SOLUTION: UCR Sociology Changes in Inequality Question

SOLUTION: UCR Sociology Changes in Inequality Question.

Chapter 15. Economy and Politics
In this chapter, you will learn to:
Compare different types of economic systems
Identify the components of change in the contemporary global economy
Identify the different organizational components of the workplace
Explain the conditions affecting diverse groups in the workplace
Compare and contrast sociological theories of work
Compare different types of political systems
Define different forms of power and authority and the organization of bureaucracies
Analyze patterns of political participation
Comprehend the organization of the military as a social institution
Because you are reading this book, chances are that you are in school, probably seeking a college degree that will help you
find a good job. Your hopes and dreams likely rest on getting a decent education, discovering what you plan to do in a job,
and gaining the skills you need to succeed. You might be wondering how your education will prepare you for work and how
you will match your interests to the current job market.
On one level, these are individual issues that involve your interests and talents, your motivation, and how well prepared you
are to study and work. But behind these individual matters lie other social structures—structures that shape the options
you face, the resources you have to pursue your dreams, and whether good jobs are available to you. The background
structures that frame your individual life are the result of social institutions and how those institutions are organized.
Finding work situates you within economic institutions—that is, the economy, which, like other social institutions, has a
particular social structure that includes an organized system of social roles, norms, and values. Social institutions extend
beyond us, but they shape day-to-day life.
Typically, people do not think about such structures and may not even be aware of the institution that shape their daily
lives. But in today’s world, individual experiences about work are being radically transformed by changes in the nation’s—
indeed, the world’s—economy. Every day, news reports note the impact of globalization on work and workers; new
technologies are transforming work for everyone—those at the top and those at the bottom. Some even fear that robots
and other technologies will completely displace whole classes of workers—drivers, as an example, should self-driving cars
become the norm.
In other words, the work you have—or do not—is shaped not just by individual decisions, but also by large-scale
sociological and economic forces that may feel far beyond your own control. Think about finding a job. The likelihood of
doing so depends not only on your individual attributes (level of education, skills, region where you live, and so forth) but
also on the economic conditions of the time. For some, these conditions may mean long-term unemployment. Young
people entering the labor market for the first time, even as college graduates, may find themselves facing possible
joblessness, through no fault of their own but merely because they exited school at a time when broader social forces were
shaping their life opportunities. Although understanding the institutional forces at work at any given time does not reduce
the suffering that people may experience, such an understanding can help you think about social changes that shape
people’s experience in society. In this chapter, we look at the sociological analysis of the economy and work in society.
Economy and Society
All societies are organized around an economic base. The economy of a society is the system by which goods and
services are produced, distributed, and consumed. The historic transformation from an agriculturally based society to an
industrial society and now a post-industrial society is the foundation that will guide an understanding of the economy and
The Industrial Revolution
In Chapter 5, we discussed the evolution of different types of societies. Recall that one of the most significant of these
changes was, first, the development of agricultural societies and, later, the far-ranging impact of the Industrial Revolution.
Now, the Industrial Revolution is giving way to a postindustrial revolution—a development with far-reaching consequences
for how work in society is organized.
The Industrial Revolution is usually pinpointed as beginning in mid-eighteenth-century Europe, soon thereafter spreading
throughout other parts of the world. The Industrial Revolution led to numerous social changes because Western economies
became organized around the mass production of goods. The Industrial Revolution created factories, separating work and
family by relocating the place where most people were employed.
We still live in a society that is largely industrial, but that is quickly giving way to a new kind of social organization: the
postindustrial society. Whereas industrial societies are primarily organized around the production of goods,
postindustrial societies are organized around the provision of information and services. The United States has thus
moved from being a manufacturing-based economy to an economy centered on the provision of services. Service is a
broad term meant to encompass a wide range of economic activities now common in the labor market. It includes banking
and finance, retail sales, hotel and restaurant work, and health care. It also includes parts of the information technology
industry—not electronics assembly, but areas such as software design and the exchange of information (through the
Internet, publishing, video production, and the like). Some service jobs, such as software engineers, are at the high end of
the labor market; others, such as fast food cooks, are among the lowest paid and least well-regarded.
Comparing Economic Systems
Economic systems are characterized by different forms: The three major forms are capitalism, socialism, and communism.
These are not totally distinct, that is, many societies have a mix of these economic systems. Capitalism is an economic
system based on the principles of market competition, private property, and the pursuit of profit. Within capitalist societies,
stockholders own corporations—or a share of the corporations’ wealth. Under capitalism, owners keep a surplus of what is
generated by the economy; this is their profit, which may be in the form of money, financial assets, or other commodities.
Socialism is an economic institution characterized by state (government) ownership and management of the basic
industries; that is, the means of production are the property of the state, not of individuals. Modern socialism emerged
from the writings of Karl Marx, who predicted that capitalism would give way to egalitarian, state-dominated socialism,
followed by a transition to stateless, classless communism. Many European nations, for example, have strong elements of
socialism that mix with the global forces of capitalism. Sweden supports an extensive array of state-run social services,
such as health care, education, and social welfare programs, but Swedish industry is capitalist. Other world nations are
more strongly socialist, although they are not immune from the penetrating influence of capitalism. China was formerly a
strongly socialist society that is currently undergoing great transformation to capitalist principles, including state
encouragement of a market-based economy, the introduction of privately owned industries, and increased engagement in
the international capitalist economy.
Communism is sometimes described as socialism in its purest form. In pure communism, industry is not the private
property of owners. Instead, the state is the sole owner of the systems of production. Communist philosophy argues that
capitalism is fundamentally unjust because powerful owners take more from laborers (and society) than they give and use
their power to maintain the inequalities between the worker and owner classes. Communist theorists in the nineteenth
century declared that capitalism would inevitably be overthrown as workers worldwide united against owners and the
system that exploited them. Class divisions were supposed to be erased at that time, along with private property and all
forms of inequality. History has not borne out these predictions.
The Changing Global Economy
One of the most significant developments of modern times is the creation of a global economy, affecting work in the
United States and worldwide. The concept of the global economy acknowledges that all dimensions of the economy now
cross national borders, including investment, production, management, markets, labor, information, and technology.
Economic events in one nation now can have major reverberations throughout the world. When the economies of any
major nation are unstable, the effects are felt worldwide.
Multinational corporations—those that draw a large share of their revenues from foreign investments and conduct
business across national borders—have become increasingly powerful, spreading their influence around the globe. The
global economy links the lives of millions of Americans to the experiences of other people throughout the world. You can
see the globalization of the economy in everyday life: Status symbols such as high-priced sneakers are manufactured for
just a few cents in China. The Barbie dolls that young girls accumulate are inexpensive by U.S. standards, yet it would
require one month’s wages for an Indonesian or Chinese worker who makes the doll to buy it for her child.
In the global economy, the most developed countries control research and management, and assembly-line work is
performed in nations with less privileged positions in the global economy. A single product, such as an automobile, may be
assembled from parts made all over the world—the engine assembled in Mexico, tires manufactured in Malaysia, and
electronic parts constructed in China. The relocation of manufacturing to wherever labor is cheap has led to the
emergence of the global assembly line, an international division of labor in which research and development is conducted
in the United States, Japan, Germany, and other major world powers, and the assembly of goods is done primarily in
underdeveloped and poor nations—mostly by women and, all too often, children.
Related to the global assembly line is the phenomenon known as outsourcing. Outsourcing is the transfer of a specialized
task from one organization to another that occurs for cost saving; often, the work is transferred to a different nation, as
you have likely witnessed when calling someone for help with your computer. The person who answers may well be working
in India or somewhere else and is part of an economy that is deeply entangled with that in the United States.
Within the United States, the development of a global economy has created anxieties about the movement of jobs
overseas. This was vividly seen during Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency where he wooed working-class voters
by promising to “bring their jobs back,” even though his own branded products were typically made abroad. Anxieties
about losing jobs to foreign workers, including immigrants, produce xenophobia, the fear and hatred of foreigners.
Campaigns to “buy American” reflect this trend, although the concept of buying American is becoming increasingly
antiquated in a global economy.
When buying a product from a U.S. company, it is likely that the parts, if not the product itself, were built overseas. In a
global economy, distinctions between U.S. and foreign businesses blur. Moreover, the label “made in U.S.A.” does not
necessarily mean that well-paid workers in the United States made the product. In the garment industry, sweatshop
workers—many of whom are recent immigrants and primarily women—are likely to have stitched the clothing that bears
such a label. Moreover, these workers are likely to be working under exploitative conditions.
The development of a global economy is part of the broad process of economic restructuring, which refers to the
contemporary transformations in the basic structure of work that are permanently altering the workplace. This process
includes the changing composition of the workplace, deindustrialization, and use of enhanced technology. Some changes
are demographic—that is, resulting from changes in the population. The labor force is becoming more diverse, with women
and people of color becoming the majority of those employed. Other changes are driven by technological developments.
For example, the economy is based less on its earlier manufacturing base and more on service industries.
