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Chapter 09 - Stratification

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Stratification and the Three P's

Did you ever live in a home where the basement was really cold and the upstairs was hot? I did while growing up; we had cold layers of air in the basement and warmer layers upstairs. I didn't know it at the time but when layers occur in nature it is called stratification. Layers occur almost everywhere in nature: in tissues of the human body, rock formations in the ground, atmospheres around the earth, and in societies of every nation on the earth. We call these layers strata and the process of layering stratification. Societies have stratification, too.

Social Stratification is the socio-economic layering of society's members according to property, power, and prestige. Property is all the wealth, investments, deeded and titled properties, and other tangible sources of income. Power is the ability to get one's way even in the face of opposition to one's goals. Prestige is the degree of social honor attached with your position in society. As things go, those with lots of property tend to also have lots of power and social prestige. Those with less property tend to have less power and prestige.

The key concept of this chapter is that there are layers of social stratification in every society, nation, and even at the global level-there are the "haves" who coexist with the masses or "Have nots." Does this remind you of Karl Marx and Max Weber? It should. They focused heavily on wealth and poverty in the complex social systems of their day. In our current social world there are a very few who are extremely wealthy.

At www.Forbes.com they reported that even the richest in the world got poorer between 2008-2009, "just like the rest of us." I'm not sure about that. The richest billionaires lost 23 percent of their wealth; they are still billionaires! In fact in 2008 there were 1,125 billionaires worldwide, now they are only hundreds of millionaires (I'll feel sad about that later). In March 2009 there were only 793 billionaires who had an average wealth of 3 billion US dollars with Bill Gates III leading the list (retrieved 21 April, 2009 from http://www.forbes.com/2009/03/11/worlds-richest-people-billionaires-2009-billionaires_land.html ).

The GNI PPP Index Score

In spite of the rare and isolated wealth of these 793 people, billions of other people still experience hunger, poverty, preventable illness, early deaths, and famines and wars. In a reference we use often in this textbook, you will find the Population Reference Bureau's World Population Data Sheet can be very enlightening in this discussion (www.PRB.org ). The PRB uses a measure of relative economic well being called the GNI PPP. The GNI PPP is the gross national income of a country converted to international dollars using a factor called the purchasing power parity. In other words this lets you understand how much a person could buy in the US with a given amount of money, regardless of the country's currency. It lets the United Nation and Population Reference Bureau have a common value to compare countries with when they look at international stratification issues. The 2008 estimates include key information from the World Bank.

The higher the GNI PPP the better off the average person in that country. Look at Table 1 below to see GNI PPP values for selected countries and regions of the world. The US ranks high $45, 840 per capita (per person) but is the 6th wealthiest behind Luxembourg, Norway, Kuwait, Brunei, and Singapore. Contrast that to Liberia's score of just $290 per year. The only other nation as poor as Liberia is the Democratic Republic of the Congo also at $290. You can already see that there is clear evidence of stratification at a global level. The average cell phone owner in the US spends more on their annual bill than the average Liberian makes in a year. The developed world is over 6 times wealthier than the less developed world. More Developed Nations are nations with comparably higher wealth than most countries of the world including: Western Europe; Canada, United States, Japan, and Australia-these are also called Now Rich Countries. Less Developed Nations are nations located near to or south of the Equator which have less wealth and more of the world's population of inhabitants including: Africa, India, Central and South America, most island nations, and most of Asia (Excluding China)-these are also called Now Poor Countries. Africa is the poorest region with the average person making less than 1/10th of what the average US person makes.

Table 1. Selected GNI PPPs for Countries and Regions of the World, 2008*

Country or Region GNI PPP
More developed $ 31,200
Less Developed $ 4,760
Africa $ 2,430
Latin America/Caribbean $ 9,080
Asia (Excluding China) $ 5,780
China $ 5,370
Liberia $ 290
Canada $34,310
Mexico $12,580
United States $45,840
Italy $29,900
Japan $34,600
World $ 9,600

*From 2008 World Population Data Sheet: Demographic Data and Estimates for the Countries and Regions of the World.

