Skip to Content
OpenStax Logo
Introduction to Sociology 2e

Introduction to Work and the Economy

Introduction to Sociology 2eIntroduction to Work and the Economy
  1. Preface
  2. 1 An Introduction to Sociology
    1. Introduction to Sociology
    2. 1.1 What Is Sociology?
    3. 1.2 The History of Sociology
    4. 1.3 Theoretical Perspectives
    5. 1.4 Why Study Sociology?
    6. Key Terms
    7. Section Summary
    8. Section Quiz
    9. Short Answer
    10. Further Research
    11. References
  3. 2 Sociological Research
    1. Introduction to Sociological Research
    2. 2.1 Approaches to Sociological Research
    3. 2.2 Research Methods
    4. 2.3 Ethical Concerns
    5. Key Terms
    6. Section Summary
    7. Section Quiz
    8. Short Answer
    9. Further Research
    10. References
  4. 3 Culture
    1. Introduction to Culture
    2. 3.1 What Is Culture?
    3. 3.2 Elements of Culture
    4. 3.3 Pop Culture, Subculture, and Cultural Change
    5. 3.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Culture
    6. Key Terms
    7. Section Summary
    8. Section Quiz
    9. Short Answer
    10. Further Research
    11. References
  5. 4 Society and Social Interaction
    1. Introduction to Society and Social Interaction
    2. 4.1 Types of Societies
    3. 4.2 Theoretical Perspectives on Society
    4. 4.3 Social Constructions of Reality
    5. Key Terms
    6. Section Summary
    7. Section Quiz
    8. Short Answer
    9. Further Research
    10. References
  6. 5 Socialization
    1. Introduction to Socialization
    2. 5.1 Theories of Self-Development
    3. 5.2 Why Socialization Matters
    4. 5.3 Agents of Socialization
    5. 5.4 Socialization Across the Life Course
    6. Key Terms
    7. Section Summary
    8. Section Quiz
    9. Short Answer
    10. Further Research
    11. References
  7. 6 Groups and Organization
    1. Introduction to Groups and Organizations
    2. 6.1 Types of Groups
    3. 6.2 Group Size and Structure
    4. 6.3 Formal Organizations
    5. Key Terms
    6. Section Summary
    7. Section Quiz
    8. Short Answer
    9. Further Research
    10. References
  8. 7 Deviance, Crime, and Social Control
    1. Introduction to Deviance, Crime, and Social Control
    2. 7.1 Deviance and Control
    3. 7.2 Theoretical Perspectives on Deviance
    4. 7.3 Crime and the Law
    5. Key Terms
    6. Section Summary
    7. Section Quiz
    8. Short Answer
    9. Further Research
    10. References
  9. 8 Media and Technology
    1. Introduction to Media and Technology
    2. 8.1 Technology Today
    3. 8.2 Media and Technology in Society
    4. 8.3 Global Implications of Media and Technology
    5. 8.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Media and Technology
    6. Key Terms
    7. Section Summary
    8. Section Quiz
    9. Short Answer
    10. Further Research
    11. References
  10. 9 Social Stratification in the United States
    1. Introduction to Social Stratification in the United States
    2. 9.1 What Is Social Stratification?
    3. 9.2 Social Stratification and Mobility in the United States
    4. 9.3 Global Stratification and Inequality
    5. 9.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Social Stratification
    6. Key Terms
    7. Section Summary
    8. Section Quiz
    9. Short Answer
    10. Further Research
    11. References
  11. 10 Global Inequality
    1. Introduction to Global Inequality
    2. 10.1 Global Stratification and Classification
    3. 10.2 Global Wealth and Poverty
    4. 10.3 Theoretical Perspectives on Global Stratification
    5. Key Terms
    6. Section Summary
    7. Section Quiz
    8. Short Answer
    9. Further Research
    10. References
  12. 11 Race and Ethnicity
    1. Introduction to Race and Ethnicity
