
25.0% or more
12.5% to 24.9%
3.5% to 12.4%
1.0% to 3.4%
0.0% to 0.9%

U.S. average: 5.7%

AK

HI

AZ

NV

CA

OR

WA

ID

MT
ND

MN

SD

NE

WY

CO

NM

TX LA

AROK

KS MO

IA

WI
MI

IL IN
OH

KY

TN

MS
AL GA

SC

NC

VA D.C.
WV

DE
NJ

MD

PA

NY

CT
RI

MEVT

NH
MA

FL

UT

Arab American
1.2% or more
0.7% to 1.1%
0.4% to 0.6%
0.2% to 0.3%
0.0% to 0.1%

U.S. average: 0.2%

Arab Ame
1.2% o
0.7% t
0.4% t
0.2% t
0.0% t

AZ

NV

CA

OR

WA

ID

MT
ND

MN

SD

NE

WY

CO

NM

TX LA

AROK

KS MO

IA

WI
MI

IL IN
OH

KY

TN

MS
AL GA

SC

NC

VA D.C.
WV

DE
NJ

MD

PA

NY

CT
RI

MEVT

NH
MA

FL

UT

AK

HI

Median
Family Income

Percentage
Living in Poverty

Percentage with Four or
More Years of College

(age 25 and over)

Entire U.S. Population $67,871 12.7% 30.3%

All Hispanics 46,249 23.4 15.3

Mexican Americans 42,881 25.7 10.4

Puerto Ricans 44,903 26.0 18.0

Cuban Americans 50,432 18.8 25.3

Table 3–5 The Social Standing of Hispanic Americans, 2016

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau (2017).

Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality 85

world’s Muslims actually live in Asia rather than Africa or
the Middle East, and they are not Arabs.

Immigration to the United States from many nations
means that Arab Americans are culturally diverse. Some
Arab Americans are Muslims and some are not; some
speak Arabic and some do not; some maintain the tradi-
tions of their homeland and some do not. As is the case
with Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans, some
are recent immigrants and some have lived in the United
States for decades or even for generations.

Officially, the government counts 2 million Arab
Americans, but because many people may choose not
to declare their ethnic background on a census form, the
actual number might be 3 or 4 million or about 1 per-
cent of the population. The largest populations of Arab
Americans have ancestral ties to Lebanon (27 percent
of all Arab Americans), Egypt (13 percent), and Syria
(9 percent). Most Arab Americans (70 percent) report
ancestral ties to a single nation, but 30 percent report
both Arab and non-Arab ancestry (U.S. Census Bureau,
2017). A look at National Map 3–2 shows the distribution
of the Arab American population throughout the United
States.

Arab Americans are diverse in terms of social class.
Some are highly educated professionals who work as phy-
sicians, engineers, and professors; others are working-class
people who perform various skilled jobs in factories or on
construction sites; still others do service work in restau-
rants, hospitals, or other settings, and some work in small
family businesses. Overall, as shown in Table 3–6, median
family income for Arab Americans is slightly below the
national average ($63,997 compared with a national median
of $67,871 in 2016), and Arab Americans have a higher than

The most advantaged are Cuban
Americans, who have higher
income and more schooling.
Puerto Ricans occupy a mid-
dle position in terms of income,
although recent immigrants have
a low rate of high school comple-
tion. Mexican Americans have
the lowest relative ranking, with
median family income that is 63
percent of the national average.
One reason for this disadvantage
is that many Mexican Americans
continue to speak only Spanish
and not English, a pattern that
can limit job opportunities.

Forty-six percent of Hispanic
American families now earn at
least $50,000 annually. But many
challenges remain, including
schools that are not well pre-
pared to teach students whose first language is Spanish.
Chapter 14 (“Education”) reports that 12 percent of
Latinos between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four leave
school without a high school diploma. In addition, their
cultural differences—and, in some cases, dark skin—still
spark hostility.

Overall, Hispanic Americans, now the largest ethnic
category in the U.S. population, are a hugely important
segment of our society. With more than 27 million Hispanic
Americans eligible to vote in the 2016 elections, they repre-
sented 12 percent of all eligible voters, and so they continue
to draw the attention of leaders from all political parties
(Pew Research Center, 2016).

Arab Americans
Arab Americans are another U.S. minority that is increas-
ing in size. Like Asian Americans and Latinos, these are
people who trace their ancestry to one of various nations
around the world, in this case countries in northern Africa
or the Middle East. It is important to remember, however,
that some of the people who live in one of the twenty-two
nations that are considered part of the “Arab world” are
not Arabs. For example, Morocco in northwestern Africa is
home to the Berber people, just as Iraq in the Middle East
is home to the Kurds.

Arab cultures are diverse but share use of the Arabic
alphabet and language, and Islam is the dominant reli-
gion. But once again, the term “Arab” refers to an ethnic
category, and the word “Muslim” refers to a follower of
Islam. A majority of the people living in Arab countries
are Muslims, but some Arabs are Christians or followers of
other religions. To make matters more complex, most of the

Some people in the United States link being Arab American or Muslim with support for
anti-American terrorism. Why is this so? What can you suggest to eliminate this stereotype?

Je
rr

y
H

ol
t/

Z
U

M
A

P
R

E
S

S
/N

ew
sc

om
.

86 Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality

Stereotypes
A concept closely linked to prejudice is stereotype, an
exaggerated description applied to every person in some category.
The word stereo comes from the Greek word for “hard” or
“solid,” suggesting a belief applied rigidly even if it is at
odds with reality. For just about every racial or ethnic cat-
egory, our culture contains stereotypes, which typically
describe a category of people in negative terms. What ste-
reotypes are conveyed in phrases such as “Dutch treat,”
“French kiss,” “Russian roulette,” and “getting gypped”
(a reference to Gypsies)?

We all form opinions about the world, identifying
categories of people as “good” or “bad” in various ways.
Generalizations about specific individuals that are based
on actual experience may be quite valid. But racial or
ethnic stereotypes are a problem to the extent that they
assume that everyone in an entire category of people
shares particular traits, as when a white person thinks all
African Americans are unwilling to work hard or a person
of color thinks every white person is hostile toward black
people. Forming a judgment about another individual on
the basis of actual personal experience is one thing, but
when we evaluate others in a category before we have a
chance to judge them as individuals, stereotypes dehu-
manize people.

Racism
The most serious example of prejudice is racism, the asser-
tion that people of some racial category are less worthy than or
even biologically inferior to others. Over the course of human
history, people the world over have assumed they were
superior to those they viewed as lesser human beings.

Why is racism so widespread? Because the claim that
people are biologically inferior, although entirely wrong,
can be used to justify making them socially inferior. For
example, Europeans used racism to support the often bru-
tal colonization of much of Latin America, Asia, and Africa.
When Europeans spoke of the “white man’s burden,” they
were claiming to be superior beings who had the obliga-
tion to help “inferior” beings become more like them.

Even today, hundreds of hate groups in the United
States continue to claim that minorities are inferior. In
addition, subtle forms of racism are common in everyday
life, as when people expect less of others because of race.

average poverty rate (23.4 percent versus 12.7 percent for
the population as a whole). Even so, Arab Americans are
highly educated; 47 percent over age twenty-five have a
college degree compared with about 30 percent of the pop-
ulation as a whole (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017).

A number of large U.S. cities—including New
York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, and Dearborn
(Michigan)—have large and visible Arab American com-
munities. Even so, many Arab Americans choose to down-
play their ethnicity as a strategy to avoid prejudice and
discrimination. The fact that many of the terrorist attacks
against the United States and other nations have been car-
ried out by Arabs encourages some people to link being
Arab (or Muslim) with being a terrorist. This attitude is
unfair because it blames an entire category of people for the
actions of a few individuals and ignores the fact that most
deaths from terrorist violence in this country since 9/11
have been carried out by people with no Arab or Muslim
identity. Since 2001, Arab Americans have been targets of a
significant number of hate crimes, and many feel that they
are subject to ethnic profiling that threatens their privacy
and civil liberties (Ali & Juarez, 2003; Ali, Lipper, & Mack,
2004; Hagopian, 2004; Bergen, 2016).

Prejudice
3.4 Discuss the causes and consequences of prejudice.

The historical stories of various racial and ethnic minori-
ties clearly illustrate the widespread problem of prejudice.
Formally, prejudice is any rigid and unfounded generalization
about an entire category of people. Prejudice is a prejudgment,
an attitude one develops before interacting with any spe-
cific person. Because such attitudes are not based on direct
experience, prejudices are not only wrong but also difficult
to change.

Prejudice can be both positive and negative. Positive
prejudices lead us to assume that certain categories
of people (usually others like ourselves) are better or
smarter. Negative prejudices lead us to see those who
differ from us as less worthy. Prejudices—both positive
and negative—involve social class, gender, religion, age,
sexual orientation, and political attitudes. But probably
no dimensions of difference involve as many prejudices as
race and ethnicity.

Median
Family Income

Percentage
Living in Poverty

Percentage with Four or
More Years of College

(age 25 and over)

Entire U.S. Population $67,871 12.7% 30.3%

Arab Americans 63,997 23.4 47.0

Table 3–6 The Social Standing of Arab Americans, 2016

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau (2017).

Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality 87

2. Today’s students see less difference between the
various minorities. In the earliest studies, although
students were very accepting of some people (scores
between 1 and 2), they were not very accepting of
other minorities (scores between 4 and 5). In the 2011
study, no minority received a score greater than 2.23.

3. The climate of concern over terrorism in the United
States probably has increased prejudice against
Arabs and Muslims. The current generation of stu-
dents has grown up in a nation concerned about ter-
rorism. The fact that the 9/11 attacks in 2001 were
carried out by nineteen attackers who were Arabs and
Muslims probably explains why students expressed
the greatest social distance toward these categories.
(After World War II, Parrillo and Donoghue found,
both Japanese and German people were scored lower
on social acceptance; similarly, during the Cold War of
the 1950s, Russians received low scores.) Even so, not
one student in the study said that Arabs or Muslims
should be barred from the United States. Also, even the
most prejudiced score by today’s students (Muslims,
with a mean score of 2.23) shows much more tolerance
than students back in 1977 expressed toward eighteen
of the thirty minority categories.

Institutional Racism: The Case
of Racial Profiling
The studies we have just described involve prejudice at the
level of individual attitudes. But to the extent that those
attitudes are widespread, prejudice can be described as
structural, that is, built into the operation of society itself.
This idea underlies the work of Stokely Carmichael and
Charles Hamilton (1967), who described institutional
racism as racism at work in the operation of social institutions,
including the economy, schools, hospitals, the military, and the
criminal justice system. Whenever race guides the operation
of any social institution to the disadvantage of a minority,
institutional racism is at work.

Racial profiling—in which judges, prosecutors, police,
or others in power consider race or ethnicity to be, by
itself, a sign of probable guilt—illustrates the operation
of institutional racism. This is not a matter of one preju-
diced police officer thinking that, say, African Americans
are potential criminals. Prejudice is institutional when
such attitudes are part of the culture and policy of a
police department—so that police routinely assume that a
black person who comes to their attention is likely to be
engaged in wrongdoing. Recent analysis of policing in two
U.S. cities illustrates this problem. In Greensboro, North
Carolina, data indicate that police were more than twice
as likely to search an automobile driven by a black versus
a white driver. In Chicago, African American drivers were

Measuring Prejudice: The Social
Distance Scale
Prejudice shapes everyday life as it draws us toward some
categories of people and away from others. Early in the
twentieth century, Emory Bogardus (1925) developed the
social distance scale to measure prejudice among students
at U.S. colleges and universities. Bogardus asked students
how closely they were willing to interact with people in
thirty racial and ethnic categories. Figure 3–1 shows the
seven-point scale Bogardus used. At one extreme, people
express very high social distance (high negative prejudice)
when they say that some category of people should be
barred from the country (point 7 in the figure). At the other
extreme (little or no negative prejudice), people say they
would accept members of some category into their family
through marriage (Bogardus, 1925; Bogardus, 1967; Owen,
Elsner, & McFaul, 1977).

Decades ago, Bogardus found that students, regardless
of their own race and ethnicity, were most prejudiced against
Latinos, African Americans, Asians, and Turks; they were
willing to have these people as co-workers but not as neigh-
bors, friends, or family members. At the other extreme, they
were most accepting of the English, Scots, and Canadians,
whom they were willing to have marry into their families.

Vincent Parrillo and Christopher Donoghue (2005,
2013) repeated the social distance study in 2001 and again
in 2011 to see how more recent students felt about various
minorities.1 There were three major findings:

1. The long-term trend is that students are more accept-
ing of all minorities. Figure 3–1 shows that the average
(mean) response on the social distance scale was 2.14
in 1925 and 1946, dropping to 2.08 in 1956, 1.92 in 1966,
1.93 in 1977, and 1.44 in 2001. In 2011, however, the
average response was 1.68, suggesting that tolerance
may have declined somewhat by 2011. Even so, notice
that in the 2011 study, students (74 percent of whom
described themselves as white) expressed much more
acceptance of minorities than students did in earlier
studies. Regarding African Americans, for example,
students in 2011 assigned African Americans a score
of 1.42 (suggesting high acceptance, even higher than
the acceptance given to the Irish or French). In 1925,
Bogardus found the average score given to African
Americans was about 4 (showing far lower acceptance
and giving African Americans the least amount of ac-
ceptance of any racial or ethnic category).

1 In 2001, Parrillo and Donoghue dropped seven of Bogardus’s
original categories (Armenians, Czechs, Finns, Norwegians, Scots,
Swedes, and Turks) because they are no longer visible minori-
ties and added nine new categories (Africans, Arabs, Cubans,
Dominicans, Haitians, Jamaicans, Muslims, Puerto Ricans, and
Vietnamese). This change probably encouraged higher social dis-
tance scores, making the downward trend all the more significant.

88 Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality

Causes of Prejudice
What causes people to become prejudiced in the first place?
The research presented so far points to two key factors: the
personality of individuals and the structure of society itself.

Personality Factors T. W. Adorno and his colleagues (1950)
claimed that prejudice is strong in people with an author-
itarian personality. Such people feel a lot of hostility, rigidly
conform to conventional norms, and see the world in stark
contrasts of “right” versus “wrong” and “us” versus “them.”
What creates such a personality? Adorno pointed to cold
and demanding parents who fill their children with insecu-
rity and anger. Fearful children, especially when they lack
schooling, develop little tolerance of others and are quick to
direct inner anger at people who differ from themselves.

Societal Factors Prejudice also results from the struc-
ture of society itself. Scapegoat theory, for example, says that
prejudice develops among people who are frustrated at

subject to a search five times more often than white drivers.
At the same time, data also show that police were actually
more likely to find contraband in cars operated by white
drivers than black drivers, suggesting that racial prejudice
is driving decisions by police (LaFraniere & Lehren, 2015).

The consequences of institutional prejudice may be
deadly. If the workplace culture or the unofficial policy
of a police department is to consider black persons more
dangerous than whites, police may be quicker to draw
their weapons when confronting black people, perhaps
with tragic results. In recent years, a number of African
Americans who turned out to be neither armed nor guilty
of any crime have been killed by police who may well have
reacted at least partly to their skin color.

Challenging any case of institutionalized racism is
difficult. Police departments are part of society’s power
structure and claim to serve the public interest. When
institutional racism involves an organization with a lot of
power, bringing about change can be difficult.

2 543 6 7

I would accept a [minority category] as a . . .

(a) Social Distance Scale

Mean Score for All Categories:

(b) Mean Social Distance Score by Category, 2011

1
family member
by marriage.

family member
by marriage

close
friend.

I would bar
from my
country.

speaking
acquaintance.

visitor to
my country.

neighbor. co-worker.

(Less social distance 5 greater acceptance) (Greater social distance 5 less acceptance)

1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.8 1.9 2.5

close
friend

2.0

Am
er

ic
an

s
1

.1
5

Ita
lia

ns

1.
32

C
an

ad
ia

ns

1.
35

Br
iti

sh

1.
36

Iri
sh

1.

46
Fr

en
ch

1.

50

C
ub

an
s

1
.7

4

G
re

ek
s

1
.5

2

G
er

m
an

s
1

.5
1

Af
ric

an
A

m
er

ic
an

s
1

.4
2

D
ut

ch

1.
62

Je
w

s
1

.7
4

Am
er

ic
an

In
di

an
s

1
.5

7

Af
ric

an
s

1
.6

1
Po

lis
h

1
.6

4

O
th

er
H

is
pa

ni
cs

1.

72

C
hi

ne
se

1.

72

1.7

Fi
lip

in
os

1.

68

Pu
er

to
R

ic
an

s
1

.6
4

Ja
m

ai
ca

ns
1

.7
4

R
us

si
an

s
1.

73

D
om

in
ic

an
s

1
.7

1

Ja
pa

ne
se

1.

80
Ko

re
an

s
1

.8
7

M
ex

ic
an

s
1

.8
0

In
di

an
s

(In
di

a)

1.
89

Vi
et

na
m

es
e

1
.8

5
H

ai
tia

ns

1.
91

Ar
ab

s
2.

16
M

us
lim

s
2

.2
3

(c)

Range of Averages:

1925

2.14

2.85

1946

2.14

2.57

1956

2.08

1.75

1966

1.92

1.55

1977

1.93

1.38

2001

1.44

0.87

2011

1.68

1.08(d)

Diversity Snapshot
Figure 3–1 Bogardus Social Distance Scale

Using this seven-point scale, Emory Bogardus and others have shown that people feel much closer
to some categories of people than they do to others. Between 1925, when the study was first carried
out, and 2001, the average social distance response dropped from 2.14 to 1.44, showing increasing
tolerance of diversity. When this research was repeated in 2011, the average response showed a
modest increase to 1.68, suggesting a slight decline in tolerance.

SOURCE: Parrillo & Donoghue (2005), Parrillo & Donoghue (2013).

Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality 89

and power to minorities, others (especially conservatives)
claim that this approach divides society by downplaying
what we have in common. The Latin phrase that appears
on all U.S. currency—E pluribus unum—literally means
“out of many, one.” Thus, the controversy over multicul-
turalism is really about how much stress we should place
on a single national identity and how much we should
highlight differences.

Discrimination
3.5 Distinguish discrimination from prejudice and

show how the two concepts operate together.

Discrimination involves the unequal treatment of various
categories of people. Prejudice is a matter of attitudes, but dis-
crimination is a matter of actions. Like prejudice, discrim-
ination can be positive or negative. We discriminate in a
positive way when we single out people who do especially
good work or when we provide special favors to family
members or friends. We discriminate in a negative way
when we put down others or avoid entire categories of
people based on their race or ethnicity.

Few people would object to an employer who hires a
job applicant with more schooling over one with less. But
what if an employer favors one category of people (say,
Christians) over another (say, Jews)? Unless a person’s reli-
gion is directly related to the job (for example, if a church
is hiring a priest), ruling out an entire category of people is
wrongful discrimination, which violates the law.

Institutional Discrimination
As in the case of prejudice, some discrimination involves
the actions of individuals. For example, a restaurant owner
might refuse to serve students with dark skin. Almost
everyone condemns discrimination of this kind, and in a
public setting such as a restaurant, it is against the law.

Institutional discrimination is discrimination that is
built into the operation of social institutions, including the econ-
omy, schools, and the legal system. A well-known example of
institutional discrimination is this nation’s history of treat-
ing black and white children differently by placing them in
separate schools. As noted earlier, not until 1954 did civil
rights activists succeed in overturning the legal doctrine of
“separate but equal” schools, which, in the landmark case
of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the U.S. Supreme
Court concluded was unconstitutional. But that did not
end racial segregation in our country; more than half a cen-
tury after the Brown decision, most children attend school
sitting in classrooms surrounded by students of the same
race (Kozol, 2005).

Institutional discrimination can involve policies that,
on their face, seem to apply equally to everyone. Take
the case of our legal system assigning court costs to those

their lack of control over their lives (Dollard et al., 1939).
Working-class whites in southwestern Texas, for exam-
ple, may feel anxious and angry at their lack of economic
security, but where do they direct their anger? They might
blame their political leaders, the people who run their
communities, but speaking out against powerful people is
often dangerous. A safer target would be the poor, illegal
immigrants from Mexico who are willing to grab any job
they can find, often at less than minimum wage. Scapegoat
theory suggests that people direct their hostility at safe,
less powerful targets such as illegal immigrants or other
minorities. Because many of society’s least powerful peo-
ple are minorities, they often end up as scapegoats blamed
for a host of troubles that are not their fault.

Cultural theory claims that prejudice is built into our
culture. An illustration of this is the research using Emory
Bogardus’s social distance scale, described earlier in this chap-
ter. Bogardus showed that most of us turn out to have the
same kinds of prejudice, favoring certain categories of people
and avoiding others. The fact that these attitudes are so widely
shared suggests that prejudice is not a trait of deviant individ-
uals as much as it is a normal part of our cultural system.

Multiculturalism
Is there a way to address prejudice deeply rooted in our
culture? One strategy for change is multiculturalism, edu-
cational programs designed to recognize cultural diversity in the
United States and to promote respect for all cultural traditions.

Multiculturalism claims, first, that U.S. society has
long downplayed its cultural diversity. Schools have taught
generations of children that the United States is a cultural
“melting pot” that blends human diversity into a single cul-
ture we call “American.” However, multiculturalism main-
tains that our diverse population has “melted” far less than
most people think. More correctly, race and ethnicity have
formed a hierarchy. At the top, Europeans (especially the
English) represent the cultural ideal of the well-informed,
well-groomed, and well-behaved man and woman. What
we call assimilation, from this point of view, is really a pro-
cess of Anglicization as immigrants try to become more like
the privileged white Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs).

In addition, U.S. institutions—including schools, law,
and the economy as well as dominant religions and fam-
ily forms—are all modeled along Western European lines.
Multiculturalists describe this bias as Eurocentrism, the
practice of using European (particularly English) cultural stan-
dards to judge everyone. To multiculturalists, U.S. culture is
itself an expression of prejudice against people in this coun-
try who differ from the dominant model. Multiculturalism
asks that we rethink our national heritage and recognize
the accomplishments not just of the cultural elite but also
of people of every race and ethnicity.

Although there is strong support for multiculturalism
(especially among liberals) because it gives more visibility

90 Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality

good jobs and raising their odds of going
to jail and living in neighborhoods marked
by poverty, drug abuse, and crime. As peo-
ple see minorities in such conditions, this
discrimination unleashes a new round
of prejudice. And so it goes, around and
around, forming a vicious circle that harms
minorities.

Microaggression
In recent years, the discussion of preju-
dice and discrimination has expanded to
include the concept of microaggression,
casual actions, gestures, or words that demean
people in some minority category.

The concept of microaggression
was first used in the 1970s by Harvard
Professor Chester M. Pierce to refer to sub-
tle expressions of hostility directed against
African Americans. In the decades that
followed, activists have applied this con-

cept to hostile actions or gestures targeting any vulnerable
category of people, including racial and ethnic minorities,
disabled people, and transgender people.

In contrast to overt expression of hate, microaggression
is subtle. In some cases, this behavior is intentional, as in the
case of a white student blowing cigarette smoke toward the
faces of African American students engaged in a campus pro-
test. In other cases of microaggression, an actor may not have
the conscious intention to insult others. Students who repeat
widespread cultural beliefs (such as a statement that American
Indians can’t handle alcohol) may not be conscious that their
words are harmful to others in some minority category.

Microaggression may appear to be minor, but its
effects on others can be significant. Those at greatest risk of
experiencing microaggression are the same as those most
often targeted for overt acts of hostility—people who fall
within more than one minority category.

Affirmative Action: Reverse
Discrimination or Cure for Prejudice?
One strategy aimed at breaking the vicious circle of prej-
udice and discrimination is affirmative action, policies
intended to improve the social standing of minorities subject to
past prejudice and discrimination. Affirmative action policies
have changed over time, and they will continue to change
in response to court rulings.

History of Affirmative Action After World War II, the
federal government assisted veterans by funding educa-
tion under what was known as the GI Bill, and minorities
who might not otherwise have gone to college were able
to enter classrooms across the country. By 1960, almost

convicted of a crime. One recent study points out that
someone convicted of a felony in Alabama must pay court
costs of $247 plus whatever the local county adds to this
amount. Even traffic tickets can result in several hundred
dollars in court costs. This policy applies equally to any
convicted person, but the effect of the law is far greater for
poor people than for rich people. Someone who cannot
come up with the cash to pay court costs—which is the
case for many poor people—ends up going to jail rather
than going home (Meredith, Greenberg, & Morse, 2015).

Recent concern about institutional prejudice and discrim-
ination centers on police directing the use of deadly violence
toward African-American men. Survey research shows that
African Americans are far more likely than whites to point
to this type of institutional bias. In the 2014 case of a police
officer firing on Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, about
one-third of whites and two-thirds of African Americans said
race played some part in the deadly shooting (Pew Research
Center, 2014).

Prejudice and Discrimination:
A Vicious Circle
Prejudice and discrimination reinforce each other, main-
taining social inequality over time. Let’s begin with how
prejudice can lead to discrimination: If prejudiced white
police officers think that most African Americans are crim-
inals, they may well engage in racial profiling, stopping a
large number of black motorists and being quick to arrest
black citizens on the street. Such discrimination, especially
if it is widespread or institutionalized, will overly criminal-
ize African Americans, reducing their chances of finding

The law demands that people accused of serious crimes put up bail and also pay court
costs. While the costs involved may not challenge affluent people, to men and women
with low incomes, they may mean the difference between being released (to return to
families and jobs) or going to jail.

R
ic

h
Le

gg
/E

+/
G

et
ty

Im
ag

es
.

Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality 91

But opposition to affirmative action programs contin-
ued. In 1995, the University of California system declared it
would no longer consider race and gender when making any
decision involving admission, hiring, or awarding a busi-
ness contract. The following year, California voters passed
Proposition 209, which required state agencies to operate
without paying attention to race, ethnicity, or gender. A sim-
ilar proposition passed in the state of Washington. Also in
1996, a federal district court declared (in Hopwood v. Texas)
that race and gender could no longer be considered by public
colleges and universities in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

Seeking a socially diverse student body, many col-
leges and universities have tried to find a way around the
new regulations. In Texas, for example, public universities
admit all students in the top 10 percent of their high school
class, a policy that ensures spaces for students from pre-
dominantly African American and Latino schools.

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court once again addressed
the issue of affirmative action. The case involved admission
policies at the University of Michigan, a state university. In
the undergraduate admissions process, applicants of under-
represented minorities had received a numerical bonus that
was added to a total score, which also reflected grades and
College Board scores. The Supreme Court struck down
this point system as too similar to the racial quota systems
rejected by the Court in the past. However, the Court did
say that colleges and universities could continue to take
account of applicants’ race, along with other factors, with
the goal of creating a racially diverse student body. In this
administrative process, rather than a rigid point system,
race was treated as one of several variables used in giv-
ing each applicant individual consideration. In these deci-
sions, the Court was affirming the national importance of
allowing colleges and universities to create racially diverse

350,000 African Americans had used government help to
earn a college degree. However, even with their school-
ing, many of these men and women were not getting the
types of jobs for which they were qualified. The Kennedy
administration concluded that education alone could not
overcome deep-seated, institutionalized prejudice and
discrimination against people of color. So, as a strategy to
reduce white privilege and level the playing field, officials
devised a policy of affirmative action requiring employ-
ers to “throw a wider net” to identify and hire qualified
minority applicants. In the years that followed, employers
hired thousands of African American women and men for
good jobs, helping build the black middle class and reduc-
ing racial prejudice.

By the 1970s, affirmative action was extended to
include college admissions. In addition, policies emerged
in the form of “quota systems” in which employers or col-
leges set aside a certain number of places for minorities.
Categories of people assisted by this policy also increased
to include women, Hispanics, veterans, and in some cases
people with physical disabilities.

The expansion of affirmative action provoked opposi-
tion to this policy. In 1978, the Supreme Court heard the case
of University of California Regents v. Bakke, brought by Allen
Bakke, a white man who was denied admission to medical
school at the University of California at Davis. The medical
school had a policy of setting aside sixteen places (out of
100 in each entering class) for African Americans, Asian
Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanic Americans.
The court declared such rigid quotas to be illegal, but the
justices did endorse the use of race and ethnicity in the
process of admitting students or hiring employees in order
to increase minority representation in settings from which
minorities had historically been excluded.

Everyday social interaction can
be distorted by racial hostility.
Sociologists have coined the term
“microaggression” to refer to the
pattern by which one person makes
assumptions about the character,
abilities, or behavior of another
based on race. Do you think
people at all points in the political
spectrum are likely to consider
microaggression to be a social
problem? Why or why not?

R
ub

be
rb

al
l/I

va
n

H
un

te
r/

G
et

ty
im

ag
es

.

92 Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality

structural-functional, symbolic-interaction, and social-
conflict approaches.

Structural-Functional Analysis:
The Importance of Culture
Structural-functional theory places great importance on
how culture guides people’s behavior. To the extent that
various racial and ethnic categories have different cultural
orientations—for example, placing more or less emphasis
on education—unequal social standing is the likely result.

