MCAT Social and Behavioral Sciences : Social Stratification and Socioeconomic Class

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Social Stratification And Socioeconomic Class

Diana takes the subway to and from school every day. Her family’s apartment, situated in a low-income neighborhood of New York City, is a thirty-minute walk from the subway station. During her trips to the subway, Diana loves to watch people work, play, and socialize. She feels very safe in her community because she trusts the people around her. 

One day, Diana observes a bulldozer tearing down a run-down shopping center. A sign in front of the property features a picture of a high-rise, luxury apartment complex. Which of the following would best describe the observed situation?

Possible Answers:

Redlining

Gentrification

Justification

Anomie

Correct answer:

Gentrification

Explanation:

“Gentrification” describes the transformation of an area from old and rundown to new and modern. In this case, gentrification is observed because the new apartment is bringing a new, rich class to the rundown neighborhood. The situation could be described as “redlining” only if someone refused to sell a property or house to someone based on racial or other discriminatory means. “Anomie” describes a person that does not conform to social norms, which does not relate a building that does not fit in a neighborhood. Last, “justification” describes when people try to convince themselves to act in a way that is normally considered to be socially unacceptable.

Example Question #2 : Social Stratification And Socioeconomic Class

Excerpt from “Institutional Competition,” Edward A. Ross, American Journal of Sociology 1919 25:2, 171-184

The first impulse of any organization or institution on the appearance of a serious competitor is to destroy competition. The "trust" regularly cuts the prices of its products to a point below cost of production in localities in which an "independent" seeks to sell. A shipping combine will have "fighting ships" which are called into play when a new steamship line enters their trade. As soon as the competitor announces a sailing date the combine advertises a steamer to sail on or near this date and offers a freight rate below the actual cost of carriage. In this way the competitor is prevented from securing a cargo.

The highest social class hobbles by minute sumptuary regulations the classes, which aspire to come up abreast of it. In feudal Japan, for example, one might not use his money as he pleased. The farmer, craftsman, or shopkeeper could not build a house as he liked or procure himself such articles of luxury as his taste might incline him to buy. The richest commoner might not order certain things to be made for him, might not imitate the habits or assume the privileges of his betters. Although urged on economic grounds, sumptuary restrictions are doubtless intended to protect the monopoly of prestige by the higher social orders.

The spread of anti-slavery feeling among the producing people of the North during the generation before the American Civil War was due to their perception that slavery is a menace to the free-labor system. In accounting for the early abolition of slavery in Massachusetts John Adams remarks: "Argument might have had some weight ... but the real cause was the multiplication of laboring white people who would not longer suffer the rich to employ these sable rivals so much to their injury."

The whole history of religious persecution is the history of an organization trying to establish itself as a monopoly by ruthless destruction of the spokesmen of competing doctrines and movements. In Diocletian's time Roman religious beliefs were weak while the Christian beliefs were vigorous and spreading. In desperation the old system made a ferocious attempt to exterminate all Christians. A thousand years later the church stamped certain sects out of existence and strangled heresies in the cradle. Says Coulton:

…What Darwin took at first for a smooth unbroken grassland proved, on nearer examination, to be thick-set with tiny self-sown firs, which the cattle regularly cropped as they grew. Similarly, that which some love to picture as the harmonious growth of one great body through the Middle Ages is really a history of many divergent opinions violently strangled at birth; while hundreds more, too vigorous to be killed by the adverse surroundings, and elastic enough to take something of the outward color of their environment, grew in spite of the hierarchy into organisms which, in their turn, profoundly modified the whole constitution of the Church. If the mediaeval theory and practice of persecution had still been in full force in the eighteenth century in England, nearly all the best Wesleyans would have chosen to remain within the Church rather than to shed blood in revolt; and the rest would have been killed off like wild beasts. The present unity of Romanism so far as it exists, is due less to tact than to naked force.

Competition plays a major role in the economy of the United States today. Sometimes people use institutional barriers to eliminate competition. For example, an apartment manager could limit competition for apartment contracts by refusing to rent to members of a certain social class or ethnic group. This practice would demonstrate which of the following?

I.   Discrimination

II.  Gentrification

III. Redlining 

Possible Answers:

I and II

I only

I and III

II and III

Correct answer:

I and III

Explanation:

Gentrification is the redevelopment of a downtrodden area, for example, a run-down housing development being replaced by luxury apartments. From the given information, we cannot be clear if this is the case; we are not told which groups are excluded. Redlining is refusing services to a certain group of people based on racial or economic markers. Discrimination is an institutional prejudice. Both of these conditions are met in this example. 

