Social Inequality

Social Inequality

Kathryn M. Neckerman Editor
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 1044
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    Social Inequality
    Book Description:

    Inequality in income, earnings, and wealth has risen dramatically in the United States over the past three decades. Most research into this issue has focused on the causes—global trade, new technology, and economic policy—rather than the consequences of inequality. In Social Inequality, a group of the nation’s leading social scientists opens a wide-ranging inquiry into the social implications of rising economic inequality. Beginning with a critical evaluation of the existing research, they assess whether the recent run-up in economic inequality has been accompanied by rising inequality in social domains such as the quality of family and neighborhood life, equal access to education and health care, job satisfaction, and political participation. Marcia Meyers and colleagues find that many low-income mothers cannot afford market-based child care, which contributes to inequality both at the present time—by reducing maternal employment and family income—and through the long-term consequences of informal or low-quality care on children’s educational achievement. At the other end of the educational spectrum, Thomas Kane links the growing inequality in college attendance to rising tuition and cuts in financial aid. Neil Fligstein and Taek-Jin Shin show how both job security and job satisfaction have decreased for low-wage workers compared with their higher-paid counterparts. Those who fall behind economically may also suffer diminished access to essential social resources like health care. John Mullahy, Stephanie Robert, and Barbara Wolfe discuss why higher inequality may lead to poorer health: wider inequality might mean increased stress-related ailments for the poor, and it might also be associated with public health care policies that favor the privileged. On the political front, Richard Freeman concludes that political participation has become more stratified as incomes have become more unequal. Workers at the bottom of the income scale may simply be too hard-pressed or too demoralized to care about political participation. Social Inequality concludes with a comprehensive section on the methodological problems involved in disentangling the effects of inequality from other economic factors, which will be of great benefit to future investigators. While today’s widening inequality may be a temporary episode, the danger is that the current economic divisions may set in motion a self-perpetuating cycle of social disadvantage. The most comprehensive review of this quandary to date, Social Inequality maps out a new agenda for research on inequality in America with important implications for public policy.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-420-0
    Subjects: Sociology, Economics, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    Eric Wanner

    Too much talk about social inequality generally makes Americans uncomfortable. We are, after all, a nation founded on the premise that “all men are created equal,” and most Americans see themselves as part of a vast middle class that encompasses the greater part of society. The evident economic differences between rich and poor do not dislodge the popular conviction that America still provides equal opportunities for all. In a free market economy, open to individual enterprise and ability, some people will inevitably work harder, or get a better education, or invest more fortunately, and as a result, accumulate more resources...

  5. Introduction
    (pp. xvii-xxvi)
    Kathryn M. Neckerman

    About twenty-five years ago, economic inequality began to rise in the United States. Poverty increased and incomes fell among the poor, while the affluent enjoyed a substantial increase in their standard of living. This inequality has grown through both recession and recovery, and shows few signs of abating. Debate continues about the causes of rising inequality, but most experts agree that any explanation should include global trade, immigration, a decline in union strength, the computerization of work, and the decline in the real value of the minimum wage. This dramatic change in the distribution of incomes jeopardizes the progress made...


    • Chapter 1 The Uneven Spread of Single-Parent Families: What Do We Know? Where Do We Look for Answers?
      (pp. 3-78)
      David T. Ellwood and Christopher Jencks

      American families changed dramatically during the last third of the twentieth century. From 1900 until the late 1960s, roughly three-quarters of all American sixteen-year-olds had lived with both of their biological parents. By 2000 only about half of all sixteen-year-olds were living with both biological parents. During the first half of the twentieth century, moreover, most parents who were not living with their children had no choice about the matter: they were dead. By the end of the twentieth century, most of the parents who were not living with their children were alive but living elsewhere (see figure 1.1).


