The Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology defines inequality as ‘the unequal distribution of opportunities, rewards, and power among and between individuals, households and groups’(1). It goes on to say that ‘the subfield of social stratification has as its main task the description and analysis of inequalities, or the makeup of the stratification system of any given society’.(1) From this one definition, we can already begin to see the strong links that lie between inequalities and social stratification. As we delve deeper into the topics, we can begin to see both the inevitability and the functionality of stratification caused as a result of both global and domestic inequalities.
Domestic inequalities are the inequalities that exist between people in the same country. For the sake of this essay, I will be discussing Ireland. In Ireland, ‘inequality tends to be understood in terms of a gross differentiation between the majority - the ‘more or less middle classes’ - and an ‘underclass’ made up of the poor, the long-term unemployed, substance abusers and marginalised groups such as Travellers’(2). One of the biggest inequalities to be examined in Ireland is that regarding the education system.
Fee-paying second-level schools in Ireland are associated largely with the upper middle class of Ireland. With fees starting at €4000 and reaching as high as €25,000, it is easy to see why this association exists. Past pupils of fee-paying second-level schools also make up a considerable percentage of people working in high-position jobs in both the political and business worlds. For example, out of the fourteen Ministers of State that make up the Irish cabinet, six of those attended fee-paying schools - almost forty-three percent. Contrasting this with the general population, of which seven percent attend fee-paying schools, we can begin to see inequalities regarding a private education and the power it may lead to (3).
We can see how this inequality regarding education can directly lead to social stratification. While only a small percentage of the population are fortunate enough to receive a private education, a large percentage of people in high-power jobs have benefitted from attending a fee-paying school. This would suggest that a private education inevitably leads to power, and therefore we can begin to see the inevitability of social stratification as a result of inequalities. People who come from a wealthier background and who receive a private education will now move further and further up the social hierarchy, and those who do not have access to such an education may not experience such social mobility, and thus stratification occurs.
Global inequalities largely exist due to an unequal distribution of wealth across the world. For example, the richest 20 percent of the world’s population earn 74 per cent of global income, while the poorest 20 per cent earn only 2 per cent of the world’s income. Furthermore, the richest 20 per cent own over 90 per cent of private wealth while the poorest half own barely anything at all. (4). This unequal distribution of wealth leads to further economic inequalities, such as population inequalities, health and nutrition inequalities, gender inequalities and racial inequalities.
The best way to examine stark global inequalities, is to contrast two countries, one developed, and one developing. According to the 2011 Human Development Index Rankings(5), Norway is the most highly developed country in the world and the Central African Republic is one of the least developed countries in the world. In Norway, the Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is $47,557. Contrast this with the Central African Republic, which has a GNI per capita of $707 (5). We can clearly see how the people of the Central African Republic must struggle to acquire such basic requisites as food,...