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Social Stratification in the United States

SocialStratification in the United States

SocialStratification in the United States

Describethe class structure that exists in the United States

Accordingto Ferguson (2013), social class in America is a contentious issuedue to conflicting definitions, structure, and even disputes over itsvery existence. A class consists of a group of people who are in thesame position in the economic structure. According to research, theUnited States is stratified into classes that make up a socialnetwork depending on educational achievements, income, wealth, oroccupation (Ferguson, 2013). Class involves the many aspects ofpeople’s dynamic lives thus, it can affect people’s health andreligious beliefs. Many Americans acknowledge a simple three-levelmodel of social classes that include upper, middle, and lower group(Ferguson, 2013). Nonetheless, scientists have suggested a morecomplex structure that includes at least six class levels. The senseof class is linked to race, neighborhood, and gender identity. Hence,people are most likely to remain in the same social class that theywere born (Ferguson, 2013).

Theupper class is the top group consisting of approximately threepercent of the United States’ population. These individuals earnhundreds of millions to billions yearly and have significant controlover political institutions and corporations (Ferguson, 2013). Theupper class controls most of America’s private wealth since theyare mainly large business owners, government officials, and topexecutives. This category is divided into upper-upper, whichcomprises of one percent of the country’s population who areearning billions per year (Ferguson, 2013). The upper class alsoconsists of new money category, which includes two percent of peoplemaking millions on a yearly basis. Most people in this group earntheir wealth through well-paying jobs or businesses unlike the otherupper class members who are born in families with a long history ofwealth. However, these people have only been wealthy for one or twogenerations (Ferguson, 2013). The middle class is the largest socialgroup, which generally includes professional in mid-level management.Ferrante (2014) also indicates that these people have the greatestsocial mobility and include college graduates with highly prestigiouswhite-collar jobs. The middle class is divided into upper-middle whoearns more than $76,000 per years and lower-middle who earn between$46,000 and $75,000 (Ferrante, 2014).

Subsequently,the rest of the American population belongs to the lower class, whichincludes individuals who lack the necessary resources to meet theirbasic needs (Keister &amp Southgate, 2011). The working class refersto those individuals working in low-level service because they do nothave college degrees. In most cases, the society tends to segregateand look down on the lower class, especially those who are also inthe minority groups (Ferrante, 2014). This class category consists ofthe upper-lower and lower-lower group. As Ferrante, (2014) indicates,the upper-lower class comprises of working poor who have loweducational level, lack specialized expertise, and mainly work inminimum-wage jobs. Therefore, they have little or no job security asthey can easily be replaced. Finally, the lowest class in the socialhierarchy includes the lower-lower category, which is characterizedby homelessness, unemployment, and extreme poverty. Ferrante (2014)explains that most people in this category have an income that fallsbelow the poverty line

Racialinequalities in the United States

Forthe past decade, Americans have engaged in public conversation aboutracial inequality. Ethnicity is a social construct that is not basedon biological aspects, but it is a significant concept to mostAmericans (Irwin, Miller &amp Sanger-Katz, 2014). American racialdivide is a century-long social problem, which has shaped thecountry’s history. From early American history, people areclassified and categorized on the basis of perceived differences,which are associated with racial identity (Keister &amp Southgate,2011). The people of color have long been considered the minoritiesbecause they have the least power within the stratified socialarrangement (Irwin, Miller &amp Sanger-Katz, 2014). Thus, theseindividuals are subjected to discrimination and prejudice that resultin racial disparity in the country. In the past, the ethnicinequality has manifested itself in violent protests due to policebrutality against the people of color, particularly theAfrican-Americans and Hispanics (Irwin, Miller &amp Sanger-Katz,2014).

Today,Americans still live in a racially unequal society due to income andwealth gaps, which are wider than in any other developed anddemocratic economy (Keister &amp Southgate, 2011). The racialinequality has been attributed to economic and education disparities,which has widened the gap separating the white Americans and thepeople of color. Across the United States, the persons of color fallbehind the whites in the major economic areas including employmentrates and household income (Irwin, Miller &amp Sanger-Katz, 2014).Moreover, the economic trends that have been hard for the Americanshave been exceptionally challenging for the people of color, whichshows the extent of racial inequality in the country (Irwin, Miller &ampSanger-Katz, 2014). Furthermore, ethnic disparities in householdwealth have also increased due to severe economic problems. Forinstance, a 2014 report showed that the average household income forAfrican-American was $35,481 and $42,768 compared to $59,662 for thewhites (Irwin, Miller &amp Sanger-Katz, 2014). The racial divideextends to household wealth, which is closely linked to home equity.In 2015, 72 percent of white households owned a home compared to 43percent of African-Americans (Irwin, Miller &amp Sanger-Katz, 2014).

