Essay: Social divisions

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  • Social divisions
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Within societies social groups there are divisions that occur divisions. These often occur due to social inequalities that are present amongst these different social groups as well as the way that these groups interact and treat each other (Anthias 2005: 27). These classify areas of society ranging from age, ethnicity, social class, health and many more. However, these social divisions can have wider implications on individuals. As they can cause or limit certain opportunities and life chance for people. Payne (2006), highlighted some characteristics of social divisions in contemporary society, by arguing that a social division is the result of ‘principle of social organisation’ that can result in ‘society wide distinction’. Payne (2006: 348), continues to argue that social divisions ‘confers unequal opportunities of access to desirable resources,’ thus leading to the argument that social divisions have a large impact on some individuals’ life chances in society. However, as the progression of society continues there have been an increase of intersectionality (Anthias 2005: 32). This means that a variety of different social divisions now interact with each other to have an impact on a person’s life like how a social class division and the gender division plays a role in a person’s life.
Within contemporary society the class division still has an influence on an individual’s life. A person’s class background can determine many aspects of their lives from where they can work to the areas that they live in. Recently Lisa McKenzie (2013), conducted a study to see how social divisions can have an effect on people that are living within council estate homes. Within her study it was determined that many of the people that were living in the “St Ann’s” estate was subjected to stereotypes that the media had portrayed to the greater public (McKenzie 2013: 1343). One of the main causes of this was from the places that they lived; due to them being from a working-class background meant that they could not afford to live within areas that were considered to be ‘acceptable’ and these were often areas of high levels of crime and high levels of gang culture. McKenzie went further to highlight that many of the people that live within council estates ended up working within low paid and very often manual labour types of jobs (2013: 1343). Janes and Mooney expanded upon this and discovered that within the ACORN classification system, which found that many people living in these areas were living in low levels on this scale (2002: 8). But, they found that many of them applying for jobs were being discriminated based upon their postcode and the areas that they were living in, as it was seen as being a rough and not as a socially acceptable/desirable area for employers to be hiring people from those areas. This finding is supported by the British Social Attitudes survey regarding as they determined that only 47% of participants from a working-class background would be in a managerial position (2015: 1). This highlights that social class does have an impact on a person’s life chances. As it shows that a person that is living within a postcode that is typically associated with the working class social group would be discriminated and less likely to get the jobs that they apply for as they would be stigmatised due to the areas that they are living within. However, with the concept of intersectionality this could potentially have more of an impact for person that is both from a working-class background and comes from a black ethnic group, as an example (Kyriakides and Modood, 2009). These two social divisions could interrelate leading to further discrimination not just by their postcode or their social class but due to the negative connotations that certain people hold other their ethnic group. This relates not only to their social interactions that they have in life but also potentially their employment life choices as not only will they be discriminated by the social class division, they will also face social inequality due to their ethnicity (Janes and Mooney 2002: 8).

The class social division in society does not only relate to a person’s life chances in terms of employment but can also affect an individuals’ educational expectancy and journey. This divide occurs as people from a middle-class background have the funding and resources to go onto higher education in this instance the class division has beneficial life chances for a person from a middle-class background. This is supported by the number of recorded applicants that UCAS (2013), received showing that the number of applicants from a disadvantaged area of England was around 16%, these applicants tended to be from working-class areas; in comparison to this the number of applicants from an advantaged or middle-class areas of England were around 53%. Bourdieu (1997) would explain this occurrence as a result of the capital, in particular the cultural capital that the middle-class applicants have. This indicates that they use the resources and contacts for the means of furthering their life chances by getting into the university of their choice which results in them having greater opportunities to not only have the qualifications that they want but to also use it in order to influence their opportunities in employment and many other aspects of their lives. Within the education aspect of society, especially amongst the university aspects of education, the theory of intersectionality of social divisions play a key role in a person’s chances for getting into their desired university, as an indicator a man from a working-class would be less inclined to apply or got to university in comparison to that of a woman from a working or middle-class background. This is supported by statistics collected by UCAS (2013), as it found that 40% of women applied to university in comparison to the 29.9% of men that applied. This shows that within the gender social division women are more likely to have the opportunity or chance in their life to go and study at university. This contrasts to that for the figures for men, this could be due to that they are seen as being less desirable for universities in comparison or it could be that due to their class background it might not be seen as the right opportunity/path for them to take in addition they might not have the opportunity as they might lack the income in order to afford the rising costs of studying at university.