A More Diverse Workplace
A more diverse workplace is becoming a common result of economic restructuring. Today’s workforce is older, includes
more women, and is more racially and ethnically diverse than ever before. People in the older age group (age 55 and older)
have lower labor force participation rates than middle-aged people, yet they comprise, at least for the time being, a
somewhat larger percentage of workers than was true in the past—due in large part to the size of the baby boomer
Thinking Sociologically
Identify a job you once held (or currently hold) and make a list of all the ways that workers in this segment of the
labor market are being affected by the various dimensions of economic restructuring: demographic changes,
globalization of the economy, and technological change. What does your list tell you about how social structure
shapes people’s individual work experiences?
Thinking Sociologically
Think about the labor market in the region where you live. What racial and ethnic groups have historically worked in
various segments of this labor market, and how would you now describe the racial and ethnic division of labor?
As the U.S. population becomes more diverse, diversity in the labor market will continue. In fact, the White, non Hispanic
share of the labor market has fallen to 60 percent of the labor force, compared to 76 percent as recently as 1994. White,
non-Hispanics in the labor market are expected to fall below 60 percent by the year 2030. Meanwhile, Asian and Hispanic
workers—and all women—are expected to become an increased proportion of the labor market. The growth for young
people (aged 16 to 24) in the labor market is also predicted to decline. The workforce is also growing more slowly than in
the past, even though the U.S. population is growing (Toossi 2015). These basic facts about population change in the
workforce will shape the experience of generations to come.
These changes in the social organization of work and the economy are creating a more diverse labor force, but much of
the growth in the economy is projected to be in service industries, where education and training are required for the best
jobs. People without these skills will not be well positioned for success. Manufacturing industries, where racial minorities
and less-educated young people have previously gained a foothold on employment, are now in decline. New technologies
and corporate layoffs have reduced the number of entry-level corporate jobs that recent college graduates have always
used as a starting point for career mobility. Many college graduates are employed in jobs that do not require a college
degree. College graduates, however, do still have higher earnings than those with less education.
Deindustrialization refers to the transition from a predominantly goods-producing economy to one based on the
provision of services. This does not mean that goods are no longer produced, but that fewer workers in the United States
are needed to produce them. Machines can do the work people once did, and many goods-producing jobs have moved
Deindustrialization is most easily observed by looking at the decline in the number of jobs in the manufacturing sector of
the U.S. economy since the World War II. The manufacturing sector includes workers who actually produce goods. At the
end of the war in 1945, the majority of workers (51 percent) in the United States were employed in manufacturing-based
jobs. Now, manufacturing accounts for only about 7 percent of the total labor force (Henderson 2015).
The service sector employs the other 93 percent, including two segments: the actual delivery of services (such as food
preparation, cleaning, or child care) and the transmission and processing of information (such as banking and finance,
computer operation, clerical work, and even education workers, such as teachers). Parts of the service sector are higherwage and prestigious jobs, such as physicians, lawyers, financial professionals, and so forth, but huge parts of the service
sector—and where there is the largest occupational growth—are low-wage, semiskilled, and unskilled jobs. This lower end
of the service sector employs many women, people of color, and immigrants.
The human cost of deindustrialization can be severe. Deindustrialization has led to job displacement, the permanent loss of
certain job types that occurs when employment patterns shift. When a manufacturing plant shuts down, many people may
lose their jobs at the same time, and whole communities can be affected. Communities that were heavily dependent on a
single industry, such as steel towns or automobile-manufacturing cities such as Detroit, are among the areas hardest hit by
deindustrialization. Rural communities, too, can be harmed by deindustrialization because they often have only one major
employer, such as a coal mine or textile plant.
Job displacement hits people in both rural areas and inner cities hard because emerging new industries tend to be located
in suburban, not urban or rural, areas—a phenomenon called spatial mismatch. It is then no surprise that poverty is highest
in central cities and rural America. Unless young people have the educational and technical skills for employment in a new
economy, or if they live in areas hard hit by job displacement, they have little opportunity for getting a good start in the
now global economy. You see this in the extremely high unemployment rates for Black and Hispanic teens (see Figure 153 later in this chapter; Wilson 2009, 1996).
Technological Change
Coupled with deindustrialization, rapidly changing and developing technologies are bringing major changes in work,
including how it is organized, who does it, and how much it pays. One of the most influential technological developments of
the twentieth century has been the invention of the semiconductor. Computer technology has made possible workplace
transactions that would have seemed like science fiction not that many years ago. Electronic information can be
transferred around the world in less than a second. Employees can provide work for corporations located on another
continent. A woman in Southeast Asia or the Caribbean can download and produce a book manuscript for a publishing
house in New York. Some argue that the computer chip has as much significance for social change as the earlier inventions
of the wheel and the steam engine.
Doing Sociological Research
Precarious Work: The Shifting Conditions of Work in Society
Historically, once in the labor market, an American could count on a relatively stable job over the course of a
lifetime, often in the same company. Now this is rare. Rather, as sociologist Arne Kalleberg labels it, precarious
work is defined as work that is uncertain, unpredictable, and risky from the point of view of a worker (Kalleberg
Research Question
What are the social conditions that have made work more precarious and made workers less secure in their
Research Methods
Kalleberg has studied these questions using a macro-level approach, drawing from secondary data sources, such
as information from the U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Education, the General Social Survey, the
Economic Policy Institute, and his own analyses of other published research studies.
Research Results
Kalleberg finds that the growth of precarious work produces increased stress for workers, thus also affecting
families and personal relationships. He documents several reasons for this particular transformation in
1. The expansion and institutionalization of nonstandard employment relations, such as temporary work and contract labor;
2. A general decline in job stability, meaning that people do not remain with the same employer over time;
3. An increasing tendency for employers to hire workers from outside of the work organization, rather than developing skills
and talents from within;
4. Growth in involuntary job loss, especially among prime-age White men in white-collar occupations;
5. Growth in long-term unemployment;
6. A shift of risk from employers to employees, particularly in the decline of employee benefits;
7. Decline of unions and worker protections as employers have sought greater flexibility in management practices and the
protection of profit margins.
Conclusions and Implications
Work is central to people’s identity. As these various and multiple social, economic, and political forces have
aligned, work has become more precarious and thus eroded people’s sense of security. Kalleberg argues that new
forms of work arrangements will be needed to ensure that employees, not just employers, have a commitment to
the economy and society.
Questions to Consider
1. Is the work you plan to do precarious? Why or why not?
2. How do you see the social factors that Kalleberg identifies as influencing the work of people in your social
Sources: Kalleberg, Arne. 2013. Good Jobs, Bad Jobs: The Rise of Polarized and Precarious Employment Systems in the United States, 1970s to 2000s. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Increasing reliance on the rapid transmission of electronic data has produced electronic sweatshops, a term referring to
the back offices found in many industries, such as airlines, insurance firms, and mail-order houses, where workers at
computer terminals process thousands of transactions in a day. Computers may monitor workers, conjuring up images of
“Big Brother” invisibly watching. Computers can measure how fast cashiers ring up groceries and how fast ticket agents
book reservations. Records derived from computer monitoring then become the basis for job performance evaluation.
Technological innovation in the workplace is a mixed blessing. Automation—the process by which human labor is replaced
by machines—eliminates many repetitive and tiresome tasks, and it makes rapid communication and access to information
possible. Our increasing dependence on technology may make workers subservient to machines, though. Robots can do
the spot welding on automobiles; robots are even used for human surgery. Sophisticated robots are capable of highly
complex tasks, enabling them to assemble finished products or flip burgers in fast-food restaurants. Will robots replace
human workers? Robots are expensive to buy, but employers can see other savings because “the robot hamburger-flipper
would need no lunch or bathroom breaks, would not take sick days, and most certainly would neither strike nor quit”
(Rosengarten 2000: 4).
Deskilling is a process whereby the level of skill required for performing certain jobs declines over time. Deskilling may
result when a job is automated or when a more complex job is divided into a sequence of easily performed units. With
deskilling, workers are paid less and have less control over their tasks. Jobs may become routine and boring. Deskilling
contributes to polarization of the labor force. The best jobs require increasing levels of skill and technological knowledge,
whereas people at the bottom of the occupational hierarchy may become stuck in dead-end positions and become
alienated from their work (Apple 1991).
Along with deskilling has come an increasing reliance on temporary or contingent workers. Contingent workers are those
who do not hold regular jobs, but whose employment is dependent on demand. This includes contract workers, temporary
workers, on-call workers (those called only when needed), the self-employed, and day laborers. Women are more likely than
men to be employed in these jobs, and women are concentrated in the least desirable jobs—those with the lowest pay and
least likelihood of providing benefits. Considering race, Whites are more likely to be independent contractors or selfemployed, whereas Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be found in temporary and part-time contingent work
(Kalleberg 2013).
One of the most significant changes in the U.S. labor force has been the increased presence of immigrant labor. There are
approximately 40 million foreign-born people in the United States—13 percent of the U.S. population; almost half (44
percent) of the foreign born have become U.S. citizens. There are also about 11 million undocumented immigrants, socalled illegal immigrants. Immigrants constitute more than one-third of the labor force in fields such as building cleaning
and maintenance; agriculture; meat, poultry, and fish production; and construction. Eighty-two percent of immigrant
households have at least one worker present, more than is true for native-born households (where the figure is 73 percent;
U.S. Census Bureau 2014).