The Culture of Poverty Chapter 2 (“Economic Inequality”)
introduced the “culture of poverty” thesis of Oscar Lewis
(1966). Lewis studied the low-income Puerto Rican popu-
lations of San Juan and New York and found a widespread
way of thinking that he called “fatalism.” This outlook leads
people to accept their situation and to make the assump-
tion that life is not likely to get better. Growing up poor
and learning to accept that reality, young people develop
low self-esteem, limited aspirations, and a sense of power-
lessness. Over time, Lewis explained, they grow into adults
who are not likely to take advantage of any opportunities
that society might offer them.

Joan Albon made a similar claim about American
Indians, whose traditional cultures tend to be coopera-
tive and nonentrepreneurial, “in direct opposition to the
principles of the modern, competitive, capitalistic order”
(1971:387). Some African American peer groups have also
been described as having an “oppositional culture” that
discourages members from excelling by defining school
achievement as “acting white” (Fordham & Ogbu, 1992).
In such an environment, adds Shelby Steele (1990), a

campuses while at the same time stating that all applicants
must be considered as individuals (Stout, 2003).

In 2013, the Supreme Court heard a case from Texas
brought by Abigail Fisher, a white student who claimed
that she was denied admission to the University of Texas
while less qualified minority applicants were admitted.
The Court did not rule on her complaint but instead sent
the case back to a lower court with instructions that the
court engage in “strict scrutiny” of the university admis-
sions. This means that, rather than simply accepting the
university’s claim that race is considered only as part of
a larger process, the court must gather facts to verify that
racial preference is needed to ensure student diversity and
that the program gives race no more importance than is
necessary to achieve that goal.

The United States continues to wrestle with the issue
of affirmative action. Most people agree that society needs
to give real opportunity to people in every racial and eth-
nic category. But disagreement remains as to how to define
affirmative action so that it becomes part of the solution
rather than part of the problem (Fineman & Lipper, 2003;
Kantrowitz & Wingert, 2003; Totenberg, 2013).

Theories of Racial
and Ethnic Inequality
3.6 Apply sociological theory to patterns of racial

and ethnic inequality.

Why do the various racial and ethnic categories of the
U.S. population have unequal social standing? The fol-
lowing discussions draw answers from sociology’s

Throughout much of the United States until the 1960s, public facilities, including bus and railroad
stations, were segregated by law. But even today, more than fifty years later, many familiar social
settings are largely segregated, with most of the people being of one racial category.

C
ha

rle
s

A
tk

in
s/

A
P

Im
ag

es
.

Ja
ni

ne
W

ie
de

l P
ho

to
lib

ra
ry

/A
la

m
y

S
to

ck
P

ho
to

.

Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality 93

Social-Conflict Analysis: The Structure
of Inequality
Social-conflict theory claims that the unequal standing of
minorities reflects the organization of society itself. Along
with class, race and ethnicity operate as important dimen-
sions of social inequality.

The Importance of Class Karl Marx traced the roots of
social inequality to a society’s economy. As explained in
Chapter 2 (“Economic Inequality”), Marx criticized cap-
italism for concentrating wealth and power in the hands
of a small elite. He explained that the capitalist elite,
realizing that the strength of the working class lies in its
greater numbers, tries to divide the workers by playing
up racial and ethnic differences. Marx and his colleague
Friedrich Engels pointed to the racial and ethnic diver-
sity of the United States as the main reason U.S. work-
ers had not come together to form a socialist movement.
“Immigration,” Marx and Engels wrote,

divides the workers into. . . the native born and
the foreigners, and the latter. . . into (1) the Irish,
(2) the Germans, (3) many small groups, each of
which understands only itself: Czechs, Poles,
Italians. . . . And then the Negroes. To form a single
party out of these requires unusually powerful in-
centives. (1959:458, orig. 1893)

Marx and Engels hoped that increasing misery would
eventually provide the incentive for workers to unify
themselves into a politically active class. To some degree,
this has happened, and a number of unions and worker
organizations have memberships that are black and white,
Anglo and Latino. However, racial and ethnic differences
still divide the U.S. workforce as they do workers around
the world.

Multicultural Theory Social-conflict theory also notes the
importance of culture. A multicultural perspective claims
that U.S. culture provides privileges to the dominant
European, white majority while pushing racial and ethnic
minorities to the margins of society.

Cultural hostility shaped the events of U.S. history.
When Christopher Columbus landed in the Bahamas in
1492, he encountered Native Americans who were, on the
whole, peaceful. Tragically, this gentleness made it easy for
the more competitive and aggressive Europeans to take
advantage of them. Yet, in another example of cultural
bias, most of our historical accounts portray Europeans
as heroic explorers and Native Americans as thieves and
murderers (Matthiessen, 1984; Sale, 1990).

As W. E. B. Du Bois noted, bias involving race and eth-
nicity is still part of everyday life. Take the common case in
which people assume that “classical music” refers only to
European and not to Chinese, Indian, or Zulu compositions of
a certain period. Cultural bias also leads people to apply the

successful man or woman of color risks being accused by
others of not being a “real” African American.

EVALUATE

Few people doubt that culture matters in shaping people’s lives.
But critics of this theory claim that focusing on culture amounts to
defining people as responsible for their own disadvantage—what
Chapter 2 described as “blaming the victim.” People who live in indi-
vidualistic societies such as the United States find it easy to blame
disadvantaged categories of the population for their own poverty.
But do poor people really deserve to live as they do? If disadvan-
taged people lack some of the optimism and confidence found
among people who are better off, critics suggest, this is more the
result of being poor than it is the cause of their low social standing.

CHECK YOUR LEARNING How does structural-functional theo-
ry explain the fact that some categories of the population have high-
er social standing than others?

Symbolic-Interaction Analysis:
The Personal Meaning of Race
Forty years after the end of slavery in the United States, the
pioneering sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois published The Souls
of Black Folk, an analysis of the social standing of African
Americans. As Du Bois saw it, even though slavery was gone,
most people of color were still living as second-class citizens.

Every time black people and white people met, said
Du Bois, race hung in the air, defining each in the eyes of
the other. From the African American perspective, race
produces a “double-consciousness, [a] sense of always
looking at oneself through the eyes of others, of measuring
one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused
contempt and pity” (2001:227, orig. 1903). In effect, Du Bois
said, U.S. society makes whites the standard by which oth-
ers (including African Americans) should be measured. In
daily encounters, race operates as a master status, a trait
that defines and devalues any person of color.

Today, more than a century later, race continues to shape
the everyday lives of everyone, regardless of their color.
Manning Marable sums it up this way: “As long as I can
remember, the fundamentally defining feature of my life, and
the lives of my family, was the stark reality of race” (1995:1).

EVALUATE

Symbolic-interaction theory investigates how we use color (or, in the
case of ethnicity, cultural background) in the process of defining our-
selves and evaluating other people. In short, race and ethnicity are
key building blocks of the reality we construct in everyday life.

At the same time, race involves more than personal understand-
ings. Race is also an important structure of society, a dimension of
social stratification. This insight brings us to the social-conflict approach.

CHECK YOUR LEARNING What did W. E. B. Du Bois mean when
he said that African Americans have a “double-consciousness”?

94 Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality

remains to be done, there is also reason for pride and optimism.
Many are dismayed at the racial tone set by the current presi-
dent. But the election and reelection of Barack Obama, an African
American man, as president of the United States is surely a sign that
race is no longer the barrier it once was (West, 2008).

CHECK YOUR LEARNING How did Marx and Engels explain
racial and ethnic conflict in capitalist societies such as the United
States? What does multicultural theory add to our understanding of
racial and ethnic inequality?

The Applying Theory table summarizes the contri-
butions of structural-functional theory, social-interaction
theory, and social-conflict theory to an understanding of
racial and ethnic inequality.

POLITICS, RACE, AND ETHNICITY

Constructing Problems
and Defining Solutions
3.7 Analyze racial and ethnic inequality from various

positions on the political spectrum.

Should racial and ethnic inequality be defined as a prob-
lem? If so, what should be done about it? Conservative, lib-
eral, and radical-left viewpoints, explored in the following
section, produce different answers to these questions.

The Far Right and Conservatives:
Culture and Effort Matter
There is no doubt that a small but significant share of the
population holds far-right views that endorse both nation-
alism and white supremacy. The 2017 demonstration in
Charlottesville, Virginia, as well as continuing incidents

term “ethnic” to anyone not of English background or even to
speak of “whites and blacks,” placing the dominant category
first (as some people do, saying “husbands and wives”).

EVALUATE

Recent years have shown us the extent of racial conflict in the United
States. Especially since the election of President Trump, the level of
hostility toward minorities has increased. In a number of cases, we
have witnessed public marches and demonstrations by people on
the far right who openly support white supremacy. For this reason,
social-conflict theory speaks to us today.

One criticism of social-conflict theory is that this approach
downplays what people in the United States have in common.
Whatever their color or cultural background, the majority of people
identify themselves as “Americans,” and they have joined together
over and over again to help each other in bad times and, in good
times, to celebrate the principle of individual freedom that defines
our way of life.

A second problem is that painting minorities as victims runs the
risk of taking away people’s responsibility for their own lives. It is true
that minorities face serious barriers, but we need to remember that
people also make choices about how to live and can act to raise
their social standing and join together to improve their communities.

Third, despite the evidence of rising hostility against minorities
over the past several years, conflict theory all but ignores the sig-
nificant strides this nation has made over many decades in deal-
ing with its social diversity. During the last several generations, U.S.
society has moved closer to the ideals of political participation, pub-
lic education, and equal standing before the law for everyone. As
a result, the share of minorities who are well schooled, politically
active, and affluent has steadily increased. In a survey conducted
in 2013, fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream”
speech, 81 percent of U.S. adults (including 71 percent of African
Americans, 81 percent of Hispanic Americans, and 86 percent of
whites) claimed that, over the past fifty years, this country has made
“a lot” or “some” progress toward realizing Dr. King’s dream of racial
and ethnic equality (Pew Research Center, 2013). Although much

APPLYING THEORY

Racial and Ethnic Inequality

Structural-Functional Theory Symbolic-Interaction Theory Social-Conflict Theory

What is the level of
analysis?

Macro-level Micro-level Macro-level

What do we learn
about racial and ethnic
inequality?

Structural-functional theory highlights the
importance of culture to social standing.
Various categories of the population have
differing cultural orientations that affect
patterns of education and achievement.
The “culture of poverty” thesis developed
by Oscar Lewis is one example of a theory
to explain why some low-income people
have a fatalistic view of their situation.

Symbolic-interaction theory focuses on how
people experience society in their everyday
lives. Race and ethnicity affect the way we
evaluate ourselves and others. W. E. B. Du
Bois claimed that most people consider
race a basic element of social identity, to
the disadvantage of people of color.

Social-conflict theory links race
and ethnicity to class—all are ele-
ments of social stratification.
Marx and Engels claimed that
race and ethnicity divided the
working class. Multicultural
theory claims that our culture
has a European bias that pushes
minority ways of life to the
margins of society.

Are racial and ethnic
differences helpful or
harmful to society?

Ethnic differences are cultural and a
source of identity and pride for most
people. At the same time, traditional or
fatalistic cultural orientations can be a bar-
rier to achievement for some categories
of people.

To the extent that race or ethnicity becomes
a master status that devalues people, these
social structures take away from our com-
mon humanity.

As elements of social stratifica-
tion, race and ethnicity serve the
interests of elites and are harmful
to the operation of society.

Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality 95

How would you feel, for example, about the possibility
that you had been admitted to college or given a job not
just because of your abilities and achievements but also
because of your skin color or ethnic background?

Finally, conservatives point out that affirmative action
helps the minorities who need it least. Minorities on col-
lege campuses and in the corporate world are, by and
large, already well off; affirmative action does less for
the minority poor, who need help the most (Gilder, 1980;
Murray, 1984; Sowell, 1987, 1990; Carter, 1991; Steele, 1990;
Stone, 2000).

Liberals: Society and Government
Matter
Liberals claim that societal factors such as prejudice and
discrimination, rather than cultural differences, are the
main causes of social inequality among various racial
and ethnic categories. For this reason, liberals claim, it
is simply not true (as conservatives claim) that everyone
has the same chance to get ahead. Prejudice and discrimi-
nation are still very much a part of how our society oper-
ates, and institutional bias can be found in education, the
military, the corporate economy, and the nation’s crim-
inal justice system. Liberals point out that there is still
overt racism in the United States—in recent years white
supremacists have marched in various cities—and the
level of hostility toward minorities has increased since
the presidential election in 2016, a rising pattern of hate
that some have described as the “Trump effect” (Kaleem,
2017; Le Miere, 2017).

of police violence against African
Americans makes clear that rac-
ism and outright racial hatred are
still part of this country’s way of
life (Cohen et al., 2017).

That said, the vast majority of
conservatives reject such extreme
views and support the idea that
all people should have equal
standing before the law and that
everyone should have the chance
to improve their lives. Believing
that our society, at least generally,
does provide these benefits to all
segments of the population, con-
servatives also believe that peo-
ple are responsible for their own
social standing.

If some racial and ethnic
minorities are more successful
than others, it is likely that cul-
tural differences are at work.
On average, people in vari-
ous racial and ethnic categories place different emphasis
on schooling, aspire to different kinds of jobs, and even
attach different levels of importance to financial success.
For instance, Italian Americans have long worked in the
building trades, Irish Americans lean toward public ser-
vice occupations, Jewish Americans have long dominated
the garment industry and are well represented in most
professions, and many Korean Americans operate retail
businesses (Keister, 2003). Such differences make no one
“better” than anyone else. But as conservatives see it, they
do produce social inequality.

According to the conservative view, social standing
should reflect people’s level of ambition, the importance
they place on schooling, and their commitment to hard
work. In a society such as ours, people are free, but they
are also unequal. Conservatives claim that any society in
which government tries to engineer rigid social equality
would almost certainly offer little personal freedom.

The defense of individual freedom is the reason con-
servatives typically oppose affirmative action policies.
They argue that instead of being an effective way to give
everyone an equal chance—a path toward the goal of a
color-blind society—affirmative action is really a system
of “group preferences” or “identity politics.” In practice,
as they see it, such policies amount to “reverse discrimi-
nation” that favors people based not on their individual
qualifications and performance but on their race, ethnicity,
or gender. If treating people according to color was wrong
in the past, conservatives ask, how can it be right today?

Conservatives add that affirmative action harms
minorities by calling into question their accomplishments:

The United States is engaged in a debate over the extent to which the criminal justice system—and
especially police—disproportionately targets African Americans. What is the conservative view of
this issue? What about the liberal view? Which of these views is closer to your own? Explain.

R
ic

hL
eg

g/
E

+/
G

et
ty

Im
ag

es
.

96 Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality

entirely. As they see it, as long as a society continues to
recognize race, it will divide people, giving advantages to
some at the expense of others.

Could we really leave behind the notion of race,
which has been so basic to conventional ways of thinking?
In time, perhaps. Doing so would certainly be a radical
change because abolishing race will demand basic changes
to the current white power structure. As one group of
sociologists claims:

A useful place to begin undoing racism is to ad-
dress the social, economic, and political embed-
dedness of white racism within the foundation
of the U.S. political system. . . . Thus, [we] call for
a new constitutional convention, one that will
represent fairly and equally, for the first time, all
major groups of U.S. citizens. (Johnson, Rush, &
Feagin, 2000:101)

At this convention, these critics propose, people rep-
resenting all categories of the population might consider
what all our social institutions would look like if this
country set out to achieve the goal of meeting the needs of
everyone rather than supporting the privileges of the few.

The Left to Right table provides a summary of the
three political perspectives applied to the issue of racial
and ethnic inequality.

Going On from Here
For most people living in the lower-income nations of the
world, everyday life is guided by their kin group, tribe,
or traditions. In high-income countries, by contrast, peo-
ple break free of the past and are more likely to say that
their lives should be guided by personal choices, their
talents and efforts, and their dreams for the future. This
is why most members of our society think that catego-
rizing people on the basis of traits given at birth, such as
skin color or cultural heritage, is wrong. That is also why,
in our modern society, most people are likely to view tra-
ditional, race-based ranking of people as unfair prejudice
and discrimination.

Social institutions in the United States have changed
over time to reflect more modern and individualistic
beliefs. Slavery was abolished (1865); soon after, African
Americans gained citizenship (1868), as did Native
Americans (1924), Chinese immigrants (1943), and
Japanese immigrants (1952).

But as this chapter has explained, racial and ethnic
inequality continues today. Minorities still suffer the con-
sequences of prejudice and discrimination. These harmful
biases exist not only in the attitudes and actions of indi-
viduals but also in the operation of society itself. For this
reason, the inequality described in this chapter is carried
from generation to generation, as too many young Latinos,
African Americans, and native people grow up poor.

Liberals acknowledge that there may be cultural dif-
ferences between various categories of the population.
But liberals see such differences as more the result than
the cause of social inequality. That is, people who are shut
out of opportunity—whether they are inner-city or rural
residents—may develop a sense of hopelessness about
their situation. But minorities themselves are not the prob-
lem; the responsibility for this situation lies in the structure
of power and privilege in the larger society.

If inequality is so deeply rooted in our society, we
cannot expect minorities acting as individuals to improve
their situation. Therefore, liberals look to government as
the solution, supporting policies—including antidiscrimi-
nation laws—that reduce racial and ethnic inequality. This
is why liberals favor greater spending to assist minorities.

This call for government action also explains why lib-
erals support affirmative action. As they see it, an affirma-
tive action program is a necessary correction for historical
prejudice and discrimination directed against minorities.
African Americans today face the legacy of two centuries
of slavery and an additional century and a half of racial
segregation. In short, for most of its history, the United
States has had a policy of majority preference, or white
privilege, which is one reason the social standing of
whites is higher than that of blacks and other minorities.
For this reason, liberals think that minority preference is
not only fair but also necessary as a step to help level the
playing field.

Liberals see affirmative action as a policy that has had
good consequences for this country. Where would minori-
ties be today without the affirmative action that began in the
1960s? After all, major employers in government and cor-
porate business began hiring large numbers of minorities
and women only because of affirmative action, resulting in
the growth of the African American middle class (Johnson,
Rush, & Feagin, 2000; Kantrowitz & Wingert, 2003).

The Radical Left: Fundamental
Changes Are Needed
Left radicals claim that much more than liberal reforms
such as affirmative action and greater government spend-
ing is needed to end the problem of racial and ethnic
inequality. Following Marx, radicals point out that as long
as a capitalist society defines workers simply as a supply
of labor, there is little reason to expect an end to exploita-
tion and oppression, which is based on both class and race.
Therefore, the radical left makes the claim that the only
way to reduce racial and ethnic inequality is to attack the
source of all inequality—capitalism itself (Liazos, 1982).

A more recent addition to radical thinking about racial
inequality focuses not on economics but on culture. Some
of today’s activist scholars conclude that to end racial
inequality, a society must eliminate the concept of race

Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality 97

LEFT TO RIGHT

The Politics of Racial and Ethnic Inequality

Radical-Left View Liberal View Far Right and Conservative Views

What is the problem? Striking inequality and racism are
built into the very institutions of U.S.
society.

Social and economic inequality places
minorities at the margins of U.S. society.

The far right embraces white supremacy,
defining minorities themselves as a social
problem. Conservatives support equality
before the law for a diverse population,
but believe that all people make choices
and must take responsibility for their own
social standing.

What is the solution? There must be fundamental change
in economic, political, and other
social institutions to eliminate racial
hierarchy.

Government programs must attack prej-
udice and discrimination and provide
assistance to minorities.

Conservatives claim that all people need
to treat others as individuals. Some mi-
norities must overcome cultural disadvan-
tages through individual effort in order to
realize higher achievement.

JOIN THE DEBATE
1. Consider the following statement: “Over the course of its history,

the United States has moved closer to the ideal of being a color-blind
society.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why? How
would conservatives, liberals, and left radicals respond to this statement?

2. What does the 2008 election of Barack Obama, an African American, as
this country’s president suggest about the changing importance of race

in our national life? What does the 2016 election of Donald Trump say
about our nation?

3. Which of the three political approaches regarding racial and
ethnic inequality included here do you find most convincing?
Why?

In 1903, W. E. B. Du Bois predicted that race would
be the defining problem of the twentieth century. He was
right. Could we say the same for the twenty-first century?
Generally, conservatives see racial and ethnic inequality
as declining over time. But liberals and those on the far
left see the country taking steps backward in the last few
years.

How much importance will racial and ethnic differ-
ences have a century from now? Just as important, what
level of acceptance will our society extend to the millions
of new immigrants from Mexico, Latin America, and Asia?
Perhaps, as some analysts see it, the high level of immi-
gration will increase the diversity of U.S. society to a point
where race and ethnicity come to mean less and less. It
seems likely that the steady increase of multiracial people—
including having had a multiracial president—will have
the same effect (Lee & Bean, 2010).

The conservative solution to problems of race amounts
to focusing on individual achievement—that is, adopting

a set of “color-blind” attitudes that treat people as indi-
viduals according to their skills, talents, and performance.
Liberals also endorse the long-range “color-blind” goal,
but they argue that to reach it, government action (includ-
ing programs that take people’s race and ethnicity into
account) is needed to guarantee that all categories of people
are full participants in society. Radicals on the left weigh in
with a greater challenge: Racism is not confined to a small
share of our population; it is too deeply entrenched in U.S.
institutions to expect well-meaning individuals or even
government reform to level the playing field. Therefore, as
they see it, institutions must undergo fundamental change
to ensure equality for all. All three of these positions stand
in opposition to a far-right agenda that seeks to advance
the discredited notion of white supremacy.

Throughout its history, U.S. society has debated issues
related to racial and ethnic inequality. Let us hope that by
the end of this century, we find answers that satisfy all
categories of people.

98

Defining Solutions
CHAPTER 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality

Is increased immigration to the United States a problem?

For many people, the answer to this question depends on whether the immigration is legal or
illegal, and for everyone, it reflects political attitudes. What people say we ought to do about
the current high level of immigration also depends on their political viewpoint. Look at the
accompanying photos, which show two responses to this issue.

Do you see increased immigration as a threat to our way of life or as a source of national strength? If
you are more liberal, you might well support legislation that would grant legal status to undocument-
ed young people who were brought to the United States as children by their parents. From this point
of view, why does immigration strengthen the country?

D
av

is
B

ar
be

r/
P

ho
to

ed
it,

In
c.

Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality 99

What about the idea that everyone
should obey the law? If you are
more conservative, you might think
that the United States should do
more to secure its southern border,
which currently allows a steady
flow of illegal immigrants to enter
the country. From a conservative
point of view, in what ways does
securing the borders strengthen the
country?

Hint: Liberals see the United States as the product of immigration. In addition, they view

ethnic and racial diversity as good, and they seek to promote tolerance of different ways

of life. Immigration is also a source of talent as newcomers to the country bring their skills,

work hard, and pay taxes. Conservatives recognize that we’re all immigrants, but they see

increasing numbers of immigrants as bringing too much cultural change—a concern that

leads many conservatives to support making English our nation’s official language. In addition,

conservatives point to the importance of the rule of law and believe that we cannot allow

hundreds of thousands of people to break the law by entering this country illegally. They also

say that only immigrants with legal status should be eligible to receive government benefits such

as education and health care.

1. How do you describe yourself in terms of racial and
ethnic identity? Write a short account of how you iden-
tify yourself. What importance does racial and ethnic
identity have in this country today?

2. An easy and interesting research project is to watch
ten or twenty hours of television over the next week
or two while taking notes on the race of TV actors
and the kinds of characters they play. Although your
sample may not be representative of all shows, it will
get you thinking about racial stereotypes in the mass
media.

3. This chapter describes the steady increase in the rate
of interracial marriage in the United States. What pat-
terns do you see involving interracial socializing and

dating on your campus or home community? Begin
your analysis by keeping in mind the relative presence
or absence of people representing various racial and
ethnic categories in the campus community.

4. One of the reasons the changing racial and ethnic
composition of the U.S. population matters is because
minorities typically favor Democratic political can-
didates over Republicans. Do some research to find
out what share of various minority categories of the
population supported Democrat Hillary Clinton and
Republican Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential
election. Based on what you discover, what are the
likely long-term political consequences of the coming
“minority majority”?

Getting Involved: Applications and Exercises

K
ev

in
G

. H
al

l/K
R

T/
N

ew
sc

om
.

100

Making the Grade
CHAPTER 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality

Race and Ethnicity

3.1 Explain how race and ethnicity are socially
constructed.

• Race is a socially constructed category based on physi-
cal traits that members of a society define as important.

• Ethnicity is a shared cultural heritage.

• Both race and ethnicity are important dimensions of
inequality in the United States.

The great racial and ethnic diversity of the United States is
a product of immigration from other countries.

• The “Great Immigration” (1865–1914) brought
25  million people in search of economic opportunity.

• Nativists, fearing that high immigration would endan-
ger this country’s mostly English culture, pressured for
a quota system, which Congress enacted in the 1920s.

• Congress ended the quota system in 1965, resulting in
another large wave of immigration.

• Today, illegal immigration is a hotly debated topic.

Minorities are categories of people that

• share a distinctive identity (which may be racial or ethnic)

• suffer disadvantages (such as poor schooling and
low-paying jobs)

Pluralism is a state in which racial and ethnic categories,
though distinct, have equal social standing. In the United
States, all people have equal standing by law; however,
social tolerance for diversity is limited.

race (p. 71) a socially constructed category of people who share
biologically transmitted traits that members of a society define as
important
ethnicity (p. 72) a shared cultural heritage, which typically
involves common ancestors, language, and religion
minority (p. 73) any category of people, identified by physical or
cultural traits, that a society subjects to disadvantages
white privilege (p. 73) the fact that white people, relative to those
in minority categories, enjoy social advantages

Patterns of Majority–Minority Interaction

3.2 Describe four major societal patterns of interaction
between majority and minority populations.

Genocide is the deliberate killing of a category of people.
European colonization of the Americas resulted in the
deaths of thousands of native people.

Segregation is the physical and social separation of some
category of a population. De jure racial segregation exist-
ed in the United States until the 1960s. De facto segregation
continues today.

Assimilation is a process (a “melting pot”) by which mi-
norities adopt styles of dress, the language, cultural values,
and even the religion of the dominant majority.

genocide (p. 75) the systematic killing of one category of people
by another
segregation (p. 77) the physical and social separation of catego-
ries of people
assimilation (p. 78) the process by which minorities gradually
adopt cultural patterns from the dominant majority population
pluralism (p. 79) a state in which people of all racial and ethnic
categories have about the same overall social standing

The Social Standing of U.S. Minorities

3.3 Analyze the social standing of major racial and
ethnic categories of the U.S. population.

Native Americans suffered greatly at the hands of
Europeans over the course of five hundred years. Even
today, they have relatively low social standing.

African Americans came to the United States as cargo
transported by slave traders. Despite substantial gains, Af-
rican Americans are still, on average, disadvantaged.

Asian Americans have lived in the United States for
more than a century. Despite average or above-average
social standing, they still suffer from prejudice and
discrimination.

Hispanic Americans or Latinas and Latinos are a diverse
people sharing a cultural heritage. Some categories, such
as Puerto Ricans, have low social standing; others, such as
Cuban Americans, are better off.

Arab Americans have ancestors in various nations. Like
other categories of minorities, they are subject to both prej-
udice and discrimination.

Prejudice

3.4 Discuss the causes and consequences of prejudice.

Prejudice consists of rigid prejudgments about some cate-
gory of people.

• A stereotype is an exaggerated and unfair description.

• The study of prejudice using the social distance scale
shows a trend toward greater tolerance on the part of
U.S. college students.

• Racism is the assertion that people of some racial cate-
gory are innately superior to people of another. Racism
has been used throughout human history to justify the
social inferiority of some category of people.

Chapter 3 Racial and Ethnic Inequality 101

• Researchers have linked prejudice to individual traits
(authoritarian personality theory) and to social structure
(scapegoat theory) and patterns of belief (cultural theory).

• The “culture of poverty” theory developed by Oscar Lew-
is claims that minorities develop a fatalistic cultural
outlook that leads to a sense of hopelessness and low
self-esteem.

Symbolic-Interaction Analysis: The Personal
Meaning of Race

Symbolic-interaction theory highlights how race often op-
erates as a master status in everyday interaction.

• W. E. B. Du Bois claimed that U.S. society makes whites
the standard by which others should be measured and
in so doing devalues any person of color.

Social-Conflict Analysis: The Structure of Inequality

Social-conflict theory highlights how racial and ethnic in-
equality is built into the structure of society.

• Marxist theory argues that elites encourage racial and
ethnic divisions in order to weaken the working class.

• More recently, multicultural theory notes ways in which
much U.S. culture is biased against minorities.

