Social Inequalities and Child’s Well-Being

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 11
Words: 3099
Reading time:
12 min
Study level: Bachelor

Introduction

Social inequality has become a critical debate in the contemporary world. Many of the social problems faced by society can be attributed to the fact that some populations are advantaged or privileged, often at the expense of others. According to Thrift and Sugarman (2019, p. 5), social inequality was not considered a problem in the 18th century. In cases where it was perceived as problematic, it was seen as solvable by simple acts as charity. Today, social inequality has been conceptualized as an intolerable issue that requires drastic actions, including a revolution. This paradigm shift has been advocated by such philosophers as Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, John Locke, and Voltaire, all of whom can be described as some of the prominent Enlightenment figures (Thrift & Sugarman, 2019, p. 5). These individuals may have started most of the debates surrounding the subject of inequalities. Since then, scholarly efforts have resulted in a wide variety of research that has been used to inform practice in such fields as medicine, government, and economics.

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The focus of this paper is to explore the debates on social inequalities. More precisely, the paper addresses how social inequalities can be detrimental to the well-being and life chances of children. To achieve this objective, the paper comprises two major sections. The first one offers a definition and critical discussion of the concept of social inequalities. The section will examine the evolution of the debate, types of inequalities, and other underlying theoretical concepts. The second section offers a critical discussion of the detrimental effects of social inequalities on the selected population. The thesis statement is that social inequalities negatively affect the wellbeing of the children and their ability to exploit chances to improve the quality of the lives.

Social Inequalities

Studies on social inequalities have opted to explore various contexts and dimensions and have hardly paid any attention to defining the concept. Therefore, there is currently no single universal definition of social inequalities. However, inferences can be made from the various debates and studies by exploring the common tenets of each. For example, most scholars agree that inequalities arise from the existence of unequal opportunities and rewards for the various social groups of statuses within a society (Crossman, 2020). In other words, the social differences within a community offer some people greater advantages over others. For example, those with greater education can access better jobs, command better wages and salaries, and can afford better healthcare, food, and housing. On the contrary, the lower classes comprise individuals that lack proper education and often live in poverty. The result of such differences is often a social division across different lines.

The illustration of inequalities resented above is from a socioeconomic status (SES) perspective where access to resources is the focus. The dimensions of social inequalities are broader than the SES, even though the effects often translate to how the SES outcomes of individuals suffer from inequality. Inequalities can also be caused by such aspects as gender, where women and their social status are affected by the fact that they are women. Gendered inequality is manifested through such issues as the wage gap in employment or even lower representation of women in the workforce (Nieuwenhuis and Maldonado, 2018, p. 9). Occupational segregation and discrimination are some of the most controversial issues that have attracted government policymaking as a tool for developing proper remedies. The main point is that gendered inequality is a form of social inequality revolving around one’s biological features. Similarly, ethnicity, race, disability, sexual orientation, or religion have all been associated with social inequality since they all affect how resources are distributed across the populations.

Social inequalities can be examined from the point of view of social justice. An argument can be made that many debates of social inequality are founded on the theory and principles of social justice. According to Thrift and Sugarman (2019, p. 5), the term ‘social justice’ emerged in the 19th century as a synonym for distributive justice, which was attributed to John Stuart Mill. In its early usage, social justice demands equal treatment of all people who deserve to be treated as such. Additionally, early usages revolved around politics where the focus was on state-citizen relations. Today, social justice has evolved to cover economic structures and social order. These calls emanate from the observed and perceived differences across social groups, which is the essence of the concept of social inequalities. This argument is only inferred from the current literature, where inequality is also conceptualized as a form of injustice.

Socioeconomic circumstances (SECs) have been described as the major pathways to inequalities. In the context of healthcare, Pearce et al. (2019) present several SECs that can be attributed to the inequalities that children face. For example, material living conditions make some children more advantaged than others, especially in terms of poverty levels. Similarly, structural factors influence the distribution, control, and accessibility of resources, power, and services across a given population. Structural factors may encompass cultural, commercial, socioeconomic, and political dimensions. It can be argued that all forms of inequalities display the same properties in terms of their origins and how children come to experience them. In other words, all inequalities can be attributed to the unequal distribution of resources, power, and opportunities.

