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Categorically Unequal

The American Stratification System

Douglas S. Massey

Publication Year: 2007

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.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Series: Russell Sage Centennial Volume

Title Page, Copyright Page

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About the Author

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Other Works in the Series

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pp. xi-xiii

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 . . .

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pp. xv-xvii

In her presidential address to the American Sociological Association, Barbara Reskin (2003) called for social scientists to forgo their obsession with the modeling of motives in favor of a new . . .

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1. How Stratification Works

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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 . . .

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2. The Rise and Fall of Egalitarian Capitalism

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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, . . .

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3. Reworking the Color Line

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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 . . .

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4. Building a Better Underclass

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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 . . .

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5. Remaking the Political Economy

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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 . . .

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6. Engendering Inequality

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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 . . .

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7. America Unequal

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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 . . .


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p. 261-261


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pp. 263-301


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pp. 303-391

E-ISBN-13: 9781610443807
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871545855
Print-ISBN-10: 0871545853

Page Count: 338
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Russell Sage Centennial Volume