POLITICS, RACE,
AND ETHNICITY

Constructing Problems and Defining
Solutions

3.7 Analyze racial and ethnic inequality from various
positions on the political spectrum.

Far Right and Conservatives: Culture and Effort
Matter

• A small but significant share of the population holds
far-right views that oppose immigration and embrace
white supremacy.

• Conservatives endorse equal rights and opportunities
for all and point to cultural patterns as a cause of racial
and ethnic inequality.

• Conservatives claim individuals should be responsible
for their social standing; they oppose government pol-
icies that treat categories of people differently.

Liberals: Society and Government Matter
• Liberals point to social structure, including institu-

tional prejudice and discrimination, as the cause of ra-
cial and ethnic inequality.

• Liberals endorse government reforms to promote
equality, including enforcement of antidiscrimination
laws and affirmative action.

The Radical Left: Fundamental Changes Needed
• Radicals on the left claim that capitalism is the root

cause of racial and ethnic inequality.

• Radicals on the left call for basic change to all U.S. so-
cial institutions, including the capitalist economic sys-
tem and the political system, so that they operate in the
interests of all categories of people.

prejudice (p. 86) any rigid and unfounded generalization about
an entire category of people
stereotype (p. 86) an exaggerated description applied to every
person in some category
racism (p. 86) the assertion that people of some racial category
are less worthy than or even biologically inferior to others
institutional racism (p. 87) racism at work in the operation of
social institutions, including the economy, schools, hospitals, the
military, and the criminal justice system
multiculturalism (p. 89) educational programs designed to
recognize cultural diversity in the United States and to promote
respect for all cultural traditions
Eurocentrism (p. 89) the practice of using European (particularly
English) cultural standards to judge everyone

Discrimination

3.5 Distinguish discrimination from prejudice and
show how the two concepts operate together.

Discrimination consists of actions that treat various cate-
gories of a population differently.

• Example: An employer refuses to consider job applica-
tions from people with Arabic-sounding names.

Institutional discrimination is bias built into the operation
of the economy, legal system, or other social institution.

• Example: U.S. law prior to 1954 required black and
white children to attend separate schools.

Affirmative action policies allow employers and univer-
sities to consider race in hiring and admissions decisions.

• Liberals favor affirmative action in order to increase
minority representation in settings from which
minorities have been excluded in the past, but conser-
vatives criticize such policies as reverse discrimination.

discrimination (p. 89) the unequal treatment of various catego-
ries of people
institutional discrimination (p. 89) discrimination that is built
into the operation of social institutions, including the economy,
schools, and the legal system
microaggression (p. 90) casual actions, gestures, or words that
demean people in some minority category
affirmative action (p. 90) policies intended to improve the social
standing of minorities subject to past prejudice and discrimination

Theories of Racial and Ethnic Inequality

3.6 Apply sociological theory to patterns of racial and
ethnic inequality.

Structural-Functional Analysis: The Importance
of Culture

Structural-functional theory explains racial and ethnic
inequality in terms of cultural values.

102

4.4 Apply sociological theory to the issue of
gender inequality.

4.5 Identify the foundations of feminism and
distinguish three types of feminism.

4.6 Analyze gender inequality from various
positions on the political spectrum.

4.1 Define important concepts including gender
and gender stratification.

4.2 Analyze the importance of gender in the
operation of major social institutions.

4.3 Examine how gender stratification is found
in everyday life.

Chapter 4

Gender Inequality

Learning Objectives

Constructing the Problem

La
ur

en
ce

M
ou

to
n/

P
ho

to
A

lto
A

ge
nc

y
R

F
C

ol
le

ct
io

ns
/G

et
ty

Im
ag

es
.

Are women and men equal in U.S.
society?

Not in terms of income, with women on
average earning 81 percent as much as
men.

K
ris

ta
G

re
co

/P
ea

rs
on

E
du

ca
tio

n

Can a woman be anything she wants
to be?

Today’s women have more choices, but
many jobs are almost entirely done by
people of one sex.

C
at

hy
Y

eu
le

t/
12

3R
F.

Is beauty just about looking good?

Women who are very concerned about
beauty give men power over them.

Chapter 4 Gender Inequality 103

Does gender affect our life chances? What about the odds of being elected to
Congress? Go back more than a century, and women’s chances of winning
elected office were exactly zero. Not a single woman had ever served in Con-
gress, neither in the House nor the Senate. Only in 1917 was the first woman
elected to Congress, so that women represented a fraction of 1 percent of na-
tional leaders. In 2019, 127 women were serving in Congress, far more to be
sure but, as the figure shows, still representing less than 25 percent of the total.
Do you think women have a fair share of political power in the United States?

Tracking the Trends
W

o
m

en
a

s
a

P
er

ce
n

ta
g

e
o

f
C

o
n

g
re

ss

2010 2015 2020
0%

2%

4%

6%

8%

10%

12%

14%

16%

18%

20%

22%

24%

1920 1925 194519401930 1935 1975 1985 2000199019701950 1955 19651960 1980 1995 2005

127 women in Congress
(23.7% of the total) in 2019

SOURCE: Center for American Women and Politics (2018).

104 Chapter 4 Gender Inequality

presidents—have been men. In the labor force, women earn
much less than men. In addition, women deal with unwanted
sexual attention in the workplace just as many women face
outright violence at home. To understand many of the issues
facing women and men today, we begin by looking at the
important part that gender plays in the way society operates.

What Is Gender?
4.1 Define important concepts including gender

and gender stratification.

In societies around the world, women and men lead lives
that differ in important ways. Sociologists describe these dif-
ferences using the concept of gender, the personal traits and
life chances that a society links to being female or male. Gender
is not the same as sex, the biological distinction between females
and males. Sex is determined biologically as an embryo is con-
ceived. As Chapter 5 (“Sexuality and Inequality”) explains,
specific biological differences are what give women and men
the capacity to reproduce. Gender is a societal construction
that shapes the entire lives of women and men, affecting the
amount of schooling they receive, the kind of work they do,
and how much money they earn. All societies define men
and women as different types of people, in the process cre-

ating gender inequality. Gender strat-
ification is the unequal distribution of
wealth, power, and privilege between men
and women. Throughout the world, gen-
der is an important dimension of social
inequality.

Patriarchy
Around the world, we find various
degrees of patriarchy (literally, “rule by
fathers”), a social pattern in which males
dominate females. Matriarchy, a social
pattern in which females dominate males,
is extremely rare. Two centuries ago,

How might we assess a movie’s portrayal of women and
men? Alison Bechdel is a cartoonist with an interest in the
way popular culture presents various categories of people.
In 1985, she drew a cartoon outlining a simple test. A movie
can be said to take women seriously if (1) the film has at least
two female characters that have names, (2) the women talk to
each other, and (3) they discuss something other than men.

Analysts who have applied the Bechdel test conclude
that perhaps half of all popular movies during recent
decades—from Thor: Ragnarok, Avatar, and The Revenant to
American Sniper, to all The Lord of the Rings films—fail this
simple test. On the other hand, a number of recent films, in-
cluding Wonder Woman, Beauty and the Beast, Star Wars: The
Last Jedi, The Hunger Games trilogy, and Black Panther have
women in leading roles and clearly do pass the test. But, con-
sidering what the Bechdel test asks, is this really a very chal-
lenging standard for films to meet? Or, put the other way,
must we conclude that many of the most popular films fail
to present women as significant human beings? (Cantrell,
2013; Gibson, 2014; Bechdel.com, 2016; Erbland, 2017)

In the world of films, there is a great deal of inequality
between women and men. As this chapter explains, gender
inequality can be found in almost every aspect of our so-
cial life. As the Tracking the Trends figure showed, a large
majority of our national leaders—and (as of 2018) all of our

P
ic

to
ria

l P
re

ss
L

td
/A

la
m

y
S

to
ck

P
ho

to
.

Chapter Overview
What is gender? How is gender a dimension of social inequality that affects almost
every aspect of everyday life? This chapter documents the different social standing
of women and men. You will learn how income, housework, violence, and even ideas
about beauty all reflect gender stratification. You will carry out theoretical analysis of
gender inequality and learn how what people define as problems and solutions in-
volving gender reflect their political attitudes.

Chapter 4 Gender Inequality 105

among the North American Seneca (an American Indian
nation), women provided most of the food and also required
Seneca men to obtain their permission before engaging in
a military campaign or making some other important deci-
sion. Today, the Musuo is a very small society in China’s
Yunnan province where women control most property,
select their sexual partners, and make most decisions about
everyday life (Arrighi, 2001; Freedman, 2002).

Global Map 4–1 surveys women’s power relative to that
of men around the world. A close look at the map shows that
women living in poor countries are more disadvantaged rel-
ative to men than those living in high-income nations.

Explanations of Patriarchy Is patriarchy just a mat-
ter of men’s greater body size? On average, according
to government health data, males are 9 percent taller, 18
percent heavier, and 20 percent stronger than females

ANTARCTICA

30° 30°

30°

0°30° 30°60°90°

120°150°

60° 90° 120° 150°

30°

0° 0°

EUROPE

20°20° 40°

60°

40°

Women’s Social Standing

High

Above average

Average

Below average

Low

No data

Saeeda Jan, age 20, lives in Afghanistan,
a low-income nation that limits the rights
and opportunities of women.

Area of inset

West Bank

Puerto Rico (U.S.)

French Guiana
(Fr.)

ICELAND

SPAIN

NORWAY

IRELAND

UNITED
KINGDOM

DENMARK

POLANDGERMANY
NETH.

BEL.

LUX.
AUS.

CZECH
REP.

PORTUGAL

SWITZ.

ITALY

FRANCE SLO.
CROATIA

BOS. & HERZ.

FINLANDSWEDEN

ROMANIA
HUNG.

SERBIA

SLVK.

ESTONIA

LATVIA
LITHUANIA

UKRAINE

MOLDOVA

BELARUS

ALB.

BULGARIA
MAC.

GREECE

MONT.
KOS.

RUSSIA

TURKEY

MALTA CYPRUS

MONGOLIA

CUBA

DOM. REP.

GUATEMALA
EL SALVADOR

BELIZE

HONDURAS

COSTA RICA
PANAMA

COLOMBIA

BOLIVIA

VENEZUELA
NICARAGUA

HAITIJAMAICA

ECUADOR

PARAGUAY

ARGENTINA
URUGUAY

PERU

GUYANA

CHILE

BAHAMAS

TRINIDAD & TOBAGO

ANTIGUA & BARBUDA
DOMINICA
ST. LUCIA

BARBADOSGRENADA

U.S.

U.S.

ST. VINCENT & THE GRENADINES

ST. KITTS & NEVIS

KAZAKHSTAN

BRAZIL

New
Caledonia

(Fr.)

UNITED
STATES

CANADA

Hong
Kong

Macao
Taiwan

TUVALU

SAMOA

FIJI

TONGA

NEW
ZEALAND

AUSTRALIA

SOLOMON
ISLANDS

PAPUA
NEW GUINEA

TIMOR-LESTE

VANUATU

PALAU

KIRIBATI

MARSHALL
ISLANDS

FEDERATED STATES
OF MICRONESIA

NAURU

KYRGYZSTAN

CHINA

BHUTAN

TAJIKISTAN

I N D O N E S I A

SRI
LANKA

PHILIPPINES

MAURITIUS

LESOTHO
SWAZILAND

MOZAMBIQUE

MALDIVES

SEYCHELLES

COMOROS

SAO TOME & PRINCIPE

REP. OF THE CONGO

EQ. GUINEACÔTE D’IVOIRE
TOGO

GAMBIA
GUINEA-BISSAU

GUINEA
SIERRA LEONE

LIBERIA

CAPE
VERDE

LIBYAALGERIA

SYRIA

DEM. REP.
OF THE
CONGO

UZBEKISTAN

TURKMENISTAN

AFGHANISTAN

PAKISTAN

MYANMAR
(BURMA)

Singapore

OMAN

NEPAL

IRAN

MALAYSIA
BRUNEI

CAMBODIA

VIETNAM

INDIA

BANGLADESH
LAOS

THAILAND

MADAGASCAR

SOUTH
AFRICA

NAMIBIA
BOTSWANA

ZIMBABWE

ZAMBIA
MALAWI

TANZANIA
BURUNDI

KENYA

ANGOLA

GABON

UGANDA
CAM.

CENT.
AFR. REP. ETHIOPIA

DJIBOUTI
SUDANCHAD

KUWAIT

NIGER

BENIN

MALI
SENEGAL

BURKINA
FASO

NIGERIA
GHANA

SAUDI
ARABIA

EGYPT
U.A.E.

JORDAN

IRAQ

BAHRAIN
QATAR

ISRAEL
LEBANON

AZERBAIJAN
ARMENIA

TUNISIA

RWANDA

ERITREA
YEMEN

S.
SUDAN

SURINAME

AUSTRALIA

I N D O N E S I A

SOMALIA

MEXICO

MOROCCO

MAURITANIA

Western Sahara
(Mor.)

JAPAN
SOUTH
KOREA

NORTH
KOREA

Greenland
(Den.)

RUSSIA

GEORGIA

Astrid Brügger, age 19, lives in Norway; like
most girls growing up in high-income
nations, she enjoys most of the rights and
opportunities available to men.

Window on the World
Global Map 4–1 Women’s Power in Global Perspective

The social power of women in relation to that of men varies around the world. In general, women are
closer to equality with men in high-income nations, and men have more control over women’s lives
in low-income nations. In which countries are women and men most equal? The answer: Slovenia,
Switzerland, and Germany.

SOURCE: Data from United Nations Development Programme (2015).

(Fryar, Gu, & Ogden, 2012). Yet it is widely noted that
women are catching up to men in almost every test of
physical performance. Furthermore, to our cave-dwelling
ancestors, physical strength may have made all the differ-
ence in survival, but muscles have little to do with success
in today’s high-technology societies.

Nor does patriarchy reflect differences in brainpower.
On the SAT, young men outperform young women in the
math test, but women do better than men on the reading
and writing tests. All in all, performance differences linked
to sex are very small, and scientists find no overall differ-
ences in intelligence between men and women of similar
age and social background (Tavris & Wade, 2001; Lewin,
2008; College Board, 2017).

Another theory links patriarchy to greater aggressive-
ness in males based on their higher levels of sex hormones
(Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974; Goldberg, 1993; Popenoe, 1993b;

106 Chapter 4 Gender Inequality

Udry, 2000, 2001). Chapter 7 (“Crime, Violence, and Criminal
Justice”) reports that most murders are the work of young
males, who generally have high levels of testosterone. But
not everyone agrees with the testosterone theory. Barbara
Ehrenreich (1999) counters that the male hormone testoster-
one and the female hormone estrogen are found to varying
degrees in both sexes, and she points out that scientists have
yet to explain the precise connection between these hor-
mones and aggressive behavior.

Most sociologists reject the idea that any behavior is
hardwired into human biology. On the contrary, we believe
that patriarchy and all the behaviors linked to gender are
mostly creations of society. In short, whatever biological
forces are at work, societies can and do shape the social
differences between the sexes.

Prejudice and Discrimination Like race and ethnicity,
gender shapes the kinds of people we become. Familiar ste-
reotypes cast women as dependent, sensitive, and emotional

while portraying men as independent, rational, and com-
petitive. Notice that gender stereotypes divide humanity by
constructing femininity and masculinity in opposing terms.

Such stereotypes overlook the fact that most women
and men exhibit a mixture of traits, being more “feminine”
in some respects and more “masculine” in others. Also,
does having the capacity to show emotions make someone
less rational? In truth, gender stereotypes do not describe
real people very well.

What is quite clear is that our culture assigns more
worth to what we call “masculine” than what we call “fem-
inine.” For example, would anyone prefer being dependent
to being independent? Being passive to being active? Being
timid to being brave? Taken together, gender stereotypes
amount to a form of institutional prejudice against women.

In a society that devalues what is feminine, it is not
surprising that discrimination against women is wide-
spread. For centuries, U.S. society defined women as lit-
tle more than the property of men. Women had to respect
the authority of their fathers and, later, their husbands.
To some degree, times have changed: A large majority of
U.S. adults now say that they would support a qualified
woman for president (Smith et al., 2013). Hillary Clinton,
who came close to winning her party’s nomination for
president in 2008, became the Democratic Party nominee
in 2016 and won the popular vote. Clearly, it is only a mat-
ter of time until we can no longer say that all of this coun-
try’s presidents have been men.

The Problem of Sexism
Similar to racism, discussed in Chapter 3 (“Racial and
Ethnic Inequality”), sexism is the belief that one sex is innately
superior to the other. Sexism supports patriarchy by claiming
that men are “better” than women and therefore should
have power over them.

Sexism involves not just individual attitudes but also
the operation of social institutions. As the following sec-
tions explain, male superiority is built into the operation
of the workplace (with men running most companies and
women performing most of the clerical support work),
our political system (women may be more likely to vote,
but most elected leaders are men), and even religious life
(although women attend religious services more often,
most religious leaders are men).

Gender and Social Institutions
4.2 Analyze the importance of gender in the operation

of major social institutions.

Like class, race, and ethnicity, gender shapes just about
every part of our lives. The importance of gender can be
seen in the operation of all the social institutions, as the
following survey explains. We begin with the family.

In most sports played by both sexes, male athletes attract more fans
and earn more money than female athletes. Fifty years ago, women
who won championships earned only about one-third as much as
men who did the same. The struggle by women players to gain pay
equality was led by Billie Jean King, as presented in the recent film
Battle of the Sexes. Today, as a result of this effort, major tennis tourna-
ments award equal prize money to women’s and men’s champions.

Li
fe

st
yl

e
pi

ct
ur

es
/A

la
m

y
S

to
ck

P
ho

to
.

Patriarchy means that men have power to control the behavior
of women. In some societies, this power can be almost absolute.
This fifteen-year-old Afghani woman was burned and beaten by
her husband’s family after she defied efforts to force her into
prostitution.

S
ha

h
M

ar
ai

/A
FP

/G
et

ty
Im

ag
es

.

Chapter 4 Gender Inequality 107

marriages are unequal partnerships that favor men, why
does it seem that women typically express greater eager-
ness than men to marry?

Gender and Education
By the time they begin school, children have learned a
great deal about gender from books. Children’s books—
including Babar, The Cat in the Hat, and Peter Rabbit—are
full of gender stereotypes, showing girls and women
mostly in the home while boys and men do almost every-
thing else outside the home. Newer children’s books pres-
ent the two sexes in a more balanced way. More broadly,
however, childhood education contains many messages
about gender, from the presence of mostly women teachers
in the lower grades to sex-linked activities both in and out
of the classroom (F. Taylor, 2003; Flood, 2011; Abend, 2013).

To get an idea of what could be done to eliminate gen-
der bias in children’s schools, we can consider the case of
Sweden. The Social Problems in Global Perspective box
takes a closer look.

Gender and the Family
Do parents value boys more than girls? Traditionally, par-
ents in the United States preferred boys to girls, although
this bias has weakened in recent decades (Miller, 2018). But
in poor countries around the world where patriarchy is still
pronounced, a pro-male bias remains strong. In rural areas
of India, for example, families benefit from the earnings of
a son, but they have to pay a dowry to marry off a daugh-
ter. As a result, many pregnant women pay for ultrasound
examinations to find out the sex of the fetus, and many
who learn they are carrying a female request an abortion.
Sometimes families may even kill an unwelcome newborn
girl, the practice of female infanticide.

In the United States, gender shapes our experience of
marriage. As Jessie Bernard (1982) explained in her classic
study of traditional marriage, men’s experience of mar-
riage centers on providing economic support for the family
and making key decisions. Women experience marriage
differently, providing emotional support to husbands and
raising children, sometimes to the point that they have
little identity of their own. If Bernard was right that most

SOCIAL PROBLEMS IN GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE

Sweden Tries to Take Gender Out of the Classroom
Sweden has made remarkable strides in pursuit of gender
equality. A gender gap in pay exists with women earning 85
percent of what men earn, but this is smaller than the pay gap
(81 percent) found in the United States. Almost half of Swedish
legislators are women, making the country a world leader
in sharing power between the sexes. Now, after passing a
national law setting the goal of removing gender from schools,
Sweden is moving into a postgender era by teaching children
that they are humans rather than creatures fitting the mold of
“girl” or “boy.”

Annika Linder is a U.S. college student spending a year
studying in Sweden. She is living and taking classes at a
university in Stockholm. Her major is early childhood education,
and she hopes that soon she will be teaching in an elementary
school back in the United States.

On this particular day, Annika is beginning an assistantship
at a local Swedish preschool. She has been in the classroom
only for several hours, but already she cannot believe how
different the schooling is in a country committed to gender
equality. The Swedes speak of gender neutrality, which means
that children may be one sex or the other, but sex should have
nothing to do with the kinds of people they become. Right away,
Annika notices a girl playing in a sandbox, slapping the sand
with a plastic shovel. The girl is making a mess, but the teacher
says nothing, explaining to Annika that “We don’t want to send
the message that she cannot be physical or play with tools.” In
fact, Annika notices, the teacher always addresses the class as
“children” and never as “boys and girls.” There is no reason to

reinforce gender identity. Similarly, the Swedish words for “he”
(han) and “she” (hon) are never used. In their place, children
learn to use the pronoun hen, which is gender-neutral.

Looking around the classroom, all the toys, including plastic
dinosaurs and Lego blocks, have no evident gender. Even the
dolls used to teach children the names of major emotions—
facial expressions range from beaming smiles to dour frowns—
lack clothing and have no physical traits that would suggest one
sex or the other. All children do sports and take dancing classes,
and they dress alike. But other changes are not so obvious. For
example, school officials review all books in the library to ensure
that the children find the same number of female and male
characters (Abend, 2013).

The Swedish policy has critics. Some see it as allowing
officials to regulate almost all aspects of school life, crushing
freedom and generating a mild sameness in everyone. But
others see such efforts as necessary if the goal of ending gender
inequality is to be taken seriously.

What Do You Think?
1. What appear to be the advantages of Sweden’s gender

policy for schooling? What are this policy’s disadvantages?

2. Sweden’s government includes a minister for gender equal-
ity. Do you think the U.S. president’s Cabinet should include
a similar post? Explain.

3. On balance, do you support this Swedish policy? Why or
why not?

108 Chapter 4 Gender Inequality

decades have television shows featured women as central
characters. But we still find fewer women than men cast
as talented athletes, successful executives, brilliant detec-
tives, and skilled surgeons. More often than not, women
have supporting roles as wives, assistants, and secretaries.
Music videos also come in for criticism: Most performing
groups are all men, and when women do appear on stage,
they are often there for their sex appeal. In addition, many
of today’s song lyrics reinforce men’s power over women.

For decades, male television stars have been paid more
than female stars. This pattern continues, although concern
about pay equity is beginning to close the gap. On The Big
Bang Theory, for example, female star Kaley Cuoco earns
the same pay ($1 million per episode) as male stars Jim
Parsons and Johnny Galecki. Some other shows are follow-
ing suit.

Gender differences remain strong in mass media
advertising. In the early years of television, advertisers
targeted women during the day because so many women
were at-home wives. In fact, because most of the commer-
cials advertised laundry and household products, daytime
TV dramas became known as “soap operas.” On television
and in newspaper and magazine advertising, even today,
most ads still use female models to sell products such as
clothing, cosmetics, cleaning products, and food to women
and male models to pitch products such as automobiles,
banking services, travel, and alcoholic beverages to men.
Ads have always been more likely to show men in offices
or in rugged outdoor scenes and women in the home.

Even now, films also convey definitions of the two
sexes in ways that favor men over women. About 30 per-
cent of the films released in 2017 fail the Bechdel test, which
requires only that there be two named female characters
who talk to each other about anything other than a man.
Some nations have taken steps to challenge gender bias
in films. Sweden, a country that defines gender inequal-
ity as a serious problem, rates films according to gender
fairness in much the same way that the U.S. film indus-
try rates films according to the amount of sex and violence
(Erbland, 2017).

Gender bias also exists in advertising. Sometimes the
bias is obvious, as when only men are presented or the
intended audience is just one sex or the other. But such bias
can also be subtle. Look closely at ads and you will see that
they often present men as taller than women, and women
(but never men) often lie on sofas and beds or sit on the
floor like children. In addition, men’s facial expressions
are likely to suggest competence and authority, whereas
women laugh, pout, or strike childlike poses. Researchers
have found that the men featured in advertising focus on
the products they are promoting; women, as often as not,
pay attention to men (Goffman, 1979; Cortese, 1999).

Another way gender operates within the mass media
involves political campaign advertising. An analysis of

What about advanced education? Women have made
remarkable gains in schooling, especially at the college
level. In fact, in 2016 women earned 61 percent of all asso-
ciate’s degrees and 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees.
Even so, gender stereotyping still steers women to major
in English, education, health professions, dance, drama,
or sociology while pushing men toward physics, econom-
ics, mathematics, computer science, and engineering (U.S.
Department of Education, 2017).

Women have also made gains in postgraduate edu-
cation. In the United States in 2016, women earned 59
percent of all master’s degrees and 53 percent of all doc-
torates (including 63 percent of all Ph.D.’s in sociology).
Women are now well represented in many graduate fields
that used to be almost all male. Back in 1970, for example,
hardly any women earned a master’s of business admin-
istration (M.B.A.) degree; in 2016, close to 100,000 women
did so, accounting for 47 percent of all M.B.A. degrees (U.S.
Department of Education, 2017).

But gender still matters. Men slightly outnumber
women in some professional fields, receiving 52 percent
of medical (M.D.) degrees, 53 percent of law (LL.B. and
J.D.) degrees, and 52 percent of dental (D.D.S. and D.M.D.)
degrees (U.S. Department of Education, 2015).

Finally, gender stratification can be seen in the oper-
ation of higher education. In the case of law schools, for
example, not only are most degrees earned by men but also
men represent 67 percent of tenured professors and 69 per-
cent of law school deans (American Bar Association, 2017).

Gender and College Sports Gender is at work on the
playing fields as much as in the classroom. In decades past,
extracurricular athletics was a male world, and females
were expected to watch and cheer but not to play. In 1972,
Congress passed Title IX, the Educational Amendment to
the Civil Rights Act, banning sex discrimination in any
educational program receiving federal funding. In recent
years, colleges and universities have also tried to provide
an equal number of sports for both women and men. Even
so, men benefit from higher-paid coaches and enjoy larger
crowds of spectators. In short, despite the federal policy
outlawing gender bias, in few athletic programs is gender
equality a reality.

Gender and the Mass Media
There are more than 300 million television sets in the United
States (about equal to the country’s total population) and,
on average, people watch more than four hours of televi-
sion each day (TVB, 2012; Nielsen, 2015). Who can doubt
the importance of the mass media in shaping how we think
and act? What messages about gender do we find on TV?

When television became popular in the 1950s, almost
all the starring roles belonged to men. Only in recent

Chapter 4 Gender Inequality 109

voices used in campaign ads during the 2012 presidential
election found that men’s voices were used in 63 percent
of voice-over ads, while women’s voices were used in only
28 percent of such ads (the remainder used voices of both
sexes). Researchers argue that the public generally finds
men’s voices to be more credible, and there is evidence that
political ads with men’s voices are more effective. In addi-
tion, they concluded that a man’s or woman’s voice was
selected depending on whether the issue being discussed
was considered a men’s issue or a women’s issue (Strach et
al., 2015; Leatherby, 2016).

Gender and Politics
Patriarchy is about power. Because of patriarchy, women
have played only a marginal role in the political history of
our country. As Table 4–1 shows, the first woman to win elec-
tion to the U.S. Congress joined the House of Representatives
in 1917, after that body had existed for 128 years. In 1920, the
country reached a political milestone with the passage of the
Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which per-
mitted women to vote in national elections.

Since winning the right to vote, women have contin-
ued to move into the U.S. political mainstream. At the local
level, thousands of women now serve as mayors of cities
and towns and as members of other governing boards
across the country. At the beginning of 2018, 25 percent
of state legislators were women (up from just 4 percent in
1970), as were six of the fifty state governors (12 percent).
National Map 4–1 compares states and regions of the coun-
try in terms of women’s power in state government.

In national government, too, women’s power is increas-
ing. At the beginning of 2018, 34 percent of senior civil
service personnel and 36 percent of federal judges were
women. In Congress, a total of 84 of 435 members of the
House of Representatives (19 percent) and 22 of 100 sena-
tors (22 percent) were women (Newton-Small, 2016; Center
for American Women and Politics, 2018). Gains over the
past century are striking; at the same time, women are still
underrepresented among our judicial and political leaders.

Around the world, the pattern is much the same: Despite
gains over time, women hold just 23.3 percent of seats in
the world’s 190 parliaments. In only thirty-three countries
(about 17 percent of all countries), among them Sweden and
Norway, do women make up more than one-third of the
members of parliament (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2017).

Gender and Religion
What does religion teach us about gender? When people in
a national sample of U.S. adults were asked whether they
tend to think of God as “Mother” or “Father,” 7 percent
replied they envision God more as “Mother.” Two-thirds—
nine times as many—favored “Father,” with the remaining

Table 4–1 Political “Firsts” for U.S. Women
1869 Law allows women to vote in Wyoming Territory.

