Sociological Perspectives on Unemployment

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Sociologists study human society. Their studies include human behavior in many social contexts such as social interaction, social institutions and organization, social change and development (Abraham). Because of the broad spectrum of social circumstances that are studied, unemployment is an issue in which sociologists thrive. Conflict in the areas of age, race, gender, and disability is common among the employed as well as the unemployed.  From a sociological perspective, unemployment can be studied through both the Functionalist Theory and Conflict Theory.  It also touches upon the results of unemployment in societies and institutions such as family, education, government, and health. Unemployment affects almost everyone to some extent in their lives, and the need to understand how to deal with the issue is becoming more and more important to society.

One sociological perspective on unemployment can be taken from the famous Functionalist Theory.  Functionalists believe everything serves a specific function in our society and these functions need to be understood (Kendall 23). The theorist behind functionalism is Durkheim. Durkheim’s concern was how to preserve society. The basis for social order was not economic, but rather moral. In a functionalist society, everyone has a role and a purpose. In order for this theory to be successful, the individuals in a society need to believe everything is in their best interest. In this modern age, this seems nearly impossible.  Looking at unemployment from a realist’s perspective, one might say that the population in the world is too high for every individual to serve a specific purpose, when so many businesses and agencies require similar talent among their employees, making them almost interchangeable with one another.  While that is a harsh approach and contradicts the functionalist theory, it does not entirely count it out. Functionalism states that everything does have its own function in society, but each of these functions are up for interpretation.  In terms of unemployment, however, functionalism does not account for any changes that are made in society. Functionalists believe that unemployment serves a purpose in society and that it plays its own part. For all those who are or have been unemployed, it is hard to see how it can possibly be good for society.

 Unemployment creates so much misery and further increases the problem of stratification. Those in the underprivileged class have to rely on government handouts, which only creates further poverty as those people struggle to make ends meet. This in turn affects the family structure by adding extra money pressures. Perhaps that’s the functionalist point though.  It maintains that there will always be someone to take the menial jobs that others don't want. The lower classed people will do the jobs others won't. We need the divisions to make sure there are people to cover all types of places in society…and that is the functionalist perspective.

Another sociological perspective on unemployment is the Conflict Theory. Conflict theory is a body of ideas including Marxism. Marxism claims that economics determines the nature of society; its politics, religion, law, and culture. Unlike the idea of functionalism, there is a conflict of interest.  People have different goals and purposes. They will use whatever means to gain this, even to the detriment of others in their society in order to attain their specific goals (Kendall 24). The idea of Marxism supports the theory that those with more power and money have the ability to gain a higher level of services, such as education and healthcare, therefore creating a greater level of stratification in society. Stratification, by definition, is the division in a society based on class, wealth, or other differentiating factors (Social stratification). Stratification, particularly in the workforce, creates a tremendous amount of conflict because those who do not have the means to...
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