Market structures have been mentioned on multiple occasions as some of the key factors contributing to inequalities. From the definition given earlier, the distribution of and access to resources are indicative of an unequal society. In this case, it can be argued that markets have been designed to propagate inequality. Capitalism is the most historically distinct political-economic system that dominates modern liberal societies. Capitalist markets depend on exploitation and expropriation, elements often associated with such detriments as inequalities and environmental destruction (Clark, Auerbach, and Longo, 2018, p. 562).

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In other words, capitalism allows the individuals controlling the factors of production to dictate market dynamics, including production levels and prices. Capitalist consumption is a terminology that can be used to describe a situation where people with material possessions keep acquiring more while those without the means cannot. Capitalism is inherently unequal since the expropriation allocates resources to a few individuals. The outcome is that most people will not be able to meet human needs and protect the conditions of life. Therefore, as long as the principles of capitalism prevail, social inequalities are unlikely to be fully resolved.

Even though capitalism can be blamed for the inequalities in liberal markets, it is important to understand the implications for equity and inequality. The main difference between the two terms is that equity recognizes the uniqueness of the circumstances and needs of people. On the contrary, equality simply implies equal opportunities regardless of the situations under which people find themselves. The question that arises is whether society should pursue equality or equity. As for equity, the needs of such populations as the disabled could be met. However, offering them equal opportunities in a competitive environment means that more abled people will triumph while the disabled will fail. Similarly, gender can work the same way against women, especially single parents as outlined by Nieuwenhuis and Maldonado (2018, p. 6).

Gendered inequality means that single mothers have less time for work, which means they might engage in such practices as part-time work, which often attracts lower wages. However, even though equity appears to be the better concept to fight for, society remains unequal in its distribution of resources. An argument can be made that eliminating unequal opportunities can create room to pursue equity.

As mentioned earlier, inequality covers multiple dimensions, including gender, race, and disability. In some situations, inequality can be caused by a combination of these issues, which raises the idea of intersectionality. According to Frederick and Shifter (2019, p. 200), the intersectionality framework focuses on how the dynamics of inequality are mutually constituted. Modern scholars on intersectionality believe that the intersection of race and disability remains a neglected area, which necessitates more research. However, it can be argued that the available literature offers a vivid idea of these elements can jointly constitute a broad risk factor. The need to consider disability is that it influences at least 12% of the total American population, a statistic that is large enough to be significant (Maroto, Pettinicchio, & Patterson, 2019, p. 65).

Employment and earnings may dominate the literature on inequality, but disability is also closely related to an individual’s ability to access economic resources. Combined with race and gender, the conditions are made worse for particular individuals.

Since this paper focuses on how inequalities affect children, it is important to mention some of the theoretical models that can help explain this situation. The ecological system’s theory was developed by Urie Bronfenbrenner, a theorist in early childhood education. This theory is also called the “ecological framework for human development,” which offers a multidimensional model for exploring how human life develops from childhood to adulthood (Elliot and Davis, 2018, p. 1). The theory proposes that the development of an individual’s life is affected by everything within the environment, which comprises a mesosystem, exosystem, chronosystem, and microsystem. A simple description is that the situation in which children find themselves depends on the environment in which they are born. Therefore, all inequality cases affecting children are the result of being born in an unequal system. For example, children who cannot access healthcare have been born and raised by parents facing the same issues.

Detrimental Impacts of Social Inequalities

The focus of this section is to critically discuss how social inequalities are a detriment to the well-being and chances of children. Therefore, there is a need to understand how the concept of wellbeing will be used in this paper. The term ‘wellbeing’ has been used by Clair (2019, p. 610) to imply a multidimensional concept relating to the quality of life of an individual. Therefore, several indicators can be used to determine this quality, including wealth, education, employment, the environment, safety, security, and freedom. In the context of social inequalities, individuals display varying degrees of these indicators. The opposite scenario applies to children born in poverty or who experience the outcomes of intersectionality between race, gender, and disability.

