Lesson 1: Introduction to Social Inequality and Stratification
This lesson provides you with a general introduction to the hierarchical
differences between people that affect access to resources, how people live and
are treated by others, and how they, in turn, treat others. Several concepts are
discussed that serve as building blocks in the sociological understanding of inequality
and stratification. You will also be introduced to the fact that many types
of inequalities exist in society. Three of the most important are those based on
economic resources, race/ethnicity, and gender. These provide separate hierarchies
that point to the complexity of inequality in any society. Given these (and
other) hierarchies, an individual generally finds that he/she simultaneously belongs
to a number of groups, each of which may be in a different position on the
various hierarchies. For instance, one may be female, white, and middle class.
Such an individual holds a privileged position on two hierarchies and is disadvantaged
on the third. Another individual may be male, black, and working class.
This person belongs to two disadvantaged groups and one privileged group. Take
a moment to review the groups you belong to. Most students find that there are
inconsistencies in their profile; they are neither totally privileged nor completely
disadvantaged, given the composition of their group membership.
Finally, the readings draw attention to the fact that stratification systems change.
They are not static. They differ from society to society and, within any one society,
change over time. This emphasizes the importance of structure and process
in sociology. No society is unchanging. We must also remember that even when
the same concept (e.g., caste) is used to describe two different societies, there are
usually important differences in the way the concept is manifested in each. For
instance, a caste system is shaped by the history, culture, and population dynamics
of a specific society.
After completing this lesson, you should be able to accomplish the following:
- delineate the difference between inequality and stratification.
- discuss, with examples, four methods used to maintain inequalities in society.
- know the differences between inequalities based on class, color, and gender.
- define the concepts of sex, gender values, norms, and institutions.
- explain what is meant by slave, caste, estate, and class systems.
- give reasons why sociology is interested in the study of inequality and
Inequality and Stratification
- Chapter 1, pp. 2–19
- Chapter 3, pp. 38–48
- What is meant by structural inequality?
Structural inequality is the patterned inequality arising from the way positions are ranked in
- What is the distinction between inequality and stratification?
When the ranks of positions in a system remain stable over generations, inequality becomes
- How does Rothman define social class, people of color, sex, and gender?
Social classes are composed of people who have similar economic positions in society. Today
the focus is on the type of work people do (occupation) and the amount of resources
(ownership and control of resources) that they command. People of color are those singled out
in society for unequal treatment based on their "race" or ethnicity. Sex and gender denote the
differentiation in society based on biological (sex) and behavioral or attitudinal (gender)
- How do caste systems differ from class systems?
Castes are closed systems of stratification. One is born into a caste and cannot change it by
individual effort. Class systems allow for movement up and down the hierarchy. A child may
end up in a higher or lower class than his/her parents. Class systems vary in degrees of
- What are the four mechanisms used in society to ensure inequality?
You will need to define exclusion, disabling, decoupling, and scarcity to answer this question.
When you can accomplish the learning objectives for this lesson, you should begin work on the essays and identifications described below. You may use any assigned readings, your notes, and other course-related materials to complete this assignment.
1 essay, 4 identifications
50 points total
This progress evaluation covers the material presented in Lesson 1. Your answers must demonstrate
critical thinking, the ability to understand and synthesize the material in the assignments, and the
skill to apply knowledge to everyday life.
Section A: 1 essay, 30 points
Answer one of the following two questions. Your essay should be approximately two pages in
length (typed, double spaced).
- Consider the mechanisms that are used in society to ensure social inequality. Using two of
these, describe how they might affect the life of a 25-year-old Hispanic lesbian working in an
- Write an essay showing the types of values that would be required in America today to reduce
social inequality based on color.
Section B: 4 identifications, 5 points each, 20 points total
Define each of the following concepts. Each definition should be one or two sentences.
- elite class
- social status
- caste systems
- concentration of industry
You are about to turn in your first written assignment for this course. Make sure you can answer "yes" to the following questions before you upload your work:
- Is the work my own? Learning is up to you, and the MU community takes academic integrity seriously.
- Did I credit words or ideas to the people who published or shared them on the Web? Plagiarism is using someone else's words or ideas without crediting or "citing" their work. Students who plagiarize will be penalized depending on their instructor and the situation. Don't be afraid to use sources when you write, just make sure you "give credit where credit is due."
Need help figuring out when you should cite other people's words or ideas? Read about "Avoiding Plagiarism"
from Purdue University or contact Mizzou Online
with questions for your instructor.
Uploads to prepare: 1 (.doc or .rtf format)