1872 First woman to run for the presidency (Victoria Woodhull)
represents the Equal Rights Party.

1917 First woman elected to the House of Representatives (Jeannette
Rankin of Montana).

1924 First women elected state governors (Nellie Taylor Ross of
Wyoming and Miriam “Ma” Ferguson of Texas); both followed
their husbands into office. First woman to have her name placed
in nomination for the vice presidency at the convention of a
major political party (Lena Jones Springs, a Democrat).

1931 First woman to serve in the Senate (Hattie Caraway of Arkansas);
completed the term of her husband upon his death and won
reelection in 1932.

1932 First woman appointed to the presidential Cabinet (Frances
Perkins, secretary of labor in the Cabinet of President Franklin
D. Roosevelt).

1964 First woman to have her name placed in nomination for the
presidency at the convention of a major political party
(Margaret Chase Smith, a Republican).

1972 First African American woman to have her name placed in
nomination for the presidency at the convention of a major
political party (Shirley Chisholm, a Democrat).

1981 First woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court (Sandra Day
O’Connor).

1984 First woman to be successfully nominated for the vice
presidency (Geraldine Ferraro, a Democrat).

1988 First woman chief executive to be elected to a consecutive third
term (Madeleine Kunin, governor of Vermont).

1992 A record number of women in the Senate (six) and the House
(forty-eight) as well as the first African American woman to win
election to U.S. Senate (Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois), the first
state (California) to be served by two women senators (Barbara
Boxer and Dianne Feinstein), and the first woman of Puerto Rican
descent elected to the House (Nydia Velazquez of New York).

1996 First woman appointed secretary of state (Madeleine Albright).

2000 First former “First Lady” to win elected political office (Hillary
Rodham Clinton, senator from New York).

2001 First woman to serve as national security adviser (Condoleezza
Rice); first Asian American woman to serve in a presidential
Cabinet (Elaine Chao, secretary of labor).

2005 First African American woman appointed secretary of state
(Condoleezza Rice).

2007 First woman Speaker of the House (Nancy Pelosi).

2008 For the first time, women make up the majority of a state
legislature (New Hampshire).

2013 New Hampshire becomes the first state to have all-women
leadership as the governor and all U.S. senators and members
of Congress are women.

2014 First woman to head the Federal Reserve Board (Janet Yellen).

2016 Hillary Clinton becomes first presidential nominee of a major
political party and wins the popular vote by almost 3 million but
loses the Electoral College and, thus, the election.

2019 Record number of women in the Senate (twenty-five) and the
House of Representatives (102).

one-fourth imagining God equally in these terms (Smith
et al., 2013).

The fact that most of us think of God as male is no sur-
prise because societies give power and privilege to men.
That’s probably why all the Western religious traditions
portray the divine in male terms. The Qur’an (Koran),

110 Chapter 4 Gender Inequality

Seeing Ourselves
National Map 4–1 Women’s Political Power across the United States

Women represent slightly more than half of U.S. adults. Even so, they hold just 25 percent of seats in
the state legislatures across the country. The map provides the state-by-state percentages. Looking
at the map, what pattern can you detect? What factors can you think of that might account for this
pattern?

SOURCE: Center for American Women and Politics (2018).

Share of State
Legislative Seats
Held by Women

High: 35.0% and
over

Above average:
30.0% to 34.9%

Average:
25.0% to 29.9%

Below average:
20.0% to 24.9%

Low: Below
20.0%

U.S. average: 25.3%

ARIZONA

NEVADA

CALIFORNIA

OREGON

WASHINGTON

IDAHO

MONTANA
NORTH

DAKOTA MINNESOTA

SOUTH
DAKOTA

NEBRASKA

WYOMING

COLORADO

TEXAS

LOUISIANA

ARKANSASOKLAHOMA

KANSAS MISSOURI

IOWA

WISCONSIN
MICHIGAN

ILLINOIS
OHIO

KENTUCKY

TENNESSEE

MISSISSIPPI

ALABAMA
GEORGIA

SOUTH
CAROLINA

NORTH
CAROLINA

VIRGINIA

D.C.
WEST

VIRGINIA

DELAWARE

NEW JERSEY

MARYLAND

PENNSYLVANIA

NEW
YORK

CONNECTICUT
RHODE ISLAND

MAINEVERMONT

NEW HAMPSHIRE
MASSACHUSETTS

FLORIDA

UTAH

NEW
MEXICO

HAWAII

ALASKA

INDIANA

In general, the western states have a higher
percentage of legislators who are women.

In general, southern states have a lower
percentage of legislators who are women.

the sacred text of Islam, clearly endorses patriarchy with
these words: “Men are the protectors and maintainers of
women. . . . Hence good women are devoutly obedient. . . .
As for those whose rebelliousness you fear, admonish
them, banish them from your bed, and scourge them”
(quoted in Kaufman, 1976:163). Paul, perhaps the most
influential leader of the early Christian church, also sup-
ported the social dominance of men over women:

A man . . . is the image and glory of God; but wom-
an is the glory of man. For man was not made
from woman, but woman from man. Neither was
man created for woman, but woman for man.
(1 Corinthians 11:7–9)

Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord.
For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is
the head of the church. . . . As the church is subject
to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything
to their husbands. (Ephesians 5:22–24)

Judaism also has a long history of supporting the
social power of men. A daily prayer among Orthodox
Jewish men includes the following words:

Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the
Universe, that I was not born a gentile.

Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the
Universe, that I was not born a slave.

Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the
Universe, that I was not born a woman.

In recent decades, more liberal denominations in the
United States, including Episcopalians and Presbyterians,
have moved toward greater gender equality. This liberal
trend includes not only revising prayers, hymnals, and
even the Bible to reduce sexist language but also the ordi-
nation of both women and men as priests and ministers.
But not all religious organizations share in this spirit of
change. Orthodox Judaism, Islam, and Roman Catholicism
have retained traditional male leadership. But throughout
the religious community, a lively debate surrounds the
question of whether patriarchal traditions represent God’s
will or merely reflect patterns of the human past.

Gender and the Military
Women have been part of the military since the
Revolutionary War. During World War II, when the govern-
ment officially opened the military to both sexes, women
made up just 2 percent of the armed forces. By the Gulf War
in 1991, that share had risen to almost 7 percent, and 5 of

Chapter 4 Gender Inequality 111

In recent years, the nation has confronted a new prob-
lem involving women in the military—sexual assault.
No one knows precisely the extent of this problem.
Officially, during 2016, there were 6,172 reported cases
of sexual assault in the military. This total indicates only
those cases in which a woman made an official report.
The Department of Defense estimates that about 15,000
women experienced a sexual assault during that year
(Cronk, 2017). Some activist organizations suggest that
one in three military women will become a victim during
her time of service.

Of the toal number of cases reported, only 2,892 (less
than half) resulted in some form of disciplinary action,

the 148 soldiers killed in that conflict were women. At the
end of 2017, women represented 16.4 percent of all active
duty military personnel. As of February 2018, the wars in
Iraq and Afghanistan claimed the lives of 206 women sol-
diers. In these recent conflicts, women represent almost
3 percent of all U.S. military deaths (U.S. Department of
Defense, 2018).

In the past, only selected military duties were avail-
able to women. In 2013, the Department of Defense
announced that women would be permitted to engage in
ground- combat operations. This change is important not
only as a matter of fairness but also as a path for women
to move up in their careers. Why? Simply because, within
the military culture, combat experi-
ence is widely viewed as necessary
to advance to top leadership. In 2015,
the U.S. military announced that it
was planning to open every military
assignment to women (Thompson,
2015).

But there is still resistance to expand-
ing the role of women in the military.
The traditional explanation for limit-
ing women’s opportunities is the claim
that women are not as strong as men,
although this argument makes much less
sense in a high-technology military that
depends less and less on muscle power.
The real reason people oppose women
in the military has to do with gender
itself. Many people have difficulty with
the idea of women—whom our culture
defines as nurturers—being put in a
position to kill and be killed.

The dangers women face as members of the military are not limited to armed conflict.
Research suggests that as many as one in three women in the U.S. Armed Forces will
experience sexual assault during her time of service.

How important is it that women have
the opportunity to lead this country as
president? In 2016, a majority of white
women (but not minority women)
voted for Donald Trump. Hillary
Clinton did win a majority of women’s
votes—54 percent. Why do you think
women were almost equally divided in
the last presidential election?

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

R
ic

ha
rd

E
lli

s/
A

la
m

y
S

to
ck

P
ho

to
.

112 Chapter 4 Gender Inequality

Women Men

Pe
rc

en
t

o
f

Po
p

u
la

ti
o

n
A

ge
1

6
an

d
O

ld
er

in
t

h
e

La
b

o
r

Fo
rc

e

Year

1950 1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015 2017
0%

10%

20%

30%

40%

50%

60%

70%

80%

90%

100%

80.7 79.8 79.7 79.7
74.875.0

83.7

37.7 39.2

46.3
51.5

57.5 58.9 59.9

73.3

59.3

71.2

58.6

43.3

54.5

33.9

69.1 69.1

76.476.377.9 77.4

56.7 57.0

35.7

Diversity Snapshot
Figure 4–1 Women and Men in the U.S. Labor Force

Over the past half century, the share of men in the labor force has gone down (with men retiring
earlier and living longer), while the share of women working for income has increased dramatically,
reaching a peak of about 60 percent in 2000 and declining slightly since then.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Labor (2018).

and just 1,865 cases (less than one-third) resulted in some
type of disciplinary action. These numbers lead critics to
question how serious the military is to pursue complaints
and to punish offenders (Cronk, 2017; U.S. Department of
Defense, 2017).

Gender and Work
Many people still think of various jobs as either men’s
work or women’s work. A century ago in the United States,
however, most people did not think women should work
at all, at least not for pay. Back then, as the old saying goes,
“a woman’s place is in the home.” In 1900, this statement
was mostly true, with just one woman in five working for
income. The most recent data, found in Figure 4–1, show
this share to be 56.8 percent, reflecting a huge increase
since 1900 even allowing for a slight decline since 2000.
Three out of four women in today’s labor force work full
time. What about men? Historically, the trend has been in
the opposite direction. Since 1950, the share of adult men
in the labor force has slowly but steadily declined (U.S.
Department of Labor, 2018).

What accounts for this dramatic rise in the share
of working women? Many factors are involved. At the

beginning of the twentieth century, most people lived in
rural areas where few people had electric power. Back then,
women typically spent long hours cooking, cleaning, and
raising many children. Today’s typical home has a host of
appliances, including washers, vacuums, and microwaves,
and all this technology has dramatically reduced the time
needed for housework so that women and men have more
chance to work for income.

In addition, today’s average woman has just two chil-
dren, half the number that was typical a century ago. But
most of today’s women with children do work for income.
In fact, 60 percent of married women with children under
age three work for pay, 65 percent with children three to
five years old work for pay, as do 73 percent of married
women with children six to seventeen years old. From
another angle, 52 percent of today’s married couples
include two partners working for income (U.S. Census
Bureau, 2017; U.S. Department of Labor, 2018).

Even though most women now work for pay, the range
of jobs open to them is still limited. Work that our soci-
ety has defined as “masculine” involves physical danger
(such as firefighting and police work), physical strength
and endurance (construction work and driving heavy
trucks), and leadership roles (clergy, judges, and business

Chapter 4 Gender Inequality 113

executives). Work defined as “feminine” includes support
positions (secretarial work or medical assisting) or occu-
pations requiring nurturing skills (child care and teaching
young children). A number of jobs that are defined as fem-
inine are performed almost entirely by women even today,
as shown in Table 4–2.

Gender discrimination was outlawed by the federal
Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act of 1964. This legislation requires that employers not
discriminate between men and women in hiring or when
setting pay. But gender inequality is deeply rooted in
U.S. society; officials investigate thousands of discrim-
ination complaints every year, and few doubt that the
real number of cases of discrimination is far higher. The
Social  Problems in Focus box takes a look at one well-
known case.

Table 4–2 Gender Segregation in the Workplace:
Jobs Defined as “Feminine”

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Labor (2018).

Occupation
Percentage of Women

in the Occupation

Speech-language pathologist 98.0%

Preschool or kindergarten teacher 97.7

Dental hygienist 94.9

Child care worker 93.7

Dietitian or nutritionist 94.1

Secretary or administrative assistant 95.0

Hairstylist or cosmetologist 92.6

Dental assistant 95.9

Teacher assistant 88.5

Nurse practitioner 92.2

SOCIAL PROBLEMS IN FOCUS

Sex Discrimination in the Workplace:
The Hooters Controversy
Does a company have the right to hire anyone it wants to? That
was the issue in 1991 when the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (EEOC) decided to sue the Hooters restaurant
chain for sex discrimination. Hooters stands apart from other
restaurant chains because of its policy of hiring young, attractive
women, who wait on tables while dressed in form-fitting, low-
cut T-shirts and tight shorts. When men applied to work there,
officials of the restaurant—dubbed a “breastaurant” by critics—
pointed to this policy and turned them down.

But some of the men turned away thought the policy was
unfair, and they joined with the EEOC to sue Hooters for sex
discrimination. The suit pointed to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights
Act, which bans hiring discrimination on the basis of race, color,
sex, religion, or national origin. Following the letter of this law, a
company cannot just hire only women any more than it could
decide to hire only white people. But the law does recognize
exceptions to this rule that involve what the law calls a “bona fide
occupational qualification.” This means that if a company can
show that an applicant’s sex is an important factor in doing the
job that is being filled, hiring one category of people over another
may be allowed.

It is easy to imagine situations where this exception makes
obvious sense. A Jewish congregation looking for a new rabbi,
for example, would hire a Jew and would not consider a Catholic
or a Hindu. It would also hire a man if the denomination’s religious
doctrine permits only men to be ordained. But most cases are not
this clear-cut. A department store in a largely white neighborhood
cannot hire only white salespeople just because the management
might think whites fit in better than people of color.

In a business like Hooters, is sex actually an occupational
qualification? Deciding this case required the court to decide

exactly what Hooters was really selling. If we define Hooters as
simply a restaurant, its hiring policy would be a clear violation of the
law. But Hooters claimed that customers come to its restaurants
as much to see the women working as waitresses as they do to
get a meal. For that reason, Hooters continued, hiring only women
(and hiring only certain women) should be within the law.

When the case was settled in 1997, the court did not
agree with the claims Hooters made—at least not entirely—and
something of a compromise resulted. Because Hooters had
provided employment to only one sex and excluded the other,
the court found the restaurant chain guilty of sex discrimination
and fined the corporation $3.75 million. But the court also found
that the business of Hooters was not just food but “providing
vicarious sexual recreation” to customers, which makes an
applicant’s sex relevant to the company’s hiring. So the court
ended up permitting Hooters to continue to hire attractive
women as waitresses, but only if the company would create new
categories of jobs—such as hosts and bartenders—that would
provide employment opportunities to both men and women
(Reiland, 1998; Bernstein, 2001).

What Do You Think?
1. When is a person’s sex relevant to work? Given the current

controversy over sexual harassment in the workplace, is it
ever relevant?

2. Do you agree with the law stating that a college cannot legally
refuse to hire a man to teach courses in women’s studies or a
woman to teach courses in men’s studies? Why or why not?

3. Have you ever been the target of workplace sex discrimina-
tion? Explain.

114 Chapter 4 Gender Inequality

female–male pay difference. Even so, in every state men
earn significantly more than women.

The gender gap in earnings means that women are
more likely to be at the low end of the income scale. In
2016, 31 percent of full-time women workers earned less
than $30,000, compared with 22 percent of men. The gen-
der gap also provides advantages to men: Twice as many
men as women (18 percent versus 9 percent) earned more
than $100,000 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017).

The gender earnings gap means that most women who
share a household with a man depend on his earnings.
For this reason, after separation, divorce, or the partner’s
death, a woman’s income may fall dramatically. Especially
if she has young children, the loss of a partner’s income
may cause financial hardship and raise her risk of falling
into poverty.

Three Reasons for the Gender Gap in Pay In the United
States, why do men earn so much more than women? The
first and biggest reason, noted earlier, is that men and
women typically have different types of jobs. In general,
what our society considers to be men’s work commands
higher pay (and more prestige) than what they see as
women’s work.

A second reason is that everyone assigns importance
to work in relation to other social roles and obligations.
U.S. society assigns women most of the responsibility for
raising children. Pregnancy, childbirth, and the task of rais-
ing small children effectively limit women’s careers more
than men’s. Recent research suggests that, on average,
women spend almost twice as much time doing unpaid
work in the home as men. Because women devote so much
more time to unpaid work in the home—sometimes tak-
ing extended periods of time away from paid work to
raise young children—men end up with more workplace
seniority and career advancement. In addition, some
women with young children or aging parents choose jobs,
even at lower pay, that do not tie up their evenings and
weekends or require them to travel far from home. Still
other mothers (but rarely fathers) choose a job because it
is nearby, offers a flexible schedule, or provides child care
facilities. Family–work conflict is especially likely to come
into play when women consider workplace leadership
positions—many of which involve a workweek that may
extend to sixty hours or more. When asked if they wanted
to become a “boss or top manager,” a larger share of young
women (34 percent) than young men (22 percent) said “No,
thanks” (Slaughter, 2012; Greenstone, 2013; Pew Research
Center, 2013; Miller, 2016).

Women’s greater family focus means that, especially
during the time when they have young children, women
are likely to fall behind men in their careers. Among young
people just starting out in the labor force, women earn 90
percent as much as men, but the gap increases as women

Gender Stratification
4.3 Examine how gender stratification is found

in everyday life.

As noted earlier, gender stratification is the unequal distri-
bution of wealth, power, and privilege between men and
women. Gender inequality is evident in the fact that, when
compared with men, women have both less income and
greater responsibility for housework. Women also contend
with other disadvantages, including high risk of domestic
violence and sexual harassment.

Income
Income is one important dimension of gender inequality.
As you have learned, women and men perform different
types of work, with women generally holding clerical and
service jobs and men having most executive and profes-
sional positions. The predictable result is that women and
men receive different levels of pay.

In 2016, the median pay for men working full time
was $50,135; women working full time earned $39,923, or
81 percent as much. National Map 4–2 shows that there is
considerable variation among the states with regard to the

Mark Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million to reshoot scenes in the film
All the Money in the World. Michelle Williams, who was also involved
in the reshoot, was paid less than $1,000, or less than one percent as
much as her male costar. In an effort to publicize the gender inequal-
ity in Hollywood, Wahlberg donated his $1.5 million to support the
#MeToo and #TimesUp movements to end sexual harassment.

M
ic

ha
el

B
uc

kn
er

/V
ar

ie
ty

/S
hu

tt
er

st
oc

k.

Chapter 4 Gender Inequality 115

schooling and hold exactly the same jobs, over time women
typically fall behind their male colleagues.

If women spend more time out of the labor force
during important career-building years, what happens
when they want to return to work? When women attempt
to “step back in,” many realize that the challenge is far
greater than they expected. The Personal Stories box takes
a closer look.

The third reason for gender inequality is that women
suffer from gender discrimination. This means that many
employers pay women less than men simply because they
can get away with it. Employment discrimination is illegal,
and equal opportunity laws have reduced the blatant dou-
ble standard that was common in the past. But more sub-
tle discrimination continues, as in the case of a company
in which male employees were invited to an out-of-town
meeting while female employees were excluded because
the company thought attending such an event might be too
dangerous for a woman driving out of town at night alone
Benokraitis & Feagin, 1995:85).

The Glass Ceiling Today, when a company is looking to
fill a top job, no one is likely to come right out and say,
“Let’s promote a man.” But cultural bias against women
affects many promotion decisions. Sociologists use the

have children and typically step away from their jobs
(Slaughter, 2012; Brown & Patten, 2017).

A similar pattern involves caring for aging parents.
Our society defines elder care, like child care, as largely
the responsibility of women rather than men. One study,
for example, found that almost half of women in competi-
tive jobs took time off from work to care for aging parents
(Hewlett & Luce, 2005; Hewlett, 2010). Considering care-
giving for both children and aging parents, family–career
conflict holds back women’s workplace achievement.
On the campus, for example, researchers find that young
female professors with at least one child are less likely to
have tenure than male professors in the same field (Shea,
2002; Ceci & Williams, 2011).

Such patterns help us to understand why a recent sur-
vey found that, among people between the ages of eighteen
and thirty-two, 59 percent of women but just 19 percent
of men agreed with the statement that “being a working
parent makes it harder to advance in a job or a career”
(Pew Research Center, 2013). In fact, research suggests
that, whether or not women ever do have a child, the fact
that they might have a child is enough for some employ-
ers to slow their career progress (Ali, 2016). Taken together,
these studies point to the long-term effects of family-based
gender inequality: Even if both sexes start out with the same

Women’s Earnings
as a Percent of
Men’s 2017

U.S. average: 81.8%

84.0% or more

81.0% to 83.9%

78.0% to 80.9%

Less than 78.0%

Nancy Willis works as a waitress in Laramie,
Wyoming, earning less than $20,000 a year.

Karen Sachs works on the staff of a member
of Congress, earning more than $70,000 a year.

ALASKA

HAWAII

ARIZONA

NEVADA

CALIFORNIA

OREGON

WASHINGTON

IDAHO

MONTANA
NORTH

DAKOTA MINNESOTA

SOUTH
DAKOTA

NEBRASKA

WYOMING

COLORADO

NEW
MEXICO

TEXAS

LOUISIANA

ARKANSASOKLAHOMA

KANSAS MISSOURI

IOWA

WISCONSIN

MICHIGAN

ILLINOIS
INDIANA

OHIO

KENTUCKY

TENNESSEE

MISSISSIPPI

GEORGIA

SOUTH
CAROLINA

NORTH
CAROLINA

VIRGINIA

D.C.WEST
VIRGINIA

DELAWARE

NEW JERSEY

MARYLAND

PENNSYLVANIA

NEW
YORK

CONNECTICUT
RHODE ISLAND

MAINEVERMONT

NEW HAMPSHIRE
MASSACHUSETTS

ALABAMA

FLORIDA

UTAH

Seeing Ourselves
National Map 4–2 The Earnings Gender Gap across the United States

Nationwide, women working full time earn about 81 percent as much as comparable men. In
states with strong economies or younger populations (such as Florida and Colorado), the gender
gap is smaller; in states with weaker economies and older populations (such as West Virginia and
Wyoming), the gender gap is greater. Why do you think age plays a part in this pattern?

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Labor (2017).

116 Chapter 4 Gender Inequality

How much housework do men and women actually
do? Figure 4–2 shows that women do almost twice as
much housework as men. Looking more closely, we see
that women also do about twice the amount of child care
as men do. Finally, notice the consequences of women’s
greater responsibility for work within the home: Men have
significantly more leisure time than women have. These
numbers help us to understand why housework is some-
times called women’s “second shift” (Hochschild, 2012;
Miller, 2016; U.S. Department of Labor, 2016).

The fact that most housework is performed by women
goes a long way to explain why such work is unpaid. A
number of progressive countries (including Canada and
Finland) are considering enacting a law providing a min-
imum annual income for all people. In part, this policy
would address the problem of poverty, providing income
to all people including the sick and those who cannot find a
job. But an additional consequence of a universal minimum

term glass ceiling to refer to subtle discrimination that effec-
tively blocks the movement of women into the highest positions
in organizations. According to Fortune magazine (2017), just
twenty-seven of the Fortune 500 companies in the United
States have a woman as their chief executive officer.

Housework
Just as patriarchy gives men control of the workplace, it also
assigns women most of the housework. In Japan, probably
the most patriarchal of all high-income nations, women
do almost all the shopping, cooking, cleaning, and child
care. In the United States, where two incomes are the norm
among married couples, women still do most of the house-
work (or pay other women to do it). A recent survey asked
adults living with partners in a household to identify the
person who does the housework: 67 percent of women and
just 10 percent of men answered “me” (Smith et al., 2017).

PERSONAL STORIES

After the Children: Getting Back in the Game
One major reason that women earn less than men involves
society’s expectation that they take on most family obligations.
Consider the story of Catherine Strong, a well-educated and
talented woman who had a career in banking and then took time
off from work to have children (Chaker & Stout, 2004).

Catherine Strong shifted nervously in her chair as the woman be-
hind the large desk in front of her read through the papers in her
hands. Strong remembered how she used to sit behind a big desk
like that during her many years as an investment officer with sev-
eral high-profile banks in New York City. She thought about how
she used to interview people seeking a promotion or eager to find
a new job. That seemed a long time ago. Now it was her turn
to be looking for work, and she had enlisted the help of a large
search firm.

The search-firm counselor completed the review of her file,
looked up, and with a serious expression began to speak. She ex-
plained to Strong that she has a good education—a college de-
gree from a well-known school and also an M.B.A. degree from
a large university. Her résumé showing years of work for several
large banks is also very impressive. But, the counselor continued,
times are tight with the weak economy, and jobs are much harder
to find than they once were. Even more important, she continued,
is the fact that Strong has not taken home a paycheck for almost
fifteen years. In the very competitive world of high finance, the odds
were slim that Strong would find anything even close to the jobs
she once had.

Catherine Strong is one of the millions of women who left
the workforce to have children and to stay home raising them. At
first, she expected to be away from work for perhaps a year. But
she discovered that raising a newborn can be quite a challenge,
and by the time her firstborn was two, she and her husband
learned that they soon would be parents again.

Like most women, Strong does not regret the choices
she made. But, also like most women, she does wish that her
husband could have done more to share the parenting. She is

quick to point out that once she stopped working, his paycheck
was all the family had to live on, and he worked harder than ever.
But she always thought that once the kids got into their teenage
years, she could go back to the job she had loved. Now that
dream seems to be far out of reach.

The recent recession has made job hunting hard for
everyone. But women who have been out of the labor force
(the polite expression is “having gaps in your résumé”) have the
toughest time of all. Their skills may be rusty or even completely
out of date. Many women share the dismay experienced by
Catherine Strong as they learn how much has changed in
their field of work since the time they were last in the office. In
addition, most women in this situation also learn that they have
lost most of their networks and contacts.

Should companies do more to keep in touch with employees
like Strong who leave to raise children? Are there other ways
that companies (or society as a whole) should support women
who have raised children and wish to return to work? Catherine
Strong cringed when she heard her job counselor sum up her
chances: “You’re going to have to be realistic. You are not going
to find the type of job you left fifteen years ago. You’ll need to
take a big step down.” Does our society need to do more?

What Do You Think?
1. Should companies help women like Catherine Strong who

are trying to return to work? How might they help?

2. What about fathers in all of this? Should they do more to
share the work of parenting?

3. Have you or anyone you know ever been in Catherine
Strong’s position? If so, what happened?

Chapter 4 Gender Inequality 117

Which categories of women are at greatest risk of
sexual violence? Age is part of the answer: According to
government data, women younger than thirty-five are at
high risk. Income matters, too, because poor women are at
higher risk than affluent women. Finally, women living in
cities are at higher risk than women living in suburbs or in
rural areas (U.S. Department of Justice, 2017).

Violence is a crime, but what makes it a gender issue?
First, physical aggressiveness is part of our cultural defini-
tion of masculinity. Put simply, “real men” take control of a
situation and do not allow themselves to be pushed around,
one reason most violent crimes are committed by males
(see Chapter 7, “Crime, Violence, and Criminal Justice”).
Second, many people treat with contempt whatever a patri-
archal society labels as feminine or less worthy. Third, a
major cause of sexual violence (especially on the campus) is
that men often think they have permission to engage in sex-
ual activity with a woman simply because she shows inter-
est in them. That is, given our culture’s support for male
power, men confuse interest with consent. Sexual acts in the
absence of clearly expressed consent is assault (Goetting,
1999; Herman, 2001; Lofgreen et al., 2017).

Gender violence ranges from annoying actions such
as men whistling at a woman walking down a city street
to unwanted physical contact such as cornering a woman
against a wall in a dorm hallway to outright violence such
as an angry punch in a suburban home. In all cases, these
assaults are not so much sexual—as is commonly thought—as

income law would be providing funds to those who do
housework. Supporters of this policy claim that women
have long been giving society a free ride with their unpaid
labor and it is now time for society to support those who
maintain our homes and raise our children (Shulevitz, 2016).

Violence against Women
Perhaps the most serious problem linked to patriarchy is
men’s physical violence against women. Assault, rape,
and even murder are common enough that they must
be included in our society’s pattern of men dominating
women.

The good news is that the rate of sexual assault fell
by half between 1995 and 2005, a period during which
crime rates in general declined. The sexual assault rate has
remained about the same in the years since 2005. The bad
news is that the most recent numbers are still high. The
U.S. government estimates that some 1.9 million physical
assaults against women take place each year, with an addi-
tional 535,000 aggravated (serious) assaults and 272,000
sexual assaults, including rape and attempted rape (U.S.
Department of Justice, 2017). On campus, the government
estimates, during the academic year 4 percent of female
college students are victims of rape or attempted rape.
Another estimate suggests that, over a four- or five-year
college career, about 20 percent of all women on campus
experience such a crime (U.S. Department of Justice, 2012).

