Capitalism and Social Stratification

The Functional Perspective serves as the legitimating rationale for a capitalist economy, providing an explanation for its existence and functioning. This essay explores how and why this perspective justifies capitalism, examining its impact on various societal aspects such as race, religion, class, gender, and educational level. Additionally, it critiques the Functionalist ideology from the Conflict Perspective, delving into how the stratification system produces deviants and the consequences of labeling in terms of preserving the status quo.

The Legitimating Rationale and Its Manifestations

In a capitalist economy, the Functional Perspective argues that a judicial system is imperative to maintain order.

Despite its flaws, a legal structure is seen as necessary for societal cohesion. Unfortunately, statistics reveal a disproportionate representation of lower-class individuals within the penal system, highlighting an unsettling connection between economic status and legal troubles. The Functionalist perspective maintains that the law applies uniformly, regardless of gender or religion, emphasizing the importance of societal adherence to legal norms.

Social conflict theorists contend that money is the primary factor contributing to social disorder.

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The widening wealth gap in recent years has intensified social conflict, pushing once middle-class families into financial turmoil. The economic downturn has led to foreclosures, discounted living conditions, and a prevailing sense of instability among the middle class. The Functionalist perspective is challenged as resentment grows toward a perceived lack of fairness, with the higher class seemingly unaffected while the lower class receives increasing government support. The notion of a stable "status quo" appears outdated and elusive in the current societal landscape.

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Furthermore, the Functionalist perspective asserts that the five basic social institutions—economy, family, religion, education, and government—work in tandem to support the legitimating rationale of capitalism. This interconnectedness is evident in the structural and ideological collaboration among these institutions. Marx's claim that the economic system defines the goals of other institutions is exemplified in the subordination of women. Economic disparities, such as the gender pay gap, are reflected and perpetuated in family dynamics, religious doctrines, educational curricula, and governmental policies.

Structural and Ideological Support

Examining the five social institutions reveals how they structurally and ideologically reinforce the legitimating rationale. The economy, predominantly controlled by a male presence in institutions like Wall Street and Congress, perpetuates a male-centric agenda. This is evident in the gender pay gap, often referred to as the "glass ceiling," where women face economic disparities compared to their male counterparts. The economic structure, therefore, defines the overarching goals and objectives of society, as those in control seek to maintain their dominance.

Within the family institution, societal expectations contribute to the reinforcement of gender norms. Men are often expected to assume the role of the primary breadwinner, while women are pressured to conform to traditional housewife roles. These expectations echo through religious teachings, with certain interpretations of religious texts positioning women as subordinate "sinners" and restricting their roles, such as the exclusion of women from priesthood in the Catholic Church.

Educational institutions play a role in perpetuating sexist ideologies, teaching gender stereotypes that define masculinity as macho and associate femininity with playing with dolls. Such teachings contribute to the socialization of individuals into gender roles, further entrenching the status quo. The government, as reflected in the U.S. Constitution's language, reinforces a male-centric perspective, emphasizing the equality of "men" rather than embracing a gender-neutral stance.

Deviance and the Preservation of Status Quo

The Conflict Perspective challenges the Functionalist ideology by highlighting how the stratification system produces deviants—individuals who fall outside societal expectations in actions, thoughts, appearance, credit scores, and more. The labeling of these deviants serves as a mechanism to preserve the existing social order. As economic disparities persist and social conflict intensifies, those who deviate from societal norms become a target for labeling, reinforcing the status quo through marginalization and exclusion.

In conclusion, the Functional Perspective provides a legitimating rationale for capitalism, asserting its necessity in maintaining order. However, the Conflict Perspective critiques this ideology, revealing how the stratification system produces deviants and uses labeling to preserve the status quo. The interconnectedness of the five social institutions further supports and perpetuates the legitimating rationale, creating a complex web of structural and ideological reinforcement. To understand and address these issues, a nuanced examination of both perspectives is essential, paving the way for a more equitable and just society.

Updated: Jan 02, 2024
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Capitalism and Social Stratification. (2017, Jan 19). Retrieved from

Capitalism and Social Stratification essay
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