The middle-class social group might have a greater opportunity to go to University there are some aspects of their everyday life that are less likely to occur due to their background. An example of this would be that they are less likely to be emerged within a community that develops and supports each other. An example of this comes from Janes and Mooney (2002: 24), where they outlined that many people living within gated communities tend to be from a middle-class background due to the level of income that they have access to; they highlight that with them living within these residences it invites social exclusion as they create a barrier between themselves and the rest of society. This limits their chance to be within a supportive community; in McKenzie’s (2002: 1349), journal of ‘St Ann’s’ she found that within the council estate they created a community that supported each other as each member could relate and feel safe amongst each other due to them having a collective identity of belonging. McKenzie’s (2002: 1349), study refers back to the concept of intersectionality as she discovered that within the community that she studied many of them were black single mothers that were from a working-class background would actually have greater opportunities to be involved and integrated within their community as they would feel safe and comfortable to be in their community. This contrasts to that of the middle-class gated community (Jane and Mooney 2002: 24), as the people living within their community would have different priorities as they could see the interactive community as being one that will distract them from their work, hence why they invite social exclusion by living in a gated community and have little opportunity to integrate themselves in a community that share the same priorities as them.

The discussion around poverty can lead to further acts of inequality and social exclusion amongst people as well as the limitations that people face in their life. Fulcher and Scott (2004: 645-647), outline that the measurement and the classification of poverty is actually a matter that is difficult to both identify and measure due to the changing attitudes/beliefs that people have over time regarding this matter. This idea of trying to map the areas of high levels of poverty dates back was done previously by Townsend (1979), where they highlighted that areas of people living in poverty tended to be confined to urban areas of the cities and within the country. He later found that many people, in particular children, living within these levels of poverty would miss out on many opportunities or were not given many opportunities. For instance, he highlighted that many people within these areas were limited to the areas that they could visit in terms of a holiday and were even limited to the amount of uninterrupted leisur
e time that they could have. However, one of most influential types of poverty around in contemporary society is around the issue of food poverty, where it was identified that within the UK there are 4.7 million people that are living within food poverty. The social divisions amongst people facing food poverty has implications on their life chances as they might choose to have a cheap and small meal in order to afford the money to have access to other resources like heating. Referring back to the concept of intersectionality, the sense of food poverty seems to highlight the limitations that single, working-class mothers face when it comes towards the opportunity to have a nutritious meal (Garthwaite 2016: 115). A mother from a working-class background facing food poverty would often limit the opportunity that they would have for food in order for her children to acquire a meal. This can often cause wider health implications for herself as she would not be gaining enough nutrients in her daily life but for her this would be a necessity as it meant that her children could eat. Alongside this she comes from a working-class background this could limit the opportunity to gain enough money to obtain a healthy, nutritional meal as she might have to prioritise buying cheap food in order to eat over potentially not having enough money in order to pay for the gas and electricity that keeps them warm.

Overall, social divisions do relate and often influence the chances that people would receive within society. Going back to the argument of social class, many people from a working-class background would often be confined into low skilled manual labour jobs, unlike those from a middle-class background as they would often be in high position jobs such as managerial positions as they would often have the means, resources and opportunities in their life to gain the skills to place themselves in the highly paid roles. This is a result of the social division as the people in the working-class division would not be able to afford or have the contacts in order to have these same life chances from society. The argument shows that many of the social divisions in society like social class, ethnicity, gender and many more not only relates to the way people interact with each other but have larger implications on how life chances occur for individuals’. In addition to this the intersectionality of social divisions relate to an individuals’ life chances as each of the divisions interact with each other to create the perceptions and actions that the rest of society conduct towards people that are classified within multiple social divisions.


Anthias, F. 2005, “Social Stratification and Social Inequality: Models of Intersectionality and Identity” in Devine, F., et al (eds), Rethinking Class. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Bourdieu, P. 1977. “Outline of a Theory of Practice”, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Evans, G. & Mellon, J. 2015, “Social Class. Identity, awareness and political attitudes: why are we still working class?”, University of Oxford, 33rd edition, British Social Attitudes, NatCen Social Research.

Fulcher, J. and J. Scott. 2003. “Inequality, Poverty and Wealth”, in Sociology, 2nd edition. Oxford: OUP.

Garthwaite, K. 2016. “’Doing the best I can with what I’ve got’: Food and health on a low income”, Chapter 6 in Hunger Pains: Life Inside Foodbank Britain, Bristol: Policy Press.

Janes, L and Mooney, G. 2002. “Place, Lifestyle and Social Divisions” in Braham, P. and Janes, L. (eds). 2002. Social Differences and Divisions. Oxford: Cowley.

Kyriakides, C; Virdee, S; and Modood, T. 2009. ‘Racism, Muslims and National Imagination”, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, vol 35(2).

McKenzie, L., 2013. “Narratives from a Nottingham council estate: a story of white working class mothers with mixed-race children”. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 36(8).

Payne, G. (ed) 2006. Social Divisions. Basingstoke: Palgrave. Chapter 15 “Social Divisions as a Sociological Perspective”.

Townsend, P. 1979. “Poverty in the United Kingdom”. Harmondsworth: Penguin

UCAS, 2013, ‘UCAS Analysis & Research,’ , date accessed: 26/10/17

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