Social inequality refers to life differences between people
Social inequality refers to life differences between people that end up in one of them having an advantage or better life chances than the other, functionalist researchers such as Durkheim believe this is a result of the meritocratic society in which we live. A meritocratic society is based on the belief that social stratification, classes and other inequalities are good as it makes the workforce work harder to close the gaps or climb up the class ladder. Functionalists believe all inequality has a purpose and are functional to society. Functionalism is a structural theory based on the idea that society is based on shared values, this consensus means that society will be in a state of equilibrium and harmony, as an outcome of this there will be social solidarity. Functionalists argue that inequality is universal and found in every society, so that way it should have a use or function, if perfect equality existed, it would not be fair on hard working or talented individuals. Marxists would disagree with this as they believe that society is based more on conflict than consensus, they say that the capitalist system causes inequalities and the proletariat are exploited by the bourgeoisie.
But both of these perspectives are criticised as they do not take gender or race into account. Functionalists argue that society is mostly meritocratic – equality of opportunity exists and people are correctly allocated to roles according to their abilities There are numerous examples of evidence of working class disadvantage in education for example only 35% achieve 5 GCSEs compared to 80% of those from higher professional backgrounds. Functionalists argue that people make rational choices and therefore they choose to be poor or working class as their culture is low. This argument backs up the view functionalists have that inequality has a role in society as people will work harder to avoid poverty.