Social reproduction

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Social reproduction is a concept originally proposed by Karl Marx in Das Kapital, and is a variety of his broader idea of reproduction. According to sociologist Christopher B. Doob, it "refers to the emphasis on the structures and activities that transmit social inequality from one generation to the next".[1] According to Pierre Bourdieu, there are four types of capital that contribute to social reproduction in society. They are financial capital, cultural capital, human capital, and social capital.

Four types of capital[edit]

Financial capital refers to the income and wealth of a person. Financial capital will influence the cultural capital one receives. Cultural capital is the shared outlook, beliefs, knowledge, and skills that are passed between generations. Cultural capital influences human capital, which refers to the education and job training a person receives. Human capital creates the ability for one to attain social capital, which is essentially the social network to which one belongs. Social capital can largely influence one's ability to find opportunities, especially employment.

All four forms of capital play a role in social reproduction because capital is passed from generation to generation and keeps people in the same social class as their parents before them. This keeps reproducing inequality through the system of social stratification.[1]

Connections to sociology of education[edit]

Social reproduction, when co-opted with cultural reproduction, allows for sociology of education to assume its role.[2] Education is an attempt at leveling the playing field by allowing those in poorer classes a chance to move up, but it fails in many critical ways. For example, education is costly. Better schools mean better equipment, better books, and better teachers, all of which remain beyond the poverty line's pay grade, so higher education becomes exclusive to higher classes, leaving people of lower classes with much less to work with, as well as fewer opportunities.[3]

The education system in many high-income countries polarizes individuals from a young age. It creates elites that care little for those in the classes beneath them and believe that they should earn extraordinarily more than everyone else, all the while defining people by their jobs, concluding that those with low-paid jobs for that reason live in relative poverty. The system strives to maintain the status quo so children can be greatly denigrated. As the rich take in an increasing amount of the country's wealth, there is less and less for the general populace, resulting in poorer education.[4]

Connections to sociology of health and illness[edit]

The sociology of health and illness studies how social life affects morbidity and mortality rate, and vice versa. Social reproduction is involved with the sociology of health and illness when it comes to how inequalities affect the health of people in particular classes.

The greater the economic inequality, the more of a toll it takes on the health of the populace, from life expectancy to infant mortality, and in cases like the U.S, increasing rates of obesity. Studies done on the population of high income countries makes this apparent. It is simply not just poverty, though they do go hand in hand, but it also leads to a gap in social cohesion, which leads the populace to be more stressed, fearful, and insecure.[5]

In the majority of high-income countries, the top 1 percent lives on average 10 years longer than the average 99%, statistically making those born into the poorer classes naturally have a shorter life span. This is due to the top 1% having access to better healthcare. The bottom 99% rarely go to see a doctor and simply takes cough medicine for more serious illnesses, and are disadvantaged especially in cases of incurable illnesses like AIDS where constant medicating with expensive drugs is the only way to sustain a normal life.[4]

Those born into a lower class are at a higher risk of suffering from illness. In the past, the poor suffered from hunger and starvation. However, in high-income countries like the U.S, the opposite is true. Food-insecure families are the most prone to high rates of obesity, especially in children. That is because they cannot afford to buy groceries and may purchase fast food for its low cost instead for a meal. This leads to long-term problems where children who become obese continue to be obese into their adult lives, suffering from other ailments like heart disease, high blood pressure, increased risk for cancer, type 2 diabetes, stroke, infertility, arthritis, breathing difficulties and/or depression.[6][7]

Social class system[edit]

Social reproduction is the passing on of social inequality across generations. The upper class has many advantages; having money provides the ability to have even more resources to get ahead. The opposite is true for lower classes, where with less money, there are fewer resources. "Class-struggle between capital and labor is forced into the background."[8] Social reproduction revolves around the understanding that rich breed rich, and the poor breed poor. Those born into a particular class are more often than not bound to live their lives in that class. The statistics are of the U.S. population.