Diversity Snapshot
Figure 4–2 Gender, Housework, and Leisure Time

Whether couples have children or not, women do more housework and have less leisure time
than men.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Labor (2016).

H
o

u
rs

p
er

W
ee

k

Men

9.
66

17
.1

5

25
.9

7

27
.4

4

17
.8

5

24
.1

5

9.
94

3.
08

32
.4

1

16
.5

9
6.

16

10
.2

2
42.35

All

Women Men

Youngest HH
Child Under 6

Women Men

Youngest HH
Child 6–17

Women Men

No Children
Under 18

Women
0

5

10

15

20

25

30

35

40

45
Housework Caring for household children Leisure activities

9.
24

9.
38

27
.5

1

37
.7

3

15
.6

8

5.
81

30
.1

7

10
.7

1

16
.1

118 Chapter 4 Gender Inequality

problem. Even so, it was only in 2017 that sexual harass-
ment was transformed into a national debate beginning
with allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault
against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. These
allegations led to tens of thousands more against hundreds
of powerful men in film and the other arts, charitable orga-
nizations, and Congress. By the beginning of 2018, more
than 100 million women had added their voices to a social
movement symbolized by #MeToo on Twitter and other
social media (Almukhtar, Gold, & Buchanan, 2018).

Why is this social movement important? For one thing,
to the extent that men think of women in sexual terms,
they ignore women’s achievements and are unlikely to
accept women as equals in the workplace, on the campus,
or anywhere else. For another, if society does not define
sexual harassment as a problem, men in positions of power
are free to coerce sex from women they supervise causing
widespread fear and harm. Recent surveys show that half
of women claim that they have experienced sexual, verbal,

they are displays of male power over women. For this reason,
sexual violence is a dimension of gender stratification.

Where are women at highest risk of violence? Looking
over the statistics, the most dangerous setting for women
turns out not to be the dark alley but the well-lit home, the
very place where people are supposed to find peace and
support (U.S. Department of Justice, 2017).

In a number of countries, including the United States,
families use violence to control the behavior of women.
The Social Problems in Global Perspective box looks at
the dramatic case of female genital mutilation and Global
Map  4–2 shows where in the world this practice is most
and least widespread.

Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment refers to unwanted comments, gestures,
or physical contact of a sexual nature. Only in the 1980s did
U.S. society begin to define sexual harassment as a social

Area of inset

ANTARCTICA

30° 30°

30°

0°30° 30°60°90°

120°150°

60° 90° 120° 150°

30°

0° 0°

EUROPE

20°20° 40°

60°

40°

Female Genital Mutilation

Practice widespread

Common within certain
communities
Common only within some
immigrant communities

Not known to be practiced

Greenland
(Den.)

Western Sahara
(Mor.)

Macao

New
Caledonia

(Fr.)

TaiwanPuerto Rico (U.S.)

French Guiana
(Fr.)

TUVALU

SAMOA

FIJI

TONGA

NEW
ZEALAND

AUSTRALIA

SOLOMON
ISLANDS

VANUATU

PALAU

KIRIBATI

MARSHALL
ISLANDS

FEDERATED STATES
OF MICRONESIA

NAURU

CHINA

BRUNEI

CAMBODIA

SRI
LANKA

PHILIPPINES

INDIA
Hong
Kong

Singapore

PAPUA
NEW GUINEA

TIMOR-LESTE

MONGOLIA

KYRGYZSTAN

NEPAL
BHUTAN

TAJIKISTAN

MALAYSIA

I N D O N E S I A

BANGLADESH

MAURITIUS

MADAGASCAR

SOUTH
AFRICA LESOTHO

SWAZILAND

NAMIBIA
BOTSWANA

MOZAMBIQUE

ZIMBABWE

MALDIVES

SEYCHELLES

COMOROS

SAO TOME & PRINCIPE

ANGOLA

GABON

REP. OF THE CONGO

EQ. GUINEACÔTE D’IVOIRE
TOGO

GAMBIA
GUINEA-BISSAU

GUINEA
SIERRA LEONE

LIBERIA

CAPE
VERDE

SAUDI
ARABIA

LIBYA
MOROCCO

ALGERIA

ST. VINCENT & THE GRENADINES

BAHAMAS

TRINIDAD & TOBAGO

ANTIGUA & BARBUDA
DOMINICA
ST. LUCIA

BARBADOSGRENADA

GUYANA

SURINAME

CHILE

ECUADOR

PARAGUAY

ARGENTINA
URUGUAY

PERU

HAITIJAMAICA

NICARAGUA

CUBA

DOM. REP.

GUATEMALA
EL SALVADOR

BELIZE

HONDURAS

COSTA RICA
PANAMA

COLOMBIA

BOLIVIA

VENEZUELA

U.S.

U.S.

JORDAN

OMAN

ZAMBIA
MALAWI

TANZANIA
BURUNDI

NIGER

U.A.E.

IRAQ

QATAR

LEBANON
ISRAEL

GEORGIA

JAPAN

NORTH
KOREA
SOUTH
KOREA

PALESTINIAN TERRITORY

SYRIA

AZERBAIJAN
ARMENIA

TUNISIA

RWANDA

DEM. REP.
OF THE
CONGO

ST. KITTS & NEVIS

UNITED
STATES

MEXICO

BRAZIL

CANADA
RUSSIA

KAZAKHSTAN

IRAN
KUWAIT

BAHRAIN

UZBEKISTAN

TURKMENISTAN

AFGHANISTAN

PAKISTAN

VIETNAM

LAOS

THAILAND

MYANMAR
(BURMA)

ICELAND

SPAIN

NORWAY

IRELAND

UNITED
KINGDOM

DENMARK

POLANDGERMANY
NETH.

BEL.

LUX.
AUS.

CZECH
REP.

PORTUGAL

SWITZ.

ITALY

FRANCE SLO.
CROATIA

BOS. & HERZ.

FINLANDSWEDEN

ROMANIA
HUNG.

SERBIA

SLVK.

ESTONIA

LATVIA
LITHUANIA

UKRAINE

MOLDOVA

BELARUS

ALB.

BULGARIA
MAC.

GREECE

MONT.
KOS.

RUSSIA

TURKEY

MALTA CYPRUS

UGANDA
CAM.

S.
SUDAN

West Bank

KENYA

SOMALIA

CENT.
AFR. REP. ETHIOPIA

DJIBOUTI
SUDANCHAD

BENIN

MAURITANIA
MALI

SENEGAL
BURKINA
FASO NIGERIA

GHANA

EGYPT

ERITREA
YEMEN

Meserak Ramsey, who now lives in California, experienced
genital mutilation as a young girl in her native Ethiopia.

Binta Traoré lives in a rural area of Mali where
female genital mutilation is a common practice.

Window on the World
Global Map 4–2 Female Genital Mutilation in Global Perspective

Female genital mutilation is known to be performed in at least thirty countries around the world.
Across Africa, the practice is common and affects a majority of girls in the eastern African nations
of Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia. In several Asian nations, the practice is limited to a few ethnic
minorities. In the United States, Canada, several European nations, and Australia, there are reports of
the practice among some immigrants.

SOURCE: Population Reference Bureau (2010), World Health Organization (2015), and United Nations (2017).

Chapter 4 Gender Inequality 119

short, patriarchal cultures define sexual attractiveness as
women’s only form of power.

In recent years, sociologists have developed a coun-
terargument, pointing out that beauty is not simply about
looking good; it is about inequality and subordination. The
Diversity: Race, Class, & Gender box takes a closer look at
what this means for women.

Our society has also debated who should control sexual
reproduction. In the past, physicians and legislators, almost
all of them men, limited women’s access to birth con-
trol technology. As late as the 1960s, state laws controlled
even the sale of condoms and other birth control devices.
Restricting the availability of birth control is not an issue
found only in the distant past. In 2017, the Trump adminis-
tration announced that all health insurance plans would no
longer be required to include birth control (Laguens, 2017).

Today, however, many people are questioning older
patterns: Should women have to consult a doctor to obtain
birth control? Should women younger than a certain age
have to obtain permission from parents in order to use
birth control? Should the government require all health
insurance plans (including those of Catholic organizations,
which officially oppose birth control) to provide birth con-
trol products and services to all women (Steinhauser, 2012)?

Abortion is perhaps an even more controversial prac-
tice, dividing the country along political lines. Conservatives
see abortion as a moral issue and stress the need to protect
unborn children. Liberals— especially feminists—see abor-
tion as an issue of power and choice. Restricting access to

or physical harassment on the job. Half of women also
claim that they have received unwanted sexual attention
(Smith et al., 2015; Chan, 2017; Dann, 2017).

Sexual harassment can be blatant and direct: A pro-
fessor pressures a student for sex, threatening a poor
grade if she refuses. This is a clear case of quid pro quo
sexual harassment (the Latin words mean “one thing in
return for another”), which the law defines as a violation
of civil rights. But sexual harassment can also involve
subtle behavior—sexual teasing or off-color jokes—
that someone may not even intend as harassment. Such
behavior is still harmful if it has the effect of creating a
hostile environment that prevents people from doing their
work. In that case, the offender and the offended party
may well interpret the behavior in question differently.
For example, a man who compliments a co-worker on her
appearance may think he is simply making a friendly ges-
ture, but she may consider such comments intrusive and
unprofessional.

Sexuality, Beauty, and Reproduction
A patriarchal culture teaches men to assess women not
according to their abilities but on the basis of their sexual
attractiveness. Of course, women, too, live within this cul-
ture, and they may also learn these lessons. Social norms
encourage girls and women to wear figure-flattering cloth-
ing and shoes (whether or not they are comfortable or even
safe) and to flirt with men and be attentive to them. In

SOCIAL PROBLEMS IN GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE

Female Genital Mutilation: Using Violence to Control Women
In a poor home in the East African nation of Ethiopia, a little girl
huddles in the corner of a small bed. Only eighteen months old,
she is in pain and does not understand why.

Her suffering has been caused by a surgical clitoridectomy—
sometimes incorrectly called “female circumcision”—which
means the external clitoris is cut away. In its more extreme
form, the clitoris is completely removed and the vagina is sewed
almost completely shut, to be cut open again only on a woman’s
wedding night.

The procedure—sometimes performed by a doctor but
usually carried out by a midwife or a tribal practitioner, typically
without anesthesia—is common in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Togo,
Somalia, Egypt, and three dozen other nations in Africa and the
Middle East. Estimates place the number of girls worldwide who
have endured a clitoridectomy at between 100 and 200 million.
About 3 million girls every year experience what is now widely called
“female genital mutilation” (World Health Organization, 2018).

This so-called medical procedure is not about curing any
illness or disorder; it is a brutal means to control women. In
highly patriarchal societies, men demand that the women they

marry be virgins and that wives remain sexually faithful after that.
Without the clitoris, a woman loses some or all of her ability
to experience sexual pleasure. This procedure, some people
believe, will make her unlikely to become sexually promiscuous
or unfaithful and more likely to live by the rules of her society.

Throughout the United States, performing a clitoridectomy
is illegal. Even so, thousands of young girls in immigrant families
undergo this procedure each year. In fact, some immigrant
mothers believe that this procedure is even more necessary
once they are living in the United States, where women have far
more sexual freedom.

What Do You Think?
1. How is the practice of female genital mutilation used to

control the behavior of women?

2. What steps should be taken, in the United States and else-
where, to eliminate this practice?

3. Does female genital mutilation amount to child abuse?
Explain your view.

120 Chapter 4 Gender Inequality

Whatever women may feel about this matter, it is objec-
tively the case that as a category of the population, women
do have less income, wealth, and power than men. For this
reason, it makes sense to define women as a minority.

Theories of Gender
Inequality
4.4 Apply sociological theory to the issue of gender

inequality.

Applying sociology’s theoretical orientations—structural-
functional, symbolic-interaction, social-conflict, and inter-
section theory—helps us understand gender inequality. As
you have seen in earlier chapters, various theories highlight
different facts and reach different conclusions.

Structural-Functional Analysis:
Gender and Complementarity
According to functionalist theory, gender is society’s rec-
ognition that women and men differ in some respects.
This approach views gender in terms of complementarity. In
other words, men and women are seen as different in lim-
ited but important ways, with each sex having somewhat
different roles and responsibilities. These differences also
mean that people of each sex need people of the other sex.
More broadly, this mutual interdependence helps unite

abortion puts the decision about whether to continue a
pregnancy in the hands of men—fathers, husbands, physi-
cians, and legislators—rather than with the women whose
bodies and lives will be affected by the decision. In the lib-
eral view, access to birth control and safe abortion is essen-
tial if women are to have the power to make choices about
their lives, including both their families and their ability to
work.

Women: A Majority Minority?
Chapter 3 (“Racial and Ethnic Inequality”) defined a
minority as any distinctive category of people who are
socially disadvantaged. Are women a minority? In a patri-
archal society, the 51 percent of the population who are
women fit the definition of a minority because, as a category,
they are physically distinctive and socially disadvantaged.

Researchers have long noted that most women do
not think of themselves as a minority (Hacker, 1951;
Lengermann & Wallace, 1985). One explanation of this fact
is that many women assess their relative privilege based on
race, ethnicity, and class position rather than sex. Another
reason is that, although women do not have the same
power as men, our society has taught women to think that
they should defer to men, defining a husband’s career or
their children’s happiness as more important than their
own. The recent #MeToo and #TimesUp social movements,
however, provide clear evidence that millions of women
are no longer willing to give their power to men.

DIVERSITY: RACE, CLASS, & GENDER

Beauty: What’s It Really About?
Beauty is about good looks—what could be more obvious? But
beauty is also about gender and power.

Naomi Wolf (1990) claims that our culture’s ideas about
beauty put men in a position of power over women. Women,
she says, learn to measure their personal importance in terms
of their physical appearance, a practice that discourages other
avenues of personal development. Furthermore, the standards
by which society encourages women to judge themselves are
those created by the multimillion-dollar fashion, cosmetics, and
diet industries. These standards (embodied in the many young
actresses who walk the red carpet in Los Angeles or 100-pound
fashion models on the runways of New York) have little to do
with the reality of most women’s bodies or lives.

In addition, a focus on beauty teaches women to try to
please men. The pursuit of beauty makes women highly sensitive
to how men react to them and encourages them to view other
women not as allies but as competitors.

Taken together, our cultural ideas about beauty amount to an
effective strategy to maintain patriarchy. Much advertising directed
at women on television and in magazines and newspapers is
not simply about what women should buy and use. Rather, it is
about what women should be. This cultural “beauty myth,” Wolf
charges, is a form of gender bias that is harmful to women.

What Do You Think?
1. The Duchess of Windsor once said, “A woman cannot be

too rich or too thin.” Does this advice apply in the same way
to men? Why or why not?

2. Chapter 9 (“Physical and Mental Health”) explains that al-
most all people suffering from eating disorders are women.
Why do you think this is the case?

3. What about race? To what extent are women of color held
to the standard of beauty set by white women?

Chapter 4 Gender Inequality 121

older, boys and girls also learn that failure to display the
right gender patterns may result in loss of sexual appeal.
In short, society teaches men to favor women who display
feminine qualities as it teaches women to favor men who are
masculine. The end result is that men and women bring dif-
ferent elements to a relationship thereby integrating society.

EVALUATE

The structural-functional theory of gender was quite influential fifty
years ago but is far less so today. Why? Because the argument
that “gender differences help society to operate” strikes researchers
today as supporting traditional gender roles. Many of today’s sociol-
ogists interpret what Parsons called “complementary roles” as little
more than male domination.

A second problem with this approach is that, by argu-
ing that society benefits from conventional ideas about gender,
structural-functional theory ignores the fact that men and women
can and do relate to one another in a variety of ways that do not fit
any norm. Is it reasonable—or desirable—to want everyone to fit into
either the instrumental or expressive category? Today, for example,
most people—including both men and women—have instrumental
roles in the labor force and expressive roles within their relationships.

A third problem cited by critics is that functional thinking
glosses over personal strains and social conflicts produced by rigid
gender patterns. They argue that in everyday life, we may experi-
ence gender as both helpful and harmful. Such strain is especially
great among people who, for whatever reason, do not conform to
traditional gender norms. How people actually experience gender in
their lives brings us to symbolic-interaction theory.

CHECK YOUR LEARNING Explain how Parsons explains gender
in terms of complementarity. How does this pattern help society to
operate?

Symbolic-Interaction Analysis:
Gender in Everyday Life
Symbolic-interaction theory provides a micro-level analy-
sis of gender, which highlights how individuals experience
gender in their everyday lives.

Gender and Personal Behavior How do people experience
gender in everyday life? As we have seen, gender involves
differences in power. The more power people have the more
choices they have about how to behave. In general, then, our
society gives men greater freedom in personal behavior. For
example, would you react the same way to a man who uses
foul language as you would to a woman who speaks the same
way? Similarly, researchers have documented that, in every-
day conversation, men have a tendency to interrupt others,
especially women; women, by contrast, are more likely to
listen politely, especially to men (Smith-Lovin & Brody, 1989;
Henley, Hamilton, & Thorne, 1992; Johnson, 1994).

The same gender pattern is evident in facial expression.
In addition to symbolizing pleasure, smiling expresses

individuals into families and links families into larger com-
munities. In short, gender helps tie together all of society.

Talcott Parsons: A Theory of Complementary Roles The
best-known functional theory of gender was developed by
Talcott Parsons (1942, 1951, 1954). To understand his ideas, it
is helpful to begin with an historical look at human societies.

Among early hunters and gatherers, biological differ-
ences between the sexes had critical importance. Our distant
ancestors had no way to control reproduction, so women
experienced frequent pregnancies and spent much of their
adult lives caring for children. As a result, women in these
societies had little choice but to build their lives around
the home, gathering vegetation as they raised the young.
Men’s greater size and strength placed them in charge of
hunting and warfare, tasks that took them away from the
home. Over many generations, this sex-based division of
labor became institutionalized, meaning it became built into
a culture that was passed from generation to generation.

By the time of the Industrial Revolution, however, a
gender-based division of labor was becoming less neces-
sary. For one thing, societies had devised effective means
of birth control. As Chapter 5 (“Sexuality and Inequality”)
explains, the rubber condom, invented about 1850, pro-
vided a fairly reliable method of contraception. Machinery
and other industrial technology also reduced the impor-
tance of physical strength to economic production, open-
ing more jobs to women.

Parsons observed the trend by which gender differ-
ences become smaller over the course of human history
and concluded that the biological facts of sex, including
physical size and strength, have less and less significance
for the type of work people do. Yet, Parsons suggested,
modern societies still encourage some gender differences
because they serve to integrate people and help them work
together. Specifically, society defines the two sexes in com-
plementary ways, which ensures that men and women need
each other and benefit from joining together in the form of
couples and families. In the traditional family, women still
bear the children, of course, and they take primary respon-
sibility for the household. By contrast, men are responsi-
ble for linking the family to the larger world through their
greater participation in the labor force.

To perpetuate this gender-based specialization, soci-
ety guides parents to raise their boys and girls differently.
Masculinity, explains Parsons, involves an instrumental ori-
entation, emphasizing rationality, competition, and a focus
on goals. Femininity involves an opposing expressive ori-
entation: emotional responsiveness, cooperation, and con-
cern for other people and relationships.

Young people soon learn that looking or acting too dif-
ferently from society’s standards of masculinity or feminin-
ity can bring sharp disapproval from others. As they grow

122 Chapter 4 Gender Inequality

CHECK YOUR LEARNING Point to ways in which gender guides
patterns of everyday interaction, including the ranges of choices
available to people, use of space, and use of language.

Social-Conflict Analysis:
Gender and Inequality
Social-conflict theory switches the focus from functional-
ism’s horizontal imagery of gender differences as comple-
mentary to a more vertical view of gender as a dimension of
social inequality. Rather than uniting society, social- conflict
theory argues, gender divides humanity, generating con-
flict between male haves and female have-nots.

Friedrich Engels: The Rise of Patriarchy Friedrich Engels
(1820–1895), Karl Marx’s lifelong friend and collaborator,
extended Marx’s thinking about class conflict to include
gender (Engels, 1902, orig. 1884). Engels argued that the
same historical process that brings about a ruling class in
which an elite dominates workers places men in a domi-
nant position over women.

Early hunting and gathering societies assigned women
and men different daily routines, but both sexes made vital
contributions to daily life. That is, men may have done the
hunting, but women collected the vegetation that provided
most of the food. Therefore, just as these technologically
simple societies lack distinct classes, they come close to
gender equality.

Gaining the ability to raise animals and crops provided
societies with a surplus—more than people needed just to
survive. Typically, some families gained most of this sur-
plus for themselves, and this concentration of wealth gave
birth to social classes. Once some people had more than
others, elites defended their resources using the concept
of private property. This same process of emerging hierar-
chy also led men to begin controlling the lives of women.
Why? Because men who wish to pass on their wealth to
their sons must not only be confident in their ownership
of property, they must also be certain who their offspring
are. Therefore, wealthy men devised the family as a way
to control both property and the sexuality of women, who
were to remain faithful and raise a man’s children.

With the rise of capitalism, Engels continued, patriarchy
became stronger than ever, taking the form of a male-
dominated capitalist class. In short, men enjoy most wealth
and power. In addition, to ensure an ever-expanding mar-
ket for capitalist production, society teaches women that
personal happiness lies in marriage and a domestic life as a
consumer of products and services. Finally, because capital-
ism forced most men to work long hours in factories, men
expected their wives to do all the housework. To Engels,
the double problem of capitalism lies in exploiting men in
factories for low pay and exploiting women in the home for
no pay at all (Barry, 1983; Jagger, 1983; Vogel, 1983).

respect and a desire to make peace. Not surprisingly, then,
researchers note that women tend to smile more than men
(Henley, Hamilton, & Thorne, 1992).

Gender and the Use of Space Typically, people with
more power also use more space in their everyday activ-
ities. In the classroom, for example, the professor can
pace around the room while speaking, but students are
expected to stay in their seats. Because men have greater
social power, they typically use more space than women,
whether the men are speaking in front of a group at work
or relaxing on the sidelines at a sporting event. We learn
to judge masculinity by how much space a man uses (the
standard of “turf” by which “more is better”), and we learn
to judge femininity by how little space a woman uses (the
standard of “daintiness” by which “small is beautiful”).

In addition, men’s greater power gives them the option
of moving closer to others, even to the point of entering
what we consider people’s personal space. Women have
to be more careful in this regard because moving closer to
a man is likely to be treated as a sexual come-on (Henley,
Hamilton, & Thorne, 1992).

Gender and Language Finally, gender is at work in the
language we use. When talking about proud possessions,
many men use female pronouns, as when a young man
shows off his new car, saying, “Isn’t she a beauty?” Using
a male pronoun in this case (“Isn’t he a beauty?”) seems
awkward; this pattern reflects the fact that in a patriarchal
culture, men control women, not the other way around.

People’s names show the same pattern. Among
opposite-sex newlyweds, the conventional practice is for
the woman to take her husband’s last name. The opposite
pattern—a man taking his wife’s last name—is extremely
rare. Although few people today would claim that this
pattern means that the man actually owns the woman, it
does suggest that men expect to have control over their
wives.

Finally, notice how the English language tends to
give what is masculine more value than what is feminine.
Traditional titles associated with men—such as king and
lord—have positive meanings, but comparable titles asso-
ciated with women—such as queen, madam, and dame—are
often negative.

EVALUATE

The strength of symbolic-interaction theory lies in putting a human
face on gender, showing how gender is at work in familiar dimen-
sions of everyday life. This approach also shows that gender is an
important building block of social reality.

At the same time, a limitation of this theory (and of all other
micro-theories) is that it overlooks the broad importance of gender
as a structure that operates throughout society. We now turn to
social-conflict theory to examine broad issues of gender inequality
and gender conflict.

Chapter 4 Gender Inequality 123

is easy to see that dimensions of inequality combine so that
specific categories of the U.S. population experience particular
disadvantage.

At the same time, as Karl Marx might have said, knowing
about a problem is all well and good. The point, however, is to
change society to reduce inequality. This desire for change brings
us to feminism, a study of gender with the purpose of bringing
about change.

CHECK YOUR LEARNING What is intersection theory? How
does it help us to understand the effect of various dimensions of
social inequality?

The Applying Theory table summarizes what each theoret-
ical approach teaches us about gender.

Feminism
4.5 Identify the foundations of feminism and

distinguish three types of feminism.

Since the 1960s, feminism has gained great impor-
tance in sociology. Formally defined, feminism is a
political  movement that seeks the social equality of women
and men. Feminism therefore involves both theory and
activism.

The history of feminism in the United States goes
back more than 150 years. The movement’s first wave
began in the 1840s as a spinoff of efforts to abolish
slavery. Back then, Lucretia Mott (1793–1880) and
Elizabeth  Cady Stanton (1815–1902) saw parallels
between whites oppressing people of color and men
oppressing women. The Defining Moment feature takes
a closer look.

EVALUATE

Social-conflict theory shows how gender developed into a major
dimension of social stratification. Engels’s work also highlights the
close link between gender and class.

But Engels’s theory has its critics. First, families may be patri-
archal, but they perform the vital task of raising children. Second,
the lives of men and women may be different, but not everyone
defines these differences as unjust. In other words, say critics,
social- conflict theory is likely to minimize the extent to which
women and men live together cooperatively and, often enough,
quite happily. Third, some challenge Engels’s assertion that capi-
talism is at the heart of gender stratification. After all, patriarchy is
also strong in socialist nations, including Cuba and the People’s
Republic of China.

CHECK YOUR LEARNING According to Friedrich Engels, how
does patriarchy arise along with class differences as a system that
allows wealthy men to pass property to their sons?

Intersection Theory: The Case
of Minority Women
In recent decades, social-conflict theory has linked gen-
der inequality to inequality based on race and ethnicity.
Intersection theory is analysis of how race, class, and gender
interact, often creating multiple disadvantages for some catego-
ries of people.

If women are disadvantaged and, as Chapter 3
(“Racial and Ethnic Inequality”) explained, racial and
ethnic minorities are also disadvantaged, what about
minority women? Are they doubly disadvantaged?
Intersection theory claims that the answer is yes (Collins,
2015).

To see how, compare average income for various cate-
gories of the U.S. population. In 2016, the median income
for non-Hispanic white women working full time was
$42,193. But African American women earned $34,953, or
83 percent as much, and Hispanic women earned $29,924,
or 71 percent as much. Among women, then, race and eth-
nicity are one source of disadvantage.

Then there is the second disadvantage based on gen-
der. Within racial and ethnic categories, we see that in 2016,
African American women earned 90 percent as much as
African American men, just as Hispanic women earned 90
percent as much as Hispanic men.

Combining these two dimensions of inequality,
African American women earned 63 percent as much as
non-Hispanic white men and Hispanic women earned 54
percent as much as white men (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017).
Therefore, the intersection of gender with race and ethnic-
ity does result in even greater disadvantages for some cate-
gories of the U.S. population.

EVALUATE

Intersection theory is an important new social-conflict theory
that warrants discussion on its own. By using income data, it

In low-income nations, boys have more economic value than girls
because they can earn more money. Therefore, many poor families
engage in sex-selective abortion to avoid giving birth to a daughter.
In villages in India, clinics provide sonograms that usually reveal the
sex of a fetus; they also provide abortions to women who choose to
“try again” in the hopes of having a son.

E
gg

Im
ag

es
/A

la
m

y
S

to
ck

P
ho

to
.

124 Chapter 4 Gender Inequality

APPLYING THEORY

Gender Inequality

Structural-Functional
Theory

Symbolic-Interaction
Theory

Social-Conflict
Theory

What is the level of
analysis?

Macro-level Micro-level Macro-level

What is gender? As explained by Parsons, gender
involves complementary patterns of
thought and action on the part of
women and men that help tie society
together.

Gender is a system of meaning that shapes
the everyday lives of women and men; how
we interact with others, how we make use
of space, and even our language all reflect
gender.

Gender is a dimension of social
stratification that benefits men at the
expense of women. Engels explained that
patriarchy arose to enable wealthy men to
pass property on to their sons and to help
all men work outside the home.

Is gender a
problem?

Gender is not a problem; it is
functional because it is helpful to the
orderly operation of society.

From an individual point of view, gender may
or may not be a problem; gender is a basic
element of the social reality we experience
every day.

Gender is a problem, especially for the
half of the population that are women
because they are disadvantaged by a
system that gives wealth and power to
men. As intersection theory explains, some
categories of women experience especially
great disadvantages.

Feminist Foundations
There is more than one version of feminism. But almost all
feminists agree on the following six general points:

1. The importance of gender. The lives of everyone,
feminists claim, are shaped by gender. Men don’t just
choose to be competitive any more than women decide
to be deferential; this kind of behavior has much to do
with how our society defines masculine and feminine
behavior.

2. The importance of equality. Feminists oppose the sta-
tus quo in which U.S. society gives men both power
and privilege. Therefore, feminism is an effort both to
understand and to change the social world.