Example Question #3 : Social Stratification And Socioeconomic Class

Excerpt from "The Social Problems of American Farmers" by Kenyon L. Butterfield, 1905

Butterfield, Kenyon L. "The Social Problems of American Farmers." American Journal of Sociology 10.5 (1905): 606-22.

 

Perhaps the one great underlying social difficulty among American farmers is their comparatively isolated mode of life. The farmer's family is isolated from other families. A small city of perhaps twenty thousand population will contain from four hundred to six hundred families per square mile, whereas a typical agricultural community in a prosperous agricultural state will hardly average more than ten families per square mile. The farming class is isolated from other classes. Farmers, of course, mingle considerably in a business and political way with the men of their trading town and county seat; but, broadly speaking, farmers do not associate freely with people living under urban conditions and possessing other than the rural point of view. It would be venturesome to suggest very definite generalizations with respect to the precise influence of these conditions, because, so far as the writer is aware, the psychology of isolation has not been worked out. But two or three conclusions seem to be admissible, and for that matter rather generally accepted.

The well-known conservatism of the farming class is doubtless largely due to class isolation. Habits, ideas, traditions, and ideals have long life in the rural community. Changes come slowly. There is a tendency to tread the well-worn paths. The farmer does not easily keep in touch with rapid modern development, unless the movements or methods directly affect him. Physical agencies which improve social conditions, such as electric lights, telephones, and pavements, come to the city first. The atmosphere of the country speaks peace and quiet. Nature's routine of sunshine and storm, of summer and winter, encourages routine and repetition in the man who works with her…

There is time to brood over wrongs, real and imaginary. Personal prejudices often grow to be rank and coarse-fibered. Neighborhood feuds are not uncommon and are often virulent. Leadership is made difficult and sometimes impossible. It is easy to fall into personal habits that may mark off the farmer from other classes of similar intelligence, and that bar him from his rightful social place.

It would, however, be distinctly unfair to the farm community if we did not emphasize some of the advantages that grow out of the rural mode of life. Farmers have time to think, and the typical American farmer is a man who has thought much and often deeply. A spirit of sturdy independence is generated, and freedom of will and of action is encouraged. Family life is nowhere so educative as in the country. The whole family cooperates for common ends, and in its individual members are bred the qualities of industry, patience, and perseverance. The manual work of the schools is but a makeshift for the old-fashioned training of the country-grown boy. Country life is an admirable preparation for the modern industrial and professional career.

Which of the following scenarios best parallels the author’s description of class isolation?

Possible Answers:

None of these

A bus driver in a big city interacts with many different people every day including blue-collar workers and company executives.

A suburban family has lived in the same neighborhood for many years. They rarely associate with those outside their tight-knit, upscale community. 

A man lives by himself in an extremely remote Alaskan village and frequently engages in video calls with strangers from all around the world.

Correct answer:

A suburban family has lived in the same neighborhood for many years. They rarely associate with those outside their tight-knit, upscale community. 

Explanation:

The farmers in the excerpt are isolated from those who think differently and have different life experience from their own. This leads to a lack of diversity of ideas. The example of the suburban family that lacks interaction with people of other classes most parallels this example. The man in Alaska would be similar, but he is connected to people from around the world, which would introduce him to people that believe different things. The bus driver experiences the opposite of class isolation. He is exposed to wide ranges of experience every day.  

Example Question #4 : Social Stratification And Socioeconomic Class

Excerpt from "The Social Problems of American Farmers" by Kenyon L. Butterfield, 1905

Butterfield, Kenyon L. "The Social Problems of American Farmers." American Journal of Sociology 10.5 (1905): 606-22.

 

Perhaps the one great underlying social difficulty among American farmers is their comparatively isolated mode of life. The farmer's family is isolated from other families. A small city of perhaps twenty thousand population will contain from four hundred to six hundred families per square mile, whereas a typical agricultural community in a prosperous agricultural state will hardly average more than ten families per square mile. The farming class is isolated from other classes. Farmers, of course, mingle considerably in a business and political way with the men of their trading town and county seat; but, broadly speaking, farmers do not associate freely with people living under urban conditions and possessing other than the rural point of view. It would be venturesome to suggest very definite generalizations with respect to the precise influence of these conditions, because, so far as the writer is aware, the psychology of isolation has not been worked out. But two or three conclusions seem to be admissible, and for that matter rather generally accepted.

