Social Inequality Research
Social Inequality Research
Social Inequality Definition and Its Importance
In sociology, social inequality is used to describe the uneven and unfair dispersal of resources that are considered valuable, including positions in societies. According to Little (2016), the definition is pegged on the concept of social differentiation that connotes differentiation in identities and roles used in dividing people into distinct categories, thereby having repercussions to social inequality. These categories may include gender, occupation, class, and even race. Social differentiation only becomes a foundation of social inequality when people use their different categories to get an undue advantage over others’ share of resources. This can also be achieved by the effects of rank, power, and privilege in society (Little, 2016). For this research, the discussion will be centered on income, race, ethnicity, gender, education, and class status.
Social inequality brings about social stratification. Social stratification is where social inequality has been institutionalized. Little (2016) shows that the inequalities are systemized, thus determining where a person would fall in the socioeconomic strata. This classification is based on race, wealth, education, income, and even power. Social stratification makes inequalities apparent (Little, 2016). Therefore, social inequalities are all about systematic inequalities. As mentioned, it is determined by the membership of a particular group, be it ethnicity, class, gender, race. In societies, stratification is characterized by wealth, power, income, and status.
Social inequality can also be defined as a term associated with distributing goods and burdens in society (Little, 2016). In this case, goods are education, income, employment, while burdens include marginalization, unemployment, and crime. Social inequality arises from a society being organized in a specific predetermined hierarchy that determines resource distribution (Crossman, 2020). The inequality can be manifested through income, wealth, education, treatment of persons in the judicial systems, different police treatments, and punishments from the hierarchy.
Inequality of conditions and opportunities are the two major approaches used in the measurement of social inequalities. Inequality of condition refers to inequality in the dispersal of wealth, income, and material goods. Inequality of opportunities is the inequality of opportunities/chances/openings distribution across individuals (Crossman, 2020). This can be reflected by education, the justice system, and health status. Toronto, like any other place in the world, faces social inequality. A disparity in the social sphere characterizes Toronto. Toronto Foundation’s 17th Vital Signs Report revealed the unforgiving actualities in Toronto that entrenches inequality. Toronto does not work for all due to the social inequality experienced.
Reports have uncovered the high levels of social inequality in Toronto. Research has concluded that people from racial minorities in Toronto’s average incomes have either stagnated or dropped as the income of the other persons who are not the minorities have soared (Monsebraaten, 2019). There is growing income inequality in Toronto. The color of a person’s skin indeed has been having a bearing on the income. This also leads to discrimination and exclusion in the labor force.
According to the Report-The Opportunity Equation in the Greater Toronto Area, the region is characterized as having the most significant gap between the poor and the rich. Lack of well-paying jobs, cutbacks, and discrimination in employment are some of the factors that exacerbate the inequality in Toronto. To this effect, the research revealed that middle-income neighborhoods are disappearing and replaced by high and low neighborhoods. This is an indication of a massive disparity between the two sides.
Minorities are clustered in low-income neighborhoods while the whites are dominating wealthy areas higher than their population share. There is stark discrimination. The Report argues that government policies brought about income polarization, and only government policies can reverse it. The research revealed that persons from low-income neighborhoods have considerably high education levels, as half of them have post-secondary degrees. In the half, twenty-five percent are university degrees while the other twenty-five is from community colleges. However, when it comes to employment income, the average in the low-income neighborhoods is $32,000 in contrast to the affluent white areas of $102,000 before taxes. The Report deduced this as discrimination because education does not correspond with the level of income in these neighborhoods. This, therefore, shows how race as a social inequality factor affects persons in Toronto.
Moreover, according to the Human Rights Commission, blacks are twenty times more likely to arrest by police officers than whites. In another sphere, inequality in occupation can be attributed based on gender than ethnicity. The labor force is more gender-differentiated than ethnic differentiated. Moreover, gender differences in incomes are more visible in minorities than in European origins. Generally, women have been seen to be in very low-income cadres. Gender and ethnicity indeed affect income levels.
The significant income disparity between men and women has shown that gender has a massive influence on income than race/ethnicity, especially for minorities. Ethnicity can also be seen as a factor that revolves around social inequality. Ethnicity, to some extent, determines the individual’s occupation in the social strata. Aboriginals have been reported to be majorly represented in the construction industry and highly underrepresented in the administrative and managerial professions so as blacks. In science, mathematics, and engineering professions, the Chinese are over-represented. Aboriginal women are more represented in service jobs. Therefore, economic differences faced by ethnic and minorities are partly because of racial discrimination (Gee et al. 2007). Ethnic differences in ownership of homes present a differentiation in housing wealth, thereby aggravating social inequality. Stephen Obeng Gyimah et al. (2005) investigated the effect of ethnicity on housing wealth, tenure, and housing value in Toronto. Using theoretical approaches to the difference in ethnicity in housing wealth, the scholars revealed a substantial dissimilarity in housing wealth.