Feminists claim that everyone—women and
men—would benefit from greater gender equality.
Obviously, patriarchy limits the development and
opportunities of women, who make up half the pop-
ulation. But men also suffer from a system that drives
them to seek control of others, a pattern that results
in high risk of death from suicide, violence, accidents,
heart attacks, and other diseases related to stress. To
a large degree, what psychologists call the Type A per-
sonality marked by impatience, driving ambition, and
competitiveness—all of which increase the risk of heart
disease—is the same behavior our culture defines as
masculine (Ehrenreich, 1983).

3. The importance of choice. Feminists see gender as
a societal creation that imposes a narrow set of op-
portunities on both women and men. Only by aban-
doning conventional ideas about the kinds of lives
women and men ought to lead will all people be free
to decide for themselves the direction of their own
lives.

4. The importance of sexual freedom. Feminists claim
that women have the right to control their sexuality
and reproduction. Feminists support the wide avail-
ability of birth control information and technology
and oppose legal restrictions on abortion. Many fem-
inists also support the gay rights movement. As some
feminists see it, lesbians, even more than gay men,
are targets of prejudice and discrimination because
they violate both the norm of heterosexuality and the
expectation that men should control the sexuality of
women (Hadley, 1996; Jackson & Scott, 1996; Herman,
2001; Armstrong, 2002).

5. Activism against patriarchy. Feminism actively op-
poses all forms of sexism and gender inequality. One
important step in this process, as feminists see it, is
for U.S. society to affirm the equal standing of women
and men before the law. This is why, since its intro-
duction in Congress in 1923, feminists have supported
passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the
U.S. Constitution. The ERA simply states, “Equality of
rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged
by the United States or any State on account of sex.”

6. Activism against gender violence. As noted earlier
in this chapter, many sociologists see violence against
women as a pressing social problem. Feminists claim
that violence against women in the form of rape, sexual
harassment, and domestic abuse can end only when
society places women and men on the same level.

Types of Feminism
All feminists agree on the general goals just noted, but they
favor various paths to achieving them. Generally speak-
ing, there are three feminist solutions to the problem of

Chapter 4 Gender Inequality 125

will always elevate some people above others. The liberal
feminist position is that society should place no barriers in
people’s way simply because they are women or men. In
short, all people should have opportunity based on their
talent and effort and should be treated as individuals.

Socialist Feminism Further to the political left, other
feminists doubt that reforming existing social institutions
is enough to end patriarchy. Supporters of socialist femi-
nism claim that Marxist class revolution is needed to secure
equality not just for women but for all people. Recall from
our earlier discussion that Friedrich Engels pointed to the
roots of patriarchy in capitalist private property. That is,
capitalism oppresses women by forcing them to do house-
work (which Engels called “domestic slavery”) and to
hold low-wage jobs. Without the ability to earn enough
to support themselves, women are dependent on men for
economic security.

From a socialist perspective, abolishing the capitalist
class system means transforming economic production

patriarchy: liberal feminism, socialist feminism, and rad-
ical feminism (Jagger, 1983; Phillips, 1987; Lindsay, 1994;
Armstrong, 2002; Freedman, 2002).

Liberal Feminism Liberal feminism seeks a society in
which all people are treated as individuals so that both
women and men can freely develop their talents and pur-
sue their interests. Liberal feminism is a reform approach,
meaning that it seeks change within existing social institu-
tions. The goal of liberal feminism is for women to enjoy
the same rights, opportunities, and rewards as men.

Passage of the Equal Rights Amendment is one objec-
tive. In addition, liberal feminists support laws to combat
prejudice and discrimination against women. They also
endorse policies such as providing birth control services as
part of all health care, maternity leave for women workers,
and child care facilities in the workplace so that women
caring for young children can still hold a job.

Liberal feminists do not expect that all women will
have the same social standing. Individual talent and effort

CONSTRUCTING SOCIAL PROBLEMS

A Defining Moment

Elizabeth Cady Stanton: Claiming Women’s Right to Equality
It may be hard to imagine, but just a few generations ago,
women in the United States were legally second-class citizens.
Women could not vote and could not own property or enter into
legal contracts. It was rare for women to earn an income, and
the few women who did typically turned the money over to their
husbands or fathers.

Many people who joined together to oppose the
enslavement of African Americans by white people soon began
to wonder if women were the slaves of men. Elizabeth Cady
Stanton understood the second-class standing of women and
decided to do something about it. In 1848, Stanton and her
friend Lucretia Mott began the process of change by organizing
a meeting in Seneca Falls, New York.

Some 300 women gathered at Wesleyan Chapel in the
small town in upstate New York to hear more about women’s
rights. Stanton led the meeting, asking why women did not have
the same rights and opportunities as men, including the right
to vote. Even many of those who thought women deserved
something more were shocked by the suggestion that women’s
political voice should be equal to men’s. Stanton’s husband,
Henry, muttering that, this time, his wife had gone too far, rode
out of town in protest.

Stanton lived for another half century after her historic
meeting without seeing her dream of women’s equality come
true. But she helped start a social movement that did make a
difference. In 1920—eighteen years after Stanton’s death—
women did finally gain the right to vote. Of course, even after
this victory, many people realized that much work remained
to be done. After all, the sexes remained unequal in so
many other ways. As a result, a second wave of the feminist
movement continues to this day, addressing issues such as
equality in the workplace, domestic violence, and reproductive
rights.

Here we see the beginnings of the feminist movement in the
United States: Elizabeth Cady Stanton speaks to people who
traveled great distances to attend the first women’s rights con-
vention in Seneca Falls, New York, in June 1848.

M
at

th
ew

F
re

y/
P

riv
at

e
C

ol
le

ct
io

n/
W

oo
d

R
on

sa
vi

lle
H

ar
lin

, I
nc

. U
S

A
/

B
rid

ge
m

an
Im

ag
es

.

126 Chapter 4 Gender Inequality

radical feminists explain, there was no hope at all because
societies had little control over reproduction. But that is
no longer the case. With today’s scientific technology, we
have far more control over reproduction, so that people
are able to reproduce outside of the conventional pattern
of heterosexual parenting. For example, in vitro (“in glass”)
fertilization—surgically extracting a woman’s ovum, fer-
tilizing it manually in a glass dish, and then reinserting
it into her body—has been a reality for decades, and the
thousands of normal, healthy children produced in this
way demonstrate that neither heterosexuality nor the tra-
ditional family is necessary to reproduce the human spe-
cies (a more complete discussion of new reproductive
technologies is found in Chapter 13, “Family Life”).

The future imagined by radical feminism is more rev-
olutionary than that imagined by socialists. Here we con-
sider abolishing not only the traditional family but also all
differences between women and men and perhaps even
ending heterosexual relationships entirely.

Could this ever happen? If it did, social institutions
would be very different from those we know today. The
economy and political systems would have to evolve
toward social equality. Families would take a new form,
with collective responsibility for raising children. Some
observers have suggested that, in order to limit the extent
to which the lives of adults are defined by the task of
parenting, children must gain greater rights and responsi-
bilities for themselves (Jagger, 1983). Others, who see het-
erosexuality as part of the problem, claim that equality for
women and men would require new thinking about sex-
uality itself. Andrea Dworkin (1987), for example, argued
that an equal society would be one that gave up all sexual

from the private property of a small elite to a collective
enterprise representing the interests of all. This process
also means replacing the private household with collec-
tive living arrangements in which people come together to
share tasks such as cooking and child care. If work were
shared in this way, not only would there be no classes, but
also men would no longer dominate women.

In short, socialist feminism sees class revolution as
necessary for gender revolution. So, while liberal feminism
accepts the basic institutions of U.S. society, socialist femi-
nism does not. From this point of view, women’s liberation
can be achieved only through elimination of the broader
economic conditions that have historically oppressed all
humanity.

Radical Feminism A third strategy on the political left
calls for the most basic change of all. Radical feminism argues
that patriarchy is built into the concept of gender itself, and
so nothing short of ending the distinction between female
and male will bring about equality.

Why? Radical feminists begin with what may seem
to be a surprising assertion: The roots of gender are the
biological differences that allow women to bear children.
In other words, the main reason that women have always
been unequal to men is motherhood. From this point of view,
the family is not so much an economic relationship (as
Engels and socialist feminists claim) as it is a form of insti-
tutionalized heterosexuality that limits women’s lives by
demanding that they bear and raise children, which places
women in the home.

But if the problem of patriarchy is rooted in human
biology, what hope is there for change? Until recently,

In Saudi Arabia, only recently have
laws permitted women to operate
motor vehicles. What does women’s
use of the traditional burka suggest
about their social standing? Can you
point to other ways in which Saudi
women are restrained? What about
women in the United States?

Str/Epa/Shutterstock.

Chapter 4 Gender Inequality 127

Like any successful social movement, feminism is controver-
sial. Some critics claim that feminists focus too much attention on
ways in which women remain unequal to men, ignoring the enor-
mous progress women have made and the many opportunities they
now enjoy (Sommers, 2003). Certainly, some men oppose feminism
because this movement wants to take away male power and priv-
ilege. But there are also men—and women, too—who reject the
idea that all differences between the sexes are unjust and oppres-
sive. Some critics claim that differences between men and women,
whether biological or cultural, provide useful ways to organize social
life (this was the view, noted earlier, of Talcott Parsons). Others
suggest that even though women can earn income, their choice to
remain at home makes a crucial contribution to the well-being of
their children. Still others argue that feminism has wrongly sought
to deny any differences between women and men; by contrast,
we need to recognize the special strengths of women and build on
them (Popenoe, 1993a; Ehrenreich, 1999; Slaughter, 2012).

Feminism is currently experiencing a renewal in the United
States. In part, this rising energy and purpose are a response to
the election of Donald Trump, who is widely viewed as no friend
of feminism. On the first day after Trump’s inauguration, more than
1 million women marched in Washington, D.C., and in hundreds of
other cities across the United States and around the world, as an
act of resistance and a show of determination to not lose many of
the hard-won gains women have made in recent decades. In 2018,
the marches were repeated with an eye toward increasing voter
registration ahead of the fall midterm elections.

The current movement also represents the breaking of silence
about sexual harassment, which has been expressed in the #MeToo
and #TimesUp campaigns on social media. Although many of the
women who launched these movements are well known, they

speak for millions more who perform lower-paying work and
are at even higher risk for harassment and assault
(Gilbert, 2017; Keneally, 2017; Langone, 2018). The

next chapter (“Sexuality and Inequality”) extends the
discussion of sexual harassment.

CHECK YOUR LEARNING What asser-
tions serve as the foundations of feminism?
How does liberal feminism differ from so-

cialist feminism and radical feminism? What
contributions are made by multicultural fem-

inism and global feminism?

norms, including those that currently discourage mastur-
bation, homosexuality, and sex outside marriage.

In the end, we can only imagine what a gender-free
society would be like. But for many feminists, that is
exactly the point. Whether or not one agrees with this view,
radical feminism helps us see how deeply gender is woven
into all aspects of our everyday lives. With greater under-
standing comes greater choice.

Multicultural and Global Feminism In recent years,
feminism has developed further to take account of the
diversity of women around the world. Multicultural and
global feminism asks that we recognize the common sub-
ordination of all women but also acknowledge the social
differences among women within U.S. society and also
the cultural differences among women throughout the
world (Collins, 2000; hooks, 2000; Tong, 2009).

Multicultural feminism is informed by insights
gained from intersection theory, described earlier in this
chapter. Women share the common experience of oppres-
sion in relation to men, but women also have various
racial and ethnic identities, just as they have differing
class positions. It is important for feminism to recognize
that social stratification involves various combinations
of gender, race, ethnicity, and class that interact with one
another.

Global feminism adds still another
dimension of difference: Women live
throughout the world in nations sep-
arated by a system of global strat-
ification. Women living within the
United States, for example, experi-
ence subordination to men but also
enjoy the privileges provided by liv-
ing in a high-income nation. The life
chances and everyday experiences of
women living in low-income nations
of the world, by contrast, are shaped
by both gender inequality and a dis-
advantaged position in the global
economic system.

EVALUATE

Because feminism has become a power-
ful social movement throughout the United
States, it is a major force in sociology. The con-
tributions of feminism lie in showing how gender
affects almost every aspect of our lives and also
in bringing about change toward greater equality of
women and men. The more recent development of
multicultural feminism and global feminism also helps
us appreciate not only the experiences common to
all women but also the extensive diversity of women
in the United States and around the world.

Feminism has always had an uneasy relation-
ship to motherhood because, historically, bear-
ing and raising children has been a barrier to

social equality for women. Liberal feminists claim
women should have children by choice. For socialist

feminists, women may bear children by choice, but
societies should provide for collective child care.
Radical feminists seek even greater change, exploring
ways that technology can be used to replace conven-
tional reproduction in the process of eliminating the
concept of gender.Tetiana Mandziuk/Shutterstock.

128 Chapter 4 Gender Inequality

A second important issue for conservatives involves
child care. Now that most mothers have joined fathers in
the workplace, who’s minding the kids? Evidence sug-
gests that today’s children are getting less—some people
say much too little—attention from adults. In an age of
two-career couples, home life is often the interaction of
weary women and men with little time and energy left for
their children. No one doubts that most parents do the best
they can to raise their daughters and sons, but conserva-
tives see in the popular statement that people should share
a little “quality time” with the kids an apology for fathers
and mothers who do too little parenting. This retreat from
parenting may be why, after 1960, important measures of
well-being among children—including rates of poverty,
arrest, and even suicide—trended up (Popenoe, 1993a;
Blankenhorn, 1995; U.S. Census Bureau, 2017).

Although most conservatives support women in the
workplace and also in positions of political leadership,
most conservatives would also like to see government pol-
icies that would strengthen traditional families. Sometimes
what that means, according to conservatives, is gov-
ernment should not do for people what they and family
members ought to do for themselves. Conservatives typi-
cally support policies, such as tax benefits that encourage
people to marry, that will raise the importance of families
in our national life. In addition, conservatives encourage
all women and men to make their parents, partners, and
children the highest priority. In sum, conservatives claim
that the choices people make about how to live should be
guided by what is best for the entire family.

Liberals: The Pursuit of Equality
Liberals point out that at the time of the Declaration of
Independence, the U.S. political system did not even
define women (or African Americans and many other
minorities) as full human beings. In a 2006 speech, Barack
Obama (who was then a U.S. senator) reported meeting
a 105-year-old African American woman who was born
before women had the right to vote. When this woman was
a child, no people of color expected to see one of their own
in the U.S. Senate, never mind as president of the United
States. Liberals speak out in favor of the steady, if slow,
progress this country has made to expand the rights and
opportunities available to women and to other minorities.

But liberals claim that, in this effort, there is still
much work to do and there is always the danger that his-
toric gains will be lost. As this chapter has shown, in the
United States, most low-income jobs are filled by women.
In addition, almost a century after women gained the right
to vote, only a small share of our national political leaders
are women—23.7 percent of House and Senate members
in 2019. Looking at such numbers, liberals conclude that

In the end, of course, the view one takes of feminism—
or of any issue related to gender—is a matter of values and
politics. We now explore how politics shapes what peo-
ple define as the social problems and solutions related to
gender.

POLITICS AND GENDER

Constructing Problems
and Defining Solutions
4.6 Analyze gender inequality from various positions

on the political spectrum.

According to the Declaration of Independence, “All men
are created equal.” If we take this statement to mean that
all people should be equal, we would have to define gen-
der inequality as a problem. However, most historians
claim that our founding fathers did not intend to include
women in this statement. Remember that, at the time, all
of our country’s political leaders were men, and women
had no political voice. Not surprisingly, the issue of gender
inequality has sparked controversy ever since, and peo-
ple’s views of this issue vary according to their political
positions.

Conservatives: The Value of Families
Although conservatives are cautious about change in gen-
der roles, most accept and support the wider social role of
today’s women. Only people who hold views on the far
right would claim that women’s lives should be limited to
the home. Such a position represents only a small percent-
age of people in the United States but, estimates suggest,
about 30 percent of men (and almost the same share of
women) around the world (Farber, 2017).

Most conservatives realize that today’s families
depend on the income of both wives and husbands, and
many applaud the fact that an increasing number of leaders
in both the Democratic and Republican parties are women.

But many conservatives see the historical trend
toward gender equality as contributing to the problem of
weaker families. In this view, many conservatives agree
with Talcott Parsons, whose structural-functional theory
described gender as a system of complementary roles
that encourages men and women to depend on each other
and to join together as they share a household. Beginning
in the 1960s, as women attended college and entered the
labor force in record numbers, the divorce rate went up,
more people began living alone, and a rising share of chil-
dren were born to unwed parents (see Chapter 13, “Family
Life”).

Chapter 4 Gender Inequality 129

simply because they are performed mostly by women.
For example, laundry workers who wash clothes (typi-
cally women) are paid less than the laundry truck drivers
(mostly men) who transport the laundry, showing that our
culture attaches less value to work done mostly by women
than to work done mostly by men even when both types of
work require about the same level of schooling, skill, and
effort.

To counter this form of institutionalized discrimina-
tion, some liberals support a policy of comparable worth, by
which women and men would receive the same pay not
just for doing the same work but also for doing different
work that has the same value. In other words, supporters
of a comparable worth policy claim that it is possible to
measure the worth of different jobs in objective terms, and
they note that women currently earn about 25 percent less
than men for work of equal value. Although courts have
debated this policy, the United States—unlike Great Britain
and Australia—has no comparable worth laws (England,
1992; Huffman, Velasco, & Bielby, 1996; England, Hermsen,
& Cotter, 2000).

Liberals claim that all these efforts at increasing gen-
der equality have the support of a majority of U.S. adults.
Indeed, survey data show that most U.S. adults are com-
mitted, in principle, to equal rights for women and men
(Smith et al., 2017).

The Radical Left: Change the System
Most people who support feminism identify with its liberal
form, seeking greater gender equality within the bounds
of our current social institutions. But others believe more
basic change is needed to move U.S. society toward gender

equality.
For some people, the target of basic change is

the family. For example, Judith Stacey (1990:269–70)
states, “‘The family’ is not ‘here to stay.’

Nor should we wish it were. On the
contrary, I believe that all demo-
cratic people, whatever their kin-

ship preferences, should work to
hasten its demise.” The reason,
Stacey explains, is that families

patriarchy is alive and well in the United States and gender
inequality remains a serious social problem.

Liberals disagree with the conservative claim that
the trend toward gender equality has weakened families.
First, as liberals see it, conservatives have a nostalgic—and
distorted—view of some golden age of family life built
around visions drawn from the 1950s. Although television
shows such as Leave It to Beaver celebrated the stay-at-home
moms of that era, should we conclude that most women
would choose to live that way? Would most women prefer
to marry young and have children, or would they prefer
to attend college and gain work experience before making
choices about having a family? Furthermore, liberals view
changes in families over recent decades not as families in
decline but reflecting the reality that most families need two
working adults to make ends meet.

Liberals claim that theirs is the true pro-family posi-
tion because they seek government support for the kinds
of families that actually exist today. One pressing need
is affordable child care. Liberals support the expansion
of child care programs by both employers and govern-
ment so that women can have the same career opportu-
nities as men. Similarly, liberals have fought to preserve
the Affordable Care Act and are making efforts to expand
health care coverage to all people as a strategy to benefit
families.

Second, liberals believe that, just as more women have
entered the labor force, men must take greater responsibil-
ity for managing the home and caring for children. Liberals
respond to conservative claims that working women
neglect their children by suggesting that working men
do more parenting—and also perform their fair share of
housework.

Third, liberals place a high priority on policies that
will raise the earning power of women. As they see
it, raising the minimum wage to $10 or, better, $15 an
hour and enforcing laws to eliminate workplace dis-
crimination against women are both part of the
solution. As the testimony of countless women
tells us, the fight against sexual harass-
ment in the workplace is just beginning.
In addition, liberals support affirma-
tive action (see Chapter 3, “Racial
and Ethnic Inequality”) as an
effective strategy to increase
the presence of women in
workplace settings, such
as executive positions, that
have excluded them in the
past.

In addition, the U.S.
economy has long provided
lower pay for some jobs

Conservatives argue that strong
families and effective parenting
depend on at least one parent
spending much of the day in
the home with young children.
Liberals counter that most women
want the chance to pursue careers
just as men do. In your opinion,
how should men and women
share the responsibilities of work
and parenting?Iofoto/Fotolia.

130 Chapter 4 Gender Inequality

transported forward in time to our society today. No
doubt, she would be startled to learn that most women
now work for pay, that women not only vote (at a slightly
higher rate than men) but also hold elected office, and that
women actually outnumber men on the nation’s college
campuses.

Our visitor from the past, knowing nothing about
electricity, would expect most women to spend all day
doing housework by hand. She would recall an average
woman having about five children, a far cry from the one
or two common now. She would be amazed to learn about
birth control technology and would be pleased to learn
that, in the United States today, very few women die in
childbirth, which was a common occurrence in her day. In
fact, women are taller and healthier and live decades lon-
ger than in the past, and (unlike in 1850) women actually
outlive men.

In light of such changes, perhaps our visitor from the
past would be surprised to find that the social standing of
women is still controversial. One reason that gender con-
tinues to be debated is that our expectations have changed.
Almost no one today accepts the centuries-old belief that
women should remain in the home. Yet in many important
ways, women are still unequal to men.

Where are we likely to be 150 years from now? Will
the controversies surrounding gender inequality continue?

perpetuate traditional forms of inequality based on class,
race, and gender.

Most left-radicals, however, target the current eco-
nomic and political systems. The socialist feminist solution
to gender inequality, described earlier, seeks to transform
the capitalist economy into a socialist system. This trans-
formation would end the trend toward economic inequal-
ity and even eradicate class distinctions. At the same time,
by encouraging people to perform domestic work collec-
tively, men and women would become more equal and
patriarchy would collapse.

Radical feminism offers the even more far-reaching
vision of the elimination of gender itself. From this point of
view, complete equality between women and men depends
on liberating women from their historical task of childbear-
ing and nurturing children. New reproductive technology
makes such a vision theoretically possible.

The Left to Right table summarizes what we learn by
applying the three political perspectives to the issue of
gender inequality.

Going On from Here
Imagine a woman living in the United States back in
1850—when the feminist movement was just beginning—
stepping into a time machine and suddenly being

LEFT TO RIGHT

The Politics of Gender Inequality

Radical-Left View Liberal View Conservative View

What is the problem? Serious gender inequality is built
into not only the institutions of U.S.
society but also the biological task of
childbearing.

Although U.S. society has made
strides toward greater equality for
women and men, women still have
lower social standing.

The trend toward gender equality has
boosted incomes but has weakened
families and reduced the importance
of parenting in people’s eyes.

What is the solution? There must be fundamental change
in economic, political, and family
institutions in order to eliminate
gender inequality. Some suggest that
reproduction, too, must change to
liberate women from childbearing.

Government programs (including
passing the ERA) can combat prejudice
and discrimination; affirmative action
will open more doors to women; a
comparable worth policy would reduce
income differences between women
and men.

Cultural values should encourage
people to strengthen their commitment
to marriage partners and children.

JOIN THE DEBATE

1. Can you identify areas on which the three political perspectives agree?
What are they?

2. Do you think that a century from now, gender inequality will be greater,
about the same, or less than it is now? Why?

3. Which of the three political analyses of gender inequality included here
do you find most convincing? Explain.

Chapter 4 Gender Inequality 131

with men. Keep in mind that the goal of gender equality has
not yet been realized anywhere in the world.

At the same time, the worldwide trend is unmistak-
able and probably unstoppable. Even acknowledging the
gaps that remain and the conservative leanings of the cur-
rent administration, the bigger picture shows that women
are moving closer to equality with men, and all indications
are that the trend will continue.

Almost certainly, the answer is yes. The gender gap in pay
has remained much the same for decades. It continues partly
because many people continue to assume that men and
women should do different types of work. In addition, many
people think that family responsibilities fall more to women
than to men. To the extent that such beliefs remain with us, it
seems likely that women will not do exactly the same work as
men, earn as much as men, or share domestic chores equally

132

Is gender inequality in college athletics a problem? If so,
what is the solution?
Men have a dominant position in athletics at colleges and universities, just as they do in pro-
fessional sports. Back in 1972, Title IX of the Civil Rights Act tried to eliminate gender inequal-
ity in college athletics by mandating equal opportunity for both sexes in sports programs. But
more than forty years later, gender equality seems a distant goal—if it is a goal at all. Look at the
accompanying photos, which show the reality of inequality, and suggest ways to define a solution.

Defining Solutions
CHAPTER 4 Gender Inequality

When the University of Alabama’s football team takes to the field, the event can draw more than
100,000 spectators. If you are more conservative, you probably think people should freely attend the
events they wish, and if men’s sports generate more interest and revenue, so be it. But how do you
square this view with the demands of Title IX?

D
an

ny
H

oo
ks

/A
la

m
y

S
to

ck
P

ho
to

.

Chapter 4 Gender Inequality 133

Here, two Division I
women’s  basketball teams
face off in a mostly empty
arena. If you are more
liberal, this is clear evidence
of the heart of the problem—
men get the attention (and
their sports get the money)
and women are left to be
cheerleaders or to play in
front of small crowds. Title
IX may be a good start, but
more needs to be done.
What additional steps would
you suggest as a solution to
this gender inequality?

Hint: Across the country, an undisputed fact is that the biggest crowds are drawn to male

athletics, especially football and basketball. These are also the sports that earn the most

revenues and pay the highest salaries to coaches. For example, the Alabama football program

had revenue of almost $108 million in 2017, and the head football coach earned more than

$11 million a year. The more to the left you are politically, the more you would support

government regulation that would make athletic opportunities the same for women and men.

The more to the right you are, the greater your support for allowing the market, that is, people

themselves, to decide what sports they wish to spend money to see; you would also point out

that allowing universities to make tens of millions of dollars from men’s basketball and football

provides money to pay for other “nonrevenue” sports, both women’s and men’s.

Getting Involved: Applications and Exercises
1. Walk around your campus with an eye toward gen-

der. Identify spaces (buildings, rooms, activities) that
are dominated by one sex or the other—that is, plac-
es that display the presence of mostly men or mostly
women. Which are the men’s and women’s spaces?
Which sex controls more space?

2. Visit a magazine rack in your local bookstore or super-
market. Examine popular magazines that you think
are aimed at women. What images are on the covers?
What topics—stories, features, and photographs—do
popular magazines consider to be “women’s issues”?

3. Identify an organization in your community or cam-
pus that deals with violence against women and visit
its office. What are its goals, and what strategies does
it employ to achieve them?

4. Does popular music contain bias against women?
Listen to at least two kinds of music (rap, hip-hop,
rock, country, and so on), and see what messages
about the life goals and relative power of females and
males you can find.

Manny Millan/Sports
Ilustrated/Getty Images.

134

What Is Gender?

4.1 Define important concepts including gender
and gender stratification.

Sex is the biological distinction between females and males.

• Sex is determined at the moment when an embryo is
conceived.

Gender refers to the personal traits and life chances that a
society links to each sex, creating the cultural concepts of
“feminine” and “masculine.”

• Gender is a dimension of social stratification.

Patriarchy is a social pattern in which males dominate
females.

• Almost all societies display some degree of patriarchy.

• Gender stereotypes are a form of prejudice against
women.

• Sexism is the assertion that one sex is less worthy than
or even innately inferior to the other.

Making the Grade
CHAPTER 4 Gender Inequality

gender (p. 104) the personal traits and life chances that a society
links to being female or male
sex (p. 104) the biological distinction between females and males
gender stratification (p. 104) the unequal distribution of wealth,
power, and privilege between men and women
patriarchy (p. 104) a social pattern in which males dominate females
matriarchy (p. 104) a social pattern in which females dominate
males
sexism (p. 106) the belief that one sex is innately superior to the other

Gender and Social Institutions

4.2 Analyze the importance of gender in the operation
of major social institutions.

Family
• In poor countries the world over, parents value sons

more than daughters, encouraging selective abortions
and, in some cases, female infanticide.

• In the United States, gender shapes people’s experi-
ence of marriage, which is often an unequal partner-
ship that favors the man.

Education
• Gender stereotyping steers women away from fields

of study (such as engineering and physics) considered
masculine.

• Despite policies against gender bias in college sports,
men’s sports receive more funding and public attention.

Mass Media
• Historically, television and film have cast women

mainly in supporting roles.

• Advertising reinforces gender stereotypes by pitch-
ing certain products (such as household cleansers) to
women and others (such as cars and banking services)
to men.

Politics
• Women hold 23.3% of seats in the world’s 190 parliaments.

• In the United States, until 1920 women were barred
from voting in national elections.

• In 2016, Hillary Clinton was the first woman to be
nominated for the presidency by a major party.

Religion
• Traditional religions allow only men to be leaders.

• Many religious writings teach women to submit to the
social dominance of men.

Military
• Until recently, the claim that women are not as strong

as men has allowed the military to bar women from
certain assignments.

• Women represent 16.4% of the U.S. armed forces.

• Sexual assault directed at women is a serious problem
in today’s military.