    • Chapter 2 Women’s Education and Family Timing: Outcomes and Trends Associated with Age at Marriage and First Birth
      (pp. 79-118)
      Steven P. Martin

      In the United States the decades from the 1970s to the 1990s were a time of increasing social and economic inequality, as well as a time when family patterns diverged across social and economic strata. A well-known changing family pattern was a shift in familystructure—the dramatic increase in single-parent families that David Ellwood and Christopher Jencks discuss in chapter 1 of this volume; this particular shift in family structure has been identified as a factor that exacerbates income inequality (Karoly and Burtless 1995). The other dramatic divergence in family patterns, and the focus of this chapter, is a...

    • Chapter 3 Neighborhoods, Poverty, and Children’s Well-Being
      (pp. 119-146)
      Anne R. Pebley and Narayan Sastry

      Income inequality in the United States increased between 1970 and 2000 (Danziger and Gottschalk 1995; DeNavas-Walt, Cleveland, and Roemer 2001). For example, the percentage share of all household income earned by the top 25 percent of the population increased from 43 percent in 1970 to almost 50 percent in 2000 (DeNavas-Walt, Cleveland, and Raemer 2001, table C). This volume examines the consequences of rising income inequality for social and political inequalities in American society. One mechanism through which rising income inequality may have affected social inequality is by increasing residential segregation by income—and also by ethnicity as a consequence,...


    • Chapter 4 Trends in Children’s Attainments and Their Determinants as Family Income Inequality Has Increased
      (pp. 149-188)
      Robert Haveman, Gary Sandefur, Barbara Wolfe and Andrea Voyer

      The increase in family income inequality since the early 1970s is one of the most cited economic changes during this three-decade period. As family income inequality increases, those families below the median are further from the social norm than before; similarly, those at the top of the distribution see a larger gap between themselves and the rest of the population. Such growing disparities are not inconsistent with increases over time in the absolute level of income and well-being for both high- and low-income families. Indeed, since the early 1970s, the real (inflation-adjusted) incomes of both rich and poor have increased....

    • Chapter 5 Inequality in Parental Investment in Child-Rearing: Expenditures, Time, and Health
      (pp. 189-220)
      Suzanne Bianchi, Philip N. Cohen, Sara Raley and Kei Nomaguchi

      What parents do for children “matters”—or so it is assumed. Much of the literature on social inequality at the individual or household level in the United States has focused on the role that families play in (re)producing inequality. For example, in the late 1960s and 1970s, the most studied topic in U.S. social stratification was intergenerational occupational mobility (Blau and Duncan 1967; Duncan, Featherman, and Duncan 1972; Jencks 1972). This tradition of research in sociology has had parallel streams within economics (see, for example, Robert Haveman and Barbara Wolfe’s 1994 bookSucceeding Generations). The continued focus on mechanisms through...


    • Chapter 6 Inequality in Early Childhood Education and Care: What Do We Know?
      (pp. 223-270)
      Marcia K. Meyers, Dan Rosenbaum, Christopher Ruhm and Jane Waldfogel

      The distribution of household income grew more unequal in the United States during the closing decades of the twentieth century. Persistent and growing income inequality is arguably a problem in its own right, but it is also a source of concern if income deficits and inequality exacerbate other social problems. These issues are particularly salient in the case of children, who have the least control over their economic circumstances but may have the most to gain (or lose) from economic resources. A large research literature links poverty with worse child outcomes, in terms of both short-term health and well-being and...

    • Chapter 7 Progress in Schooling
      (pp. 271-318)
      Robert M. Hauser

      This chapter reviews measures, trends, and differentials in grade retention and dropout in American elementary and secondary schools from the early 1970s to the late 1990s. Differentials in grade retention and school dropout reflect social and economic inequalities and, for that reason, may have been affected by the rise of income and wealth inequality in and after the 1970s. However, there appears to be more evidence of stability than of change in the effects of social origins on progress through elementary and secondary school. The distribution of progress through school has been altered by changes in the distribution of social...