    2. 11.1 Racial, Ethnic, and Minority Groups
    3. 11.2 Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Discrimination
    4. 11.3 Theories of Race and Ethnicity
    5. 11.4 Intergroup Relationships
    6. 11.5 Race and Ethnicity in the United States
    7. Key Terms
    8. Section Summary
    9. Section Quiz
    10. Short Answer
    11. Further Research
    12. References
  13. 12 Gender, Sex, and Sexuality
    1. Introduction to Gender, Sex, and Sexuality
    2. 12.1 Sex and Gender
    3. 12.2 Gender
    4. 12.3 Sex and Sexuality
    5. Key Terms
    6. Section Summary
    7. Section Quiz
    8. Short Answer
    9. Further Research
    10. References
  14. 13 Aging and the Elderly
    1. Introduction to Aging and the Elderly
    2. 13.1 Who Are the Elderly? Aging in Society
    3. 13.2 The Process of Aging
    4. 13.3 Challenges Facing the Elderly
    5. 13.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Aging
    6. Key Terms
    7. Section Summary
    8. Section Quiz
    9. Short Answer
    10. Further Research
    11. References
  15. 14 Marriage and Family
    1. Introduction to Marriage and Family
    2. 14.1 What Is Marriage? What Is a Family?
    3. 14.2 Variations in Family Life
    4. 14.3 Challenges Families Face
    5. Key Terms
    6. Section Summary
    7. Section Quiz
    8. Short Answer
    9. Further Research
    10. References
  16. 15 Religion
    1. Introduction to Religion
    2. 15.1 The Sociological Approach to Religion
    3. 15.2 World Religions
    4. 15.3 Religion in the United States
    5. Key Terms
    6. Section Summary
    7. Section Quiz
    8. Short Answer
    9. Further Research
    10. References
  17. 16 Education
    1. Introduction to Education
    2. 16.1 Education around the World
    3. 16.2 Theoretical Perspectives on Education
    4. 16.3 Issues in Education
    5. Key Terms
    6. Section Summary
    7. Section Quiz
    8. Short Answer
    9. Further Research
    10. References
  18. 17 Government and Politics
    1. Introduction to Government and Politics
    2. 17.1 Power and Authority
    3. 17.2 Forms of Government
    4. 17.3 Politics in the United States
    5. 17.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Government and Power
    6. Key Terms
    7. Section Summary
    8. Section Quiz
    9. Short Answer
    10. Further Research
    11. References
  19. 18 Work and the Economy
    1. Introduction to Work and the Economy
    2. 18.1 Economic Systems
    3. 18.2 Globalization and the Economy
    4. 18.3 Work in the United States
    5. Key Terms
    6. Section Summary
    7. Section Quiz
    8. Short Answer
    9. Further Research
    10. References
  20. 19 Health and Medicine
    1. Introduction to Health and Medicine
    2. 19.1 The Social Construction of Health
    3. 19.2 Global Health
    4. 19.3 Health in the United States
    5. 19.4 Comparative Health and Medicine
    6. 19.5 Theoretical Perspectives on Health and Medicine
    7. Key Terms
    8. Section Summary
    9. Section Quiz
    10. Short Answer
    11. Further Research
    12. References
  21. 20 Population, Urbanization, and the Environment
    1. Introduction to Population, Urbanization, and the Environment
    2. 20.1 Demography and Population
    3. 20.2 Urbanization
    4. 20.3 The Environment and Society
    5. Key Terms
    6. Section Summary
    7. Section Quiz
    8. Short Answer
    9. Further Research
    10. References
  22. 21 Social Movements and Social Change
    1. Introduction to Social Movements and Social Change
    2. 21.1 Collective Behavior
    3. 21.2 Social Movements
    4. 21.3 Social Change
    5. Key Terms
    6. Section Summary
    7. Section Quiz
    8. Short Answer
    9. References
  23. Index

