Ethnic, Racial & Gender Stratification in Society

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  • 0:04 Systems of Social…
  • 1:06 Stratification by Race…
  • 3:13 Gender Stratification
  • 4:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Emily Cummins
In this lesson, we'll talk about race, ethnicity, and gender as systems of social stratification. This ultimately positions some members of our society as inferior to others and creates a system of unequal distribution of important resources.

Systems of Social Stratification

Who in our society has access to more power, more money, or the best jobs? Who is able to command more respect in our society? These are questions related to social stratification. Basically, this is a term that we use to describe the way that people, power, and resources are unequally distributed in our society.

Ever seen the layers inside of a sedimentary rock? The way they're sort of stacked up on top of one another? This is a useful way to understand how our society is divided into layers. Within these layers, people have unequal access to resources, with those in the bottom layer most disadvantaged. Power, or someone's ability to get what he or she wants, is not distributed equally across our society. Whether we're talking about political power or power over the economy, power is an important resource that many cannot access. In the U.S., important resources like power are distributed unevenly along lines of race, ethnicity, and gender. Let's talk about those now.

Stratification by Race & Ethnicity

Race is one of the primary lines along which our society is stratified. What do we mean by race? First, we should note that race is not biological. That means that the difference we perceive among people in our society is a social construct. When sociologists use this term, they mean that race is an invention of our society. But, it has very real social consequences. Racial minorities have much less access to many important resources in our society.

One area where we see inequality is wealth and income. Racial minorities have much less wealth than their white counterparts. Racial minorities also tend to earn less income than their white counterparts. In fact, research shows that whites have about 13 times more wealth accumulated than blacks. This is due to a number of factors, including discrimination in the workplace, which leads to blacks earning less money and saving less over a lifetime. Education is another key area of stratification. Blacks are less likely to obtain a high school diploma than their white counterparts. And blacks are much less likely to obtain a college degree. The most recent U.S. census found that only about 22% of blacks have a bachelor's degree compared to 32% of whites. About 12.1% of whites have an advanced degree, such as a masters, whereas only about 8.2% of blacks do.

We sometimes confuse race and ethnicity, but these are different. Ethnicity refers to shared membership in a cultural group. Like race, it's also socially constructed. But, like race, ethnicity also has major consequences for people's life chances. We tend to think of ethnic minorities as inferior, which is what results in a system of ethnic stratification. Ethnic minorities in our society are much less likely than whites to obtain an advanced degree, like the black population. Income and wealth are also stratified along ethnic lines. For example, Hispanics have more accumulated wealth than blacks, but less wealth than whites.

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