    • Chapter 8 College-Going and Inequality
      (pp. 319-354)
      Thomas J. Kane

      Since 1973, when Congress undertook the last major structural reform of federal financial aid rules by establishing the Pell Grant program—a school voucher program for low-income undergraduates—very little has changed in the way in which government helps families pay for college. Meanwhile, the environment has changed dramatically. First, the labor market for college graduates is quite different. The percentage difference in earnings between those with and without a college degree has more than doubled since 1980. Second, a supply response seems to be under way. The proportion of eighteen- to twenty-four-year-olds enrolled in college has increased by more...

    • Chapter 9 Digital Inequality: From Unequal Access to Differentiated Use
      (pp. 355-400)
      Paul DiMaggio, Eszter Hargittai, Coral Celeste and Steven Shafer

      The Internet boosts immeasurably our collective capacity to archive information, search through large quantities of it quickly, and retrieve it rapidly. It is said that the Internet will expand access to education, good jobs, and better health and that it will create new deliberative spaces for political discussion and provide citizens with direct access to government. Insofar as such claims are plausible, Internet access is an important resource, and inequality in Internet access is a significant concern for social scientists who study inequality.

      This chapter reviews what we know about inequality in access to and use of new digital technologies....

    • Chapter 10 The Shareholder Value Society: A Review of the Changes in Working Conditions and Inequality in the United States, 1976 to 2000
      (pp. 401-432)
      Neil Fligstein and Taek-Jin Shin

      Increases in income inequality in the United States over the past quarter-century have been well documented (Murphy and Welch 1992; Karoly 1992; Freeman 1997; Levy and Murnane 1992; Katz and Autor 1999). Everyone has agreed to three main facts: income and wage inequality increased in the 1980s, stabilized in the late 1980s and early 1990s, then began to increase until the late 1990s, when it once again stabilized (Freeman 1997; Lee 1999). Generally, the workers who fared the worst in these changes were those who did not finish high school. They saw their wages relative to those of college graduates...

    • Chapter 11 The Changing Distribution of Education Finance, 1972 to 1997
      (pp. 433-466)
      Sean Corcoran, William N. Evans, Jennifer Godwin, Sheila E. Murray and Robert M. Schwab

      Jonathan Kozol’sSavage Inequalities(1991) is a searing indictment of the American system of public education. It paints a bleak picture of inner-city students struggling in overcrowded classrooms and dilapidated buildings. Kozol compares these children to suburban students at well-funded schools with large campuses, modern scientific equipment, and highly paid and well-trained faculty. While inner-city students, Kozol tells us, are often fortunate to graduate from high school, students from suburban schools are not asked if they will attend college, but where.

      These extremes, according to Kozol, are a result of the decentralized structure of education in the United States. As...

    • Chapter 12 School Inequality: What Do We Know?
      (pp. 467-520)
      Meredith Phillips and Tiffani Chin

      As we enter the twenty-first century, poor and non-Asian minority students lag considerably behind their nonpoor, Asian, and white counterparts on many dimensions of academic performance. Although scholars have long known that these academic disparities stem from many causes, commentators on both sides of the political spectrum often attribute these gaps to disparities in school quality. Thus, President George W. Bush has promoted his “No Child Left Behind” education reform legislation as a crusade against lowquality schools. “We don’t want schools languishing in mediocrity and excuse-making,” Bush said in 2002. “We want the best for every child. . . ....


    • Chapter 13 Health, Income, and Inequality
      (pp. 523-544)
      John Mullahy, Stephanie Robert and Barbara Wolfe

      Increases in income and earnings inequality over the past twenty-five years have been well documented. What we do not know is whether there have been associated increases in inequality in other dimensions, such as health status. Health status may have a reciprocal relationship with income inequality. Health can affect human capital and hence the ability to earn, to engage more productively in nonmarket activities, and to enjoy consumption more or less fully. In turn, health can be affected by income inequality through a number of potential pathways.

      Both analysts and policymakers are devoting increasing attention to various “disparities” in health...

