Social Stratification: Class, Race, and Gender in Sociological Perspective

Social Stratification: Class, Race, and Gender in Sociological Perspective

Social Stratification: Class, Race, and Gender in Sociological Perspective

Social Stratification: Class, Race, and Gender in Sociological Perspective


With income inequality on the rise and the ongoing economic downturn, the causes, consequences, and politics of inequality are undergoing a fundamental transformation. Updated and highly accessible, the fourth edition of Social Stratification provides refreshing take on existing theories, incorporates the latest data, and lends new perspectives to classic debates.The fourth edition includes fifty new or updated readings and a new streamlined organization that allows the evolution of stratification scholarship to unfold in a systematic fashion. The new readings cover the latest research on economic inequality, including the social construction of racial categories, the new immigrant economy, new forms of segregation and neighborhood inequality, the uneven and stalled gender revolution, the role of new educational forms and institutions in generating both equality and inequality, and the extent of anti-gay discrimination in the labor market.The result is a comprehensive, interdisciplinary, and methodologically diverse text appropriate for sophisticated undergraduate and graduate courses on poverty, inequality, social stratification, social problems, the labor market, social class, social mobility, and race and ethnicity.


The dispassionate observer of the last half century of poverty and inequality research might easily characterize the field as one of the great success stories of modern social science. The breakthroughs are many and include (1) building a sophisticated infrastructure for monitoring key trends in poverty, segregation, income inequality, racial and gender inequality, and other labor market outcomes; (2) resolving long-standing debates about how much discrimination there is, whether residential segregation matters, how much social mobility there is, and whether social classes are disappearing; and (3) making substantial headway in understanding the deeper causes of poverty, mobility, and many types of inequality. If poverty and inequality are still very much with us, it is not because they are any longer “puzzles” or enigmas driven by forces we cannot fathom. It instead is because we have collectively decided not to undertake the well-known institutional reforms necessary to reduce them.

Although we have come quite far, our optimistic stance has to be tempered with some appreciation of the field’s equally visible shortcomings. The most prominent failures have occurred when scholars have turned to the idiographic task of understanding the dynamics of change. The spectacular takeoff in income inequality, one of the most consequential developments of our time, was largely unpredicted. The resilience of school segregation was something of a surprise to most social scientists. The sudden “stalling out” of long-standing declines in gender inequality remains poorly understood. The equally sudden evaporation of opposition to gay marriage and other types of gay rights was unimaginable just five years ago. The lightning-fast rise and fall of one of the first anti-inequality movements in contemporary US history (the Occupy Wall Street movement) is likewise a puzzle. Although the field has by this accounting performed less impressively in understanding the dynamics of change, we must concede that this is hardly a distinctive feature of the poverty and inequality field itself. Across all fields of social science, the idiographic task has never fully yielded to science, an obvious implication of having but one world and one case to explain.

This chapter introduces the types of questions that have been and continue to be taken on in the field of poverty and inequality. We consider questions pertaining to the lawlike behavior of frequently repeated events (i.e., “nomothetic” phenomena) as well as those pertaining to the way in which singular entities, such as the US stratification system, are evolving (i.e., “idiographic” phenomena). Because the often-complicated answers to these questions are laid out in the readings themselves, it would be unwise to attempt here an encyclopedic introduction to all that is known in the sprawling poverty and inequality field. Rather, our objective is to discuss the types of questions that have been taken on, with a special emphasis on understanding how those questions have changed and evolved.

Original article prepared for this fourth edition of Social Stratification: Class, Race, and Gender in Sociological Perspective, edited by David B. Grusky. Copyright © 2014 Westview Press.

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