Look at Figure 1 which shows the top 5 GNI PPP countries of the world. Again Luxembourg at $64,400 has a score over 20 times higher than Africa's; 11 times higher than Asia (Excl. China); and 7 times higher than Latin America. The other top 4 countries scores follow: Norway-$53,690; Kuwait-$49,970; Brunei-$49,900; and Singapore-$48,520. Figure 2 shows a comparison of the bottom 5 lowest scoring nations in the world. Their respective incomes are as follows: Liberia-$290; Dem. Rep. of Congo-$290; Burundi-$330; Djibouti-$400; and Guinea-Bissau-$470. The average GNI PPP score for the top five was $53,296 and for the bottom 5 it was $356. That means the stratification difference between the world's top five countries is over 149 times higher than the bottom 5 countries.

Figure 1. A Comparison of the Top 5 GNI PPP Country's Scores in 2008*


*From 2008 World Population Data Sheet: Demographic Data and Estimates for the Countries and Regions of the World.

Figure 2. A Comparison of the Top 5 GNI PPP Country's Scores in 2008*

*From 2008 World Population Data Sheet: Demographic Data and Estimates for the Countries and Regions of the World.

United States Layers-Strata

There is similar stratification in the United States. Look at Figure 3 to see two line charts comparing the following All Races---red line, White---yellow line, Black---green line, Asian---blue line, and Hispanic---purple line. The chart on the left is of US males and the one on the right is of US females. The first thing you notice is visual stratification in both charts. Females made much less income than males in all categories. The Hispanic category is lowest for males and females. Among males Hispanics and Blacks are similarly low and are far below the White and even further below the Asian category. Asians had the highest personal income for both sexes (Data for Asians was not reported prior to 2004). Also notice that among females the income levels grouped closer together-in other words, males had more disparity between categories while females were collectively more similar. Data were not available for Native Americans.

Figure 3. A Comparison of the US Personal Income by Race and Between Males and Females 2006*

*Asian data not available before 2004. Retrieved 21 April 2009 from www.census.gov Table 679. Median Income of people with Income in Constant 2006 Dollars by Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin: 1990 to 2006

Table 2 shows some of the actual dollar difference in income levels presented in Figure 3. For every single race, males make more than females. In fact if you subtract male-female (all races combined) income it equals $13,751 more income for males over these years. White males make $14,914 more than White females. Black males make $7,036; Asian males make $8,306; and Hispanic males make $7,986 more than females in the same respective categories. Based on the data in Figure 3 and Table 2 we've already seen that in the US there is race and ethnicity-based stratification (in Chapter 11 you'll learn more about race and ethnicity issues in society) along with sex-based stratification (in Chapter 10 you'll learn more about the gender issues in a society).

Table 2. A Comparison of the US Personal Income by Race and Between Males and Females in Constant 2006 US Dollars*

Race Mean Male Income 1990 to 2006 Mean Female Income 1990 to 2006 Difference
All $32,134 $18,383 $-13,751
White $33,416 $18,502 $-14,914
Black $35,999 $28,963 $- 7,036
Asian $21,599 $13,293 $- 8,306
Hispanic $22,449 $14,463 $- 7,986

*Asian data not available before 2004. Retrieved 21 April 2009 from www.census.gov Table 679. Median Income of people with Income in Constant 2006 Dollars by Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin: 1990 to 2006

Figure 4 also shows stratification by marital status between married and single households. The data are presented in constant 2006 US dollars which simply means they are adjusted for cost of living changes for each year. The first thing you see is that dual-earner marrieds (both husband and wife work in labor force) by far have the highest income levels between 1990 and 2006. Sole-earner married (husband only in labor force) comes in next followed closely by single males. Single females reported the lowest income. In sum, the females with the highest income are married. The male with a co-breadwinner wife has the highest combined income of all. We'll discuss some family-related issues in Chapter 13.

Table 4. A Comparison of the US Personal Income by Marital Status (includes duel versus sole breadwinner homes) in Constant 2006 US Dollars*

*Retrieved 21 April 2009 from www.census.gov Table 677. Median Income of Families by Type of Family in Current and Constant (2006) Dollars: 1990 to 2006

Figure 5 shows the stratification in our US society by educational levels. Basically, the higher the education, the higher the annual income in 2007. This is typically true every year. The income levels are again higher for Whites and Asians followed by Blacks and Hispanics. But, the layers are clearly visible by education level. That's what is so cool about studying stratification. Official data begin to tell you the story about how the layers look in a society.

