Social inequality is an area within sociology that focuses on the distribution of goods and burdens in society.
A good can be, for example, income, education, employment or parental leave, while examples of burdens are substance abuse, criminality, unemployment and marginalisation.
One approach is the study of the actual distribution of a good. For example, whether incomes are reasonably evenly distributed throughout a community or whether there are sizable differences between those that earn relatively little and those that earn relatively much.
Another approach is to investigate what opportunities people from different backgrounds have to achieve more or less of a good or a burden.
A central topic in sociological research is social mobility through generations. This is the degree to which a person's social background, defined by their parents' social class or economic status, influences that person's opportunities in life.
- Class status
Other central factors are gender and ethnic identity. A great deal of research conducted on social inequality focuses on the importance of individual values such as social background, gender and ethnic background, but the context that frames these elements is also important.
What significance do, for example, various institutional policies and globalisation have for the degree of equality or inequality and for the life opportunities of people from different backgrounds?
Examples of institutional policies:
- Welfare state policies such as social security and work leave
- Labour institutions such as trade unions and collective bargaining
- Legislation such as anti-discrimination laws
The institutional policies are also important subjects for study in themselves - how do they come about and what forces transform them over time?
Research at ISS
The research at ISS tackles all of the above topics. We have focused not least upon the question of to what degree inequalities are reproduced from one generation to the next. We have made use of registry data for the whole population of Norway to map out long term trends in mobility, both in terms of the distribution of goods and of burdens, such as being unemployed or a social client.
We have also utilised registry data in order to study small and specific groups, such as the professions and the economic elite class. A continuing project at the department studies society's elite stratum. In another project about discrimination in the labour market the analysis combines registry data with more experimental methods for investigating how employers treat job applicants from various backgrounds.
We also work with questions about theory and use of concepts in studies of inequality.
- Is social class a useful concept, and what concept of class should be used?
- Should we distinguish between class and status as separate dimensions?
- Do different theoretical approaches give different results?