    • Chapter 14 The Income-Health Relationship and the Role of Relative Deprivation
      (pp. 545-568)
      Christine E. Eibner and William N. Evans

      While there is a strong, positive relationship between individual income and individual health, there is less evidence of a relationship between aggregate income and aggregate health. Several recent papers argue that increases in individual income affect health and well-being not just through increases in absolute material standards but also through a relative deprivation effect (Åberg-Yngwe et al. 2003; Luttmer 2003; Eibner and Evans, forthcoming). Low relative income may cause stress and depression, conditions that could raise the probability of contracting a disease or increase the tendency to engage in risky behavior. We argue that if relative deprivation matters, then an...

    • Chapter 15 Inequality in Life and Death: What Drives Racial Trends in U.S. Child Death Rates?
      (pp. 569-632)
      Janet Currie and V. Joseph Hotz

      This chapter examines the trends in and determinants of child death rates in the United States over the period 1980 to 1998. The annual death rate (number of deaths per 100,000 population) of children age zero to nineteen declined by 39.6 percent over this period, from 117.6 deaths per 100,000 in 1980 to 71.0 in 1998. Several explanations have been offered for this marked decline in the child death rate. For example, David Cutler and Ellen Meara (2000) focus on the role that innovations in medical technology played in the declines in infant mortality. Sherry Glied (2001) draws attention to...


    • Chapter 16 Political Equality: What Do We Know About It?
      (pp. 635-666)
      Sidney Verba, Kay Lehman Schlozman and Henry E. Brady

      Among the bedrock principles in a democracy is equal consideration of the preferences and interests of all citizens, a commitment that is expressed in such principles as one-person, one-vote, equality before the law, and equal rights of free speech, press, and assembly. Equal consideration of the preferences and needs of all citizens is fostered by equal political activity among citizens, not only in voting turnout but also in other forms of political activity that include working in political campaigns, making campaign contributions, taking part in local community efforts, contacting officials directly, and engaging in protest. Through their activity, citizens in...

    • Chapter 17 An Analytical Perspective on Participatory Inequality and Income Inequality
      (pp. 667-702)
      Henry E. Brady

      At least since the sans culottes—literally, “those without breeches”—streamed through the streets of Paris in 1789 to overthrow the ostentatious and corrupt ancien régime, modern social theorists have grappled with the relationship between poverty and political participation. Connections between people’s economic resources and their political activities date back to antiquity, but the appearance in the late eighteenth century of democratic nations with novel forms of mass participation and the onslaught in the nineteenth century of the industrial revolution, with its starkly unequal social classes, led to new speculations about how income inequality produces political activity. Alexis de Tocqueville...

    • Chapter 18 What, Me Vote?
      (pp. 703-728)
      Richard B. Freeman

      Voting turnout, measured by the number of persons voting relative to the population of voting age, is lower in the United States than in other advanced democracies, including the United States’ nearest neighbor, Canada. From 1945 to the late 1990s, the United States averaged a 48.3 percent turnout of the voting age population while Canada averaged a 68.4 percent turnout relative to the voting age population. In the 2000 presidential election, 51.4 percent of the voting age population in the United States cast ballots. On a world scale, the United States ranks 138th in turnout among countries that hold elections—...

    • Chapter 19 Civic Transformation and Inequality in the Contemporary United States
      (pp. 729-768)
      Theda Skocpol

      Has civic life in the United States become more or less equal over the past half-century? Even to pose this question in an intelligent way requires us to explore the interrelations of two sets of momentous transformations. We must consider the interactions between shifting inequalities in American society and a sharply transformed universe of voluntary organizations and participation.

      In broad terms, America has become both more and less equal in recent decades. Following the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, racial segregation and exclusion were no longer legal or socially acceptable, so whites and African Americans could thenceforth...


    • Chapter 20 Crime, Punishment, and American Inequality
      (pp. 771-796)
      Bruce Western, Meredith Kleykamp and Jake Rosenfeld

      Two major social trends steadily reduced the living standards of young American men with little education over the last thirty years. The earnings of men with just a high school education were eroded by the tide of rising U.S. income inequality. While wages fell, growth in the American penal system turned prison and jail time into common life events for low-skill and minority men. The new inequality and the prison boom both date from the mid-1970s, and both trends continued through the end of the 1990s. Given this covariation, a causal interpretation would be tempting, but only weakly supported. To...

