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Class inequality refers to the inequality of incomes between individuals, families, or between different groups, areas, or countries (Black, 2002). These inequalities occur as a result of differences in the ability to earn incomes as well as differences in property ownership. Some individuals usually have lower incomes than others, especially those who are economically inactive. This is usually as a result of age, poor health, or inability to find employment.
Class inequality is a major social problem in the US and other parts of the world. For example, several studies have demonstrated that a child’s future may be determined by the social status. One study found that although children may have similarities in their ability, differences in the circumstances to which they were born could make the difference on who will be successful in future, and who will not. By considering two children Bobby (the son of a lawyer) and Jimmy (son of a custodial assistant) who both do well in class, the study found that it makes it 27 times more likely that Bobby will get a high profile job, while Jimmy had one chance in eight of earning a median income. It is projected that currently, social inequality is greater in the US than in any other industrialized nation (Wolff, 1995). In 2007, a study conducted by the Congressional Office Bureau revealed that the wealth held by the richest 1 percent of the total American population totaled US$16.8 trillion, which makes up USD$2 trillion more than the combined wealth of the lower 90 percent of the American population. Another study conducted by the Center for American Progress (2007) showed that between 1979 and 2007, the average income of the bottom 50 percent of American households grew by only 6%, while the top 1% incomes increased by a massive 229 percent. This reveals that the gap between the rich and the poor in the US is widening, and may affect the future of children who come from economically disadvantaged families. This may lead to accelerated rates of crime, violence and drug abuse amongst poor communities.
High advances in technology have led to the globalization phenomenon, whereby people in different parts of the world can interact faster and less expensively than before. Some activists consider globalization a social problem. For example, Stiglitz (2002) argues that globalization forced developing nations to liberalize their economies before they were ready, which pushed their citizens to poverty, a major social problem. Further, religious groups, especially Muslims and Christians, are opposed to globalization because it may erode some of their values. With globalization come cultural clashes, which are leading to erosion of cultures. These conflicts may not be easy to resolve because with globalization, there are difficulties in the issues related to justice, identity and equity. For example, previously, when disputes arose between people, they could be resolved by the government or the local council. The process of conflict resolution was faster. However, with globalization, social disputes go beyond local, regional and international boundaries. The process of conflict resolution is slower, and this makes people feel victimized, angry and powerless. As a result, there is a tendency for people to turn to violence when they feel they have no alternative.
According to Stiglitz, globalization has its advantages, but also disadvantages. He states that it has a high potential to bring benefits to the world. So far, globalization has not brought comparable benefits in many parts of the world, and it is viewed by many as a disaster. However, since globalization is now a reality which affects everyone, it is essential that we strategize on how to benefit from it, and how to mitigate its negative impacts. In order to reap the benefits of globalization, the world will have to make rational decisions for people on both sides of the divide.
A number of Sociological Theories attempt to explain why people commit crimes. These include the Strain Theory, the Social Learning Theory, the Control Theory, the Labeling Theory and the social Disorganization Theory. According to Agnew (1992), all crime theories attempt to explain crime as a component of the social environment. Social environment includes the family, school, peer group, workplace, community as well as the society. The structural strain theory, for example, states that social structures in a society could encourage its citizens to commit crimes. The structural strain theory was advanced by several sociologists. These were Merton (1938), Cohen (1955), Cloward and Ohlin (1960), Agnew (1992), as well as Messner and Rosenfeld (1994). According to the authors, strain can either be structural, which depicts the processes at the societal level which filter down and affect how an individual perceives his or her needs. That is, if particular social structures are inherently inadequate, the individual’s perceptions may change to view them as opportunities. On the other hand, strain can be at the individual level, where it refers to the pain experienced by an individual when he seeks ways to satisfy his needs. At this level, if the goals of a society become significant to an individual, actually achieving them may become more important than the means adopted.
The labeling theory, also known as social reaction theory, was developed by Howard Becker (1963), a sociologist. This theory states that deviance is not a quality of the act, since results from personality factors associated with committing deviance. Its main focus is on the linguistic tendency of majorities to negatively label minorities, mainly those perceived as deviant from the norms. According to this theory, self-identity and behavior of individuals can be influenced by the terms used to describe them. This theory is sometimes used to explain why people take drugs. An individual, for example, may escape to drugs due to low self esteem resulting from being constantly stereotyped.
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