Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Spheres of Influence

Spheres of Influence: The Social Ecology of Racial and Class Inequality

Douglas S. Massey
Stefanie Brodmann
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 452
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Spheres of Influence
    Book Description:

    The black-white divide has long haunted the United States as a driving force behind social inequality. Yet, the civil rights movement, the increase in immigration, and the restructuring of the economy in favor of the rich over the last several decades have begun to alter the contours of inequality.Spheres of Influence, co-authored by noted social scientists Douglas S. Massey and Stefanie Brodmann, presents a rigorous new study of the intersections of racial and class disparities today. Massey and Brodmann argue that despite the persistence of potent racial inequality, class effects are drastically transforming social stratification in America.

    This data-intensive volume examines the differences in access to material, symbolic, and emotional resources across major racial groups. The authors find that the effects of racial inequality are exacerbated by the class differences within racial groups. For example, when measuring family incomes solely according to race, Massey and Brodmann found that black families' average income measured $28,400, compared to Hispanic families' $35,200. But this gap was amplified significantly when class differences within each group were taken into account. With class factored in, inequality across blacks' and Hispanics' family incomes increased by a factor of almost four, with lower class black families earning an average income of only $9,300 compared to $97,000 for upper class Hispanics. Massey and Brodmann found similar interactions between class and racial effects on the distribution of symbolic resources, such as occupational status, and emotional resources, such as the presence of a biological father-across racial groups. Although there are racial differences in each group's access to these resources, like income, these disparities are even more pronounced once class is factored in.

    The complex interactions between race and class are apparent in other social spheres, such as health and education. In looking at health disparities across groups, Massey and Brodmann observed no single class effect on the propensity to smoke cigarettes. Among whites, cigarette smoking declined with rising class standing, whereas among Hispanics it increased as class rose. Among Asians and blacks, there was no class difference at all. Similarly, the authors found no single effect of race alone on health: Health differences between whites, Asians, Hispanics, and blacks were small and non-significant in the upper class, but among those in the lower class, intergroup differences were pronounced.

    As Massey and Brodmann show, in the United States, a growing kaleidoscope of race-class interactions has replaced pure racial and class disadvantages. By advancing an ecological model of human development that considers the dynamics of race and class across multiple social spheres,Spheres of Influencesheds important light on the factors that are currently driving inequality today.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-822-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. CHAPTER 1 The Social Ecology of Human Development
    (pp. 1-26)

    The characteristics and behavior of all living organisms arise from a complex interaction between genes and the environment. This gene-environment interaction occurs not only within the genome of any species across historical time, but also within the lifetime of any particular organism. Among species, random mutations inevitably occur in the process of DNA replication and over time regularly introduce changes into its genome. These genetic changes may increase, decrease, or have no effect on an organism’s ability to survive and reproduce. Those changes that enhance the odds of survival and reproduction are likely to be passed on and be retained...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Divergent Family Spheres
    (pp. 27-56)

    The family is the basic social unit of all human societies. All people are embedded in a web of consanguineous relationships at birth, and some subset of this network is culturally defined to be the family of procreation—the group of people responsible for the bearing and raising of children through infancy, childhood, adolescence, and into independent adulthood, however that is defined in a particular social setting. How kinship is labeled and what care-giving responsibilities are assigned to which people vary by place, time, and culture, of course (see Aries 1965; Fox 1984). Virtually all human societies, however, assign primary...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Other Spheres of Influence
    (pp. 57-96)

    Human beings have been on earth for at least 150 millennia, and throughout this time the family has served as the primary unit for the bearing and rearing of children. Indeed, for 95 percent of humanity’s existence, kinship was the only meaningful form of social organization and the family was solely responsible for the cultivation of human capabilities. Until roughly ten thousand years ago, all human beings survived as foragers, living together in small mobile bands (Massey 2005a). Although the size of foraging communities varied with the material abundance provided by the local ecology, they rarely exceeded one thousand persons...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Risky Reproduction
    (pp. 97-144)

    Like other living organisms, human beings exist biologically to reproduce and perpetuate the species. Compared with other mammals, however, the human transition to reproduction unfolds over a rather prolonged period. Among our closest living relatives, for example, chimpanzee females reach puberty at around age seven, begin mating at the age of eight or nine, and bear their first offspring at age ten or eleven (Estes 1991). In contrast, among young women in the United States today, the average age of menarche is 12.4 years (Chumlea et al. 2003), the average age of first intercourse is 17.2 years (Singh et al....

