Sociologists have for along time utilized contemporary and classical theoretical approaches to understand the differential distribution of valuable goods and the processes by which social inequality comes to be seen as not only legitimate but also natural and desirable. Egalitarian values in existence today in postmodern society have continually existed in discernible tension with massive departures form the perfect model of equality and also with the historical manifestations of these departures.
These processes that generated and ensured that social, racial and ethnic inequalities was maintained in the societal fabric are gradually changing as are the consequences of inequality. In the early 1870s, a wave of economic globalization under what was known as the Pax Britannica, led to an increase in wages creating the beginning of income inequality. With the entrenchment of capitalism on the world’s economic landscape, the gap between the have and have-nots have continued to widen be it between individuals or between nations.
This can be explained by the fact that when human capital accumulation leads to the generation of pecuniary externalities that span across professional and even the capital markets that are themselves imperfect, persistent inequality in the utility and consumption is inevitable in any given steady state(Mookherjee, D, 2003). According to neoclassical model of economic theory, market mechanism creates and promotes the convergence of incomes.
In this case historical inequality will tend to disappear in the long run. However if this model is reformulated in the context of intergenerational mobility, then this disappearance solely relies on random factors(luck) ton offer an explanation for persisting inequality irrespective of the overall tendency towards convergence. Social, Racial and Ethnic Inequality Social inequality refers to a condition where members of one society have unequal access to valuable resources, goods, services or positions.
Because social inequality is a fundamental component of sociological discipline, sociologists have always tried to understand and demonstrate patterns or structures that necessitate the development of these inequalities that manifest as social stratification structures(Vandecasteele 17). Research has established that income inequality and poverty inequality are the most salient indications of social inequality and that poverty as a sociological phenomenon has an unequal spread over different social classes(social stratification), gender levels, ethnicity groups and also along education levels (Vandecasteele 17).
Social stratification as a concept in social inequality is social differentiation and inequality although Social stratification and differentiation have distinct definitions. Social differentiation is existent in the basis of modern society and refers to differences between societal menders. These differences are analyzed on the basis of individual characteristics and the social roles these people play in the society.
These differences are not presented in a hierarchical manner even though they precondition both social stratification and social inequality(Heller, 1969). n social inequality these differences are presented in the form of a hierarchical rank order. The resultant effect is disadvantages for some members of the society while other enjoy the privilege inherent in their social order. Social stratification is a case where unequal access to the resources in a society have been successfully institutionalized or structured and therefore resources are allocated according to the position in the society.
These institutionalizations of resource allocation must design clear demarcation between the unequal orders in the society as well as portraying some degree of persistence in the structure. In modern democratic society, these inequalities are portrayed as inequalities in voting rights, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, ownership of property rights, access to quality education, health care and other important social goods. Because social roles are matched to rewards of unequal value that determine the social status of a person in the society, then social inequality can be said to be linked to economic inequality.
The main difference between the two is that while economic inequality is a result of unequal distribution of wealth social inequality usually exists simply because the lack of wealth creates a situation where other people are prohibited from obtaining these resources. Christie Preston defines social inequality as the exclusion of other people from the full or equal participation in the utilization or acquisition of what the society considers valuable, socially desirable and most importantly, personally worthwhile(Preston, C. 1992).
She also asserts that because of the nature of our post industrial, capitalist, competitive,commercially driven, consumer oriented society, it naturally follows that social inequality and economic inequality are inextricably linked. Class; the main organizing principle in societies driven by capitalism, ensures that the power, privilege and inequality mechanisms are fully entrenched and institutionalized. Even though class is sometimes dis reputed as a main driver for social inequality, it is evident that factors such as ethnicity, gender, education, family background and wealth constitute the social class.
This means that class or social stratification heavily influences a persons chances in life and their expectations for the future. There are those who argue for fairness as regards social inequality. Some authors have argued that as long as social status of an individual is based on talent or individual effort. In this aspect social inequality is based on achieved determinants of social stratification. These determinants include education level and occupational level. This calls for a distinction between the concepts of; inequality of outcome and inequality of opportunity(Vandecasteele 41,42).
Where inequality of opportunity concept refers to unequal access to strategic and advantageous social position among individuals of equal ability, inequality of outcome implies inequalities in the access of these positions among individuals of different abilities. In line with liberal democratic and capitalist society, focus is concentrated on elimination of inequality of opportunity. While socialists strive for equality of outcome principle, they move further and agitate for equality of opportunity hence pushing individuals irrespective of their genders to influential occupational positions.
