Social Inequality in Society Social inequality influences all aspects of our lives. The following
essay will look at evidence highlighting inequalities in society
today. In particular it will focus upon inequalities found between
men and women, referred to as gender inequality. Additionally it will
integrate sociological perspectives such as functionalism, radical,
Marxist or liberal feminism to explain the causes of inequalities and
in particular those found in the areas of education and work.
In every human society there is some form of inequality. In western
society the foundations of inequality are power, economic differences
and social prestige. Social stratification is the term sociologists
use to describe the organisation of these inequalities which can be
likened to the geological layers formed in rocks. Moore, (2001:46)
defines social stratification as the “division of people into groups
based on how much wealth, power and social prestige they have”. In
Western society the main system of division is referred to as social
class and indicates an individual’s economic standing in society,
which can be dictated by occupation and income (Walsh et al
2000:45). In addition to social class, other divisions within the
stratums occur through a process called differentiation.
O’Donnell (1987:231) describes differentiation as “that which makes
an individual or group separate and distinct”. As in all systems of
stratification it illustrates the organisation of inequality in
society and has historically been the stratification of people on the
basis of age, ethnicity, disability, and in particular gender.
In western society there are two terms of reference for men and women
~ ‘sex’ or ‘gender’. Sex, defined by Giddens (1993:762) as the
“biological and anatomical differences distinguishing females from
males”, refers to the visual or physiological differences between men
and women, such as genitalia or a women’s ability to bear children.
Gender, however, described by Thompson (1993:40) as “the social
aspect of the differentiation of the sexes”, refers to the socially
constructed ideology of the expected behaviour of men and women, a
theory some sociologists refer to as social constructionism. For
example, boys are expected to be loud and assertive whilst girls are
expected to be passive and submissive.
Feminist sociologist Ann Oakley, argues that behaviour displayed by
men and women is cultural, can differ according to socially accepted
‘norms’ and arguably is ‘learnt’, a theory supported by the research