Immigrants have far lower wages than native-born citizens, and they also experience higher rates of poverty. Although
immigrants have been concentrated in particular states (California, Florida, Arizona, and Texas, among others), the recent
trend has been that immigrants have moved into other geographic regions and smaller towns, thus transforming the
character of hundreds of American communities (Jimenez 2009).
Debunking Society’s Myths
Myth: Immigrants take jobs away from American citizens.
Sociological Perspective: Immigrants and native workers do not tend to compete for the same jobs; studies also
find that the average U.S. workers’ wages actually increase because of immigration (Peri and Sparber 2009; Cortes
Immigration has not only changed the composition of the workforce, but it has also stimulated intense political debate.
Should the nation restrict immigration? Should a guest worker program be created? What rights do immigrants have?
These issues engage different interest groups—including immigrants themselves and the organizations that support them,
business leaders, nonimmigrant workers, and local communities where immigrants are employed. These interests often
diverge, creating conflict and certainly raising questions for policymakers about the best way to handle immigration.
Popular wisdom holds that the bulk of new immigrants, particularly Latino immigrants, are illegal, poor, and desperate, but
the facts show otherwise. In fact, the proportion of professionals and technicians among legal immigrants exceeds the
proportion of professionals in the labor force as a whole. This conclusion, though, is based on formal immigration data that
exclude undocumented immigrants, most of whom are from the working class. Still, those who migrate are usually not the
most downtrodden in their home country. The poor are seldom those able to migrate. Even undocumented immigrants
tend to have higher levels of education and occupational skills than the typical workers in their homeland. Immigrants
include both the most educated and the least educated segments of the population.
Some European nations have created guest worker programs to support the labor that immigrants provide. Guest worker
programs allow immigrants to work in a nation for a limited period of time without fear of deportation, but they must
return to their nation of origin at the end of their time limit. Critics argue that such programs threaten jobs for U.S.
workers and allow employers to exploit this unequal class of workers. Supporters say guest worker programs allow for
better regulation of immigration and avoid some of the problems of illegal immigration. It is unclear what direction the
United States will take in immigration policy, but what is clear is that the U.S. economy is highly dependent on immigrant
Social Organization of the Workplace
Most people think of work as an activity for which a person is paid, but work also includes the labor that people do without
pay. Unpaid jobs such as housework, child care, and volunteer activities make up much of the work done in the world.
Sociologists define work as productive human activity that creates something of value, either goods or services. Given this
definition of work, housework, though unpaid, is defined as work, even though it is not included in the official measures of
productivity used to indicate national work output.
Arlie Hochschild (1983) has introduced the concept of emotional labor to address some forms of work that are common in
a service-based economy. Emotional labor is work specifically intended to produce a desired state of mind in a client and
often involves putting on a false front before clients. Many jobs require some handling of other people’s feelings, and
emotional labor is performed where inducing or suppressing a feeling in the client is one of the primary work tasks. Airline
flight attendants perform emotional labor—their job is to please the passenger and, as Hochschild suggests, to make
passengers feel as though they are guests in someone’s living room.
The Division of Labor
The division of labor is the systematic interrelatedness of different tasks that develop in complex societies. When
different groups engage in different economic activities, a division of labor is said to exist. In a relatively simple division of
labor, one group may be responsible for planting and harvesting crops, whereas another group is responsible for hunting
game. As the economic system becomes more complex, the division of labor becomes more elaborate.
Fritz Hoffmann/The Image Works
Race and gender segregation in the labor market mean that women of color are concentrated in occupations where most other
workers are also women of color.
In the United States, gender, race, class, and age—the major axes of stratification—shape the division of labor. The class
division of labor can be observed by looking at the work done by people with different educational backgrounds, because
education is a fairly reliable indicator of class. People with more education tend to work in higher-paid, higher-prestige
occupations. Class also leads to perceived distinctions in the value of manual labor versus mental labor. Those presumed to
be doing mental labor (management and professional positions) tend to be paid more and have more job prestige than
those presumed to be doing manual labor. Class thus produces stereotypes about the working class; manual labor is
presumed to be the inverse of mental labor, meaning it is presumed to require no thinking. By extension, workers who do
manual labor may be incorrectly assumed not to be very smart, regardless of their intelligence.
The gender division of labor refers to the different work that women and men do in society. In societies with a strong
gender division of labor, the belief that some activities are women’s work (for example, secretarial work) and other activities
men’s work (for example, construction) contributes greatly to the propagation of inequality between women and men,
especially because cultural expectations usually place more value (both social and economic) on men’s work. This helps
explain why librarians and social workers, most of whom are women, are typically paid less than electricians despite the
likelihood that both professions require higher education than that for electricians. Clearly all of these jobs require skill and
training, but what determines the actual value of the work done? Sociologists argue that the structure of stratification, not
the actual value of the job, is the answer.
See for Yourself
Anatomy of Working-Class Jobs
Identify an occupation that you think of as a working-class job. Then, find someone who does this kind of work and
who would be willing to talk with you. Ask this person to tell you exactly what he or she does and what is most
difficult and most rewarding about the work. Where does this job fit in the division of labor? Who does the job, and
how are they rewarded (or not)? How would each of the three major theoretical perspectives in sociology
(functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interaction) interpret this work in the context of the broader society?
Also determining the division of labor is race and ethnicity—the racial–ethnic division of labor. Even with civil rights and
equal employment opportunity laws in place, race and ethnicity structure how people are distributed in jobs. Although
racial–ethnic groups are distributed over a wide array of jobs, including as professional workers, there remains a
concentration of people of color and immigrant labor in the lower-wage, low-status positions in the division of labor. This
work is as necessary for society’s survival as high-end jobs, but it is devalued and, often, underappreciated labor.
The glass ceiling is the term used to describe the limits to advancement that women, as well as racial–ethnic people and
minorities, experience at work. Many barriers to the advancement of women and minorities have been removed, yet
invisible barriers still persist. The existence of the glass ceiling is well documented. Although there has been an increase in
the number of managers who are women and minorities, most top management jobs are still held by White men, who are
far more likely than other groups to control a budget, participate in hiring and promotion, and have subordinates who
report to them. Women and racial minorities remain clustered at the bottom of managerial hierarchies (see Figure 15-1).
Figure 15-1.
The Glass Ceiling.
Whimsically depicted as an architectural drawing by Norman Andersen, the glass ceiling refers to the structural obstacles still
inhibiting upward mobility for women workers. Most employed women remain clustered in low-status, low-wage jobs that hold
little chance for mobility. Those who make it to the top often report being blocked and frustrated by patterns of exclusion and
gender stereotyping.
The Occupational System and the Labor Market
Jobs are organized into an occupational system—the array of jobs that together constitute the labor market. Within the
occupational system, people are distributed in patterns that reflect the race, class, and gender organization of society.
Jobs vary in their economic rewards, their perceived value and prestige, and the opportunities they hold for advancement.
The Dual Labor Market
The labor market can be seen as comprising two major segments, the primary labor market and the secondary labor
market, a phenomenon known as the dual labor market (see also Chapter 11). The primary labor market offers jobs with
relatively high wages, benefits, stability, good working conditions, opportunities for promotion, job protection, and due
process for workers (meaning workers are treated according to established rules and procedures that are allegedly fairly
administered). Blue-collar and service workers in the primary labor market are often unionized, which leads to better wages
and job benefits. High-level corporate jobs and unionized occupations fall into this segment of the labor market.
The secondary labor market is characterized by low wages, few benefits, high turnover, poor working conditions, little
opportunity for advancement, no job protection, no retirement plan, and perhaps arbitrary treatment of workers. Many
service jobs, such as waiting tables, nonunionized assembly work, and domestic work, are in the secondary labor market.
Women and minority workers are the most likely groups to be employed in the secondary labor market. This particular
structure in the labor market can explain much about race, gender, and class inequalities in work.
Occupational Distribution
Occupational distribution describes the pattern by which workers are located in the labor force. Workers are dispersed
throughout the occupational system in patterns that vary greatly by race, class, and gender, revealing a certain
occupational segregation on the basis of such characteristics. Women are most likely to work in technical, sales, and
administrative support, primarily because of their heavy concentration in clerical work. This is now true for both White
women and women of color. White men are most likely found in managerial and professional jobs, whereas African
American and Hispanic men are most likely employed in some of the least well paid and least prestigious jobs in the
occupational system (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2017).
Changes in occupational segregation are noticeable over time. For example, in 1960, 38 percent of all Black women were
employed as private domestic workers; by the 1990s, this had declined to less than 2 percent. Over time, there has also
been some increase in the number of women employed in working-class jobs traditionally held only by men. Today, women
comprise 3 percent of construction workers, a small increase from the past, but a very small proportion of such workers
(U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2017).
Sociologists have extensively documented that earnings from work are highly dependent on race, gender, and class, as
shown in Figure 15-2. White men earn the most, with a gap between men’s and women’s earnings among all groups.
