Functionalism and Conflict Theory as The Frameworks for Inequality

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 2044 |

Pages: 4|

11 min read

Published: Aug 31, 2023

Words: 2044|Pages: 4|11 min read

Published: Aug 31, 2023

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Types and Causes of Social Inequality
  3. Theoretical Perspectives: Functionalism and Conflict Theory
  4. The Contrast of Conflict Theory and Functionalism
  5. Conclusion
  6. References


Majority of societies are founded on the idea of fairness and equality but in every society and culture, there is at least one inequality. Social inequality is the existence of unequal opportunities for different social positions and statues within a society. There are five types of social inequalities: wealth inequality, treatment and responsibility inequality, political inequality, life inequality, and membership inequality. Examples of social inequality include wage gap, gender inequality, race inequality, and social class. Social inequality exists because of culture, beliefs, and the government in power or social stereotyping. Certain countries in the world, like Saudi Arabia, have been very controversial with gender inequality. Women are told they can do as they want if it does not affect their duties in the home. The western world believes women in Middle Eastern countries are being oppressed, but these women believe they are not, as argued by the functionalism and conflict theory (Fatany, 2004).

'Why Violent Video Games Shouldn't Be Banned'?

Types and Causes of Social Inequality

Stratification is very closely linked with social inequality. This concept refers to the relationship between certain variables such as wealth and social status. Society is in a hierarchal system. Stratification looks at the systematic pattern of inequality across generations that has been built into societies (Habibis). Marx is commonly criticised for putting emphasis only on economic factors as this is what determines social class, but actual stratification theorising amounts to reductionism. Non-Marxists would believe inequalities in honour or power are regarded as the most fundamental sources of the class formation while the economic sources come second (Grusky). Dahrendorf (1968) has argued that “differential authority in associations is the ultimate cause of the formation of conflict groups.” In Ireland the ones in power decide on minimum wage, those who deserve a house and education. They have caused most conflict in the housing crisis.

Social mobility, also closely linked, is the ability to change upward or downward in the hierarchal stratification system. If there is a change in position in an occupation but not in social class, it is called horizontal mobility (Collins Dictionary). While if there is a change in social class it is called vertical mobility. A person may start as a retail worker and become a wealthy business owner would move upward in the class while a person who becomes bankrupt would move down the class system.

There are several reasons why there are different social inequalities in the world and why they persist. The first being ideology which is the cultural belief that countries base their actions on, that serve to legitimate key interests and justifies stratification. The second being Habitualisation, the idea that behaviours, norms, and values that an individual learns are picked up from their social situation and ingrained into them due to prolonged exposure to such social situation that will pass through generations (Penguin Dictionary). Thirdly being subjugation people who are socially excluded and lack power and resources to challenge the existing social order. People who don’t have social status do not have the power to change the system. However, a movement like Black Lives Matter or the MeToo movement, with many people working together can make a difference. Lastly coercive power and violence keeps people in their places in the hierarchal system as it can make people afraid to question the system. The people in power can use their authority against people and keep them in their place.

Poverty can be a big cause of inequality. Looking at explaining the reason of poverty, there can be two reasons. Blaming the poor or blaming society. The main reason for unemployment is lack of employment. The poor can be the problem as there are a lot of opportunities out there, they just need to be found. The reason they are unemployed is because they have a lack of motivation, skills or education. The other way to view it is to blame society. Society doesn’t give enough opportunities such as a good education and jobs that pay enough to live and say out of poverty (Williams, 2014). People who are in poverty for a lengthy time are most like to fall into a poverty trap. This means the inequality will progress into the next generation.

Theoretical Perspectives: Functionalism and Conflict Theory

Living in an unequal society can cause stress and anxiety among a society. This stress and anxiety can lead to damage to health. People within societies where they feel they are being untreated can lose their confidence. When their confidence is gone, they might not progress into society as well as they should have. Also, when people feel like they have been untreated fairly and begin to hate the competition or the people in power. People in poverty feel they must work too much just to stay alive and while there are those who are born into wealth and would have life easier in their eyes. There can be conflict among those unequal to each other such as in the class systems, between genders or any people living unequal to each other. This leads to the questions of the theoretical frameworks: functionalism and conflict theory. Is this unfair treatment functional or is it just constant unfair treatment that leads to conflict among a population?

