Gender and age are ascribed statuses that provide a
basis for social differentiation. This chapter examines
the social construction of gender, theories of
stratification by gender, women as an oppressed majority
group, theories of aging, age stratification and
ageism, and the growing political activism of the
In the United States, the social construction of
gender continues to define significantly different
expectations for females and males.
Gender roles show up in our work and behavior
and in how we react to others.
Though females have been more severely
restricted than men by traditional gender
roles, those roles have also restricted males.
The research of anthropologist Margaret Mead
points to the importance of cultural conditioning
in defining the social roles of males and
Functionalists maintain that sex differentiation
contributes to overall social stability, whereas
conflict theorists contend that the relationship
between females and males is one of unequal
power, with men dominating women. This
dominance also shows up in everyday interactions.
Women around the world experience sexism,
institutional discrimination, and sexual
As women have taken on more and more
hours of paid employment outside the home,
they have been only partially successful in getting
their husbands to take a greater role in
homemaking duties, including child care.
Many women agree with the positions of the
feminist movement but reject the label of
Like other forms of stratification, age stratification
varies from culture to culture.
In the United States, "being old" is a master
status that seems to overshadow all others.
The particular problems of the aged have
become the focus for a specialized area of
research and inquiry known as gerontology.
Disengagement theory implicitly suggests that
society should help older people to withdraw
from their accustomed social roles, whereas
activity theory argues that the elderly person
who remains active and socially involved will be
From a conflict perspective, the low status
of older people is reflected in prejudice and
discrimination against them and unfair job
An increasing proportion of the population of
the United States is composed of older people.
Ageism reflects a deep uneasiness on the part
of younger people about growing old.
The American Association of Retired Persons
(AARP) is a powerful lobbying group that
backs legislation to benefit senior citizens.
The issue of abortion has bitterly divided the
United States (as well as other nations) and
pitted pro-choice activists against pro-life
Gender and age are ascribed statuses that provide a basis for social differentiation. This chapter examines the social construction of gender, theories of stratification by gender, women as an oppressed majority group, theories of aging, age stratification and ageism, and the growing political activism of the elderly.
After reading this chapter, you should be able to:
1. Discuss gender-role socialization in the United States.
2. Summarize the functionalist perspective of gender stratification.
3. Contrast the conflict and feminist perspectives of gender stratification with the functionalist perspective.
4. Differentiate between sexism, sex discrimination, and sexual harassment.
5. Discuss the status of women worldwide.
6. Present a statistical overview of women's participation in the paid labor force.
7. Relate what the research tells us about the social consequences of women's paid employment.
8. Summarize what the national surveys show about women today and their endorsement of the feminist positions.
9. Explain why the properties of a minority group (introduced in Chapter 10) can be applied to older people in the United States.
10. Compare and contrast disengagement theory and activity theory.
11. Explain why the conflict perspective is critical of both disengagement theory and activity theory.
12. Discuss what the term the "graying of America" means.
13. Explain what the term ageism means.
14. Summarize the battle over abortion from the various sociological perspectives.