African American women and Hispanic men and women earn the least. Occupations in which White men are the numerical
majority tend to pay more than occupations in which women and minorities are a majority of the workers (U.S. Bureau of
Labor Statistics 2018).
Figure 15-2.
The Income Gap: U.S.-Born, Naturalized, and Non–U.S. Citizen Workers, 2012.
Data: U.S. Census Bureau. 2013. Total Money Income of Full-Time, Year-Round Workers 15 Years and Over with Earnings by Sex, Nativity, and U.S. Citizenship Status: 2012.
Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce.
These median income figures are for full-time workers only. Does anything surprise you about what you see in the graph? What
social factors do you think influence these earning differences?
Sources of Social Change
The causes of social change are many and varied but fall into several broad areas, including cultural diffusion; technological
innovation; the mobilization of people through social movements and collective behavior; and sometimes, war and
revolution. We examine each in the following sections.
Cultural Diffusion
Cultural diffusion (as noted in Chapter 2) is the transmission of cultural elements from one society or cultural group to
another. Cultural diffusion can occur by trade, migration, mass communications media, and social interaction.
Anthropologist Ralph Linton (1936) long ago alerted us to the fact that much of what many people regard as “American”
originally came from other lands—cloth (developed in Asia), clocks (invented in Europe), coins (developed in Turkey), and
much more.
Expressions and cultural elements found in the English-speaking United States have been harvested from all over the
world. Barbecued ribs, originally eaten by Black slaves in the South after the ribs were discarded by White slave owners
who preferred meatier parts of the pig, are now a delicacy enjoyed throughout the United States by many ethnic and racial
groups. One theorist, Robert Farris Thompson (1993), points out that an exceptionally large range of elements in material
and nonmaterial culture that originated in Africa have diffused throughout many groups and subcultures in the United
States, including aspects of language, music, dance, art, dress, decorative styles, and even forms of greeting. For example,
the expressions uh-huh (yes) and unh-unh (no) come from West Africa. Cultural diffusion occurs not only from one place to
another (such as from West Africa to the United States) but also across time, such as from a community in the past to
many diverse ethnic groups in the present.
The immigration of Latino groups into the United States over time has also dramatically altered U.S. culture by introducing
new food, music, language, slang, and many other cultural elements. Popular culture in the United States has diffused into
many other countries and cultures: Witness the adoption of American clothing styles, rock, rap, hip-hop, and Big Macs in
countries such as Japan, Germany, Russia, and China. The Coca-Cola logo can be found in grocery shops worldwide, from
the rain forests of Brazil to the ice floes of Norway.
Thinking Sociologically
Take a close look at the popular culture you enjoy. What evidence of cultural diffusion do you see in the form and
content of this culture?
Technological Innovation and the Cyberspace Revolution
Technological innovations can be strong catalysts of social change. The historical movement from agrarian societies to
industrialized societies has been tightly linked to the emergence of technological innovations and inventions (see Chapter
5). Inventions often come about because they answer a need in the society that promises great rewards. The waterwheel
promised agrarian societies greater power to raise crops despite dry weather, while also saving large amounts of time and
labor. It is possible to trace a timeline from the use of the waterwheel to the use of the large hydroelectric dams that power
industrialized societies, and along the way find evidence of how each major advance changed society.
In today’s world, the most obvious technological change transforming society is the rise of the computer and the
subsequent development of desktop—and now hand-held—computing since the 1980s. The invention and development of
the Internet and the resulting communication is now called cyberspace, which includes the use of computers for
communication between people and communication between people and computers. YouTube videos can go “viral” and
reach thousands, perhaps millions, in a very short period of time. A Twitter feed can reach millions in a matter of seconds
as people “tweet” and “retweet” messages around the world. Unique in its vastness and lack of a required central location,
the Internet has very rapidly become so much a part of human communication and social reality that it pervades and has
transformed every social institution—educational, economic, political, familial, and religious.
Social Movements and Collective Behavior
Social change does not develop in the abstract. Change comes from the actions of human beings. A social movement is a
group that acts with some continuity and organization to promote or resist social change in society. You can see the
influence of social movements both now and in the past. What would the United States be like had the civil rights
movement not been inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s liberation movement in India? How has the #BlackLivesMatter
movement mobilized people now? In what ways has the feminist movement changed your life? We are even witnessing a
proliferation of social movements now influenced in part by the ability to mobilize people through the use of social media,
such as the #MeToo movement.
Social movements involve groups, sometimes quite large and well organized, that act with some continuity and organization
to promote or resist change in society (Turner and Killian 1993). Social movements tend to persist over time, even though
they may arise spontaneously. Movements though develop a structure, although they also thrive on spontaneity. Social
movements often must swiftly develop new strategies and tactics in their quest for change. During the civil rights
movement, students improvised the technique of sit-ins, which quickly spread because they succeeded in gaining attention
for the activists’ concerns. This is a tactic that has recently been used by demonstrators who have staged “die-ins” to
protest the police shootings of young, African American men.
Some social movements aim to change individual behaviors, such as the New Age movement that focuses on personal
transformation. Other movements aim to change some aspect of society, such as the gay and lesbian movements that
have sought to end discrimination and change public attitudes. Some movements use reform strategies, such as by trying
to change laws. Others may be more radical, seeking change in the basic institutions of society. Other social movements
are reactionary—that is, organized to resist change or to reinstate an earlier social order that participants perceive to be
Doing Sociological Research
Who Cares and Why? Fair Trade and Organic Food
Research Question
There has been a notable increase in the public’s use of farmers’ markets, a greater presence of organic food
sections even in mainstream grocery stores, and other indications of the public’s growing concern about where
one’s food comes from and how it is grown. Social movements to enhance awareness of food production have
influenced some of this behavior, as has a corporate response to the public’s interest in local, safe, and sustainable
food production. Given the widespread growth of organic food options, do people purchase food (and other
products) because of their political and ethical values? This is what Philip Howard and Patricia Allen wanted to
Research Method
Howard and Allen mailed a survey to 1000 randomly selected respondents, asking them to rate five different
reasons why they would select food with different “ecolabels.” They identified five different labels: humane (meat,
dairy, and eggs coming from animals who have not been treated cruelly); living wage (provides wages to workers
above poverty level); locally grown; small-scale (supports small farms or businesses); and “made in the USA.” They
also collected data on demographic variables, such as age, income, level of education, gender, and place of
residence. They analyzed the results using sophisticated statistical techniques of regression analysis.
Research Results
First, the researchers noted that their respondents were more likely to be women, older, White, with a higher
income, and better educated than the demographic composition of their random sample. This is an important
caveat in interpreting the results because the results are not generalizable to the whole population. One-third of
their respondents reported purchasing local foods frequently; many fewer bought organic food regularly.
The three most popular interests in purchasing food were buying local, humane treatment, and providing a living
wage for food production workers, but there were differences by demographic group. Buying local was even more
important for rural residents. For those who bought organic food, humane reasons topped their preferences.
Women were more interested in ecolabeling than men; higher-income people were less likely to care about a living
wage than were lower-income respondents. Older respondents were more concerned about the influence of
corporations on food production.
Conclusions and Implications
Consumers want the food they buy to reflect their political and ethical judgments. From a sociological perspective,
you can also see the influence of demographic variables on the decisions people make about purchasing their
food. Although not specifically examined in this study, social movements to “buy local,” protect animals, and
advocate for food safety have also influenced consumer preferences, meaning that there have been significant
changes over time in the food choices that people have.
Questions to Consider
1. Examine your own behavior. What influences what you buy to eat?
2. Do political and ethical values influence your choices?
3. To what degree are your choices influenced by corporations and marketing?
4. Does your social location in particular demographic groups influence your eating habits?
Source: Howard, Philip H., and Patricia Allen. 2010. “Beyond Organic and Fair Trade? An Analysis of Ecolabel Preferences in the United States.” Rural Sociology 75: 244–269.
Social movements do not typically develop out of thin air. For a movement to begin, there must be a preexisting
communication network (Freeman 1983). The importance of a preexisting communication network is well illustrated by the
beginning of the civil rights movement, which most historians date to December 1, 1955, the day Rosa Parks was arrested
in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to give up her seat to a White man on a municipal bus. Although she is typically
understood as simply having been too tired to give up her seat that day, Rosa Parks had been an active member of the
movement against segregation in Montgomery. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat according to plan, the
movement stood ready to mobilize. News of her arrest spread quickly via networks of friends, kin, church, and school
organizations (Morris 1999; Robinson 1987).
dpa picture alliance/Alamy Stock Photo
Social movements such as the disability rights movement can raise public awareness and result in new forms of social
Celebrities can also advance the cause of social movements by bringing visibility to the movement, such as when NFL
players (begun by Colin Kaepernick) kneeled during the national anthem to bring attention to the treatment of African
Americans in society. Whether you agree with this protest or not, it has brought attention to important social movements
for racial justice as well as sparking a national discussion about free speech and the right to protest. What other examples
of celebrities championing social movements can you identify?