Work
• Many people still think of certain jobs as “women’s

work” and others as “men’s work.”

• Although gender discrimination in the workplace is
illegal, officials investigate thousands of discrimina-
tion complaints each year.

Gender Stratification

4.3 Examine how gender stratification is found
in  everyday life.

Income is an important dimension of gender inequality.

• In the United States, women working full time earn
81% as much as men.

• Child-rearing duties often cause women to fall behind
their male colleagues in career advancement.

Housework is still performed mainly by women, despite
the fact that women have been entering the labor force in
record numbers in recent years.

Violence against women is a serious problem throughout
the world. U.S. government agencies receive more than 1

Chapter 4 Gender Inequality 135

feminism (p. 123) a political movement that seeks the social
equality of women and men

million reports of nonsexual assaults and 272,000 reports of
sexual assaults against women each year.

Sexual harassment came to be defined as a social prob-
lem in the 1980s; about 50% of women surveyed claim
to have received unwanted sexual attention in the work-
place.

Our ideas about sexuality and beauty have consequences
for giving men power over women. Reproduction is
also an important issue because controlling reproduction
gives women the freedom to work outside the home.

glass ceiling (p. 116) subtle discrimination that effectively
blocks the movement of women into the highest positions in
organizations
sexual harassment (p. 118) unwanted comments, gestures, or
physical contact of a sexual nature

Theories of Gender Inequality

4.4 Apply sociological theory to the issue of gender
inequality.

Structural-Functional Analysis:
Gender and Complementarity

Structural-functional theory views gender in terms of
complementary roles linking men and women, building
families, and integrating society as a whole.

• In traditional societies, women bear children and are
primarily responsible for the household; men link the
family to the larger world by their participation in the
workforce.

• With greater control over reproduction, modern societ-
ies have less gender specialization.

Symbolic-Interaction Analysis:
Gender in Everyday Life

Symbolic-interaction theory highlights how gender influ-
ences people’s actions in everyday situations.

• Gender involves social power: Our society gives men
greater freedom in personal behavior and allows them
to use more space than women do.

• Language also reflects the social dominance of males.

Social-Conflict Analysis: Gender and Inequality

Social-conflict theory sees gender as a dimension of social
inequality, with men having greater wealth, power, and
privileges than women.

• Friedrich Engels linked gender stratification to men’s
desire to pass on property to their offspring.

• The rise of capitalism fostered patriarchy by forcing
men to work long hours in factories; the burden of
housework and child rearing fell to women.

intersection theory (p. 123) analysis of how race, class, and
gender interact, often creating multiple disadvantages for some
categories of people

POLITICS AND GENDER
Constructing Problems
and Defining Solutions

4.6 Analyze gender inequality from various positions
on the political spectrum.

Conservatives: The Value of Families

Conservatives place great value on the traditional family.

• Conservatives see the trend toward gender equal-
ity as a problem. They say it weakens families and
reduces the importance of parenting, and claim that
children may suffer when both parents work outside
the home.

Liberals: The Pursuit of Equality

Liberals object to gender inequality that limits the earning
power of women and discourages women from assuming
leadership positions.

• Liberals look to government to raise the social standing
of women by putting an end to gender discrimination
and by increasing women’s economic opportunities
and providing affordable child care.

The Radical Left: Change the System

Radicals on the left claim that gender stratification is
deeply rooted in present social institutions.

• Radicals on the left believe that gender equality re-
quires basic change in the economy, political system,
and family life. Socialism would allow women and
men to work collectively for the benefit of everyone.

Feminism

4.5 Identify the foundations of feminism and
distinguish three types of feminism.

Feminism is an important social-conflict theory in sociology.

• Liberal feminism seeks reform within existing institu-
tional arrangements.

• Socialist feminism links gender equality to broader class
revolution, following Marxist principles.

• Radical feminism calls for the elimination of gender it-
self, partly through the use of new reproductive tech-
nologies to liberate women from childbearing.

136

5.4 Discuss several current issues and
controversies involving sexuality.

5.5 Apply sociological theory to issues
involving sexuality.

5.6 Analyze issues involving sexuality from
various positions on the political spectrum.

5.1 Explain why sex is both a biological and
cultural issue.

5.2 Discuss changes in sexual attitudes and
practices over the history of the United
States.

5.3 Describe four sexual orientations.

Chapter 5

Sexuality and Inequality

Learning Objectives

Constructing the Problem

How can sex be the cause of social
problems?

For most of our country’s history,
people didn’t talk much about sex,
and most people considered any sex-
ual activity other than intercourse by
married partners to be wrong.

R
ob

er
ts

H
. A

rm
st

ro
ng

/C
la

ss
ic

S
to

ck
/A

la
m

y
S

to
ck

P
ho

to
.

R
aw

pi
xe

l . c
om

/S
hu

tte
rs

to
ck

Does the law decide how people
can or cannot express their
sexuality?

Yes. For example, during most of our
country’s history, homosexual activity
was against the law; only in 2015
did same-sex couples gain the right
to marry everywhere in the United
States.

W
av

eb
re

ak
M

ed
ia

L
td

/1
23

R
F.

How is sexuality a dimension of inequality?

Research shows that gay, lesbian, and
transgender people are subjected to both
prejudice and discrimination.

Chapter 5 Sexuality and Inequality 137

Tracking the Trends

As this century began, a handful of cities and towns across the United States
had enacted local laws to allow same-sex couples to marry, but these marriages
were later declared to be illegal. Then, in 2004, Massachusetts became the first
state to permit same-sex marriage. In the decade that followed, thirty-seven
states (and Washington, D.C.) enacted same-sex marriage laws. In June 2015,
the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in its landmark 5-to-4 decision Obergefell et al. v.
Hodges, that same-sex couples everywhere in the country have a constitutional
right to marry. This transformation surely represents one of the most remarkable
social shifts in this nation’s history.

2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014

Massachusetts
Vermont

Iowa
New Hampshire

New York

Delaware
Rhode Island

Minnesota
California

Hawaii
New Mexico
New Jersey

Connecticut Washington, DC
Illinois
Oregon

Pennsylvania
Indiana

Oklahoma
Utah

Virginia
Wisconsin
Colorado
Nevada
Alaska
Idaho

West Virginia
North Carolina

Arizona
Wyoming

Kansas
South Carolina

Montana

2015

Washington
Maryland

Maine

Florida
Alabama

With Supreme
Court ruling,

June 26, 2015:
North Dakota
South Dakota

Nebraska
Texas

Missouri
Arkansas
Louisiana
Michigan

Ohio
Kentucky

Tennessee
Mississippi

Georgia

SOURCE: National Conference of State Legislatures (2015).

138 Chapter 5 Sexuality and Inequality

Chapter Overview
What is sex, and how is sex both a biological and a cultural issue? This chapter exam-
ines sexual attitudes and practices over the course of our nation’s history, highlighting
the sexual revolution and society’s increasing support of gay and transgender rights.
It also explores controversial sexuality-related issues such as pornography and pros-
titution and the issues of reproductive rights and abortion. You will learn about the
major types of sexually transmitted diseases and behaviors that put people at risk.
Throughout the chapter, you will see ways in which sexuality is a dimension of social
inequality. You will carry out theoretical analysis of sexuality and inequality and also
learn how “problems” and “solutions” involving sexuality reflect people’s political
attitudes.

recalls that six or seven hands went up, some of them
raised tentatively.

Then the speaker requested that all the women close
their eyes. Then he repeated the request. After a moment,
the leader asked everyone to keep their hands where they
were but to open their eyes. People turned around in
amazement to realize that almost every woman had a hand
in the air (Gilbert, 2017).

Sophie Gilbert, an activist working to oppose sexual ha-
rassment in the workplace, recalls an experience she had
some years ago. Gilbert was a decade out of college, work-
ing as a waitress, and she decided to sign up for a weekend
seminar to help young women advance their careers.
Standing in front of a room containing about 200 women,
the speaker asked that any woman who had been sexually
or physically abused while at work raise her hand. Gilbert

izusek/E+/Getty Images.

Chapter 5 Sexuality and Inequality 139

contains twenty-three matching chromosomes, which are
the biological codes that determine a child’s sex and other
physical traits.

Sex: A Cultural Issue
Sociologists point out that sexual attitudes and practices,
like all behavior, vary from one cultural setting to another.
In addition, some of the most important cultural norms
guide the selection of sexual partners. These norms involve
age (some societies accept sexual activity on the part of
children, although others define such behavior as a seri-
ous problem), marital status (some societies rigidly restrict
sexual activity to married partners, but others are more
permissive), and sex of partner (societies differ dramatically
in their attitudes toward sexuality involving people of the
same sex). In the United States, historical norms for sexual
activity have favored adult, female–male married partners
engaging in vaginal intercourse.

In reality, of course, much sexual behavior in our
society does not conform to this model. People have
sex within and without marriage, sexual relationships
involve both other-sex and same-sex partners, and sex-
ual activity includes anal as well as vaginal intercourse,
oral-genital contact, and masturbation alone or with a
partner. In addition, some people by choice or by circum-
stance engage in little or no sexual activity (Laumann
et al., 1994).

There are two important lessons from Gilbert’s experi-
ence. First, sexual harassment and other abuse are far more
widespread than most people have been willing to realize.
Second, because males have dominated the workplace,
females have never been comfortable calling out men on
their behavior.

In the final months of 2017, this silence was shattered
with the publication in the New York Times of numerous
claims of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein, a
powerful Hollywood film producer. Then women across
the country—first by the thousands and soon by the tens
of thousands—began speaking out on social media say-
ing that they, too, had experienced sexual abuse. The
#MeToo movement was underway, bringing about a na-
tional reckoning over this long-standing social epidemic.
By the beginning of 2018, 100 million women had joined
voices saying they had been victimized and demanding
change.

This chapter will investigate a number of problems re-
lated to sexuality, including sexual orientation, sexual ha-
rassment, and other issues involving inequality. We begin
with a look at some basic facts about sex itself.

What Is Sex?
5.1 Explain why sex is both a biological and cultural

issue.

Sex is a concept that reflects both human biology and
human culture. To better understand the meaning of sex,
we need to examine sex from a biological and a cultural
perspective.

Sex: A Biological Issue
Sex is the biological distinction between females and males.
Biologically speaking, humanity is divided into two sexes,
which have different reproductive organs—the genitals—
that are also called primary sex characteristics. In addition,
when people of each sex mature, they typically display
other distinctive physical traits, which are called secondary
sex characteristics. For example, females develop breasts
and wider hips, and males develop more muscle and body
hair. As we shall see later in this chapter, sexual identity
has become more complex as the transgender movement
has challenged the idea that all people can be described
using a binary distinction between female and male.

The term sex also refers to activity that leads to sexual
gratification and possibly reproduction. From a biological
point of view, reproduction is vital to the survival of a
species. Among humans, a female provides an ovum, or
egg, which is fertilized by a male’s sperm through sex-
ual intercourse to form a fertilized embryo. The embryo

Before the sexual revolution, U.S. society tolerated little in the way
of public displays of sexuality, as suggested by this visiting day for
World War II military personnel.

B
et

tm
an

n/
G

et
ty

Im
ag

es
.

140 Chapter 5 Sexuality and Inequality

Gradually, advances in technology (including the
rubber condom, first produced in the 1850s) led to more
control over reproduction. This greater control encour-
aged societies to allow more choice about sexual practices.
Other factors also increased the level of sexual freedom.
After  1920, the migration from farms and small towns
across the United States to industrial cities meant that mil-
lions of young men and women lived and worked together
beyond the control of parents. The result was an unprec-
edented level of sexual freedom, which is one of the rea-
sons that this decade came to be known as the Roaring
Twenties.

Researchers, too, played a part in this trend toward
greater sexual freedom. After World War II, landmark
research involving sexuality was carried out by Alfred
Kinsey (1894–1956). To many people, it was remarkable
that researchers were investigating sex, which had never
even been widely discussed in public. The Defining

Sexual Attitudes
in the United States
5.2 Discuss changes in sexual attitudes and practices

over the history of the United States.

Attitudes and behavior involving sex have changed over
the course of this nation’s history. During the colonial era,
European settlers had no effective means of birth control.
Therefore, most communities had strict norms allowing
sex only by married couples for the purpose of reproduc-
tion. For example, the New England Puritans condemned
sex outside marriage and considered any sex (including
masturbation) not intended to result in conception to be
sinful. Without strict rules to control people’s behavior,
they believed, the ever-present temptation of sex would
lead to an excessive focus on sex, sex outside of marriage,
unwanted pregnancy, and prostitution.

CONSTRUCTING SOCIAL PROBLEMS

A Defining Moment
Alfred Kinsey: Talking Openly About Sex
Alfred Kinsey did something no researcher before had dared
to do: He asked people to talk about their sex lives. From the
point of view of today’s “tell-all” society, that may not seem very
controversial. But in Kinsey’s day—some seventy-five years
ago—sex was a topic that was off limits for polite conversation
and certainly not something people talked about with strangers.

In 1942, Kinsey founded the Institute for Sex Research at
Indiana University. In the years that followed, he and a dozen
research assistants interviewed more than 11,000 men and
women about their sexual behavior. His first book, Sexual
Behavior in the Human Male (Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948),
despite pages of dry, scientific analysis, sold more than a half-
million copies. A second volume, Sexual Behavior in the Human
Female (Kinsey et al., 1953), attracted even more readers.
Apparently, many people in the United States had a greater
interest in sex than they were willing to admit.

Newspapers reported some of Kinsey’s findings, especially
his discovery that men and women in the United States were
far less conventional about sex than most people imagined. A
large share of Kinsey’s subjects confessed to breaking cultural
taboos of that time: Almost half of female subjects reported
having sexual intercourse before they married, and one-third
of married men said that they had been sexually unfaithful to
their wives.

Looking back, we can now see flaws in the way Kinsey
conducted his research. In his eagerness to find people willing

to talk about sexual experiences, Kinsey ended up using far too
many college students. He also found willing participants among
people in prison. At the same time, he almost completely ignored
older men and women and those who were rural and poor. As a
result, Kinsey’s subjects almost certainly were not representative
of the U.S. population. But despite this shortcoming, this
research marked a defining moment in our nation’s history.
Kinsey made a difference by bringing sex out of the closet.

Reports of Alfred Kinsey’s survey of human sexual practices
caused a sensation in the news media in the mid-1900s.

H
ul

to
n

A
rc

hi
ve

/G
et

ty
Im

ag
es

.

Chapter 5 Sexuality and Inequality 141

0%

10%

20%

30%

40%

50%

60%

70%

80%

90%

Pe
rc

en
ta

ge
R

ep
o

rt
in

g
T

w
o

o
r

M
o

re
S

ex
u

al
P

ar
tn

er
s

by
A

ge
2

0

100%

Born 1933 to 1942

Reached age 20
before sexual revolution

Reached age 20
after sexual revolution

Born 1953 to 1962

16%

62%

56%

48%

Men Women

Diversity Snapshot
Figure 5–1 The Sexual Revolution: Moving Away

from the Double Standard

Among people who came of age before the sexual revolution (shown
on the left), a smaller share had two or more sexual partners by age
twenty compared with people who came of age after the sexual
revolution (shown on the right). The difference is especially marked
among women.

SOURCE: Laumann et al. (1994).

Moment feature explains how Kinsey helped change a
whole nation’s way of thinking.

The Sexual Revolution
The first wave of sexual freedom during the Roaring Twenties
and the groundbreaking Kinsey research of the 1940s and
1950s set the stage for even greater change. By the late 1960s,
young people created a culture of freedom summed up in
the cry “Sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll!” This cultural move-
ment came to be called the “sexual revolution.”

Again, technology played a part, as 1960 saw the
introduction of the birth control pill. Unlike condoms and
diaphragms, both of which had to be applied at the time
of intercourse, the pill could be taken at a woman’s con-
venience, allowing her to more readily make a decision
to engage in sex. This ease, combined with the pill’s high
effectiveness, ended the historical connection between het-
erosexual intercourse and pregnancy.

Figure 5–1 confirms that, by the 1960s, the U.S. popu-
lation became more free and easy about sex. Among those
born between 1933 and 1942, which is to say people who
reached the age of twenty before 1962, 56 percent of men and
16 percent of women reported having had two or more sex-
ual partners before age twenty. But a single generation later,
among people born between 1953 and 1962, 62 percent of
men and 48 percent of women reported two or more sexual
partners by age twenty (Laumann et al., 1994:198).

The Sexual Revolution and Feminism Notice in
Figure 5–1 how the gender gap in sexual activity became
smaller among people who came of age during the sexual
revolution. This trend suggests that greater sexual free-
dom also meant moving away from the traditional double
standard by which men claimed some sexual freedom but
women were expected to delay sex until they were married
and, after that, forever to remain sexually faithful to their
husbands.

During the 1960s, however, women organized to
oppose their long-standing domination by men. In fact,
many feminists placed attitudes about sexuality at the
heart of male domination. Kate Millet (1970) summed up
the argument, saying that sex is really about power: To the
extent that men view women as mere sexual creatures
and women accept this definition of themselves, men will
dominate women. The word “sexism” entered our national
vocabulary, thereby constructing a new social problem.

Feminists challenged other dimensions of male power
as well, demanding equal pay for equal work, condemning
pornography, and taking a stand against sexual violence,
including rape and incest. In addition, women sought
access to contraception (which in the 1960s was still illegal
in some states) and abortion (which was illegal everywhere

in the United States until 1973). In short, out of the sexual
revolution emerged the claim that only one person has the
right to control a woman’s body—the woman herself.

The Sexual Counterrevolution
Liberals typically supported feminism and the movement
to increase sexual freedom. By the 1970s, however, a con-
servative sexual counterrevolution was under way calling
for a return to traditional “family values.” As conservatives
saw it, the 1960s had been a decade in which U.S. society
had come apart, and what the country needed now was
to rebuild families and for people to take more personal
responsibility for their behavior.

The conservative reaction to the sexual revolution may
have slowed the movement toward sexual freedom, but it
did not turn back the clock. Most people who have come of
age since the 1960s still hold to the liberal idea that individu-
als should decide matters of sexual behavior for themselves.
Most also choose to be sexually active. Today, 58 percent of
young people (59 percent of men and 57 percent of women)
report having sexual intercourse by their senior year in high
school (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017).

142 Chapter 5 Sexuality and Inequality

older women, which was approved by the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) in 2015. Critics claim that a pill to
boost sexual desire in women is another effort by pharma-
ceutical companies to manufacture a social problem and
provide an expensive solution (Fox, 2015; Kirkey, 2017).

Sexual Orientation
5.3 Describe four sexual orientations.

Sexual orientation refers to a person’s romantic and emotional
attraction to another person. Based on sexual orientation, peo-
ple are drawn to partners of the same sex, the other sex, or
both sexes, or they feel no interest in any sexual partners.

The most common sexual orientation, approved by
cultures the world over, is heterosexuality (hetero is Greek,
meaning “other”), sexual attraction to someone of the other
sex. In all societies, a small but significant share of people
favor homosexuality (homo is Greek for “same”), which is
sexual attraction to someone of the same sex.

Most people think of heterosexuality and homosex-
uality as opposites with most people clearly in one cate-
gory or the other. But as Kinsey discovered, many people
have varying degrees of both sexual orientations. Also,
keep in mind that sexual attraction is not the same as sex-
ual behavior. Although most people have experienced some
attraction to a person of the same sex, for example, only a
small share of people have actually engaged in homosex-
ual behavior. The fact that many people do not act on this
attraction may reflect the operation of cultural norms that
discourage same-sex relationships.

The fact that sexual orientation is often not clear-cut
calls attention to the existence of bisexuality, sexual attrac-
tion to people of both sexes. Some bisexual people experi-
ence equal attraction to females and males; others have
a stronger attraction to people of one sex than the other.
There are also many cases of bisexuals who experience
attraction to both sexes but limit their sexual behavior to
partners of one sex.

Finally, not everyone experiences sexual attraction at
all. Asexuality is the absence of sexual attraction to people of
either sex. Throughout the population, the extent of asexu-
ality increases gradually as people get older.

We now take a closer look at issues related to homo-
sexuality.

Homosexuality
Homosexuality is a natural sexual orientation found
among a small share of a population. To the extent that het-
erosexuality is the cultural norm, homosexual people—gay
men and lesbians—are pushed to the margins of society.
Some people may even view homosexuality as a social
problem because it conflicts with their moral standards.

The Continuing Sexual Revolution:
Older People
During the past decade, the men and women who began
the sexual revolution of the 1960s—people who are now
in their sixties and seventies—are carrying that movement
forward as they enter old age. An old stereotype portrays
older people as past their years of sexual activity. For many
older men in their eighties and nineties, there is some
truth to this claim. “Trying to have sex at ninety,” quipped
comedian George Burns, “is like trying to shoot pool with
a rope.” But just as the birth control pill helped the 1960s
generation spark a sexual revolution, another pill—this
time in the form of Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis—offers the
promise that the baby boomers will keep love alive as they
grow old. These drugs that treat male “erectile dysfunc-
tion,” or ED for short, help otherwise healthy men achieve
and maintain an erection, allowing more people to con-
tinue sexual activity in later life.

With or without drugs, research confirms, most older
people say they are satisfied with their sex lives, and most
remain sexually active well into old age. Among those
between the ages of sixty-five and seventy-four, 85 percent of
men and 62 percent of women report currently having a sex-
ual partner. Among people between the ages of seventy-five
and eighty-five, 78 percent of men and 41  percent of women
said the same (Waite et al., 2009; Galinsky, McClintock,
& Waite, 2014). The difference between the sexes reflects
women’s greater life expectancy—most older men live with
a spouse, and most older women do not.

The pharmaceutical industry has a financial interest in
defining erectile dysfunction as a new problem. Its adver-
tising may make increasing numbers of older men think
they should be having more sex than they are, pushing up
the sale of drugs to treat erectile dysfunction. Doctors now
write millions of these prescriptions each year, which send
more than $4 billion to the drug companies.

The good news is that ED pills have extended sexual
activity for millions of older people. Having more sex, say
the researchers, means partners have a closer relationship
and look and act in a more youthful way. At the same time,
the “blue pill” is not a magic wand that allows a seventy-five-
year-old male to perform sexually like he did in his twenties.
In addition, like any other drug, these pills can cause side
effects, which include headaches and even persistent and
painful erections. Then, too, it is natural for the level of hor-
mones that encourage sexual activity to decline as people
move into old age. This fact raises the question as to what
extent the medical and pharmaceutical establishment should
manipulate human biology in the interest of higher profits.

But given the popularity of these male drugs, many
older men seem quite happy with their effects. Given the
amount of money being made, there is little surprise in
the fact that drug companies created a “little pink pill” for

Chapter 5 Sexuality and Inequality 143

Although most do not act on it, many do: Kinsey estimated
that one-third of men and one-eighth of women engaged in
one or more homosexual acts at some point in their lives,
typically in adolescence. In addition, Kinsey estimated that
4 percent of men and 2 percent of women were exclusively
homosexual in their orientation, meaning they had only
same-sex desires, engaged in only same-sex sexual activity,
and thought of themselves as gay men or lesbians.

In the 1990s, research by Edward Laumann and his
colleagues (1994) provided a more precise estimate of
homosexuality. Laumann concluded that 2.8 percent of
men and 1.4 percent of women (about 6 million people)
defined themselves as homosexual or bisexual. Figure 5–2
presents recent government data showing that about 6 per-
cent of men and 17 percent of women between the ages
of eighteen and forty-four reported engaging in at least
some homosexual activity. At the same time, just 1.9 per-
cent of men and 1.3 percent of women defined themselves
as homosexual (Copen, Chandra, & Febo-Vasquez, 2016).

What Determines Sexual Orientation?
The causes of sexual orientation include many factors, such
as genetics, brain structure, hormones, life experiences,
and culture. Researchers point to both culture and biology
as shaping sexual orientation.

Cultural Factors In earlier periods of history, most societies
paid little attention to sexual orientation. The French social
philosopher Michel Foucault (1990) notes that societies did

This attitude has long been a cause of prejudice and dis-
crimination directed toward gay men and lesbians.

In the 1970s, about three-fourths of U.S. adults claimed
that same-sex relations were wrong. In recent decades, there
has been a dramatic increase in the acceptance of homosex-
uality. By 2016, the share of adults saying that homosexual-
ity is wrong had declined to 40 percent (Smith et al., 2017).

Today, reflecting the increasing acceptance of homo-
sexuality, all states and the federal government have laws
banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. In 2011,
the U.S. military ended its historical ban on same-sex behav-
ior. In 2015, as shown in the Tracking the Trends figure at the
beginning of this chapter, the U.S. Supreme Court declared
(the case of Obergefell v. Hodges) that same-sex couples have
a constitutional right to marry. At the same time, other forms
of discrimination continue with the support of law, includ-
ing, for example, the fact that many religious organizations
refuse to ordain gay men or lesbians as leaders.

Prejudice against gay men and lesbians also exists
on college campuses. In one study, 70 percent of gay and
lesbian students (73 percent of women and 65 percent of
men) reported experiencing harassment based on their sex-
uality (Cantor et al., 2015).

Hostility toward gay men and lesbians can spill beyond
prejudice to fuel violence. The FBI (U.S. Department of
Justice, 2017) records some 1,200 hate crimes against gays
and lesbians each year, and the true number is certainly far
higher. Many of these violent acts—including assault and
even murder—are directed at people simply because of
their sexual orientation. According to the National Coalition
of Anti-Violence Programs (2017), more than 1,000 lesbians
and gay men in the United States reported being victims
of anti-gay violence in 2016. The true number of people
victimized by hate crimes is unknown but certainly much
greater than the number reported. What is more precisely
known is that during 2016, seventy-seven homicides across
the United States were defined as hate crimes based on sex-
uality (this includes forty-nine lives lost during the mass
shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida).

People of color are especially likely to experience hate-
ful action due to sexual orientation. Of all people who
self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and ques-
tioning (LGBTQ), people of color were more than twice as
likely as whites to report physical violence directed against
them (National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 2017).

The Extent of Homosexuality What share of the U.S.
population has a homosexual orientation? This question is
difficult to answer because, as we have already explained,
sexual orientation is not a matter of people falling into neat
categories. The extent of homosexuality, therefore, depends
on exactly how you define the term.

Alfred Kinsey (1948) claimed that most women
and men experience at least some same-sex attraction.

5.5%

0%

4%

8%

12%

16%

2%

6%

10%

14%

18%

20%

Reporting any
homosexual

activity

Claiming a
bisexual
identity

Claiming a
homosexual

identity

R
es

p
o

n
d

en
ts

b
et

w
ee

n
A

ge
s

18
a

n
d

4
4 17.4%

6.2%

2.0% 1.9%
1.3%

Men Women

Diversity Snapshot
Figure 5–2 Measuring Homosexual Orientation

How one defines homosexual orientation affects the number of
people considered to be homosexual.

SOURCE: Copen, Chandra, & Febo-Vasquez, (2016).

144 Chapter 5 Sexuality and Inequality

woman, doing women’s work, even marrying another man.
Among the Sambia of New Guinea, most boys engage in a
sexual ritual in which they perform oral sex on older men
with the idea that ingesting semen will enhance the young
men’s masculinity. In central Mexico, a region where reli-
gious traditions recognize gods who are both female and
male, the local culture recognizes not only females and
males but also muxes (pronounced “MOO-shays”) as a
third sexual category. Muxes are men who dress and act as
women, some only on ritual occasions, some all the time.
The Diversity: Race, Class, & Gender box takes a closer
look. Such diversity of sexual expression around the world
shows that sexual orientation has much to do with society

not identify homosexuals as a specific category of the popu-
lation until the late nineteenth century. This is not to say that
people in earlier times did not have same-sex experiences;
societies simply took little note of it. But once societ-
ies socially constructed the categories of “heterosexual”
and “homosexual,” people who had homosexual experi-
ences began to be set apart as “different” and also became
targets of prejudice and discrimination. This historical pat-
tern provides evidence that sexual inequality and how we
express and experience our sexuality are shaped by culture.

Sexual behavior also varies from culture to culture.
Among the Chukchee Eskimo of Siberia, a man may take
on the role known as a berdache, dressing and acting like a

DIVERSITY: RACE, CLASS, & GENDER

Female, Male, or Something Else? The Muxes of Mexico
Alejandro Taledo, age sixteen, stands on a street corner in
Juchitán, a small town in the state of Oaxaca, which lies in the
middle of southern Mexico. Called Alex by her friends, she has
finished a day of selling flowers with her mother and the pair now
waits for the bus that will take them home for dinner.

As you already may have noticed, Alejandro is commonly
a boy’s name. In fact, this young Mexican was born a boy. But
several years ago, Alex decided that she felt she was a girl, and
she decided to live true to her own feelings.

