Social Class and Inequality
Social inequality has been defined as a conflicting status within a society with regards to the individual, property rights, and access to education, medical care, and welfare programs. Much of society’s inequality can be attributed to the class status of a particular group, which has usually been largely determined by the group’s ethnicity or race (Macionis & Gerber, 2006). The conflict perspective is an attempt to understand the group conflict that occurs by the protection of one’s status at the expense of the other. One group will resort to various means to preserve a ideal social status through socioeconomic prestige, consolidation of power (political and financial), and control of resources. In Canada, even though its impact is frequently minimized, social inequality exists, but because the majority of citizens associate exclusively with members of their own class, they are often unaware of the significant role social inequality continues to play (Macionis & Gerber, 2006).
An inadequate distribution of wealth remains “an important component” of Canada’s social inequities (Macionis & Gerber, 2006). Wealth can be defined as the amount of money or material items that an individual, family, or group controls and ultimately determines the status of a particular class (Macionis & Gerber, 2006). Canada’s social classes can be divided into four, and the wealth is not distributed equally between them. First, there is the predominantly Anglo upper class, in which most of the wealth has been inherited; and they comprise of approximately 3-to-5 percent of the Canadian population (Macionis & Gerber, 2006). Next, there is the middle class, which is made up of the greatest number of Canadians, nearly 50 percent with ‘upper-middle’ class subdivisions generating white-collar incomes of between $50,000 and $100,000 while the rest are earning reasonable livings in less prestigious white- collar jobs or as skilled blue-collar laborers (Macionis & Gerber, 2006). The working class represents about 33 percent of the Canadian population, and their lower incomes leave little in the way of savings (Macionis & Gerber, 2006). Finally, there is the lower class, which is represented by about 20 percent of the population (Macionis & Gerber, 2006). Among these are the so-called working poor whose incomes alone are not sufficient enough for adequate food or shelter (Macionis & Gerber, 2006). Their living conditions are often separated from the mainstream society in concentrated ethnic or racial communities (Macionis & Gerber, 2006). The most impoverished members of this class are unable to generate any income and are completely reliant upon government welfare programs.
One of the primary deciding factors as to what determines wealth, power, and social status is occupational prestige (Macionis & Gerber, 2006). For example, in Canada, physicians and lawyers continue to reside at the top of the social ladder while newspaper delivery persons or hospitality staff rank at the bottom (Macionis & Gerber, 2006). The growing disparity in income is beginning to resemble that of the United States with approximately 43.6 percent of the Canadian income being concentrated within the top 20 percent of social spectrum while those in the bottom 20 percent are receiving a mere 5.2 percent of that income (Macionis & Gerber, 2006). Nearly 16 percent of Canadians were categorized as being “below the poverty line” in the mid-1990s, and every month, close to a million people rely upon food banks to feed their families (Macionis & Gerber, 2006). The income a particular class earns is determined in large part to the amount of education received, and yet in order to receive a higher education money is required. There is also a strong correlation between income and healthcare. The higher the income, the greater...
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