  10. CHAPTER 5 Ecology Under the Skin
    (pp. 145-207)

    Human productivity is determined by how well three basic factors—land, labor, and capital—are combined to generate wealth and enhance material well-being. Land is used to produce food (through foraging, herding, or agriculture), extract natural resources (such as energy, minerals, or commodities), or simply as space (for living, working, and recreation). Labor refers to physical and mental activities carried out by human beings to produce goods and services using land and capital at their disposal. Of the three fundamental factors of production, capital is the most variegated, with at least five forms being identified by social scientists.Social capital...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Human Capital Formation
    (pp. 208-243)

    In no area of science has the nature-nurture debate played out more controversially than in the arena of human intelligence and scholastic achievement. During the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, the prevailing view was that intelligence was largely under genetic control (Gould 1981). Genes for individual intelligence were thought to pass from parents to children and be duly expressed, subject possibly to minor influences from the environment, yielding a bell-shaped normal distribution of IQ scores that mainly reflected the influence of inherited factors (Guilford 1967). Inequality in the distribution of intelligence led, in turn, to inequality in the...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Crime and Delinquency
    (pp. 244-265)

    Crime, violence, and delinquency are, unfortunately, common features of social life inherent to all human cultures. Within any society, however, the propensity to commit crimes and undertake delinquent acts is not spread evenly across the population, but concentrated in certain social and demographic groups. Within virtually all societies, rates of crime and delinquency are greatest among young, socially unattached males. In the United States, for example, about four-fifths of all crimes are committed by men and the overall crime rate for males is more than four times that of females (Steffensmeier and Allan 1996). In terms of age, patterns vary...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Transition to Adulthood
    (pp. 266-303)

    When they were interviewed for the third wave of the survey, Add Health respondents were age nineteen to twenty-six and either poised for entry into adulthood or in the process of making that transition. Some already may have achieved it. We define a successful transition to adulthood as the attainment of economic independence, signaled by completing one’s education, getting a job, and generally becoming self- sufficient. As the demands of a knowledge-based, postindustrial service economy have put an increasing premium on the acquisition of skills and education, the transition to adulthood has generally lengthened and extended well into the twenties...

  14. CHAPTER 9 What If? A Counterfactual Analysis
    (pp. 304-328)

    The transition to adulthood is a cumulative process whereby prior attainments provide the foundation for later attainments to generate life outcomes, which in turn carry implications for social and economic outcomes later on. The cumulative nature of development means that advantages and disadvantages tend to reinforce one another over the life cycle, creating self- reinforcing cycles of growth or stagnation. To develop fully, people must extract or be provided with sufficient material, symbolic, and emotional resources from the environments they inhabit, but for them, unlike other mammals, the critical environment for human development is social rather than physical. In contemporary...

  15. CHAPTER 10 The Ecology of Inequality
    (pp. 329-351)

    We wrote this book with both theoretical and substantive goals in mind. Theoretically, we sought to update, elaborate, and extend an ecological model of human growth and development introduced some time ago, but which, in our opinion, has received too little attention and has been unproductively relegated to a marginalized corner of social research. We also sought to underscore the importance and ubiquity of race-class interactions in contemporary American society, in terms of both how people are exposed to contrasting ecological advantages and disadvantages and how they respond to these divergent social ecologies in their development, behavior, and actions. Substantively,...

  16. APPENDIX A Data from the Adolescent Health Survey
    (pp. 352-359)
  17. APPENDIX B Construction of Indices
    (pp. 360-367)
    (pp. 368-388)
    (pp. 389-418)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 419-435)