Thenagain, the people of color were highly hit by the economic problemsbecause they have less financial cushion to protect themselves in thecase of a crisis or setback such as unexpected health problems orlosing a job (Irwin, Miller &amp Sanger-Katz, 2014). Although thenumber of people of color living below the poverty line has decreasedover the years, still there is racial disparity when their numbersare compared with those of the whites. On the other hand, the wealthand income levels correspond to greater health issues experienced bypersons of color. As explained by Irwin, Miller &amp Sanger-Katz(2014), the health disparity between races is attributed to poverty,access to health insurance, and discrimination on how the medicalprofessionals treat people of different ethnic groups. Thedemographic structure in the United States is changing rapidlyalthough the human capital underlying it remains the same (Irwin,Miller &amp Sanger-Katz, 2014). Therefore, projections show that anaverage African-American family will earn approximately 61 cents and45 cents by Latinos for every dollar earned by a white household(Irwin, Miller &amp Sanger-Katz, 2014).

Ferrante(2014), indicate that racial inequalities are evident in the jobmarket as persons of color are highly unemployed compared to thewhites with the similar education levels. The country has tried topromote racial equality by making progress in school and workplacessince the government passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. However, theseefforts have not achieved much positive impact on the lives of mostindividuals of color (Irwin, Miller &amp Sanger-Katz, 2014). Thesepeople will probably end up in poverty as compared to the whitesdespite their academic achievements. Besides, they are twice aslikely to have a lower salary or wages despite having the sameeducation level and qualifications as the whites. For example, a 2015study showed that 9.6 percent of the African-Americans and 6.6percent of the Hispanics were unemployed compared to the 4.6 percentunemployed whites (Irwin, Miller &amp Sanger-Katz, 2014).

Accordingto Keister &amp Southgate (2011), since the early 1970s, theredundancy rate among the persons of color has been persistentlyhigh, which two times greater than that of the whites. Even amongpeople with the same levels of education, the unemployment rate amongpeople of color is higher as compared to that of their whitecounterparts (Keister &amp Southgate, 2011). For example, in 2013,5.7 percent of African-Americans with a bachelor’s degree or highereducation level were jobless compared to the 3.5 percent of thewhites. Initially, the employment gap was attributed to education gapbetween races where the people of color has lower education levelscompared to the whites. Thus, they could hardly get well-paying jobsbecause were barely qualified for those positions (Keister &ampSouthgate, 2011).

Nevertheless,the situation is much different today as people of color gettingcollege degrees has increased over the last generation, yet theirunemployment rates are still higher. Additionally, there is ethnicdisparity in the workplace, which further widens the gap betweenraces (Keister &amp Southgate, 2011). The people of color areunderrepresented in high-income jobs such as medicine and law whiletheir numbers are higher in low-skilled positions. Therefore, theincome gap between races is widening. Like African-Americans, theHispanics are paid less than the whites although the household incomegap is much smaller (Keister &amp Southgate, 2011).

Keister&amp Southgate (2011), indicate that on the institutional level, thestructural basis of racial inequality remains because the policiesdisadvantage the minorities who suffered under race-based rules ofthe past. Even after the country outlawed racial discrimination andsegregation, the residential areas are still separated (Keister &ampSouthgate, 2011). In most cases, the whites are found in the affluentneighborhoods with effective schools and safe streets while people ofcolor reside in unsafe regions with low-performing schools.Accordingly, these individuals are concentrated in poor areas, whichput them at a higher risk of criminal involvement, unemployment, andother socioeconomic problems (Keister &amp Southgate, 2011).

Additionally,the inequalities have been witnessed in the incarceration rates. Anaverage white person is sentenced to 14 months for drug possessionwhile a black offender gets 17 months for a similar crime (Ferrante,2014). Consequently, these trends in the major demographic andeconomic indicators provide some framework for the experiences ofmost Americans based on racial identity. Although there has beenprogressing as the country tries to close the racial gap, thedecades-old disparity in economic wellbeing has widened (Keister &ampSouthgate, 2011).

