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April 25, 2018 / C H Thompson

Functionalist explanations for social inequalities in wealth, income and poverty

  • Functionalists argue the role of inherited wealth is an expression of ascribed status
  • The inequalities of ascribed status have been largely offset by industrialisation providing the opportunities for individuals to achieve their status (achieved status) – meritocracy – providing the material rewards hard-work brings
  • Davis and Moore argue differences in income are necessary for the division of labour – whereby the world of work is fragmented into a large number of specialized jobs.
  • From this position social inequalities in society are fair and just, everyone is given and equal chance, it’s merely that some people work hard and succeed and others choose to be feckless and idle


  • the weakness of the functionalist argument is it ignores the continuation of inherited wealth being passed on by parents
  • Functionalists assume everyone is motivated by material rewards. Plenty of people, such as teachers, nurses etc are motivated by the satisfaction gained by helping others
  • it assumes a level-playing field at birth, ignoring the differences in educational opportunities between schools, universities etc

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