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In terms of chances, the arguments presented stipulate that inequalities take away chances of the children to improve their quality of life. For instance, a disabled child may have a chance of getting a job upon becoming an only if he or she has the necessary educational qualifications, which helps take advantage of chances created through such policies as anti-discrimination. Degraded wellbeing and missed chances are conceptualized as the consequences of an unequal society.

The ecological framework for human development can be used to illustrate the detriments of social inequalities on the well-being and chances of children. As expressed above, children are born into a society that displays inequalities, each of which affects a specific aspect of wellbeing (Elliot and Davis, 2018, p. 1). For example, inequalities in the education sector mean that the less privileged children will not be able to access the same quality education as the rest. Considering that academic outcomes are among the key determinants of individual success, it can be argued that inequalities in this sector have already curved a more favorable path for the upper classes and a less fruitful one for poorer neighborhoods. The intersectionality of race, gender, and disability mean that such populations as African American disabled girls will be the most detrimentally affected. Besides the inability to access education, such populations will only live to be burdened to the families and their communities, especially where social welfare systems are not properly established.

Race, gender, and disability social inequalities detrimentally affect the access to education among children. According to Thrift and Sugarman (2019, p. 6), education helps individuals become self-determined. In other words, educating the children can be a means of securing their employment and income assuming that such factors as worker protection, wages, and retirement work in their favor. Regardless of socioeconomic status, the chances of a highly educated person to get a well-paying job remain relatively higher. This explains why many people seek to exploit charitable services, including scholarships targeting specific social groups.

Modern workplaces are also pursuing greater levels of diversity, which means gender, race, and disability are no longer critical barriers to employment. With many countries enforcing anti-discriminatory regulations, disabled people, women, and people from minority races are finding their way into modern workplaces. However, it is important to note that only those with the necessary academic qualifications are considered for employment. In this case, inequalities that deny certain populations access to education tend to diminish their ability to take advantage of the chances presented to them.

Besides education, inequalities in healthcare also have detrimental consequences for children’s wellbeing. According to Pearce et al. (2019, p. 998), children who are born and live in disadvantaged SECs suffer worse health as compared to their more advantaged peers. Considering a majority of the population can be classified as middle or lower class, it can be argued that only a few children in the country experience privileged statuses through easy access to healthcare. Child mortality is a major consequence of health inequalities, a phenomenon that manifests itself more among the lower classes. In this case, the health inequalities are the result of the SECs, including the structural factors that limit the access to resources and services for the poorer children. Without proper health, the development of the children is inhibited, which could also potentially lead to disability. This pathway from health problems to disability ends with the children being denied equal chances and opportunities in life. For example, a child that becomes disabled only faces more inequalities in such areas as education and employment upon growing up.

While health inequalities are usually the result of the environment as posited by Bronfenbrenner’s theory, it is important to acknowledge the progression from inaccessibility to increasing risk factors. Pearce (2019, p. 1000) explains that health behaviors comprise another area of inequalities. The more disadvantaged children are more likely than their peers to engage in unhealthy behavior, including smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity, and even diet.

Diet and physical activity could be the result of the inability to afford better meals or proper motivation to engage in physical exercises. Additionally, poorer neighborhoods are more likely to force children and youth into substance abuse as part of leisure or spending more time out of school. These behaviors may seem self-inflicting, but the argument is that children with worse SECs are disproportionately represented in this regard. Such children could have grown to become better members of society if they did not face these problems. Therefore, their well-being is ruined by poor health conditions while their chances for a better life are destroyed by their health behaviors.

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Housing is another element of child wellbeing that is affected by social inequalities. Clair (2019, p. 609) argues that housing is an under-explored area of inequality that affects both the wellbeing and becoming of children. In this case, children born and living in poverty suffer from inadequate housing, which in turn affects the overall wellbeing of the children. For example, poor housing can be a major source of stress among the entire family.

