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Categorically Unequal

Categorically Unequal: The American Stratification System

Douglas S. Massey
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 340
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    Categorically Unequal
    Book Description:

    The United States holds the dubious distinction of having the most unequal income distribution of any advanced industrialized nation. While other developed countries face similar challenges from globalization and technological change, none rivals America’s singularly poor record for equitably distributing the benefits and burdens of recent economic shifts. In Categorically Unequal, Douglas Massey weaves together history, political economy, and even neuropsychology to provide a comprehensive explanation of how America’s culture and political system perpetuates inequalities between different segments of the population. Categorically Unequal is striking both for its theoretical originality and for the breadth of topics it covers. Massey argues that social inequalities arise from the universal human tendency to place others into social categories. In America, ethnic minorities, women, and the poor have consistently been the targets of stereotyping, and as a result, they have been exploited and discriminated against throughout the nation’s history. African-Americans continue to face discrimination in markets for jobs, housing, and credit. Meanwhile, the militarization of the U.S.-Mexican border has discouraged Mexican migrants from leaving the United States, creating a pool of exploitable workers who lack the legal rights of citizens. Massey also shows that women’s advances in the labor market have been concentrated among the affluent and well-educated, while low-skilled female workers have been relegated to occupations that offer few chances for earnings mobility. At the same time, as the wages of low-income men have fallen, more working-class women are remaining unmarried and raising children on their own. Even as minorities and women continue to face these obstacles, the progressive legacy of the New Deal has come under frontal assault. The government has passed anti-union legislation, made taxes more regressive, allowed the real value of the federal minimum wage to decline, and drastically cut social welfare spending. As a result, the income gap between the richest and poorest has dramatically widened since 1980. Massey attributes these anti-poor policies in part to the increasing segregation of neighborhoods by income, which has insulated the affluent from the social consequences of poverty, and to the disenfranchisement of the poor, as the population of immigrants, prisoners, and ex-felons swells. America’s unrivaled disparities are not simply the inevitable result of globalization and technological change. As Massey shows, privileged groups have systematically exploited and excluded many of their fellow Americans. By delving into the root causes of inequality in America, Categorically Unequal provides a compelling argument for the creation of a more equitable society.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-380-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Economics

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. About the Author
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Eric Wanner

    On April 19, 2007, the Russell Sage Foundation will celebrate its centennial, 100 years to the day since Margaret Olivia Sage dedicated the foundation, in her husband′s name, ″to the improvement of social and living conditions in the United States of America.″ From the outset, social research played a key role in the foundation′s mission—both by providing vivid descriptions of the social problems that called out for reform in a newly industrialized, urbanized America and by assessing the effectiveness of the foundation′s early programs designed to improve the lot of the disadvantaged. As the foundation′s enterprise matured after World...

  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    Douglas S. Massey
  6. Chapter 1 How Stratification Works
    (pp. 1-27)

    All human societies have a social structure that divides people into categories based on a combination of achieved and ascribed traits. Achieved characteristics are those acquired in the course of living, whereas ascribed characteristics are set at birth. The categories defined within a social structure may be nominal or graduated—that is, they may assign labels to people on the basis of shared qualitative attributes, or they may rank people along some quantitative continuum (see Blau 1977). Ascribed social categories include nominal groupings such as gender, in which people are labeled male or female on the basis of inherited physical...

  7. Chapter 2 The Rise and Fall of Egalitarian Capitalism
    (pp. 28-50)

    The twentieth century was notable for its accelerated rate of change. Never in the course of a mere one hundred years did human beings have to adapt to so many technological, social, cultural, and economic shifts. Empires that had existed for hundreds and even thousands of years collapsed; new empires came into existence and themselves crumbled; vast areas of the earth were colonized and then decolonized; new nations proliferated in the wake of collapsed empires and decolonized lands; nations industrialized; the world urbanized; new transnational institutions came into existence; and in the course of these massive transformations millions upon millions...

  8. Chapter 3 Reworking the Color Line
    (pp. 51-112)

    The American civil rights movement came together in the 1950s, culminated in the 1960s, and wound down in the 1970s. The bookend events that define this era in U.S. history are the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, in which the Supreme Court overturned the doctrine of ″separate but equal,″ and the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act, in which Congress outlawed the practice of redlining—denying people mortgages because of the race of their neighbors. In the nearly quarter-century between these two legal landmarks, nearly all of the nation′s major civil rights initiatives were enacted.

    Most of the action occurred...

  9. Chapter 4 Building a Better Underclass
    (pp. 113-157)

    African Americans are not the only disadvantaged minority group in the United States, of course. In the sweep of American history, many groups have become targets of prejudice and discrimination (Jacobson 1999; Perlmutter 1999). Successive waves of European immigrants and their descendants struggled long and hard to be accepted as ″white″ within American society (Brodkin 1999; Ignatiev 1996; Roediger 1991). Full ″whiteness″ was not attained socially by most southern and eastern Europeans until the 1970s (Alba 1990), and the process of ″whitening″ did not begin for groups such as the Chinese and Japanese until after the civil rights era (Daniels...

  10. Chapter 5 Remaking the Political Economy
    (pp. 158-210)

    The prior two chapters have described categorical processes that operate in the United States to perpetuate ethnic and racial inequalities. Although whites no longer espouse racist beliefs in principle, they remain distinctly uncomfortable with African Americans in practice and continue to harbor antiblack stereotypes and engage in subtle forms of discrimination, both conscious and unconscious, that deny blacks equal access to markets for housing, credit, capital, insurance, jobs, services, and consumer goods. They also support a racialized criminal justice system that systematically undercuts black employment, income, family stability, and health. Meanwhile, the framing of Latinos as a threat to the...

  11. Chapter 6 Engendering Inequality
    (pp. 211-241)

    Perhaps the oldest and most durable categorical distinction that human beings make is between men and women. All human societies engender the social world by assigning different attributes and expectations to men and women. Although the specific content of male and female roles differs from culture to culture, all human societies make interpersonal distinctions based on the presence or absence of a second X chromosome (Brown 1991). These distinctions are rooted in human biology, of course, which has assigned women responsibility for gestating, bearing, and suckling infants. Given this biological reality, across all cultures women engage in more ″caring labor″...

  12. Chapter 7 America Unequal
    (pp. 242-260)

    Stratification does not just happen. It is produced by specific arrangements in human societies that allow exploitation and opportunity hoarding to occur along categorical lines.

    An effective system of social stratification requires three basic things: a social structure that divides people into categories on the basis of some combination of achieved and ascribed traits; the labeling of certain of these categories as social out-groups composed of people who are perceived as lacking on two fundamental dimensions of human social evaluation; and the existence of one or more social mechanisms to reserve certain resources for in-group members while extracting other resources...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 261-262)
  14. References
    (pp. 263-302)
  15. Index
    (pp. 303-322)