As movements develop, they quickly establish an organizational structure. The shape of the movement’s organization may
range from formal bureaucratic structures to decentralized, interpersonal, and egalitarian arrangements. Many movements
combine both. Examples of what are now large bureaucracies are the National Organization for Women (NOW), the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Amnesty International, Greenpeace, the Jewish
Defense League, and the National Rifle Association. As social movements become institutionalized, they are most likely to
take on bureaucratic form.
Related to social movements is collective behavior, behavior that occurs when the usual conventions that guide social
behavior are disrupted for some reason and people establish new, usually sudden, norms in response to an emerging
situation (Turner and Killian 1993). Although collective behavior may emerge spontaneously, it can be predicted. Some
phenomena defined as collective behavior are whimsical and fun, such as fads, fashions, and certain crowds (flash mobs,
for example). Other collective behaviors can be terrifying, as in panics or riots. Whether or not whimsical, collective
behavior is innovative, sometimes revolutionary; it is this feature that links collective behavior to social change.
Collective behavior is group, not individual, behavior. A lone gunman, for example, who opens fire in a crowded movie
theater is engaged in individual behavior, but the crowd that gathers following this unexpected event is engaged in
collective behavior. Collective behavior involves new and emerging relationships that arise in unexpected circumstances. It
represents the often novel, but dynamic and changing character of society.
War and Revolution
A revolution is the overthrow of state or the total transformation of central state institutions. A revolution thus results in
far-reaching social change. Numerous sociologists have studied revolutions and identified the conditions under which
revolutions are likely to occur. Revolutions can sometimes break down a nation-state and disenfranchise groups or
individuals formerly in power. An array of groups in a society may be dissatisfied with the status quo and organize to
replace established institutions. Dissatisfaction alone is not enough to produce a revolution, however. The opportunity must
exist for the group to mobilize en masse. Revolutions can result when structured opportunities are created, such as
through war or an economic crisis or mobilization through a social movement.
Social structural conditions that often lead to revolution can include a highly repressive state—so repressed that a strong
political culture develops out of resistance to state oppression. A major economic crisis can also produce revolution—as
can the development of a new economic system, such as capitalism—that transforms the world economy.
Erik S. Lesser/epa/Corbis
Die-ins that came in the aftermath of the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, adopted some of the tactics
of the nonviolent campaign of the civil rights movement.
War and severe political conflict result in large and far-reaching changes for both the conquering society, or a region within
a society (as in civil war), and for the conquered. The conquerors can impose their will on the conquered and restructure
many of their institutions, or the conquerors can exercise only minimal changes.
A historic example is the U.S. victory over Japan and Germany in the Second World War. The war transformed the United
States into a mass-production economy and affected family structures as well in that women who had not previously been
employed joined the labor force during the war with many remaining even after the war’s end. Many in the armed forces
who returned from the war were educated under a scholarship plan called the GI Bill, resulting in a more highly educated
population and encouraging more government investments in higher education.
The war also transformed Germany in countless ways, given the vast physical destruction brought on by U.S. bombs and
the worldwide attention brought to anti-Semitism and the Nazi holocaust. The cultural and structural changes in Japan were
extensive, as well. The decimation of the Jewish population in Germany and other nations throughout Europe resulted in
the massive migration of Jews to the United States. The Vietnam War also resulted in many social changes, including the
migration of Vietnamese to the United States. Currently, the various wars in the Middle East have meant more migration of
Iraqis and Afghanis to the United States. In countless examples, we can see the impact of war on national and international
social change.
Theories of Social Change
How do we explain social change? Some believe that change is cyclical, that is, recurring at regular intervals. Cyclical
theories build on the idea that societies have a life cycle, like seasonal plants, or at least a life span, like humans. Arnold J.
Toynbee, a social historian and a principal theorist of cyclical social change, argues that societies are born, mature, decay,
and sometimes die (Toynbee and Caplan 1972). For at least part of his life, Toynbee believed that Western society was
fated to self-destruct because he thought energetic social builders would be replaced by entrenched elites who ruled by
force. Then, society would wither under these sterile regimes. Some believe that societies become more decrepit, only to
be replaced by more youthful societies.
Sociological theories of change are more nuanced than the idea that there are regular life cycles in society. Each of the
major sociological perspectives takes a somewhat different approach to theorizing how social change occurs.
Functionalist Theory
Recall from previous chapters that functionalist theory builds on the postulate that all societies, past and present, possess
basic elements and institutions that perform certain functions permitting a society to survive and persist. A function is a
consequence of a social element that contributes to the continuance of a society. For example, the function of an
institution such as the family is to provide the society with sufficient population to assure its continuance.
The early theorists Herbert Spencer (1882) and Emile Durkheim (1964/1895) both argued that as societies move through
history, they become more complex. Spencer argued that societies move from “homogeneity to heterogeneity.” Durkheim
similarly argued that societies move from a state of mechanical solidarity, a cohesiveness based on the similarity among
its members, to organic solidarity, a cohesiveness based on difference; a division of labor that exists among its members
joins them together, because each depends on the others to perform specialized tasks (see Chapter 5). Through the
creation of specialized roles, structures, and institutions, societies thus move from being less differentiated to greater
social differentiation.
According to functional theorists, societies that are structurally simple and homogeneous, such as foraging or pastoral
societies, where all members engage in similar tasks, move to societies more structurally complex and heterogeneous, such
as agricultural, industrial, and postindustrial societies, where great social differentiation exists in the division of labor among
people who perform many specialized tasks. The consequence (or function) of increased differentiation and division of
labor is a higher degree of stability and cohesiveness in the society, brought about by mutual dependence (Parsons 1966,
Conflict Theory
Karl Marx (1967/1867), the founder of conflict theory, emphasized the role of economic influences in how societies
change. He argued that societies could indeed “advance,” but that advancement was measured by the movement from a
class society to a society with no class structure. Marx believed that, along the way, class conflict was inevitable.
The central notion of conflict theory, as we have seen, is that conflict is inherently built into social relations (Dahrendorf
1959). For Marx, social conflict, particularly between the two major social classes—working class versus upper class,
proletariat versus bourgeoisie—was not only inherent in social relations but was indeed the driving force behind all social
change. Marx believed that the most important causes of social change were the tensions between social groups,
especially those defined along social class lines. Different classes have different access to power, with the relatively lower
class carrying less power.
Although Marx was referring specifically to social classes, subsequent interpretations include conflict between any socially
distinct groups that receive unequal privileges and opportunities. The central idea of conflict theory is the notion that social
groups will have competing interests and that conflict is an inherent part of any society.
Symbolic Interaction Theory
Because symbolic interaction focuses on more micro-level behaviors, it does not explain the wide-scale social changes that
other theorists analyze. Symbolic interaction does, though, contribute to understanding social change, especially in how it
emphasizes the meaning that people attach to social behavior. Symbolic interaction theorists might, for example, look at
the quixotic character of fads and fashion and how people adapt and respond to these behaviors. Fads, for example,
emerge, tend to spread rapidly, but then typically vanish (Best 2006). How, for example, did UGG boots become such a
symbol of social status? Fads, such as this one, come and go—sometimes passing quickly, even when they are widely
popular. Perhaps by the time this book is published, UGGs will be considered passé or even normative and some wholly
unpredictable other status symbol will produce changes in how people dress. Can you identify fads from your earlier years
that now have vanished from the public scene?
Symbolic interaction theory thus looks at change in terms of how people define social behaviors and how those definitions
emerge. Of course, with fads, much of that definition comes through the work of marketing and the sponsorship of the
corporate world. Social change, though, also comes from the behaviors of people as they reformulate their ideas and
attitudes. Changes in public attitudes and how people think are signs of social change, as symbolic interaction theory
would point out.
Globalization and Modernization: Shaping Our Lives
Globalization is the increased interconnectedness and interdependence of numerous societies around the world. No
longer can the nations of the world be viewed as separate and independent societies. The irresistible current trend has
been for societies to develop deep dependencies on each other, with interlocking economies and social customs. In
Europe, this trend proceeded as far as developing a common currency, the euro, for all nations participating in the
constructed common economy.
As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, does this mean we are moving toward a single, homogeneous culture?
In such a culture, electronic communications, computers, and other developments can erase the geographic distances
between cultures and, eventually, the cultural differences. As societies become more interconnected, cultural diffusion
between them creates common ground, while cultural differences may become more important as the relationships among
nations become more intimate. The different perspectives on globalization are represented by three main theories that we
will review: modernization theory, world systems theory, and dependency theory, which are included in Table 16-1.
Table 16-1.
Theories of Social Change
Functionalist Theory
Conflict Theory
Symbolic Interaction Theory
How do societies
Societies change from simple to
complex and from an
undifferentiated to a highly
differentiated division of labor.
What is the primary Technological innovation and
cause of social
globalization make society more
differentiated but still stable.
What is the impact of Individuals remain integrated into the
social change on
whole because society seeks
Conflict is inherent in social relations, Social change occurs when new
and society changes from a classmeaning systems develop around
based to a classless society.
people’s behaviors and attitudes.
Economic inequality drives social
Changes in people’s attitudes and
beliefs drive social change.