Causes of Social Inequality
The cause of social inequality includes long-term unemployment, low pay, social class background, gender inequality, and racial discrimination. Shapiro (2005) also explains racial discrimination as one factor that entrenches social inequality. He does this by connoting a phrase that means there is a disadvantage of being African American. He tries to demonstrate the inequality level between the backs and the whites. Shapiro gives an example of a black family denied a housing loan while a white family (2005). Shapiro explains that acquiring a home is a big step towards wealth acquisition. Homeownership denial, therefore, presents a barrier, thereby creating fewer opportunities for the black family to acquire wealth. In the long run, this produces social inequality (Shapiro, 2005).
Gender stratification also causes social inequality, and sometimes, even when men and women do the same jobs, women usually are given lesser pay than their counterparts. Alternatively, glass ceilings play a role in ensuring women do not get past a certain point in job promotion. Glass ceilings are instances where invisible barriers are created in workplaces and occupations, ensuring that women do not obtain specific posts (BBC, n.d.). Moreover, society typically puts a lower value on jobs that are considered for women. These jobs may include catering, cashiering, clerical, and cleaning. By putting a lower economic value on the preceding jobs than their male counterparts do jobs, social inequality is cemented deeply (BBC, n.d.).
The social class background is also a cause for inequality. In affluent areas, life expectancy is higher as compared to the low-income neighborhoods. There is always inadequacy of diet, unemployment, and lack of facilities in more impoverished neighborhoods, not forgetting drug menace. A lower life expectancy thereby characterizes deprived areas. One’s social class position is impactful to that person’s access to health, life, education, and family. For instance, low-income groups often have worse health (Toronto Public Health et al., 2015). Social class has a far-reaching impact on society (” Lumen Learning, n.d.). Sayer (2015) contends that class differences would persist even if the upper and middle classes were respectful and humane to the working/lower class. The inequality of labor division and property distribution would be majorly unaffected. Unemployment and low pay widen the inequality gaps. Long-term unemployment might affect an individual’s health, self-esteem, and confidence. It might also lead to debts, unhealthy living, and poor mental and physical health (BBC, n.d.).
The Effects of Social Inequality
Inequalities lead to unstable economies. Higher inequality levels are linked to economic instability, debts, and inflations, and even financial crises. More equal societies tend to have sustainable growth than those with disparities. Substantially, evidence shows that increased inequality was partly to blame for the United States financial crisis (Treeck, 2013; Kumhof & Ranciere, 2010). Inequalities increase crimes and violence. Rates of violence in unequal societies are higher. The disparity may stimulate social competition and encourage violence as it gives a sense of hopelessness due to inferiority experiences in the social strata.
Social inequality may lead to poor health for the poor in society. Life expectancy, infant mortality, mental illnesses, and even obesity are lower in societies equal to socially unequal societies. For instance, people living in countries with high disparities have higher chances of developing schizophrenia (Toronto Public Health et al., 2015). The social and economic circumstances of people have a more significant influence on health. The social and economic circumstances affect a person; therefore, a person’s education, occupation, experiences, income factor into about 50% of the individual’s health outcomes (Toronto Public Health et al., 2015).
Furthermore, inequality undercuts social justice and human rights, meaning some groups’ opportunities are worse than their fellows. It has resulted in the poorest sections of the population having little progress. The poor typically face stigma, discrimination, and harmful stereotypes, reducing their social life participation, including employment. It has been seen that social inequality also affects disabled people in society. The comparatively have lower educational attainment, worse living conditions, and high unemployment rates (Mitra et al., 2013). Inequalities create an uphill task and usually prove it difficult for those people born in poverty to escape. And as mentioned, there is a link between poverty and poor health, low education, and even crime.
Jordhal (2007) linked a higher social gap to higher levels of mistrust within the society. This is due to the belief and notion that one class of society is different from oneself. These skepticisms prevent forming relationships and kick start a vicious cycle where it leads to further social distancing. Communities are thence fragmented, creating volatility on ethnic lines. Sometimes violence might ensue from the simplest of provocation between the unequal sides. The mistrust applies to individuals/social groups in society and can also extend to institutions’ mistrust. Social scientist Frederic L Pryor’s research shows that individuals who hail from highly unequal countries had lesser interests in politics and less faith in their institutions like parliament, showing their lack of respect for these institutions (Jordhal, 2007). It even depresses participation in elections and the tolerance and frequency of political discussions.
Countering Social Inequality?
There is indeed a possibility of countering social inequality. Different stakeholders must work with the people to achieve this. But even before the process of countering inequality starts, the stakeholders must first understand the whole concept behind social inequality. The stakeholders need to understand and establish the causes of social inequality in the region focused on. After understanding the impacts, they need to acquaint themselves with the effects/impacts of social inequality in society. Only through the preceding comprehension can the stakeholders take proactive countermeasures to alleviate the social strata’s extreme disparities.
