Sociology: Poverty and Stratification

Living with a poverty level income is a difficulty facing many people around the world; poverty is a cultural universal, or trait found in every known culture – not an expression of individual differences. The most basic explanation for this is the trend towards social stratification, the system by which society organizes itself into a hierarchy. In some cultures this is manifest in the form of a caste system in which people who are in poverty have little to no chance of escaping it. In the United States the system is more in the form of a class system in which there is at least some degree of social mobility, and less status consistency allows people in poverty to have the possibility of changing their social status, but rarely the opportunity to do so. In the majority cases the most desirable situation is a meritocracy which ranks people based solely on personal achievements, or achieved status, rather than ascribed status such as being born into a ‘poor’ family. Structural social mobility has resulted in a shift of social position for large numbers of people due to changes on a societal level, but these changes have had both upward and downward effects. The Davis-Moore thesis explains that social stratification has beneficial consequences in society, and is therefore functional, but this has been widely criticized due to its implications that society should prevent the development of individual talent. The resulting system of blue collar occupations versus white collar occupations is easily observed in society today. Around the world a wide variety of people are in poverty. This may be a result of many factors such as a traditional, agrarian society with low income; or a severely stratified economic system as a result of high population growth and little opportunity for education or access to technology. The feminization of poverty also plays a key role in the explanation of poverty worldwide, since there is an increasing trend for more women to be in poverty than men. In the U. S. there are many of the same reason for poverty, but they are more easily defined on the local level. In most cases U. S. citizens who are in poverty are in relative poverty in relation to the rest of the U. S. population; whereas in the world as a whole a greater number of people are in absolute poverty and are barely able to survive on their income, or wages and earnings, and they have very little to no wealth since it is impossible to save any of their money. Ethnocentrism makes it difficult to obtain a clear picture of the conditions of poverty and inequality in other nations and cultures. There are many theories concerning the causes and solution for poverty in the global economy. The two major theories are the modernization theory which explains inequality in terms of technological and cultural difference between nations, and the dependency theory which explains poverty in terms of the historical exploitation of poor, or low-income, nations by rich, or high-income, nations. This theory has manifest itself in a new way in today’s world in the form of neocolonialism; economic exploitation by multinational corporations. Race and ethnicity is key factor to poverty in the U. S. since an African-American is three times more likely to be in poverty than a non-Hispanic white. People with different ethnic backgrounds may experience alienation, or discrimination as a result of their differences with the people around them. Blaming the victim is a common explanation for poverty, but it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny since there are countless factors not all of which can be controlled by the victim or anyone. Gender stratification is another cause of poverty in the U. S. This social structure makes it difficult for a woman especially a single mother to both have a job and to raise children due to the preferential treatment of men in our society, or patriarchy and sexism. This double standard is often explained by the sociobiological argument that men are stronger than women due to natural selection. Age may also play a role in creating poverty. Ageism has made it very difficult for the elderly to advance in society. Young people assume that the elderly are either completely dependent or independent and they rarely will offer reasonable assistance for the elderly. The U. S. and other countries provide aid for those in poverty but rarely have structures in place to prevent people from reaching a state of poverty. Examples of such are shelters, soup kitchens, free clinics and government programs such as TANF or food stamps. In many cases these forms of aid are too temporary or not extensive enough to permanently pull a person or family out of poverty.

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