Individuals are faced with conflict,
but the powerless may organize to
drive social change.
People have to adapt to new
understandings that emerge from
social change.
As societies grow and change, they become more modern in a general sense. Modernization is a process of social and
cultural change initiated by industrialization and followed by increased social differentiation and division of labor. Societies
can, of course, experience social change without industrialization. Modernization has positive consequences, such as
improved transportation and a higher gross national product, but also negative consequences, such as pollution, elevated
stress, and perhaps social alienation.
Modernization has three general characteristics (Berger et al. 1974):
1. Modernization is typified by the decline of small, traditional communities. The individuals in foraging or agrarian societies live in smallscale settlements with their extended families and neighbors. The primary group is prominent in social interaction. Industrialization
causes an overall decline in the importance of primary group interactions and an increase in the importance of secondary groups,
such as colleagues at work.
2. With increasing modernization, a society becomes more bureaucratized. Interactions come to be shaped by formal organizations.
Traditional ties of kinship and neighborhood feeling decrease, and members of the society tend to experience feelings of uncertainty
and powerlessness.
3. There is a decline in the importance of religious institutions. With the mechanization of daily life, people begin to feel that they have
lost control of their own lives: People may respond by building new religious groups and communities (Wuthnow 1994).
From Community to Society
The German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies (1855–1936) formulated a theory of modernization that still applies to today’s
societies (Tönnies 1963/1887). Tönnies viewed the process of modernization as a progressive loss of gemeinschaft
(German for “community”), a state characterized by a sense of common feeling, strong personal ties, and sturdy primary
group memberships, along with a sense of personal loyalty to one another. Tönnies argued that the Industrial Revolution,
which emphasized efficiency and task-oriented behavior, destroyed the sense of community and personal ties associated
with an earlier rural life. At the crux of this was a society organized on the basis of self-interest, which caused the condition
of gesellschaft (German for “society”), a kind of social organization characterized by a high division of labor, less
prominence of personal ties, the lack of a sense of community among the members of society, and the absence of a
feeling of belonging—maladies often associated with modern urban life.
The United States has become a gesellschaft, with social interaction less intimate and less emotional, although certain
primary groups such as the family and friendship groups still permit strong emotional ties. Tönnies noted that the role of
the family is less prominent in a gesellschaft than in a gemeinschaft. Patriarchy is less prominent, yet more public, and
more women are employed outside the home. In the large cities that characterize the gesellschaft, people live among
strangers and pass people on the street who are unfamiliar. In a gemeinschaft, people have already seen most of the
people they encounter. The level of interpersonal trust is lower in a gesellschaft. Social interaction tends to be even more
confined within ethnic, racial, and social class groups. To find personal contact and to satisfy the need for intimate
interaction, individuals often join small church groups, training groups, or personal awareness groups or movements.
One consequence of the elaboration of society is the growth of cities. Of course, cities have always been important sites
for population density, commerce, and a bustling social life. Scholars locate the development of the first city around 3500
B.C. (Flanagan 1995).
The study of the urban, the rural, and the suburban is the task of urban sociology, a subfield of sociology that examines
the social structure and cultural aspects of the city compared with rural and suburban centers. These comparisons involve
what urban sociologist Gideon Sjøberg (1965) calls the rural–urban continuum, those structural and cultural differences
that exist as a consequence of differing degrees of urbanization. Urbanization is the process by which a community
acquires the characteristics of city life and the “urban” end of the rural–urban continuum.
Early German sociological theorist Georg Simmel (1950/1902) argued that urban living had profound social psychological
effects on individuals. He was among the early theorists who argued that social structure could affect individuals. Simmel
argued that urban life has a quick pace and is stimulating, but as a consequence of this intense style of life, individuals
become insensitive to people and events that surround them. Urban dwellers tend to avoid the emotional involvement that,
according to Simmel, was more likely found in rural communities. Interaction tends to be characterized as economic rather
than social, and close, personal interaction is frowned upon and discouraged. Urban dwelling can, however, increase the
likelihood of other ills: Emile Durkheim noted that the suicide rate per 10,000 people was greater in more urbanized areas
than in rural areas (Durkheim 1951/1897).
The sociologist Louis Wirth (1928), focusing on Chicago in the 1920s, also argued that the city was a center of distant,
cold interpersonal interaction, and as a result, urban dwellers experienced alienation, loneliness, and powerlessness. One
positive consequence of all this, according to Wirth and Simmel, was the liberating effect that arises from the relative
absence of close, restrictive ties and interactions. City life, in Wirth’s thought, offered individuals a certain feeling of
A contrasting view of urban life is offered by Herbert Gans (1982/1962), who studied people in Boston in the late 1950s
and concluded that many city residents develop strong loyalties to others and are characterized by a sense of community.
Such subgroupings he referred to as the urban village, which is characterized by several “modes of adaptation,” among
them cosmopolites—typically students, artists, writers, and musicians, who together form a tightly knit community and
choose urban living to be near the city’s cultural facilities. A second category includes the ethnic villagers, people who live
in ethnically and racially segregated neighborhoods. Such urban enclaves tend to develop their own unique identities, such
as San Francisco’s Chinatown or Miami’s Little Havana.
Urban spaces are among some of the nation’s most diverse spaces, even while cities remain highly segregated by race and
by class. Even with urban racial and class segregation, however, you can observe places in cities where highly diverse
groups assemble and interact (see the box, “Understanding Diversity: The Cosmopolitan Canopy”).
Understanding Diversity
The Cosmopolitan Canopy
Fascinated by the social structure of urban life, sociologist Elijah Anderson defines the cosmopolitan canopy as
public spaces in urban areas where diverse groups gather and civility is the norm. In such spaces, urban dwellers
and visitors interact with grace and respect, different from the usual tensions and distrust that also characterize
intergroup relationships.
Anderson studied three neighborhoods in urban Philadelphia—a market, a mall, and a park—with an eye to how
diverse groups of people otherwise separated by race, class, and other social truths, interact in public spaces. His
careful ethnographic research provides a counterpoint to the usually dreary account of urban blight, poverty,
slums, and racial strife.
In cosmopolitan canopies, people interact across racial and class lines with respect and acceptance. Although such
interactions are relatively impersonal, they nonetheless reveal the potential for positive group relationships.
Anderson asks if people can relate to one another with respect and acceptance in these public spacces, how can
such social norms be extended to spaces beyond the cosmopolitan canopy?
Anderson also shows how easily civility can also break down. As Anderson writes, “The promise of the
cosmopolitan canopy is challenged by recurring situational racial discrimination or by the occasional racial incident”
(p. 157). Still, Anderson is an optimist and believes that some of the civil and respectful behaviors that take place
under cosmopolitan canopies can encourage better intergroup relationships.
Perhaps you can think of places in your community that form cosmopolitan canopies. What social interactions
occur there? How diverse are the interactions? What would it take for such civil behaviors to be the norm in other
social environments?
Source: Anderson, Elijah. 2011. The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life. New York: W.W. Norton.
Social Inequality, Powerlessness, and the Individual
Another product of modernization, along with mass society, is pronounced social stratification, according to theorists such
as Karl Marx (1967/1867) and Jurgen Habermas (1970). In their view, the personal feelings of powerlessness that
accompany modernization are due to social inequalities related to race, ethnicity, class, and gender stratification. Marx
argued that inequalities are the inevitable product of the capitalist system. Habermas argued that inequalities are the cause
of social conflict.
The social structural conditions that arise from modernization, such as increased social stratification, affect individual
people’s lives. Building a stable personal identity is difficult in a highly modernized society that presents individuals with
complex and conflicting choices about how to live. Many individuals flounder among lifestyles while searching for personal
stability and a sense of self. According to Habermas, individuals in highly modernized environments are more likely than
their less modernized peers to experiment with new religions, social movements, and lifestyles in search of a fit with their
conception of their own “true self.” These individual responses to social structural conditions reveal how the social
structure can affect personality.
The influential social theorist Herbert Marcuse (1964) has argued that modernized society fails to meet the basic needs of
people, among them the need for a fulfilling identity. In this respect, modern society and its attendant technological
advances are not stable and rational, as is often argued, but unstable and irrational. The technological advances of modern
society do not increase the feeling of having control over one’s life, but instead reduce that control and lead to feelings of
Powerlessness leads to the alienation of individuals from society—individuals experience feelings of separation from the
group or society. This alienation is most likely to affect people traditionally denied access to power, such as racial
minorities, women, and the working class. This alienation from the highly modernized, technological society is, in Marcuse’s
view, one of the most pressing problems of civilization today. Marcuse argues that, despite the popular view that
technology is supposed to yield efficient solutions to the world’s problems, it may be more accurate to say that technology
is a primary cause of many problems in modern society.
Diverse Groups/Diverse Work Experiences
Data on characteristics of the U.S. labor force typically are drawn from official statistics reported by the U.S. Department
of Labor. The labor force now includes approximately 153 million people (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018). Who
works, where, and how varies considerably for different groups in the population, however.
One of the most dramatic changes in the labor force since the Second World War has been the increase in the number of
women employed. Since 1976, the employment of women has increased from 43 to 55 percent of all women by 2017.