Learning Objectives

18.1 Economic Systems
  • Understand types of economic systems and their historical development
  • Describe capitalism and socialism both in theory and in practice
  • Discussion how functionalists, conflict theorists, and symbolic interactionists view the economy and work
18.2 Globalization and the Economy
  • Define globalization and describe its manifestation in modern society
  • Discuss the pros and cons of globalization from an economic standpoint
18.3 Work in the United States
  • Describe the current U.S. workforce and the trend of polarization
  • Explain how women and immigrants have changed the modern U.S. workforce
  • Understand the basic elements of poverty in the United States today
 A photo of a large office building at night where you can see many people working inside after hours
Figure 18.1 Today, employees are working harder than ever in offices and other places of employement. (Photo courtesy of Juhan Sonin/flickr)

What if the U.S. economy thrived solely on basic bartering instead of its bustling agricultural and technological goods? Would you still see a busy building like the one shown in Figure 18.1?

In sociology, economy refers to the social institution through which a society’s resources are exchanged and managed. The earliest economies were based on trade, which is often a simple exchange in which people traded one item for another. While today’s economic activities are more complex than those early trades, the underlying goals remain the same: exchanging goods and services allows individuals to meet their needs and wants. In 1893, Émile Durkheim described what he called “mechanical” and “organic” solidarity that correlates to a society’s economy. Mechanical solidarity exists in simpler societies where social cohesion comes from sharing similar work, education, and religion. Organic solidarity arises out of the mutual interdependence created by the specialization of work. The complex U.S. economy, and the economies of other industrialized nations, meet the definition of organic solidarity. Most individuals perform a specialized task to earn money they use to trade for goods and services provided by others who perform different specialized tasks. In a simplified example, an elementary school teacher relies on farmers for food, doctors for healthcare, carpenters to build shelter, and so on. The farmers, doctors, and carpenters all rely on the teacher to educate their children. They are all dependent on each other and their work.

Economy is one of human society’s earliest social structures. Our earliest forms of writing (such as Sumerian clay tablets) were developed to record transactions, payments, and debts between merchants. As societies grow and change, so do their economies. The economy of a small farming community is very different from the economy of a large nation with advanced technology. In this chapter, we will examine different types of economic systems and how they have functioned in various societies.

Detroit, once the roaring headquarters of the country’s large and profitable automotive industry, had already been in a population decline for several decades as auto manufacturing jobs were being outsourced to other countries and foreign car brands began to take increasing portions of U.S. market share. According to State of Michigan population data (State of Michigan, n.d.), Detroit was home to approximately 1.85 million residents in 1950, which dwindled to slightly more than 700,000 in 2010 following the economic crash. The drastic reduction took its toll on the city. It is estimated that a third of the buildings in Detroit have been abandoned. The current average home price hovers around $7,000, while homes nationwide sell on average for around $200,000. The city has filed for bankruptcy, and its unemployment rate hovers around 30 percent.

The Wage Gap in the United States

The Equal Pay Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in 1963, was designed to reduce the wage gap between men and women. The act in essence required employers to pay equal wages to men and women who were performing substantially similar jobs. However, more than fifty years later, women continue to make less money than their male counterparts. According to a report released by the White House (National Equal Pay Taskforce 2013), “On average, full-time working women make just 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. This significant gap is more than a statistic—iit has real-life consequences. When women, who make up nearly half the workforce, bring home less money each day, it means they have less for the everyday needs of their families, and over a lifetime of work, far less savings for retirement.” While the Pew Research Center contends that women make 84 cents for every dollar men make, countless studies that have controlled for work experience, education, and other factors unanimously demonstrate that disparity between wages paid to men and to women still exists (Pew Research Center 2014).

As shocking as it is, the gap actually widens when we add race and ethnicity to the picture. For example, African American women make on average 64 cents for every dollar a White male makes. Latina women make 56 cents, or 44 percent less, for every dollar a White male makes. African American and Latino men also make notably less than White men. Asian Americans tend to be the only minority that earns as much as or more than White men.

Recent Economic Conditions

In 2015, the United States continued its recovery from the “Great Recession,” arguably the worst economic downturn since the stock market collapse in 1929 and the Great Depression that ensued.