A stressed family is not in a position to offer a child ideal living conditions. In other words, the stresses felt by the adults tend to have knock-on effects on their young ones. Examples include a parent who abuses substances due to stress, which potentially makes him or her abusive towards a child. Additionally, such health behaviors are also likely to be copied by the children as they grow up, which means that children from substance-abusing families will be more likely to misuse substances at some point in their lives. Therefore, lack of proper housing is a risk factor for health behaviors, which in turn become a major detriment to the wellbeing and chances of children.

It is important to acknowledge that housing, health, and education are not the only issues in wellbeing and chances. The intersectionality between race, gender, and disability has been outlined. However, its detriments may go beyond health and jobs. For example, sexual harassment and discrimination arising from sexual orientation and sexuality, are manifested through gendered inequalities. An individual can be identified as male, female, neutral, fluid, TM and TF. Similar problems can be experienced by gays and lesbians as they face all forms of social inequalities (Elliot and Davis, 2018, p. 16). As children, experiencing these forms of inequalities could cause social isolation and other problems affecting their quality of life.

Lastly, race, gender, and disability inequalities reduce the ability of children to enjoy human rights. It can be argued that all children are aware of their rights as stipulated in the United Nations (UN) conventions. For example, disability rights have been racialized such that they are centered around the experiences of the whites (Frederick & Shifrer, 2019, p. 2000). In this case, the intersectionality between race, gender, and disability means that the experiences of the racial and gender minority are grossly ignored.

Conclusion

Social inequalities remain a relevant debate, especially at a time when real solutions are yet to be established. A comprehensive and critical discussion of this subject has been presented in the paper. The basic idea is that inequalities arise from unequal opportunities expressed through the distribution and accessibility of resources, power, and services. To apply the concept to the context of children, Bronfenbrenner’s theory has been used to illustrate the point that all inequalities faced by this population are the result of the environment in which they are born. The situations are inherited from parents who find themselves in an unequal society. SECs and market structures have also been expressed as key determinants of inequalities. specifically, capitalism has been blamed for its role in expropriation and allocation of resources to favor only a few people. However, a critique of this argument has been presented in the form of a distinction between equality and equity.

The second theme of the paper was how social inequalities affect the well-being and chances of children. It has been expressed that children’s quality of life is greatly reduced due to their inability to access resources and services. The intersectionality of race, gender, and disadvantage has also been explored, where it emerges that such populations as disabled African American Women are expected to face the worst possible causes and consequences of inequality. Health problems, poverty, and housing challenges may deny children the chance to build their lives. For example, inaccessibility of education means that one cannot secure a life-sustaining career.

Reference List

Clair, A. (2019) ‘Housing: an under-explored influence on children’s well-being and becoming’, Child Indicators Research, 12(4), pp. 609-626.

Clark, B., Auerbach, D. and Longo, S. (2018) ‘The bottom line: capital’s production of social inequalities and environmental degradation’, Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, 8(6), pp. 562-569.

Crossman, A. (2020) The sociology of social inequality. Web.

Elliot, S. and Davis, J. (2018) ‘Challenging taken-for-granted ideas in early childhood education: a critique of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory in the age of post-humanism’, in: A. Cutter-Mackenzie, K. Malone and E. Barratt (Eds.). Research Handbook on Childhoodnature. Springer, pp. 1-36.

Frederick, A. and Shifrer, D. (2019) ‘Race and disability: from analogy to intersectionality’, Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, 5(2), pp. 200-214.

Maroto, M., Pettinicchio, D. and Patterson, A. (2019) ‘Hierarchies of categorical disadvantage: economic insecurity at the intersection of disability, gender, and race’, Gender & Society, 33(1), pp. 64-93.

Nieuwenhuis, R. and Maldonado, L. (2018) ‘The tripple bind of single-parent families: resources, employment and policies’, in: R. Nieuwenhuis and L. Maldonado (Eds.). The triple bind of single-parent families: resources, employment, and policies. Policy Press, pp. 1-30.

Pearce, A., Dundas, R., Whitehead, M. & Taylor-Robinson, D., 2019. Pathways to inequalities in child health. Archives of Disease in Childhood, Volume 104, pp. 998-1003.

Thrift, E. and Sugarman, J. (2019) ‘What is social justice? implications for psychology’, Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 39(1), pp. 1-17.