Women now constitute almost half (47 percent) of all workers. Other changes in the labor force include that racial
minorities (Hispanics, Asians, and African Americans) are the fastest-growing segment of the labor force, although White,
non-Hispanic workers still make up 70 percent of the workforce. Hispanics and Asians have the fastest growth in the labor
force, largely because of immigration (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018).
These trends, however, do not mean—as popularly believed—that minorities and women are routinely taking jobs from
White men. Jobs where White men have predominated are precisely those that have been declining because of economic
restructuring, such as in the manufacturing sector. Jobs in areas of the labor market that are race- and gender-segregated
are increasing, such as fast-food work and other low-wage service jobs. The conflicts that exist about work—such as the
belief that immigrant and foreign workers are taking U.S. jobs or that women and minorities are taking away White men’s
jobs—stem from social structural transformations in the economy, not the individual behaviors of people affected by these
changes (see Table 15-1).
Table 15-1.
Occupational Status by Nativity and Citizenship Status
Management, business, financial
Farming, fishing, forestry
Construction, extraction, maintenance
Production, transportation, material moving
Not a U.S. Citizen
Source: U.S. Census Bureau. 2013. “Occupation of Employed Civilian Workers 16 Years and Over by Sex, Nativity, and U.S. Citizenship Status: 2013.” Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce.
Unemployment and Joblessness
The U.S. Department of Labor regularly reports the unemployment rate, defined as the percentage of those not working
but officially defined as looking for work. Full employment is considered to be around 4 percent. During the recession that
hit the nation in 2010, unemployment was as high as 9.6; it has been dropping below 4 percent through 2018 (U.S. Bureau
of Labor Statistics 2018).
Even with this low rate of unemployment, however, many are without work. How can there be a decline in the
unemployment rate while so many people are still out of work? The official unemployment rate does not include all people
who are jobless. It includes only those who meet the official definition of unemployment—those who do not have a job and
who have looked for work in the period being reported. Thus the official measure excludes people who earned money at
any job during the time prior to the data being collected; it excludes people who have given up looking for full-time work
(so-called discouraged workers); those who have settled for part-time work; people who are ill or disabled; those who
cannot afford the child care, transportation, or other necessities for getting to work; and those who work only a few hours
a week even though their economic position may differ little from that of someone with no work at all. Joblessness, very
difficult to measure, actually exceeds the formal unemployment rate.
Debunking Society’s Myths
Myth: The unemployment rate is a good measure of the nation’s joblessness.
Sociological Perspective: Unemployment is not the same as joblessness. The unemployment rate only counts
those who are actively seeking work and excludes those who are working part-time, those who are so discouraged
they have quit looking, and those who are underemployed, among others. The unemployment rate is one indicator
of the state of the economy, but joblessness is typically higher.
Migrant workers and other transient populations are also undercounted in the official statistics. Workers on strike are also
counted as employed, even if they receive no income while they are on strike. Because so many people are excluded from
the official definition of unemployment, the official unemployment rate seriously underestimates actual joblessness. The
people most likely to be left out of the unemployment rate are those for whom unemployment runs the highest—the
youngest and oldest workers, women, and racial minority groups. These groups are also those most likely to have left jobs
that do not qualify them for unemployment insurance, because to be eligible for unemployment you have to have worked a
certain period of time and earned enough wages to qualify for a claim.
Official unemployment rates also ignore underemployment—the condition of being employed at a skill level below what
would be expected given a person’s training, experience, or education. This condition can also include working fewer hours
than desired. A laid-off autoworker flipping hamburgers at a fast-food restaurant is underemployed as is a person with a
college degree cleaning houses for a living.
Even given the problems in measuring unemployment, the highest rates of unemployment are among Black men, followed
by Hispanic men (see Figure 15-3). When the government reports the national unemployment rate, it is a safe bet that
unemployment among African Americans will be at least twice the national rate—a pattern that has persisted over time.
Although not regularly reported by the Department of Labor, unemployment among Native Americans is also staggeringly
high—around 11 percent. The unemployment rate that is found among Native Americans, African Americans, and
Hispanics (with the exception of Cuban Americans) exceeds the unemployment rate that was considered a national crisis
during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Figure 15-3.
Unemployment by Race, Age, and Gender, 2016.
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2017. Employment and Earnings Online. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor.
Unemployment varies significantly among different groups. The graph on the left shows unemployment for all people over age
16; on the right, for teens between age 16 and 19. What patterns do you see depicted in this graph? What does this suggest
about the need for new social policies?
People often attribute unemployment to the individual failings of workers, claiming that unemployed people do not try hard
enough to find jobs or prefer a welfare check to hard work and a paycheck. This leads some to attribute unemployment to
the “laziness” of unemployed individuals rather than to actual, factual structural conditions in society. This viewpoint
reflects the common myth that anyone who works hard enough and puts forward sufficient effort can succeed.
Economic and structural conditions beyond an individual’s control usually result in unemployment and joblessness. During
the recession, hundreds of thousands of workers either lost jobs or found themselves in highly precarious working
situations. In times like a major recession, it is easier to see how structural changes in the economy affect people at an
individual level. (Recall the distinction between troubles and issues that C. Wright Mills made and that was examined in
Chapter 1.)
Sociologists examine how changes in the social organization of the economy trickle into the day-to-day reality of people’s
lives. Although people do not ordinarily interpret their situations as shaped by processes such as deindustrialization,
corporate downsizing, or spatial mismatch, the fact is that these structural conditions have enormous influence on how we
live. Hence, unemployment is rarely caused by personal “laziness.”
Sexual Harassment
Workplaces, like other social institutions, are shaped by power relationships among workers. One consequence for women
workers is the possibility of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is legally defined as unwanted physical or verbal
sexual behavior that occurs in the context of a relationship of unequal power and that is experienced as a threat to the
victim’s job or educational activities (Zippel 2006; Saguy 2003).
Sexual harassment is of two forms, according to the law. Quid pro quo sexual harassment forces sexual compliance in
exchange for an employment or educational benefit. A professor who suggests to a student that going out on a date or
having sex would improve the student’s grade is engaging in quid pro quo sexual harassment.
The other form of sexual harassment recognized by law is the creation of a hostile working environment, in which
unwanted sexual behaviors are a continuing condition of work. This kind of sexual harassment may not involve outright
sexual demands, but includes unwanted behaviors such as touching, teasing, sexual joking, and other kinds of sexual
behavior and comments.
Sexual harassment was first made illegal by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which identifies sexual harassment as a
form of sex discrimination. Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 further defined sexual harassment as a form
of discrimination in education. Regarding employment, in 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the principle that sexual
harassment violates federal laws against sex discrimination (Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson). Same-sex harassment also
falls under the law, as does harassment directed by women against men. The law also makes employers liable for financial
damages if they do not have policies appropriate for handling complaints or have not educated employees about their
paths of redress.
Fundamentally, sexual harassment is an abuse of power when perpetrators use their position to exploit subordinates. The
phenomenon of sexual harassment is not new and has been in the experience of countless numbers of women for years.
But recent scandals and publicity about sexual harassment by high-profile men has raised public awareness of the extent
of this problem. As an example, when movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was accused of numerous cases of sexual
harassment and assault, millions of women posted #metoo on social media, indicating that they had experienced sexual
harassment. Such public campaigns to raise awareness of this problem are important, but they can also obscure sexual
harassment of less high-status women who are just as likely to experience this problem and are less likely to have the
resources or institutional supports that allow them to pursue complaints.
The true extent of sexual harassment is difficult to estimate because it tends to be underreported. Surveys indicate though
that as many as half of all employed women experience some form of sexual harassment at some time in their working
lives. Men are sometimes the victims of sexual harassment, although far less frequently than women—about 3 percent of
all cases. There is some evidence that women of color are more likely to be harassed than White women (Rospenda et al.
2009). Women are more likely to be harassed when they work in male-dominated occupations. The likelihood of
harassment is also higher among single women (McDonald 2012; McLaughlin, Uggen, and Blackstone 2012).
Research finds that the negative effects of sexual harassment are numerous, including psychological distress, but also
impediments to women’s advancement in workplaces. There is even a financial cost to women from sexual harassment
because it can precipitate a job change or be deleterious to one’s career if a victim starts skipping work, withdrawing from
colleagues, or otherwise losing commitment to her job (McLaughlin, Uggen, and Blackstone 2017).
Most studies find that neither women nor men are typically aware of the proper channels for reporting sexual harassment.
Victims of sexual harassment often do not report it (except perhaps to friends), primarily because they believe that nothing
will be done to stop the behavior. When employers have strong policies in place that are widely communicated, victims are
more likely to report (Vijayasiri 2008; Pershing 2003).
Gays and Lesbians in the Workplace
The increased willingness of lesbians and gay men to be open about their sexual identity has resulted in more attention
paid to their experience in the workplace. Surveys find that a large majority of the U.S. population (89 percent) endorse the
general concept that lesbians and gay men should have equal rights in job opportunities, but when asked about specific
occupations, a significant proportion hold prejudices that gays should not be elementary school teachers (43 percent),
high school teachers (36 percent), or clergy (47 percent) (Gallup Poll 2008).
