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Inequality and Perception of Status


Individuals experience at least one social problem: poverty and unemployment, poor health, alcoholism, or family issues. According to sociology, individual challenges are primarily grounded in matters caused by societal aspects. Blaming the system shifts focus to various social conditions, such as decrepit schools, that explain these difficulties. Ultimately, this sociological approach is better in dealing with today’s social problems (Giddens & Sutton, 2017). The three primary theoretical perspectives that explain societal social drawbacks are the symbolic interactionist theory, the conflict theory, and the functionalist theory. This essay discusses the sociological tradition of Marx (conflict theory), which states that social issues are a result of fundamental faults in a society’s structure. Subsequently, the paper explains how actual data on poverty inequality can be understood and people’s perceptions of this disproportion.

Sociological Tradition of Marx

The sociological theory of Karl Marx, also known as the conflict theory, is based on the perspective that social problems are due to fundamental defects in a societal structure. The construct reinforces and reflects inequalities based on gender, social class, race, and ethnicity, among other dimensions. Karl Marx (1818-1883), together with Friedrich Engels (1820-1895), developed the conflict theory from the Industrial Revolution era. The theorists claim that capitalist societies emerge from disputes between rulers and subordinates. In this ideology, society depends on class conflicts to ensure the wealthy remain in power and the poor are kept as government subjects. According to the conflict theory, the public is categorized into two groups based on who owns the production means, including factories and tools. The bourgeoisie is the ruling class that owns the production channels, while the proletariat is the class of workers exploited and oppressed by the rulers. The difference between these two groups results in a conflict of interest between them (Giddens & Sutton, 2017). The bourgeoisie wants to maintain its power position while the proletariat continues to seek ways of overthrowing the ruling class to build an egalitarian society.

The conflict theory by Marx argues that a revolution is necessary due to the structural contraindications resulting from the capitalist nature. Profit is often the system’s primary goal, and the bourgeoisie is interested in maximizing it. To increase their earnings, capitalists attempt to keep the employees’ wages as low as possible and spend minimal money on their working conditions. Engels and Marx claim that this is the central element of capitalism, which prompts an increase in class consciousness among workers, who become more aware of the reasons for their oppression (Giddens & Sutton, 2017). Consequently, this class consciousness causes them to revolt against the ruling class to eliminate their exploitation and oppression. Generally, the conflict theory views social problems as originating from the inherent inequality in society. These disproportions represent fundamental flaws in society, and the conflict theory assumes that social change is necessary to solve these problems. Therefore, successful solutions to individual social problems should involve an extensive change in the structure of society.

Understanding Actual Data and People’s Perspectives on Inequality

Actual data on inequality and people’s perspectives on economic status can be understood using a class perspective. According to Giddens and Sutton (2017), there is varied data on global poverty and within societies based on social classes. The outcomes of objective disparity on the inequality perceptions of people are often unclear. The reason for this is that individuals who occupy different social statuses are not equally sensitive to varying degrees of actual poverty levels. In particular, individuals from varying social classes can respond differently to issues of unemployment and poverty. For example, the economic vulnerability of working-class people shows that they are constantly exposed to the outcomes of the disparity in both low and high contexts (Giddens & Sutton, 2017). Individuals from this social class may continually be disillusioned by economic instability, leading them to neglect the effects of the increasing poverty rates around them.

Contrarily, the more advantaged individuals in society are significantly protected from the adverse outcomes of poverty due to their increased security in the privileged class position, especially in lower inequality contexts. In such contexts, individual groups are less critical of the social problem. On the contrary, as the poverty levels increase, the upper classes may become enveloped by the deteriorating economic conditions, becoming more aware of the issue (Giddens & Sutton, 2017). Based on this, it can be established that different social groups of people experience shifting levels of inequality, which makes them have contrasting responses. As the working class becomes less critical of the poverty inequality as it rises, the upper-class individuals become more aware of the problem. Class divisions in inequality perceptions tend to be fewer in higher poverty situations. As a result, this leads to a counterbalancing effect that conceals the aggregate association between rising and actual poverty levels and people’s views of it.


In conclusion, this research reveals a complex interplay between actual inequality and the different perceptions of people based on their economic position or class. Consequently, this complexity shapes public opinion on the matter depending on the place and time. Regarding the conflict theory, this social inequality may be due to the emerging industrial capitalist societies, which are the foundation of the world’s social problems of poverty, health, and unemployment. These issues are the source of various entrenched conflicts within societies and nations. Therefore, solving the problem from the society’s structure will, in turn, eliminate some of these social problems for individuals and communities.


Giddens, A., & Sutton, P. (2017). Sociology (8th Ed.). Cambridge: Polity Press.

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OctoStudy. (2023) 'Inequality and Perception of Status'. 1 March.

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