Lower class[edit]

The lower class is a class afflicted by a cycle of poverty, homelessness, and unemployment. This is seen as they suffer from the inability to pay bills some of which then find themselves living on the street, experiencing food insecurity as many families will find themselves going hungry least once a year, or lack of medical care where many cannot pay for medication or treatment for potentially fatal illnesses. All the while, this class is usually attacked by the media as being lazy, system abusers, or criminals. Those born into this class have a harder time than others getting out due to restrictions on resources, such as money and access to better education. This class is a point of reference in social reproduction, comprising 15% to 20% of the U.S. population. The majority of those in the lower classes are minorities.

Working class[edit]

The working class has a minimal education. They are usually physical laborers with little to no qualifications. They can also be seen working service industries, but are underpaid and no chance for promotions in their standings. Potential skilled workers who may at times work better-paying but dangerous jobs. Those born into this system usually have a torch of labor passed on to them, and they follow the same profession their family did. They comprise 30% to 40% of the U.S. population, and the majority are minorities.

Middle class[edit]

The middle class consists of two divided classes. The lower half bears resemblance to those of lower classes, i.e., usually less educated with lower incomes, but they are can be found in managerial positions, in education, as well as small business owners. The upper half consists of professionals and educated business owners. Those born into this class have the most diversity, either deciding to take up the torch or surpass their parents. The majority goes on to complete their educations, and maintain a career. They comprise 40% to 50% of the U.S. population. The majority is a blend.

Upper class[edit]

The upper class is known to hold 25% of the nation's wealth. This class shares something in common with the middle class. A division into two. The lower half who consist of new money, investments, and successful business owners. The majority who were originally Middle Class or rarely lower. The upper half consists of families who have been rich for generations. A point of reference in social reproduction brought along the ages. Those born into this class receive inheritances from those who die and so forth. Their descendants are sent off to the finest of schools leaving them with the most opportunities of all. They comprise 1% to 3% of the U.S. population. The lower half can be a blend, whereas the upper half consists of mostly white families.[9][10]

Inequality unrest on the rise[edit]

The argument that "Capitalism isn't working. Another world is possible" is made by many protesters around the world. These protesters gather in rallies more and more often every year. These protests are more prevalent in higher-income countries where most of the 1% live like the U.S and the U.K. with a growing social cohesion among protesters because the vast majority of people in rich countries are suffering due to increasing inequalities. Many of the poor have begun to depend on the state rather than their own wages. All the while, their descendants will be raised in a fixed system that favors the elites, so they are bound to the same class they were born in.[4]


Statistics show that the majority of dropouts are below the poverty line. Due to a lack of capital, they do not complete their education, seeing it as less convenient to complete schooling rather than find work, and support themselves or their families. Usually, these dropouts consist of the minority groups, such as Hispanics and African Americans. Many drop out due to lack of funds to continue their education, some are single parents, or have had a deceased parent, which makes it difficult to study and work at the same time. These issues are rarely seen in higher classes, making it less likely for them to drop out and reject opportunities.[11]


  1. ^ a b Christopher B. Doob. Social Inequality and Social Stratification in US Society. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2003. ISBN 978-0205792412
  2. ^ Jenks, Chris (2003). Culture: Critical Concepts in Sociology, Volume 3. Taylor & Francis. p. 63. ISBN 0-415-22693-7.
  3. ^ "Social reproduction". Khan Academy. Retrieved 2016-03-09.
  4. ^ a b c Dorling, Danny (2014). Inequality and the 1%. Verso.
  5. ^ "Inequality and Health |". Retrieved 2016-03-30.
  6. ^ "Obesity". Retrieved 2016-03-30.
  7. ^ "The New Face of Hunger". National Geographic. Retrieved 2016-03-30.
  8. ^ Marx, Karl (1967). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume I: The Process of Capitalist Production. New York: International Publishers. p. 16.
  9. ^ "Types of Social Classes of People". Retrieved 2016-03-09.
  10. ^ Gabler, Jay (2010). Sociology For Dummies. Wiley Publishing, Inc.
  11. ^ "The NCES Fast Facts Tool provides quick answers to many education questions (National Center for Education Statistics)". Retrieved 2016-03-09.