Theperspective of functionalism

Accordingto functionalists, inequality is inevitable and beneficial to thesociety (W. Thompson, Hickey &amp M. Thompson, 2016). Likewise,economics, technology, material culture, and religion areinterrelated as they are determined by individual’s underlyingbeliefs, which control their access and utilization of variousresources in the society. The functionalist theorists claim thatreligion is necessary to help people to worship as part of areligious community, but it also has a latent function to help themembers understand other aspects such as technology, materialculture, and economics (W. Thompson, Hickey &amp M. Thompson, 2016).According to Ferrante (2014), technology has a significant impact oneconomics, which has highly contributed to the racial gap in thecountry.

Onthe other hand, technology, material culture, and economics areinterrelated with faith because modern religious leaders have strongideas regarding these aspects. Thus, it shapes the structure ofsocial classes and conduct of human affairs in terms of technologyand economics (Ferrante, 2014). Moreover, racial identity determinesaccess to technology and economic aspects to improve an individual’sfinancial status. For example, people of color have lower access tosuperior technology, which also hinders their access to greatfinancial opportunities (Ferrante, 2014). Some minority religionsalso oppose the advancement and increased use of technology, whichlimits their followers the chance to obtain the advantages affordedby technology. On the contrary, the whites have embraced technologybecause it offers economic benefits thus, they continue to accessmore resources, which further put them in a higher position than theminority races (Ferrante, 2014).

Thefunctionalist theorists claim that the levels of the society aredesigned as a pyramid that inevitably sorts people into differentclasses (W. Thompson, Hickey &amp M. Thompson, 2016). Using thefunctionalist view, racial inequality makes the society more stablebecause it encourages the wealthy people to attain higher educationand skills so that they can fill the most demanding jobs while therest are left to fill the vacancies in the lower-skilled labor.Consequently, the layering is helpful because it ensures that thefinest people regarding skills and resources are at the top whilethose who is less worthy are further down the society level (W.Thompson, Hickey &amp M. Thompson, 2016). Thus, they have less powerand receive fewer rewards as compared to those at the higher level.According to this view, racial inequality ensures that all theessential needs of the social system are fulfilled.

Functionalistsalso explain that each component of the society is interconnectedhence, promotes society’s functioning (W. Thompson, Hickey &amp M.Thompson, 2016). Racial inequality forms social cohesion when peopleare interdependent, but they have diverse beliefs and values thus,they engage in different occupations. According to the functionalistperspective, inequalities based on wealth and power within a socialstructure is justified. These theorists believe that the mostchallenging jobs require a higher level of qualification thus,people have to be motivated to exercise their talents and engage insuch demanding tasks (W. Thompson, Hickey &amp M. Thompson, 2016).Therefore, inequality is unavoidable and necessary to promote smoothoperation of the society.

Perspectiveof Conflict Theory

Theconflict theory originated from Karl Marx’s views on classstruggles. The hypothesis focuses on the negative, controversial, andever-changing nature of the society hence, they challenge the statusquo and encourage social change (Doob, 2015). According to theconflict theorists, the rich acquired more wealth at the expense ofthe poor during the industrial revolution. Industrialization has alasting effect on all people, but the classes did not benefitequally. The era was characterized by the formation of newindustries, which gave people more opportunities of improving theireconomic status (Doob, 2015). However, the rich forced a social orderon the poor to ensure that they did not challenge their superiority.Therefore, the rich raised the price of the essential needs such aseducation to limit the access by the poor people hence, restrictingtheir opportunities to improve their social status (Doob, 2015).

Duringthe industrial revolution, the rich and the poor have conflictingagendas, which caused competition among the two groups. The wealthyacquired assets in the industries, which helped them to continueaccumulating wealth. On the other hand, they paid low wages to theiremployees to restrict their upward mobility (Zinn, 2016). Forexample, the industry workers were paid low wages while the ownersand shareholders benefited from massive financial accumulation.Therefore, the rich denied the poor the chance to compete, whichmeant that they remained at the bottom. Despite the economic growthfacilitated by the industrial revolution, the low-wage workers didnot make enough money to finance more than their basic needs or havemeans to move ahead. The rich owned the means of production in theindustries thus, the social system meant that the wealthy businessowners increased their wealth (Zinn, 2016).