There are cases where the concept of class is driven by self identity and snobbery(Preston, C. 1992). However, the unjustifiable distributions of opportunities defines level of income, level of education, job opportunities, home ownership and material possessions and subsequently social inequality. In a societal set up these components of the social class limit the life chances of the lower classes keeping them to their place in the society. Contrary, the upper class get better and better. Mobility across the classes is usually a rare phenomenon. Ethnic or racial background has also been demonstrated to be included in the social class strata.
The concepts of ethnicity and racial background play a central role in our understanding of the evident structure of inequality that exist in our society today. One reason for racial inequality is that it constitutes an important aspect of personal identity. Ideally, racial identities should be considered irrelevant as regards to our dealings with each other in the society but this is not the case as racial preferences have taken center stage in the society, defining not only how people relate in the society but also how the government relates to the common citizenry.
While race have been used as a source of important asset in many situations due the fact that it is an easily observable trait, it has as well as been used as a proxy to scan ‘undesirable’ characteristics in educational institutions, job recruitment and provision of basic social amenities(Glenn C. Loury, 1998) In the United States of America, education still remains the main gateway to socio economic development in terms of being a predictor of the type of job and the level of income. For example, college graduates generally earn 70% higher than their high school counterparts(Charles H. nd Jennifer C. , 2005).
The differences that exist in the acquisition of quality education are mainly driven by economic inequality and social stratification. Equality of opportunity, lies at the core of the American dream but it still remains a distant goal since the fundamental concepts of racial and ethnic inequality are the main factors that subvert the realization of equal opportunity for all. In contemporary society all families want the best for their children, however, not all parents have equal opportunity to provide quality education to their children.
Inequalities of income, wealth and family resources certainly make a difference in determining their children’s education and indirectly their future incomes. Families have the major influence on the future career paths of their children, a prime determinant of income and socioeconomic attainment. Race and ethnicity is an important dimension of social stratification. Through the decades, commitment to freedom and equal opportunity have been fabled with hence impeding upward mobility that was once viewed as universal.
African Americans and Indians were often denied equal basic and inalienable rights by law. It is only in recent decades that national efforts have been put in place to try and deal with these historical injustices. With the same spirit, other minority groups have continually been incorporated into the system. Ethnic stratification stress, poor socioeconomic origins and racial discrimination of migrants and the minority groups are the main causes of poor educational and socioeconomic achievement in the American Society (Walters, 2001).
For the past six or so decades African Americans had to endure state sponsored discrimination and segregation mainly in the South and de facto segregation through out the country. Informal color bars were common occurrences through out the country. African Americans were handicapped by poverty, subjected to residential segregation and bore the brunt of racial discrimination. Despite all these the magnitude of Africans who had achieved considerable level of education was better as compared to the Hispanics and the Asians.
Asian Americans were subjected to political, social and economic discrimination throughout the first half of the twentieth century but even under the brunt of all these they were still able to make considerable progress albeit under difficult circumstances. The second half of the twentieth century came with a promise of changing perceptions but it was slower for African Americans who still continued to live abject poverty in residentially segregated areas concentrated in major metropolitans.
However these developments prompted another wave of complex, large scale immigration particularly from Asia and Latin America. This immigration and subsequent absorption was uneven but students from these communities were also doing well in schools hence obliterating the assumption that poor circumstances was to blame for poor performances(Charles H. and Jennifer C. , 2005). The classical sociological theory that attempts to account for the racial and ethnic minority is enshrined in the assimilation model.
This model suggests that forces inherent in modern society will gradually and systematically erode the ascriptive characteristics such as ethnicity and race in social stratification. These forces include; industrialization,democratic institutions and competitive labor markets. Though this classical theory has its own weaknesses especially due to the absence of a specific causal model or even temporal boundaries, it is largely accepted because it is in consistency with historical absorption of immigrant children and grandchildren into the American society.
All around the world the causes and consequences of social inequality posses a strong link between economic models and political ills. Taking health care, for example, high death rates due to preventable conditions and stress related illnesses are a consequence of income inequality. The same applies to violent crime. Social inequality has been demonstrated to impede democratic development and consolidation through the stimulation of social conflict and political instability.
The resultant effect is the development of authoritarian regimes to stem societal dissent. Social cohesion and participatory leadership is killed creating a community that is socially, economically and politically unbalanced. Moreover, capitalism breeds a system where economic inequality causes educational, housing and health care inequality. While some aspects of social inequality can be independent of income inequality; ethnicity, racial inclination and other structural factors remain underlying driving forces for social inequality.