The recent recession was brought on, at least in part, by the lending practices of the early twenty-first. During this time, banks provided adjustable-rate mortgages (ARM) to customers with poor credit histories at an attractively low introductory rate. After the introductory rate expired, the interest rate on these ARM loans rose, often dramatically, creating a sizable increase in the borrower’s monthly mortgage payments. As their rates adjusted upward, many of these “subprime” mortgage customers were unable to make their monthly payments and stopped doing so, known as defaulting. The massive rate of loan defaults put a strain on the financial institutions that had made the loans, and this stress rippled throughout the entire economy and around the globe.

The United States fell into a period of high and prolonged unemployment, extreme reductions in wealth (except at the very top), stagnant wages, and loss of value in personal property (houses and land). The S&P 500 Index, which measures the overall share value of selected leading companies whose shares are traded on the stock market, fell from a high of 1565 in October 2007 to 676 by March 2009.

Today, however, unemployment rates are down in many areas of the United States, the Gross Domestic Product increased 4.6 percent in the second quarter of 2014 (US Department of Commerce–Bureau of Economic Analysis), property owners have noted a slight increase in the valuation of housing, and the stock market appears to be reinvigorated.

While these and several other factors indicate the United States is on the road to recovery, many people are still struggling. For most segments of the population, median income has not increased, and in fact it has receded in many cases. The size, income, and wealth of the middle class have been declining since the 1970s— effects that were perhaps hastened by the recession. Today, wealth is distributed inequitably at the top. Corporate profits have increased more than 141 percent, and CEO pay has risen by more than 298 percent.

G. William Domhoff (University of California at Santa Cruz) reports that “In 2010, the top 1% of households (the upper class) owned 35.4% of all privately held wealth, and the next 19% (the managerial, professional, and small business stratum) had 53.5%, which means that just 20% of the people owned a remarkable 89%, leaving only 11% of the wealth for the bottom 80% (wage and salary workers).”

Economic Impact of the Recession on Different Segments of Population: Most U.S. citizens have struggled financially as a result of the nearly decade-long recession. As noted above, many workers lost their jobs as unemployment rates soared, housing prices—which represent the wealth of the average person—declined sharply, and the cost of living increased significantly. Meanwhile income for the average U.S. worker remains stagnant.

One indicator of general economic conditions is the rate at which individuals are accessing the country’s safety net or social welfare programs. Between 2000 and 2013, the number of people relying on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the “food stamp” program), climbed from 17,194,000 to more than 47,636,000. The sharpest increase paralleled the subprime mortgage crisis of 2009, with the rolls rising from 28,000,000 to more than 40,000,000 individuals receiving food assistance in a span of two years (United States Department of Agriculture 2014).

The economic downturn had a rippling effect throughout the economy. For instance, it delivered a significant blow to the once-vibrant U.S. automotive industry. While consumers found loans harder to get due to the subprime mortgage lending crisis and increasing fuel costs, they also grew weary of large, gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles (SUVs) that were once the bread-and-butter product of U.S. automakers. As customers became more aware of the environmental impact of such cars and the cost of fuel, the large SUV ceased to be the status symbol it had been during the 1990s and 2000s. It became instead a symbol of excess and waste. All these factors created the perfect storm that nearly decimated the U.S. auto industry. To prevent mass job loss, the government provided emergency loans funded by taxpayer dollars, as well as other forms of financial support, to corporations like General Motors and Chrysler. While the companies survived, the landscape of the U.S. auto industry was changed as result of the economic decline.

To realign their businesses in the face of decreased sales and lower manufacturing outputs, many large automotive companies severed their ties with hundreds of dealerships, which affected the dealers’ local economies around the country.

Citation/Attribution

Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book is Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 and you must attribute OpenStax.

Attribution information
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a print format, then you must include on every physical page the following attribution:
    Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/introduction-sociology-2e/pages/1-introduction-to-sociology
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a digital format, then you must include on every digital page view the following attribution:
    Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/introduction-sociology-2e/pages/1-introduction-to-sociology
Citation information

© Sep 1, 2020 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 license. The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.