Effective counter policies and solutions need the hour for Nations or localities that face a huge disparity of the social inequality gap with its negativities. Firstly, social inequality can be dispensed with by implementing progressive fiscal policies (Souche et al., 2016). The Fiscal policy must be streamlined to reinforce the restructuring and redeployment of income. Additionally, fiscal incentives can be introduced for a selected class in the community, especially those lower in the strata. These incentives can help introduce and cover minor entrepreneurs by providing social security, tax burden reduction, and loans to enable them to create a basis for wealth creation (Souche et al., 2016). A robust fiscal policy centered on incentive and redistribution of income are essential in the progressive steps of social inequality eradication.
Social inequalities can also be defined by the adoption of social programs that target its eradication. The introduction of these programs can influence the lives of the poor, racially marginalized, or otherwise in society. The directed programs will ensure that inequalities premised on education and health is significantly condensed. In targeting the programs on health and education disparities, there will be a reduction in illiteracy levels (Souche et al., 2016). There would be an almost equal, if not equal, access to health services in society.
The Opportunity Equation in the Greater Toronto Area Report argues that government policies brought about income polarization, and only government policies can reverse it. Therefore, a revision of the legislative frameworks to address the inequality issues is plausible (Bailey, 2013). By revising laws and policies, the stakeholders will ensure that discriminatory practices based on social inequalities that are entrenched as law are banished. It can then be replaced with laws that limit and reduce the social sphere disparity (Bailey, 2013). The laws need to recognize the engendered domestic labor as indeed work.
Better working conditions reduce the disparity in several ways. This is through the increase of minimum wage, overtime pay, unionization more straightforward, employment insurance and welfare, and the improvement of the general employment standards. It puts money on the marginalized (Hennessy, 2012). A balance of power can be shifted through better working conditions between employers and workers so that a more significant percentage of income goes to wages than profits.
The government and cooperation with stakeholders need to devise ways to provide the ‘needy’ in society with jobs. Jobs ensure that employment is achieved and people can put food on the table, even if the market falls. Jobs can be created by, among others, strategic investments in infrastructural projects. Public-private partnerships need to invest in human capital. Investing in human capital to a greater extent guarantees social inequality is addressed. Human capital investment encapsulates a broad definition and is projected from access to affordable education, affordable childcare, channels to well-paying gainful employment and subsidized job programs, national service opportunities, and apprenticeship. An improved and robust human capital guarantees that a society is defined by members equally empowered, thereby eliminating social inequality. Lastly, the government needs to distinguish, reinforce and protect those investments that provide or are involved in providing basic living standards. These investments may include health and nutrition, education, and housing.
BBC. (n.d.). Causes of social and economic inequality – The causes of social and economic inequality – National 5 modern studies revision BBC Bitesize. https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/z8rvng8/revision/1
Lumen Learning (n.d.). The impacts of social class | Boundless sociology. Lumen Learning – Simple Book Production. https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-sociology/chapter/the-impacts-of-social-class/
Sayer, A. (2015). Why we can’t afford the rich. Policy Press.
Shapiro, T. M. (2005). The hidden cost of being African American: How wealth perpetuates inequality. Oxford University Press, USA.
Bailey, C. (2013). Local Solutions to Inequality: Steps Toward Fostering a Progressive Social Movement. Rural Sociology, 78(4), 411–428. https://doi.org/10.1111/ruso.12032
Crossman, A. (2020, January 28). The Sociology of Social Inequality. ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/sociology-of-social-inequality-3026287
Hennessy, T. (2021, February 17). How To Fix Income Inequality. The Monitor. https://monitormag.ca/articles/how-to-fix-income-inequality
Jordahl, H. (2007). Inequality and Trust. SSRN Electronic Journal, 1–22. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1012786
Little, W. (2016). Introduction to Sociology, 2nd Canadian Edition. BCcampus.
Mitra, S., Posarac, A., & Vick, B. (2013). Disability and Poverty in Developing Countries: A Multidimensional Study. World Development, 41, 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2012.05.024
Monsebraaten, L. (2019, May 6). Report reveals alarming — and growing — racialized income divide in GTA. Thestar.Com. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2019/05/06/report-reveals-alarming-and-growing-racialized-income-divide-in-gta.html
Souche, S., Mercier, A., & Ovtracht, N. (2015). The impacts of urban pricing on social and spatial inequalities: The case study of Lyon (France). Urban Studies, 53(2), 373–399. https://doi.org/10.1177/0042098014563484
Toronto Public Health, Ingen, T. V., Khandor, E., & Fleiszer, P. (2015, April). The Unequal City 2015: Income and Health Inequities in Toronto. https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2015/hl/bgrd/backgroundfile-79096.pdf
Gyimah, S., Walters, D., & Phythian, K. (2005). Ethnicity, Immigration and Housing Wealth in Toronto. Canadian Journal of Urban Research, 14(2), 338-363. Retrieved March 30, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/44321038
Ellen M. Gee & Karen M. Kobayashi & Steven Prus, 2007. Ethnic Inequality in Canada: Economic and Health Dimensions. Social and Economic Dimensions of an Aging Population Research Paper 182, Mc Master University.