In this community, she is not alone. Juchitán and the
surrounding region are known not only for beautiful pottery and
delicious food but also for the large number of gays, lesbians,
and transgender people who live there. This fact may surprise
people who think of Mexico as a traditional country, especially
when it comes to gender and sexuality. But, as with the United
States, Mexico has become more tolerant in matters of gender
identity and sexual orientation, and in 2015 same-sex marriage
became legal everywhere in Mexico (in some locations,
requiring a court order). Nowhere is tolerance for various sexual
orientations as strong and widespread as it is in the region
around Juchitán. In this area of Mexico, transgender people are
called muxes (pronounced MOO-shays), which is based on the
Spanish word mujer meaning “woman.” This means that the local
culture does not divide people into only the neat categories of
“man” and “woman” but recognizes a third gender category as
well. Some muxes wear women’s clothing and act almost entirely
in a feminine way. Others adopt a feminine look and behavior
only on special occasions. One of the most popular events is
a celebration that takes place every year in November and is
attended by more than 2,000 muxes and their families. A highlight
of the event is a competition won by the “transvestite of the year.”

Anthropologists tell us that the acceptance of transgender
people in central Mexico has its roots in the culture that existed
there centuries before the arrival of the Spanish. At that time,
a person with ambiguous gender was viewed as especially
wise and talented. The region’s history includes accounts of

Aztec priests and Mayan gods who cross-dressed and were
considered to be both male and female. In the sixteenth century,
Spanish colonists and especially Catholic clergy attempted
to suppress local gender tolerance. But an unusually high
acceptance of transgender identities continues to this day in
Juchitán, a region where many people speak only their ancient
Zapotec language rather than Spanish.

And so it is in Juchitán that muxes are respected,
accepted, and, on special occasions, even celebrated. Muxes
are successful in business and take leadership roles in the
church and in politics. Most important, they are loved by friends
and family alike. Alejandro lives with her parents and five siblings
and helps her mother both at home and working on the street
selling flowers. Her father, Victor Martinez Jimenez, is a local
construction worker who speaks only Zapotec. He still refers
to Alex as “him” but says, “It was God who sent him, and
why would I reject him? He helps his mother very much. Why
would I get mad?” Alex’s mother, Rosa Taledo Vicente, adds,
“Every family considers it a blessing to have one gay son. While
daughters marry and leave home, a muxe cares for his parents
in their old age” (Gave, 2005; Lacey, 2008; Rosenberg, 2008;
Archibold & Villegas, 2015; Kahn, 2015).

What Do You Think?
1. To what extent do you think that U.S. society is tolerant

of people wishing to combine male and female dress and
qualities? Explain.

2. Muxes are people who are born males. How do you think
the local people in this story would feel about women who
want to dress and act like men? Do you think such people
would enjoy the same degree of tolerance and support?
Why or why not?

3. California recently became the first state to allow people to
declare their sexual identity as female, male, or “other.” Do
you support such a policy? Explain your opinion.

Chapter 5 Sexuality and Inequality 145

sexual orientation than African American people are for their skin
color, and both categories of people are entitled to the same legal
protection from discrimination (Herek, 1991; Schmalz, 1993).

CHECK YOUR LEARNING What have researchers learned
about the origin of sexual orientation? Why does it matter whether
we consider sexual orientation to be mostly biological or simply a
personal choice about how to live?

Homosexuality, Inequality,
and Public Policy
Back in 1960, homosexuality was widely viewed as wrong
almost everywhere in the United States. Some people con-
sidered this sexual orientation to be a sickness; even the
American Psychiatric Association included homosexual-
ity in its list of mental disorders until 1973. Discrimination
against gay men and lesbians was common, and compa-
nies, schools, government agencies, and the military rou-
tinely refused to hire people thought to be homosexual. Just
as important, it was common for employees found to be gay
or lesbian to be fired for no reason other than their sexual
orientation. In this hostile environment, it is easy to see why
most lesbians and gay men stayed in the closet, keeping
their homosexuality secret from all but a few close friends.

Since then, as we have explained, attitudes toward
homosexuality have become more accepting. As shown in
Figure 5–3, twenty years ago the percentage of U.S. adults
who claimed that homosexuality is wrong was about 65 per-
cent; by 2016, this share had dropped to 40.4 percent (Smith
et al., 2017). Such surveys also show that a majority of people
now believe that homosexual people should have the same
job opportunities and basic civil rights as everyone else.

itself (Herdt, 1993; Blackwood & Wieringa, 1999; Gave,
2005; Lacey, 2008; Rosenberg, 2008).

Finally, a few sociological studies claim that patterns
of socialization may shape sexual orientation. One study
of opposite-sex twins found a higher likelihood of homo-
sexual orientation among people raised in a gender-neutral
environment than among those raised according to conven-
tional ideas of masculine and feminine behavior (Bearman
& Brückner, 2002).

Biological Factors Culture may play a part in the way soci-
eties think about sexuality, but on the individual level, most
evidence points to the conclusion that sexual orientation is
rooted in human biology. Like being left- or right-handed,
sexual orientation appears to be largely fixed at birth.

The neurobiologist Simon LeVay (1993) claims that the
key to sexual orientation is found in the brain. LeVay stud-
ied the brains of homosexual men and heterosexual men
and noted a difference in the hypothalamus, an organ of the
brain that regulates the body’s hormone levels. Biologists
have established that hormone levels—especially testos-
terone levels in men—affect sexual orientation. They claim
that small differences in the brain can play a large part in
establishing a person’s sexual orientation (Grady, 1992).

Genes, as well as hormones, may affect sexual orien-
tation. In a study of forty-four pairs of brothers, all homo-
sexual, researchers found that thirty-three of the pairs had
a unique feature on the X chromosome (one of the genetic
traits affecting human sexuality). Some researchers think
this might be evidence of a “gay gene,” noting that the gay
brothers had a remarkably high number of gay male rela-
tives on their mother’s side, the source of the X chromosome
(Hamer & Copeland, 1994). To date, however, no research
has conclusively identified this gene. The most recent stud-
ies, called “epigenetic” research, suggest that sexual orien-
tation is caused by genes and also “epi- factors” that affect
how genes are activated and how fetuses respond to hor-
mones in the womb. The focus here is still on biology with
the added claim that the fetal environment may affect how
the biological process unfolds (Blue, 2012; Rice, Friberg, &
Gavrilets, 2012).

EVALUATE

Scientists continue to investigate the social and biological causes of
sexual orientation. So far, the evidence supports the conclusion that
biology plays a major part in how people experience sexual attrac-
tion. But there is still much to learn. Although biology may be the
key to sexual orientation, keep in mind that the process may not be
exactly the same for everyone and that many people do not fit into a
simple category as being gay or straight.

Why does it matter whether sexual orientation is caused by
society or human biology? The reason is that, if sexual orientation is
biological, it is as much beyond our control as the color of our skin.
Therefore, gay men and lesbians are no more responsible for their

30%

40%

50%

60%

70%

80%

90%

19
76

19
80

19
84

19
88

19
92

19
96

20
00

20
04

20
08

20
12

20
16

P
er

ce
n

ta
g

e
R

es
p

o
n

d
in

g

A
lw

ay
s

w
ro

n
g


o

r
“A

lm
o

st
a

lw
ay

s
w

ro
n

g

1987
79.0%

2016
40.4%

Figure 5–3 U.S. Attitudes toward Homosexual
Relations, 1973–2016

In the United States, public acceptance of homosexual relations has
increased dramatically since the early 1990s. In 2010, for the first
time, a minority of U.S. adults characterized homosexual relations as
wrong and the share has since fallen to 40 percent.
SOURCE: Smith et al. (2017).

Survey Question: “What about sexual relations between two
adults of the same sex—do you think it is always wrong, almost
always wrong, wrong only sometimes, or not wrong at all?

146 Chapter 5 Sexuality and Inequality

tried to construct a problem and define the solution in a
particular way. This movement claimed that the prob-
lem is not homosexuality but the prejudice and discrimi-
nation directed against gay people. The solution, then, is
public acceptance of homosexuality on equal terms with
heterosexuality.

Back in the 1960s, despite the considerable risks of
being identified as homosexual, more and more lesbians
and gay men stepped forward demanding acceptance.
A turning point occurred on June 27, 1969, when police
raided the Stonewall Inn, a bar in New York’s Greenwich
Village. At that time, New York City police made a practice
of raiding gay bars, arresting patrons, and recording their
names, which often ended up being listed in the newspa-
per. This policy effectively discouraged most people from
visiting gay clubs. In this case, however, the patrons of the
Stonewall Inn openly resisted police harassment. Joined in
the street by other people, these men and women battled
the police for the better part of two days. This event, which
came to be known as the Stonewall Riot, marked a new
militancy in the gay rights movement.

Within a few years of the Stonewall Riot, the gay
rights movement began using the term homophobia to
describe an aversion to or hostility toward people thought to
be gay, lesbian, or bisexual. This concept reinforced the idea
that the problem was not homosexuality but people who
were intolerant of that sexual orientation. The success of
the gay rights movement is evident in the increasingly
widespread condemnation of homophobia as a social
problem today.

The Transgender Movement
The increasing acceptance of gay, lesbian, and bisexual
people extends to a larger category of people who challenge
conventional gender patterns. Transgender is a broad con-
cept that refers to appearing or behaving in ways that challenge
conventional cultural norms concerning how females and males
should look and act. People in the transgender community
may not conform to conventional ideas about sexual iden-
tity or behavior. Rather, disregarding rigid and conven-
tional ideas about femininity or masculinity, transgender
people combine feminine and masculine traits or perhaps
embody something entirely different. Sexual identity can
also change over time. For this reason, transgender people
may describe themselves as “gender fluid.”

From another angle, the transgender movement chal-
lenges the idea that sexuality and gender identity must be
expressed in the traditional binary terms of female and
male. One dimension of this movement involves language.
How will language evolve away from the use of pro-
nouns “he” and “she,” which label people in conventional,
binary terms, toward recognizing a wide range of gender

The growing acceptance of homosexuality appears to
have been on the minds of the justices of the U.S. Supreme
Court when in 2003 they handed down a landmark ruling
(Lawrence et al. v. Texas) that struck down the Texas law ban-
ning sodomy (“unnatural sex, especially anal intercourse”)
between same-sex couples. This ruling invalidated similar
laws that had been on the books in other states.

Same-Sex Marriage
In 2004, the supreme court of Massachusetts ruled that
gay men and lesbians had the right to marry. Gay rights
advocates were elated by the Massachusetts decision and,
between then and mid-2015, a total of thirty-seven states
enacted laws providing for same-sex marriage. Then, in
June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in the
case of Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex couples have the
right to marry everywhere in the United States.

Around the world, twenty-six countries (Argentina,
Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark,
England, Finland, France, Germany, Green land, Iceland,
Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, New
Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Scotland, South Africa, Spain,
Sweden, the United States, and Uruguay) legally recog-
nize same-sex marriage. In Mexico, same-sex marriage is
legal in some jurisdictions. Another seventeen nations rec-
ognize same-sex partnerships or civil unions that extend
to gays and lesbians many of the legal rights that married
people have. Together, same-sex couples have some legal
recognition in just 22 percent of the world’s countries (Pew
Research Center, 2017).

In the United States, attitudes about same-sex mar-
riage reflect people’s position on the political spectrum. In
general, liberals support extending the right to marry to
same-sex couples everywhere. Many conservatives oppose
this trend, claiming that the traditional idea of marriage in
the United States has always been a union between a man
and a woman (Thomas, 2003; Pew Research Center, 2016).
But some people who hold conservative “family values”
do favor gay marriage—as well as the right of gay couples
to adopt children. These conservatives claim that, if fam-
ilies are good for people and good for society, we should
encourage families for everyone, whether straight or gay
(Sullivan, 2002).

The Gay Rights Movement
The increasing acceptance of gay men and lesbians reflects
decades of struggle by people who have supported the
gay rights movement. The first gay rights group formed
in Chicago in 1924, but the movement did not gain wide-
spread public attention until the 1950s (Chauncey, 1994).
Like all social movements, people in support of gay rights

Chapter 5 Sexuality and Inequality 147

Sexuality, Inequality,
and Controversy
5.4 Discuss several current issues and controversies

involving sexuality.

Sexuality lies at the heart of a number of controversies
in the United States today. Here we take a look at six key
issues: pornography, sexual harassment, prostitution, teen
pregnancy, abortion, and sexually transmitted diseases.

The transgender movement is gaining importance in
the United States and other high-income nations. On the
most basic level, this movement seeks freedom for indi-
viduals to express their sexuality not according to conven-
tional norms about femininity and masculinity but in ways
that feel authentic to them.

Pornography
Pornography refers to words or images intended to cause
sexual arousal. This definition sounds clear enough, but
people disagree about precisely what is and what is not
pornographic. For one thing, there are various types of
sexual material. Erotica includes the artistic portrayal of
nudity, although not necessarily sexual activity. Then there
is soft-core pornography, which shows or describes nudity
and suggests sexual activity. Finally, hard-core pornography
contains explicit descriptions or images of sexual acts.

Laws regulate certain types of pornography, includ-
ing the depiction of sexual violence and sexual acts with
children. More broadly, pornography becomes illegal
when it crosses the line into obscenity, meaning the content

identities? The traditionally plural “they” is
now widely used as a non-gender-specific
singular pronoun. But while using “they” in
this way avoids causing discomfort to those
who do not wish to be labeled in conven-
tional terms, its use implies an undefined
sexual identity, which may be uncomfortable
to other people (Hess, 2016).

Another dimension of the transgen-
der movement involves restrooms. Public
restrooms, which became widespread in
U.S. cities in the decades after the Civil War,
divided humanity into the categories of
“female” and “male” just as they commonly
divided humanity into categories of “colored”
and “white.” The transgender movement
raises questions about whether people should
be free to choose whatever facilities they wish
and also whether our society should label
these facilities in a binary fashion using the
conventional labels of “women” and “men.”

In 2016, state officials in North Carolina ignited a
national controversy when they passed a law requiring
people to use the bathroom corresponding to the sex that
was assigned at their birth, rather than their current gender
identity. The Obama administration weighed in supporting
transgender rights by claiming that the North Carolina law
violates federal Title IX civil rights standards. In 2017, in
response to widespread criticism, North Carolina repealed
the bathroom law (Hanna, 2017).

Transgender is not the same as sexual orientation.
Transgender people may think of themselves as gay or les-
bian, heterosexual, bisexual, or asexual; as some combina-
tion of these categories; or in entirely different terms.

Everyone, of course, breaks from conventional gender
patterns in some way or another. However, according to
research, about 0.6 percent of adults in the United States
(1.4 million people) have a transgender identity (Flores
et al., 2016). The common shorthand LGBTQ refers to peo-
ple who claim to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or
questioning their own sexuality. Of course, because some-
one may identify with more than one of these categories,
no exact number can be placed on the size of the total
LGBTQ population. But estimates suggest that roughly 4.1
percent of the U.S. adult population—or about 10 million
people—are within the LGBTQ community (Gates, 2017).

Transgender people commonly experience prejudice
and are at risk for social rejection and other forms of dis-
crimination as well as physical or sexual violence. Surveys
find that many transgender people who experience prej-
udice and discrimination also contend with emotional
damage that, in serious cases, prompts them to consider or
attempt suicide (Hass, Rodgers, & Herman, 2014).

The transgender movement is gaining importance in the United States and other
high-income nations. On the most basic level, this movement seeks freedom for
individuals to express their sexuality not according to conventional norms about
femininity and masculinity but in ways that feel authentic to them.

Ze
fr

og
/A

la
m

y
S

to
ck

P
ho

to
.

148 Chapter 5 Sexuality and Inequality

porn cannot experience sexual arousal with real-life part-
ners at all. In practice, then, viewing ever more graphic
pornography may well desensitize some people to what
we might describe as conventional sex (Luscombe, 2016).

There are other concerns. Like many forms of stimu-
lating behavior, viewing pornography carries some risk of
addiction. There is little hard evidence on this point, but few
doubt that some young men seek online sexual arousal mul-
tiple times every day. Some researchers point out that the
vast majority of people who report viewing pornography
appear to experience no ill effects. But a whole generation of
young people is now growing up with a level of online sex-
ual experience that would have been unimaginable to older
generations, and some warning signs are clear. In addition, as
computer technology advances, computer-based virtual real-
ity is likely to make sexual simulations ever more powerful.

Pornography and Violence An additional issue is the
possible link between pornography and violence. This
concern predates the rise of internet pornography. Back
in 1985, President Ronald Reagan created the Attorney
General’s Commission on Pornography (commonly called
the Meese Commission, after Attorney General Edwin
Meese) to investigate how people react to sexually explicit
materials, including films and magazines. The commis-
sion (1986) concluded that, in addition to causing sexual
arousal and increasing people’s sexual activity, exposure to
pornography encourages men to be aggressive and more
accepting of violent acts such as rape. The commission
added that pornography involving children encourages
some men to desire sexual activity with them (a crime
called pedophilia).

Critics challenged some of these conclusions, but the
Meese report found widespread acceptance among con-
servatives, who typically view sexually explicit material
as encouraging immoral behavior. In addition, the report
gained the support of some liberals including feminists
who make the claim that rape is little more than “pornog-
raphy put into practice.”

Other researchers, however, counter that the evidence
does not support a causal connection between pornogra-
phy and rape. Over the past twenty years, the expansion
of the internet has dramatically increased public access
to pornography. Yet, these analysts point out, the level of
rape has not increased; in fact, it has fallen substantially
(Chapman, 2007).

Is Pornography a Social Problem? Although many
people have strong feelings about pornography, this ques-
tion is not easily answered. Certainly, there is widespread
opposition to sexual material involving children under
age eighteen. Almost everywhere, police enforce federal
and state laws against creating, selling, or possessing child
pornography.

is offensive to a community’s sense of public decency.
Of course, defining the concept of obscenity is also chal-
lenging. Recognizing that what is acceptable in one place
may be objectionable in another, the U.S. Supreme Court
allows communities to ban sexual material as obscene if it
violates “community standards of decency” and lacks any
“redeeming social value.” Even within a local community,
however, people are likely to disagree about what the stan-
dards of decency should be.

Sexually explicit material is readily available in the
United States. Most people are familiar with sexually
explicit magazines, books, movies, and videos. In the inter-
net age, hundreds of thousands of websites with close to 1
billion individual pages portray every imaginable type of
sexual behavior. PornHub, just a single website, reported
28.5 billion visits to its site in 2017, which comes to 81 mil-
lion visits a day. Analysts estimate that about one-third of
all internet content is pornography (Castleman, 2016).

Pornography is certainly a case of “naked capitalism.”
Reports suggest that the pornography industry generates
$10 to $15 billion annually, which is more revenue than all
sports franchises combined and exceeds the economic out-
put of some countries (The Economist, 2015).

What Are the Effects of Viewing Pornography? There
is little doubt that the consumption of pornography is
high. Survey data suggest that more than half of U.S. men
between the ages of eighteen and thirty and about 20 per-
cent of women in this age range view pornography at least
weekly. The share is even higher among young people in
their teens and early twenties. One study found that, by the
beginning of college, 90 percent of males and one-third of
females reported viewing pornography (Orenstein, 2016).

As porn has become a significant part of popular cul-
ture, researchers are beginning to study its effects. Few
people claim that pornography is beneficial, although
some point out that pornography serves as a source of
information about sexuality that can inform young people
who are curious as they begin to engage in sexual activity.

However, an increasing number of people are voicing
concern, suggesting that a steady diet of pornography—
especially by young men—can be harmful. Researchers are
focusing on young people because evidence suggests that
viewing pornography can distort sexual development. That
is, young people whose brains have not fully developed
learn patterns of sexual responsiveness from pornography.
Young people learn to respond to the sexual stimulation
they experience, which is to say, the ever-changing images
they see on a screen. When pornography trains the brain
in this way, people may have difficulty responding sexu-
ally to real-life partners. In some cases, researchers report,
people interacting with sexual partners are able to achieve
sexual arousal only by engaging in fantasy about pornog-
raphy. In a few cases, evidence suggests, heavy users of

Chapter 5 Sexuality and Inequality 149

is now being done on this topic, and early evidence sug-
gests both that pornography may be linked to issues of
sexual development and that it commonly presents sex in
ways that are demeaning to women. And political oppo-
sition to pornography exists across the political spectrum,
with conservatives who object to sexually explicit material
on moral grounds and liberals and feminists objecting to
pornography as harmful to women.

Sexual Harassment
Sexual violence ranges from verbal abuse to rape and other
examples of forced sex that harms both women and men.
Especially in the last few years, U.S. society has started to
face up to one widespread type of sexual violence: sexual
harassment, unwanted comments, gestures, requests, or phys-
ical contact of a sexual nature. According to the U.S. Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission, simple teasing or
offhand comments do not necessarily rise to the level of
sexual harassment. But any behavior is illegal harassment
if it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or
when it results in an adverse employment decision.

In the television show Mad Men, men working in a
1960s’ advertising agency routinely make advances toward
the women working as secretaries, suggesting how com-
mon what we now call sexual harassment was fifty years
ago. In fact, sexual harassment was so much a part of our
way of life that few men or women recognized this behav-
ior as a social problem and fewer still spoke up about it.

During the 1960s, the situation gradually changed
along with the rise of the women’s movement. In 1964,
Congress passed the Civil Rights Act with the goal of
protecting African Americans from employment discrim-
ination. The women’s movement successfully lobbied to
extend the bill to defend people disadvantaged not just by
their race but also by their sex. Thus, Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the terms, condi-
tions, and privileges of employment on the basis of race
and also sex. In 1972, Congress declared that schools, col-
leges, and universities follow this law by passing Title IX
of the Higher Education Amendment, which banned sex
discrimination in institutions receiving federal funds.

Congress then created the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to investigate com-
plaints of racial or sexual discrimination. In 1976, in the
case of Williams v. Saxbe, a federal court recognized sexual
harassment as one type of illegal sex discrimination. This
decision was an early step in the process of bringing sexual
harassment to public attention.

Another important event that took place in 1991 was the
confirmation hearing of Clarence Thomas, who was nomi-
nated by President George H. W. Bush to take a seat on the U.S.
Supreme Court. During the confirmation hearing, Anita Hill,
a lawyer and professor of law who had once worked for Judge

There is also widespread concern about the effects of
pornography. Both conservatives and liberals object to por-
nography although, as we now explain, they do so for dif-
ferent reasons.

Conservatives: The Moral Issue Conservatives view sex
as a moral issue, emphasizing the importance of personal
responsibility and public decency. Therefore, they define
pornography as a social problem because it threatens con-
ventional morality. Pornography encourages lustful behav-
ior, they say, which can become an addiction, as it has for
millions of people in the United States. In addition, conser-
vatives claim that pornography weakens a society’s moral
fabric and may threaten the stability of marriage and fam-
ily. Studies show, for example, that men who are sexually
unfaithful to their partners are twice as likely as those who
are faithful to view pornography (Castleman, 2016).

Less than half of adults in the United States (43 per-
cent of men and 25 percent of women) say that they find
pornography to be morally acceptable. The share that
finds pornography acceptable varies according to age.
Greater acceptance is found among young adults (eigh-
teen to thirty-four years old), 49 percent of whom find
pornography to be acceptable. Among middle-aged adults
(thirty-five to fifty-four years old), that share drops to 28
percent. Among older adults (fifty-five and older), just
19 percent find pornography morally acceptable (Gallup,
2013, 2015). Most people, then, appear to share a conserva-
tive concern about pornography on moral grounds.

Liberals: Issues of Freedom and Power Liberals are di-
vided over whether to define pornography as a social
problem. Some liberals believe that what material people
choose to read or view is their own business. Therefore,
without claiming that pornography is necessarily good,
liberals defend freedom of expression and support peo-
ple’s right to privacy. Liberals who share this position have
been outspoken in defending government funding of the
arts, including artists whose work may attract criticism as
violating community standards of decency.

Although some liberals defend pornography on the
grounds of protecting free speech, a growing number of
feminist liberals object to pornography as demeaning to
women. They see pornography as a power issue, noting
that sexually explicit material typically depicts women as
the playthings of men (MacKinnon, 2001). Recent research
supports this concern. Analysis of randomly selected
scenes in readily available pornography showed that about
90 percent of these sexual situations contained some male
physical aggression directed at women. Just as important,
women responded to this aggression either without com-
plaint or by expressing pleasure (Orenstein, 2016).

In sum, a majority of U.S. adults have concerns about
sexually explicit material, and there is increasing discus-
sion of the consequences of viewing pornography. Research

150 Chapter 5 Sexuality and Inequality

47 percent of all students claimed that they were victims
of sexual harassment at some point while enrolled at their
university. Among undergraduate women, 61 percent
made this claim. Finally, 75 percent of LGBTQ students
reported having experienced sexual harassment. The most
common type of harassment was inappropriate comments
about a person’s body, appearance, or sexuality followed
by sexual remarks or comments including offensive stories
or jokes (Cantor et al., 2015).

Who Harasses Whom? A Court Case The fact that men
hold  most positions of power in U.S. society helps explain
why 83 percent of known cases of harassment involve men
harassing women (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission, 2017). But not all harassment follows this pat-
tern. In Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services (1998), the U.S.
Supreme Court stated that a person can be sexually harassed
by someone of either sex. In the Oncale case, after male co-
workers threatened a married man with rape, he reported the
incident to his supervisor. When the company did not respond
to the report, the man quit his job and filed a lawsuit against
the company. This case shows us that in some circumstances,
men sexually harass other men who do not display what
harassers think of as typical masculine behavior. In this situa-
tion, sexual harassment was a form of control used by men to
force others to conform to gender stereotypes (Lee, 2000).

Must Harassment Harm Victims? Other Court Cases
Does sexual harassment exist only when a victim suffers
clear and obvious harm? In 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court
addressed this question. In one case, Ellerth v. Burlington

Industries, a woman complained that her
supervisor made sexual advances in which
he threatened that he could make her job
easy or difficult, depending on whether she
“loosened up.” Although she resisted his
advances, she did not report the behavior,
and there was no evidence that her career
had been harmed. Soon after, however, she
quit her job and then filed suit, claiming
she was a victim of sexual harassment.

In a second case, Faragher v. City of
Boca Raton, three women who worked as
lifeguards in that Florida city claimed their
supervisors for years had created a hos-
tile workplace environment, engaging in
sexual comments and physical touching.
Their employer, the city of Boca Raton, had
a sexual harassment policy in place, but no
one had informed the women of the pol-
icy. Subsequently, the women filed a law-
suit against the city, charging that they had
been harassed on the job.

Thomas, accused him of sexual harassment— specifically, of
making unwanted sexual comments to her in the course of
their work. Thomas was narrowly confirmed and the contro-
versy made sexual harassment a household term.

In 2017, as described in the chapter-opening story, sex-
ual harassment became a major social problem as a result of
widespread allegations against numerous powerful men—
including producers and actors in Hollywood, journalists in
the media, and political leaders in state government, Congress,
and the White House (Almukhtar, Gold, & Buchanan, 2018).

The EEOC recognizes two types of sexual harass-
ment. The first is quid pro quo (Latin, meaning “one thing
for another”) harassment, in which a person directs sexual
advances or requests for sexual favors to an employee or other
subordinate as a condition of employment or advancement.
In this case, a boss might demand or imply that an employee
is unlikely to receive a promotion unless she agrees to engage
in a sexual relationship. The second type of harassment is
more subtle behavior—including telling sexual jokes, display-
ing nude photos, engaging in unnecessary touching, or offer-
ing compliments on someone’s good looks—that the offender
may not intend to be harassing. But the law is concerned
with not just an offender’s intent but also with the effect of the
behavior. Under the law, any behavior can be considered to
be harassment, regardless of the actor’s intent, if the behavior
has the effect of creating a hostile environment. The point of the
law is to protect people who are trying to do their jobs from
having unwanted sexual attention imposed on them (U.S.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2016).

Sexual harassment also occurs on the campus. Research
carried out in 2015 on twenty-seven campuses found that

Prostitution is another issue that brings together conservatives and liberals. From a
conservative point of view, prostitution violates traditional moral standards. Many liberals,
and especially feminists, object to prostitution as the exploitation of women. Which political
approach is illustrated in this protest against the sex tourism industry in Kiev, Ukraine?

S
er

ge
i S

up
in

sk
y/

A
FP

/G
et

ty
Im

ag
es

.

Chapter 5 Sexuality and Inequality 151

In considering the two cases, the Supreme Court ruled
that employees can be victims of harassment even if they
were not obviously harmed by, say, losing out on a promo-
tion. The Court also stated that employers are responsible
when a supervisor harasses another employee, even if the
company was not aware of the behavior, unless the com-
pany can demonstrate that it had a well-publicized sexual
harassment policy in place and that the employee knew
about the policy but chose not to use it.

Prostitution
The cultural ideal of sex involves physical and emotional
intimacy between two people. Therefore, although it may
well be the “world’s oldest profession,” prostitution, the
selling of sexual services, has always been controversial.
Offering to sell or to buy sexual services is against the law
everywhere in the United States except in parts of rural
Nevada.

Legal or not, prostitution is common. There is no accu-
rate count of the number of people who work as prosti-
tutes in the United States, but in national surveys