Theindustrial revolution facilitated mass production of goods that couldbe sold more quickly and cheaply, which promoted heavy production andconsumption. The new sources of wealth allowed the upper class toachieve a new and higher level of extravagance and luxury. Althoughthe lives of the poor changed, they did not improve because theyremained in the same social class (Zinn, 2016). The lower classstarted working in factories in huge number including the children.Nevertheless, they worked in unfavorable conditions for low wages.Consequently, every member of the family joined the workforce toincrease the household income (Zinn, 2016). For instance, thechildren worked for long hours instead of going to school, so theydid not receive education or means to advance them. Besides, the poorcould not access high-level education to help them climb the socialpyramid (Zinn, 2016). As a result, the people in the lower classcontinued the cycle of poverty in their families and the richaccumulated more wealth.


TheAmericans are divided into three broad categories depending on thepower and wealth an individual possesses. The upper class consists ofthe elite and newly rich who only comprise a small percent of thepopulation. These individuals are usually born in affluent familiesor acquire their wealth through high-paying jobs. Then, the middleclass can comfortably fund their essential needs and even afford someluxuries. Mostly, these individuals have gained their wealth throughhigher education and well-paying jobs. The middle social class has ahigh level of mobility as they can move upwards to the upper class ordownwards. Lastly, the lower class includes the working poor andthose living below the poverty line because they can hardly affordtheir needs. The social class remains for generations as the cycle ofwealth or poverty tend to continue due to a family’s access toresources such as education, housing, and business funding. Thenagain, American is socially stratified as people are ranked dependingon ethnic identity. In most cases, race determines a person’ssocial class because it influences their access to various socialservices, employment, and income. Research shows that the whites havemore power and wealth as compared to the people of color. Theunemployment rate is lower in the white community while the numbersare very high among persons of color, particularly theAfrican-Americans. Additionally, the white employees work inhigh-paying jobs, a trend that was previously attributed to theirhigh education levels. Nonetheless, the academic achievements of thepeople of color have also improved as they have attained collegedegrees in large number over the past decade. Even so, they receivelower salaries as compared to their white colleagues even when theypossess the same level of knowledge and expertise. Therefore, itaffects the household income as most white families have twice asmuch as the individuals of color. According to functionalists,inequality promotes social stability as people are assigned to tasksthat they can accomplish on the basis of their skills. Today,technology is interrelated to religion, material culture, andeconomics, which maintain and produce racial stratification. Hence,there will always be inequality in the society because people do nothave access to the same resources, which contributes to the society’soverall stability. Therefore, functionalists would view racialinequality as necessary to promote stability in America. On thecontrary, conflict theory explains that competition exists in thesociety as some people implement strategies that are meant to benefitthem at the expense of others. During the industrial era, the wealthyacquired more money that enabled them to be richer and live moreluxurious. On the other hand, the economic situation for the poor didnot improve as they started working in factories with their familiesfor extended hours and earning low wages. Thus, the rich denied thepoor the opportunity to move upwards in the social pyramid because itwould result in competition for economic and political control.America has always been a stratified society where people are unequaland offered different opportunities on the basis of ethnicity,economic status, and gender. However, racial inequalities have had asignificant impact, and unless the condition changes and the societystart offering people equal opportunities, the economic situationwill continue to deteriorate for the people of color.


Doob,C. B. (2015). Socialinequality and social stratification in U.S. society.New York: Routledge.

Ferguson,S. J. (2013). Race,gender, sexuality, &amp social class: Dimensions of inequality.Los Angeles: SAGE Publications.

Ferrante,J. (2014). Sociology:A global perspective.Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.

Irwin,N., Miller, C. C. &amp Sanger-Katz, M. (2014). America’s racialdivide, chartered. TheNew York Times.Retrieved fromhttp://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/20/upshot/americas-racial-divide-charted.html?_r=1

Keister,L. A., &amp Southgate, D. E. (2011). Inequality:A Contemporary Approach to Race, Class, and Gender.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thompson,W. E., Hickey, J. V., &amp Thompson, M. L. (2016). Societyin Focus: An introduction to sociology.Lanham: Rowman &amp Littlefield.

Zinn,H. (2016). Apeople’s history of the United States.Kings Cross, London: Pan Macmillan UK.