Figure 5. A Comparison of the US Personal Income of Full-Time Workers by Education Level 2007*

*Retrieved 21 April 2009 from ÒEducational Attainment in the United States: 2007 from http://www.census.gov/prod/2009pubs/p20-560.pdf

Figure 6 begins to show you why the layers look the way they do in society. As we will discuss later in Chapter 14 on education, dropping out of high school hurts your income and overall socio-economic well-being. Asians had the lowest dropout rates followed closely by Whites. Over 40 percent of Hispanics, African Americans, and Native Americans dropped out. Dropping out is a dead end personal income buster that hurts the individual, community, and society at large. Dropping out is a very bad economic choice.

But, not all economic disadvantage results from our choices. In the US, non-Whites, non-Asians, and non-males are more likely to be found in the lower layers. Figure 7 portrays what the layering of society might look like if the US population were divided into 3 groups, the top 10 percent extremely wealthy, the next 20 percent wealthy, and the remaining 70 percent of middle and lower classes. The top 10 percent of our country owns the lion share of all the wealth available to be owned in the US. They own as much as 100 times the average US person's wealth. For a relative few they make more in a year than most of us make in a lifetime. Theirs' is the life of high levels of the 3 Ps. Among the next 20 percent Upper-class, they hold the high ranking jobs, run for elected office, and run the major corporations in CEO-level positions. These types of jobs: pay more; require more education; require more abstract thought; and allow for more self-directed, autonomy in their daily activities. The blue or largest category includes the remainder of us. We fall in some layer between upper middle class, middle class, working class, labor class, and/or poor.

Figure 6. Percentage of United States High School Dropouts by Race for 2007*

*Extracted from Jason Amos, (August 2008) Dropouts, Diplomas, and Dollars: US High Schools and the Nation's Economy taken from Internet on 24 March 2009 from http://www.all4ed.org/files/Econ2008.pdf All4edu funded by Bill and Malinda gates Foundation.

Figure 7. Portrayal of United States' Economic Layering

© 2009 Ron J. Hammond, Ph.D.

Understanding Poverty and Near Poverty

The US has an official definition of being poor or in poverty. The Poverty Line is the official measure of those whose incomes are less than three times a lower cost food budget. This definition has been the US 's official poverty definition since the 1930s with only a few adjustments. Near Poverty is when one earns up to 25% above the poverty line. We would say that a person near poverty has an income below 125% of the current poverty line.

In Table 2 below you can see the US Health and Human Services 2009 poverty guidelines with estimates of near poverty levels. Most who qualify as living below poverty also qualify for state and federal welfare which typically include health care benefits, food assistance, housing and utility assistance, and some cash aid. Those near poverty may or may not qualify depending upon current state and federal regulations.

Do you remember up above where www.Forbes.com reported that the world's 793 billionaires lost about 23 percent of their wealth (they also were worth about $3 billion each)? If they suffered that same 23 percent loss today they'd still be worth $2,310,000,000. You take your highest range of poverty line ($37,010 for a family of 10) and take 23 percent of a loss on that you see real economic hurting with only $28,478 for 10 people in the family. We've all lost during these economic downturns and we've all gained something in the upswings. But, the losses hurt the lower layers of the economic strata sometimes to the point that they fall below the ability to sustain their families. Absolute Poverty is the level of poverty where individuals and families cannot sustain food, shelter, warmth, and safety needs. Those below poverty are already in a bind. For example, the average home where I live in Utah cost way more than the average poor family of 10 could afford. A family that big could not find an apartment to rent. They might find a mobile home or might even on a real lucky break find some government subsidized housing assistance. Not being able to find suitable housing is correlated with many other social challenges for families.

Table 2. US Poverty Guidelines 2009 With Near Poverty Estimates*

Number of People in Family Poverty Line Near Poverty Estimates <125% of Poverty Line
     1 $10,830 $13,536
     2 $14,570 $18,211
     3 $18,310 $22,886
     4 $22,050 $27,561
     5 $25,790 $32,236
     6 $29,530 $36,911
     7 $33,270 $41,586
     8 $37,010 $46,261

Retrieved 22 April 2009 The 2009 HHS Poverty Guidelines from http://aspe.hhs.gov/POVERTY/09poverty.shtml

