The following is one of the short essays I wrote for my Sociology 101 final. I got a 4.0 in the class so… I figure this (and the other essays I wrote) should be good grist for the mill. Enjoy!
In this essay I will be arguing against the following statement:
“The US is a land of opportunity where any individual with talent and hard work can achieve upward mobility.”
This statement explicitly states a false narrative which is based on the idea that while everyone does not start out on equal footing, everyone has the same opportunities for success and failure. This is not the case, as we can see with even the most simplistic analysis.
In the chart “The US Social Class Ladder”(1) we see a tie between education, occupation, income, and social class. If we factor in one’s parents’ education level and how this may affect one’s own education level, we can begin to see a correlation(2). This is important because if one’s parents are from the working poor and thus have an income of about $19,000 per year, this means they would have to spend nearly two years worth of income to send one child to college. A working class family that makes about $36,000 per year would spend nearly one full year’s worth of income to do the same. However, for someone from the lower middle or upper middle class who make around $60,000 per year and over $120,000 per year respectively, the cost of sending one child to college is a fraction of their yearly income and this is not just accessible, but affordable. Even without factoring in the savings and wealth people from these social classes may have accrued.
This classist barrier to education reinforces the poverty of the lower classes by denying them the ability to attain one of the key prerequisites for upward mobility(3), a quality education.
This connection between education and social class is a reflection of life chances(4).
Being in a lower socio-economic class reduces the number of life chances one has, particularly life chances which relate to one’s potential to be apart of a higher socio-economic class.
I believe this argument to be based in conflict theory because it speaks to the difficulty poor people have improving their life to a point where they have the luxury of fighting against the oppression they suffer under our current hierarchical system. It also critiques the functionalist idea which says society needs the poor to stay poor because otherwise society will find it has a shortage of garbage collectors, factory workers, and other low paying jobs necessary for civilization to function.
It is a social norm that says we need older individuals to be janitors and thus we do not want them to have the means of upward mobility. If this were replaced by a social norm that said young people should fill these positions as apart of their educational experience, then the job gets done and people are given the means for upward mobility. If this were done perhaps the classist disparities of life chances may be redressed.
1. Prof Oka, lecture week 6, slide 4, “The US social class ladder” copyright 2013 Pearson Education. This chart breaks the US population into 6 socio-economic strata. From highest to lowest: Capitalist, Upper Middle, Lower Middle, Working, Working Poor, and Underclass.
2. Barkan, Steven. copyright 2010. “Sociology: Understanding and Changing the Social World” Brief Edition, v2.0, pg 133, Figure 6.5 “Parents Education and Percent of Respondents that have College Degrees” In summary, If one’s parents have a college degree, then one has a far higher probability of also attaining a college degree.
3. Upward mobility is the movement from a lower socio-economic class to a higher one.
4. Prof Oka, lecture week 6, slide 11. Life chances are the amount and quality of opportunities a person has throughout their life.