The well-known conservatism of the farming class is doubtless largely due to class isolation. Habits, ideas, traditions, and ideals have long life in the rural community. Changes come slowly. There is a tendency to tread the well-worn paths. The farmer does not easily keep in touch with rapid modern development, unless the movements or methods directly affect him. Physical agencies which improve social conditions, such as electric lights, telephones, and pavements, come to the city first. The atmosphere of the country speaks peace and quiet. Nature's routine of sunshine and storm, of summer and winter, encourages routine and repetition in the man who works with her…

There is time to brood over wrongs, real and imaginary. Personal prejudices often grow to be rank and coarse-fibered. Neighborhood feuds are not uncommon and are often virulent. Leadership is made difficult and sometimes impossible. It is easy to fall into personal habits that may mark off the farmer from other classes of similar intelligence, and that bar him from his rightful social place.

It would, however, be distinctly unfair to the farm community if we did not emphasize some of the advantages that grow out of the rural mode of life. Farmers have time to think, and the typical American farmer is a man who has thought much and often deeply. A spirit of sturdy independence is generated, and freedom of will and of action is encouraged. Family life is nowhere so educative as in the country. The whole family cooperates for common ends, and in its individual members are bred the qualities of industry, patience, and perseverance. The manual work of the schools is but a makeshift for the old-fashioned training of the country-grown boy. Country life is an admirable preparation for the modern industrial and professional career.

Two farmers have a dispute about a section of land that they both claim. Previous to the dispute, they had frequently connected one another with mechanics and crop purchasers when problems arose. After the dispute, they no longer shared contacts. The dispute brought about a loss of what type of capital?

Possible Answers:

Human capital

Manufactured capital

Social capital

Economic capital

Correct answer:

Social capital

Explanation:

Social capital describes one’s social network. By connecting with more people, a social network grows. By limiting conversation, these farmers cut off their social network of mechanics and purchasers known by the other farmer. Human capital describes man power, or employees, more than the power of a social network. Economic capital primarily refers to money. Manufactured capital refers to machines and tools; this would have been a correct answer if the farmers shared equipment before the dispute.

Example Question #5 : Social Stratification And Socioeconomic Class

Excerpt from “Two Kinds of Vocational Education” by Julius T. House, 1921

American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Sep., 1921), pp. 222-225

               

There are two schools of thinkers interested in vocational education. One of these is individualistic, thinks in teams of fitting the child to the job, accepts the present economic system with little, if any, criticism. It would isolate consideration of the vocation, so far as possible, from consideration of its social purposes. Psychologically its plan is based upon habit, with no thought of developing in the child a sense of the relation of his work to the whole social process. To secure the result sought there must be early separation of technical schools from the rest of the school system. It is proposed to begin with the seventh grade, the so-called junior high school.

The purpose of the technical school is and will be to get the answer, already known to the teacher, by the shortest route. Emphasis will be laid on rapid calculation; swift, effective movement; automatic response. The typewriter, the shorthand notebook, the hammer and nail, the stove, the furnace, the retort, are the instruments of education. A technique of salesmanship and advertising, without the regard to the ethics of these operations and with no comprehension of the principles of psychology, is developed. Rough-and-ready adaptation to a rough-and-ready business world is the goal.

Certain results follow: (1) Even more rigid division of industrial life between two groups: those who manage, in whom power of initiative is vested; those who are skilled in narrow processes with no outlook upon the meaning of the work. (2) The exploitation of this isolated class. (3) The establishment of an institution to perpetuate this condition. Custom is already being instituted of sending the children of poor families to this manual-skill-producing school. (4) Public taxation to support institutions to assist business based on the supposition that when business prospers moral values take care of themselves.

The second group of thinkers, seemingly few but with men like John Dewey leading, are interested in vocational education as a means of introducing the child more intimately into the life of society. It is believed that such study should be directed to the perception of the relation of vocations to all the social process. Therefore all the students are to study all the vocations. The choice of a life-work will be, then, only a by-product of the training—important indeed, but still a by-product. Already such work is done in the grades. It remains only to enlarge it and relate it to the proper sciences as the later years of school life are reached.

Based on the author’s argument, which of the following would be the effect of an individualistic vocational system on social stratification?

Possible Answers:

Encourage interclass cooperation

Enable upward social mobility by teaching job skills more efficiently

None of these

Limit cross-over between classes

Correct answer:

Limit cross-over between classes

Explanation:

One of the claims of the author is that “even more rigid division of industrial life between [the] two groups” would arise from an individualistic system of vocational training. This divide would not limit social mobility by perpetuating a condition of exploitation among the working class, making it impossible for the poor to rise and difficult for the rich to fall. Instead of cooperating, they would become increasingly isolated.

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