In Figure 8 you can see the poverty and near poverty rates for various racial groups in the Unites States 1980 to 2006. The thick black line represents the sum of the percent in poverty and below 125 percent of the poverty line (near poverty) for each year. The line ranges about 25 percent or just below 1 in 4 being in or near poverty for the US. Whites (the redline) have the lowest rate of persons in poverty but make up the largest numbers of persons in poverty because Whites represent about 75 percent of the US population. Asians are slightly higher than Whites. The blue line represents the percent in poverty for all races. It's much lower than the high rates of poverty for Blacks and Hispanics because Whites are such a larger portion of the population that it pulls the overall average downward for all race. The near poverty line is tan. Hispanic is second worst and Black is the worst for percent in poverty. We see that the layers in the strata have racial factors for both poverty and near poverty levels (we'll discuss race issues more in Chapter 11). There are also layers in the strata based on education (we'll discuss this more in Chapter 14).

Figure 8. Poverty and Near Poverty (<125 Percent of Poverty Line) for US by Race and Hispanic for 1980 to 2006*

*Asian data not available until 1990Retrieved 22 April, 2009 from Table 693. Families Below poverty Level and Below 125 Percent of Poverty Level by Race and Hispanic Origin: 1980 to 2006 from http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/tables/09s0693.pdf

The US with such a high GNI PPP score has relatively high level of a standard of living. Outside the US in the poorer regions of the world a GNI PPP income of $1.25 or less per day is considered below poverty (retrieved 22 April, 2009 from http://www.unescap.org/stat/data/syb2008/17-poverty-and-inequality.asp Statistical Yearbook 17. Poverty-and-inequality).

There are differences among economic systems in which people live and have opportunities. This brings up a very important concept from Max Weber. Life Chances are an individual's access to basic opportunities and resources in the marketplace. Not all of us have the same life chances as others. For example, one of my best friends in high school came from a wealthy family. Her father was a neurosurgeon and they had many resources that myself and others like me didn't have. When I went to college, I was the first ever on either my mother or father's side to go to college. I had no financial aid, no family support, and such bad high school grades that I had no scholarship funding. My friend on the other hand had a new car, new Apple computer, all expenses paid apartment and living costs. She and I had very different life chances from one another. She earned her Master's degree and I earned my Ph.D. I only received help once from my father with a car repair bill (he gave me this as a graduation present). I worked numerous part-time jobs and eventually got my GPA high enough to earn a scholarship, and later graduate assistantship. I also had to take out thousands in student loans.

But, even I had far greater life chances than most people in the world today. So do you. We have K-12 education, access to college, and the possibility of a career of our choosing. In many less developed countries low to no formal education is common fare. The United Nations has the 2015 Millennium Development Goal and the Education For All initiative (see Table 12.1 from http://www.unescap.org/stat/data/syb2008/12-Participation-in-education.asp ). It is simply that all children of the world will have access to a primary education by the year 2015.

This goal equates to them receiving K-6 education. In 2006, the world average was 83.4 percent of children getting some k-6 education with an expected number of 10.6 years for males and 11.1 years for females worldwide. In Africa many children get no formal education and in 2006, only 72.6 percent got K-6 with an expected 9.1 years for males 7.6 for females. As you can see, life chances vary from house to house, state to state, region to region, and nation to nation. It also clarifies your understanding of stratification to look to the nation's economic system.

Measuring Economic Systems: Class and Caste

The United States has an open class system of life chances and opportunities in the market place.

An Open Class System is an economic system that has upward mobility, is achievement-based, and allows social relations between the classes. India has a closed caste system. A Closed Caste System is an economic system that allows no mobility between caste levels: you are born into the caste you stay in your entire life, and you can't have social relations between the castes. India has a highly structured caste system which has 5 distinct cast layers called: Brahman (Priests or scholars); Kshatriya (Nobles and warriors); Vaishva (Merchants and skilled artisans); Shudra (Common laborers); and Harijan (Outcast/dirty workers).

In India you typically are born into a caste and that is your destiny for life. This was basically true up until the 1980s when multi-national corporations began to set up various types of business enterprises in India. Western corporations hired thousands and thousands based upon their personal skills and achievements (a class trait in the West). The Indians have experienced cultural disruptions because talented individuals have worked their way above higher caste members in the organizational structure. We find similar violations of caste rules here in the US where Indians who migrate here find themselves with many opportunities. Their life chances increase by virtue of their being able to shift residence from a caste to a class society.