Some employers have been developing more LGBTQ-friendly policies that are shown to have a positive effect on the
workplace experiences of LGBTQ workers (Lloren and Porini 2017; Williams and Giuffre 2011). Even with these advances,
however, LGBTQ employees are all too frequently subjected to stereotyping and discrimination and thus must develop
coping strategies for managing stress (Buddel 2011). LGBTQ employees may feel compelled to downplay their identity at
work and to feel constrained by stereotypes about how gay people are supposed to act, play, and work. This can force
people to remain closeted at work (Williams et al. 2009). When people feel they must conceal a particular identity at work,
they experience a reduced sense of belonging and, thus, experience negative work outcomes (Newheiser, Barreto, and
Tiemersma 2017).
Disability and Work
Not too many years ago, people with disabilities were not thought of as a social group; rather, disability was thought of as
an individual frailty or perhaps a stigma. Sociologist Irving Zola (1935–1994) was one of the first to suggest that people
with disabilities face issues similar to those of minority groups. Instead of using a medical model that treats disability like a
disease and sees individuals as impaired, conceptualizing people with disabilities as a minority group enabled people to
think about the social, economic, and political environment that this population faces. Instead of seeing people with
disabilities as pitiful victims, this approach emphasizes the group rights of the disabled, illuminating things such as access
to employment and education (Zola 1993, 1989).
Now those with disabilities have the same legal protections afforded to other minority groups. Key to these rights is the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), adopted by Congress in 1990. Building on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and
earlier rehabilitation law, the Americans with Disabilities Act protects people with disabilities from discrimination in
employment. The law stipulates that employers and other public entities (such as schools and public transportation
systems) must provide “reasonable accommodation” to people with disabilities when they are otherwise qualified for the
jobs or activities for which they seek access. This means that the person so accommodated must be able to perform the
essential requirements of the job or program. For students, reasonable accommodation includes provision of adaptive
technology, exam assistants, and accessible buildings.
Owen Franken/Encyclopedia/Corbis
The Americans with Disabilities Act provides legal protection for workers with disabilities, giving them rights to reasonable
accommodations by employers and access to education and jobs.
The law prohibits employers with fifteen or more employees from discriminating against job applicants who are disabled or
current employees who become disabled, including in their job application, wages and benefits, advancement, and
employer-sponsored social activities. The law applies to state and local governments, as well as employers. The ADA also
legislates that public buses, trains, and light rail systems must be accessible to riders with disabilities; airlines are excluded
from this requirement. The law also requires businesses and public accommodations to be accessible and requires
telephone companies to provide services that allow people with speech or hearing impairments to communicate by
Sociological Theories of Economy and Work
Sociological research continues to find large differences in the experiences that different people have at work. Why? We
have to turn to theory to answer such a question. The major theoretical perspectives identified in this book also provide
the frameworks for the social structure of work. Each viewpoint—functionalism theory, conflict theory, and symbolic
interaction—offers a unique analysis of work and the economic institution of which it is a part (see Table 15-2).
Table 15-2.
Theoretical Perspectives on Work
Defines work as:
Views work
organizations as:
Interprets changing
work systems as:
Functional for society because work
teaches people the values of society
and integrates people within the
social order; more “talented” people
rank higher
Functionally integrated with other
social institutions
An adaptation to social change
Explains wage inequality Motivating people to work harder
Conflict Theory
Generating class conflict because of
the unequal rewards associated with
different jobs
Symbolic Interaction
Organizing social bonds between
people who interact within work
Producing alienation, especially
Interactive systems within which
among those who perform repetitive people form relationships and create
beliefs that define their relationships
to others
Based in tensions arising from power The result of the changing meanings
differences between different class, of work resulting from changed
race, and gender groups
social conditions
Reflecting the devaluation of
Producing different perceptions of
different classes of workers
the value of different occupations
Functionalism interprets work and the economy as a functional necessity for society. Functionalists argue that society
“sorts” people into occupations, with the more able sorted into prestigious occupations that pay more because they are
more valuable—more “functional”—for society. Functionalist theory also explains that when society changes too rapidly,
work institutions generate social disorganization—perhaps creating alienation, a feeling of powerlessness and separation
from society (Chapter 6).
According to functionalist theories, workers are paid according to their value, which is derived from the characteristics
they bring to a job: education, experience, training, and motivation to work. As we saw in Chapter 8, functionalist theorists
see inequality as what motivates people to work. From this point of view, the high wages and other rewards associated with
some jobs are the incentives for people to spend long years in training and garnering experience; otherwise, the jobs would
go unfilled. To functionalists, then, differential wages are a source of motivation and a means to ensure that the most
talented workers fill jobs essential to society and that different wages reflect the differently valued characteristics
(education, years of experience, training, and so forth) that workers bring to a job.
Conflict Theory
Conflict theorists strongly disagree with the functionalist point of view, arguing that many talented people are thwarted by
the systems of inequality they encounter in society. Far from ensuring that the most talented will fill the most important
jobs, conflict theorists see that some of the most essential jobs are, in fact, the most devalued and under-rewarded. From a
conflict perspective, wage inequality is one way that systems of race, class, and gender inequality are maintained. Factors
such as the dual labor market, overt race and gender discrimination, and persistent and unequal judgments about what
work is appropriate for what groups shape the inequalities that are found in work.
Conflict theorists view the transformations taking place in the workplace as the result of inherent tensions in the social
systems, tensions that arise from the power differences between groups vying for social and economic resources. Class
conflict is then a major element of the social structure of work. Conflict theorists see the class division of labor as the
source of unequal rewards for workers. Conflict theorists analyze the fact that some forms of work are more highly valued
than others, both in how the work is perceived by society and how it is rewarded. As noted long ago by social-economic
theorist Thorstein Veblen (1994/1899), mental labor has always been more highly valued than manual labor.
Symbolic Interaction Theory
Symbolic interaction theory brings a different perspective to the sociology of work. Symbolic interaction theorists would be
interested in what work means to people and how social interactions in the workplace form social bonds. Some symbolic
interaction studies examine how new workers learn their roles and how workers’ identities are shaped by the social
interactions in the workplace. Symbolic interaction theorists also note the creative ways that people deal with routinized
jobs, perhaps performing exaggerated displays of routine tasks to humanize otherwise boring work (Leidner 1993).
Power, Politics, and Government
Throughout this book we have emphasized that social structures extend beyond our immediate day-to-day life, influencing
the things we do and how we behave every day. Systems of power and authority are no exception. The government, for
example, as an official system of power and authority, reaches far into people’s daily lives. You cannot drive your car
without a license and registration provided by a government agency; you pay taxes according to government rules; you
need a government-issue license to marry; even going to the beach may depend on the government having set aside
certain land for public use. The range of things regulated by systems of power and authority—both formal and informal—is
enormous, even though many may be barely noticed.
The role of these systems of power and authority is also hotly debated in national politics. How should we manage the
national debt? What is the proper balance between protecting civil liberties and protecting the nation from harm? Is
government too big or should it do more to support those in need? Where should we draw the line on the authority of the
police? These and other questions frame current political debates, but they point to the importance of a sociological
analysis of the state.
State and Society
The term state refers to the organized system of power and authority in society. The state is an abstract concept that
includes the institutions that represent official power in society, including the government, the legal system (law, courts,
and the prison system), the police, and the military. Theoretically, the state exists to regulate social order, ranging from
individual behavior and interpersonal conflicts to international affairs. Less powerful groups in the society may see the
state more as an oppressive force than as a protector of individual rights. However, they may still turn to the state to
rectify injustice, for example, by advocating for civil rights or seeking state-based rights and protections for people with
The state has a central role in determining the rights and privileges of various groups. The state determines who is a
citizen and who is not. A case in point is the ongoing battle over whether United States-born children of foreign-born and
undocumented immigrant parents are full-fledged citizens. Furthermore, the state may be called upon to resolve conflicts
between management and labor (such as in airline strikes), and the state may pass legislation determining the benefits of
different groups or make decisions that extend rights to various groups, such as the right to same-sex marriage.
Numerous institutions make up the state, including the government, the legal system, the police, and the military. The
government creates laws and procedures that regulate and guide a society. The military is the branch of government
responsible for defending the nation against domestic and foreign conflicts. The court system is designed to punish
wrongdoers and adjudicate disputes. Court decisions also determine the guiding principles or laws of human interaction.
Law is a fundamental type of formal social control that outlines what is permissible and what is forbidden. The police are
responsible for enforcing law in the community and for maintaining public order. The prison system is the institution
responsible for punishing those who have broken the law. Under the U.S. Constitution, these state institutions treat people
equally, although sociologists have documented how often this is not the case (see Chapter 7).
Sociological analyses of the state focus on several different questions. An important issue is the relationship between the
state and inequality in society. State policies can have very different impacts on different groups, as we will see later in this
chapter. Another issue explored by sociological theory is the connection between the state and other social institutions—
the state and religion or the state and the family. States can, for example, regulate the inclusion or exclusi…
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