    • Chapter 21 The Consequences of Income Inequality for Redistributive Policy in the United States
      (pp. 797-820)
      Gabriel S. Lenz

      Although the United States has one of the highest levels of income inequality among developed countries, pre-tax-and-transfer income inequality is only 7 percent higher than the average for twelve other advanced industrial nations (Hacker et al. 2003, 4–5).¹ In other words, market income inequality is not much higher in the United States than in these countries. What differentiates the United States is that taxes and transfers do not redistribute income to the same degree. Although average pre-tax-and-transfer inequality is only 7 percent higher, inequality after taxes and transfers is almost 30 percent higher. Since the early 1980s the degree...

    • Chapter 22 Income Distribution and Public Social Expenditure: Theories, Effects, and Evidence
      (pp. 821-860)
      Lars Osberg, Timothy M. Smeeding and Jonathan Schwabish

      What is the relationship between economic inequality and public social expenditure? Why might it matter?

      Income distribution and social spending have long been analyzed by both economists and political scientists. More than seventy years ago, R. H. Tawney (1931/1964, 133, 121) discussed the growth and significance of public provision for education, health, and social services and noted that “the standard of living of the great mass of the nation depends, not merely on the remuneration which they are paid for their labour, but on the social income which they receive as citizens.” He saw the expansion of such public spending...

    • Chapter 23 Politics, Public Policy, and Inequality: A Look Back at the Twentieth Century
      (pp. 861-892)
      Howard Rosenthal

      For at least a century, the United States has enjoyed unbridled prosperity. True, there have been significant interruptions in the upward course of per capita growth, most notably during the Great Depression. Although we could not always answer positively to Ronald Reagan’s famous 1980 presidential debate question, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” most of us are unambiguously better off than our grandparents were fifty years ago, or their grandparents fifty years earlier.¹

      The distribution of prosperity, however, unlike the aggregate, has not followed a monotonic path. The broad outline of what happened is easy...


    • Chapter 24 U.S. Black-White Wealth Inequality
      (pp. 895-930)
      John Karl Scholz and Kara Levine

      The distribution of wealth in the United States is highly skewed. In 1998 the top 1 percent of families held 34 percent of the wealth, and the top 10 percent of families held 68.7 percent of the wealth (Kennickell 2000). Wealth is distributed far more unevenly than income. The Census Bureau estimates that in 1998 households in the top 5 percent of the income distribution received 21.4 percent of annual income. Households in the top 20 percent of the income distribution received 49.2 percent of annual income (U.S. Department of Commerce, various years).

      Wealth can affect economic well-being in a...


    • Chapter 25 Assessing the Effect of Economic Inequality
      (pp. 933-968)
      William N. Evans, Michael Hout and Susan E. Mayer

      The rise in income inequality over the past three decades has spawned a surge in research that examines the causes and consequences of this trend. Authors from a variety of disciplines have examined the impact of various measures of inequality on outcomes as diverse as mortality, health habits, self-reported health status, civic and voter participation, trust, marriage, crime, educational attainment, the size of local governments, self-reported happiness, and school spending. Regardless of the outcome, all research that tries to evaluate the causal impact of inequality empirically faces a common set of methodological issues. In this chapter, we attempt to catalog...

    • Chapter 26 How Inequality May Affect Intergenerational Mobility
      (pp. 969-988)
      Michael Hout

      Inequality and social mobility go together intuitively. For hundreds of years social observers have treated both as measures of a nation’s ability to offer opportunity and to treat its citizens fairly. Robert Mare (2002) notes that the sociological study of social mobility is rooted in concerns with the causes of social inequality.¹ Closer inspection reveals that these core social indicators are far from equivalent. Though each does indeed reflect an aspect of opportunity and fairness, inequality and mobility are very different phenomena. Most important, they have different perspectives on time. Inequality refers to the contemporary differences in wages, incomes, and...

  14. Index
    (pp. 989-1018)