Sociologists like to study how people improve, diminish, or leave unchanged their economic status-we call this Social Mobility=the movement between economic strata in a society's system. There are a few key types of mobility. Upward Mobility=moving from a lower to higher class. Downward Mobility is moving from a higher to a lower class. Horizontal Mobility is remaining in the same class. We can compare mobility between or within generations of family members. Inter-generational Mobility is the research of mobility between generations (IE: grandparents to parents to grandchildren to great-grandchildren). Just list the occupation your grandparents, parents, and you have and rank them by property, power, and prestige. This is a measure of inter-generational mobility at your personal level. Intra-generational Mobility is the research of mobility within a generation. Just compare your property, power, and prestige between you and your brothers and sisters (this might even work for comparisons between you and your cousins).

Structural Mobility is mobility in social class which is attributable to changes in social structure of a society at the larger social, not personal level. The United States has experienced collective upward social mobility for the entire nation over the last 40 plus years. Figure 9 shows the median household income in 2006 dollars from 1967 to 2006.

Figure 9. United States Median Household Income in 2006 Dollars from 1967 to 2006.

*Source: US Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 1968 to 2007 Annual Social and Economic Supplements. Note: Median household incomes were not calculated for the US before 1967. Retrieved 22 April, 2009 from http://www.census.gov/population/www/pop-profile/files/dynamic/MoneyIncome.pdf

It is clear that there has been upward structural social mobility. In other words, the median household income has gone up nation-wide from 1967 to 2006. Remember these are inflation adjusted 2006 constant dollars so they can be compared between years. Notice that most of the declines were seasonal and came soon after a recessionary time in the economy. Overall, this represents one measure of upward structural mobility in the US.

Sociologists who focus on stratification typically use official data to measure the layers. This is what is called the Objective Method, where researchers set up categories and rank people according to preset objective criteria (such as median household income). Sociologists also talk to people or ask their opinions about the layers and how they perceive their fit into the economic strata. The Reputational Method is where researchers look to people who know the individual and subjectively report on his/her class. We ask them to answer a survey question such as "which class best fits your current economic situation? __Rich, __Middle, __Working, or __Poverty Class". Notice the absence of numbers in the reputational method.

Another measure of economic well-being is health care coverage. The US Census Bureau reported that in 2007 about 15.3 percent or over 45 million in the US had no health care coverage (retrieved 22 April, 2009 from http://www.census.gov/prod/2008pubs/p60-235.pdf ).

Table 3. US Percent of Uninsured by Selected Characteristics 2007*

Category % Uninsured
White 14.3%
Black 19.5%
Asian 16.8%
Hispanic 32.1%
< 6 years old 10.5%
6-11 years old 10.3%
12-17 years old 12.0%
<18 years old 11.0%
18-24 years old 28.1%
25-34 years old 25.7%
35-44 years old 18.3%
45-64 years old 14.0%
65+ years old 1.9%
Children in Poverty 17.6%
<$25,000 per year income 24.5%
$25-49,999 per year income 21.1%
$50-74,999 per year income 14.5%
$75,000+ per year income 7.8%
Worked Full-time 17.0%
Worked Part-time 23.4%
Did Not Work 25.4%

*Retrieved 22 April, 2009 from Table 6. People Without Health Insurance Coverage by Selected Characteristics: 2006 and 2007& Figure 8. Uninsured Children by Poverty Status, Age, and Race and Hispanic Origin: 2007 from http://www.census.gov/prod/2008pubs/p60-235.pdf

Health care coverage is a major economic resource. Again, White and Asian categories are in the higher strata on this resource. They have the lowest uninsured rates. Blacks are closer to Asians than are Hispanics. Hispanics have the highest level of uninsurance by racial group and it's over twice as high as for Whites. Since nearly 60 percent of insurance is provided by employers, it makes sense that the young adult 18-34 year olds would have less insurance, because they are still getting their formal educations and establishing their careers. But, what about the nearly 11 percent of children without insurance or the nearly 18 percent of children in poverty without it?

This is difficult to justify in today's modern society. Every country that the US compares itself to as being a similarly more developed nation offers health insurance as a right to all, not just a privilege to the wealthier people in the higher strata. The less income one has per year the higher the uninsurance rates. About 1 in 4 who worked part-time or did not work at all have no insurance, while only 17 percent of full-time workers went without.

Yes, there are layers in society. Through sociology's theories and statistical style you can begin to better understand how they develop and how they are perpetuated in various forms both within and between countries.