Functionalism is a theoretical framework that sees that sees society as a complex system who work together to promote balance and stability in society. This theory is based on the work of Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parsons, and Robert Merton. This theory believes every aspect in society such as social norms, roles in and even inequality has its function. The functionalist theory would see social inequality as inevitable and functional for society. People in poverty can push people to not want to be in that situation, education system can inspire people to want to push themselves and do well and go on to well-paying jobs. Although no one wants to be poor in a low paying job they play a central role in society and are very necessary. For example, the “dirty” jobs such as the cleaners or the bin men, no one wants to do them especially for a low wage and in bad conditions, but someone must do them jobs. As these jobs aren’t as important to society that is why there isn’t as high of an income as the likes of a lawyer. This theory highlights that inequality is both inevitable and functional as there will always be people in low-pay jobs that need to be done and there will always be the jobs with a status and good benefits that people aspire to get.

There is a clear difference between employees, managers and owners which leads to different social classes. The owner of a factory would earn a lot more than the employee working in the factory (Raffo et al). The owner would fall into upper class, the manager would fall into either middle class or working class depending on the pay and the employee would fall into working class. The social class runs in a cycle, if born into a family from the middle class a person is most likely going not going to get the best education and won’t move into a well-payed job. A person born into a family with money would progress into third level education giving them better opportunities.

People living as working class people working eight hours a day, five to seven days a week for the minimum wage and might be making €22,000 a year. A lawyer working the same number of hours would be making more than half at around €55,000 a year as a starting solicitor. There are many inequalities here. First being social status, a lawyer would have a higher status then someone working on a minimum wage job. People making €55,000 a year are in a higher social class then people who are making €22,000 a year. There are many unknown factors on why one person ended up making more than the other. Factors such as education, gender race, whether they have a disability. Although inequality can be functional, it also needs to be known that it might not be inevitable if everyone got a fair starting point of opportunities.

The Contrast of Conflict Theory and Functionalism

Conflict theory is the opposite of the functionalist theory. Conflict theory is based around the work of Karl Marx who believed society as an arena of inequality that generates social conflict and social change. Life is a competition and focuses on the distribution of resources, power an inequality. Functionalism focuses on the stability of society because of inequality while conflict theory looks at the inequalities in society and how it leads to change. According to the Marx theory there are two main types of people: the capitalists, who controls the capital and the means of production, and the proletariat who are beneath the capitalists provide the labour. Marx theory believes there is a constant struggle between the two classes.

It is now known (Dahrendorf, 1958), that attempting to reduce the conflicts in society to a common principle is sterile. This leads to either empty generalisation, such as every society experiences social conflict, or it leads to empirically unjustifiable oversimplifications such as the history of all societies so far has been a history of class struggles.

Feminism is a term used that advocates women’s rights on the ground of equal rights of both sexes. Here are three main types of feminism, socialist, cultural and radical feminism. Social feminism is a theory that analysed the connection between the oppression of women in society and any other oppressions in society such as racism. Cultural feminism looks at the perspective that men and women have different approaches to the world and there should be the greater emphasis on how women approach the world. Cultural feminism argues that women’s view of the world is superior to men’s view. This perspective wants to unite every type of woman. Lastly, radical feminism is a philosophy that emphasises the patriarchal roots of the inequality between men and women. This philosophy believes patriarchy as dividing social rights, privileges, and power and as a result of this oppressing women. Feminism dates to the 19th century which promoted equal contract, marriage, parenting, and property rights for women.

Get a custom paper now from our expert writers.


Inequalities can be seen all over the world. As time goes on societies and cultures are trying to become more equal. Ireland for example in 2014 has made same sex marriage legal as the government is slowly separating from religion. Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia are very slowly progressing. Women are now able to drive and go to the cinema. Although their government is based on religion they are slowly progressing to a more equal society between men and women. However, there will always be inequality in the world as it is inevitable and functional. If someone was the getting paid the same amount for being a doctor as someone who works in retail, no one would want to go through the time an effort to become a doctor for the same wage and status as a retail worker. Also, there will always be groups of people that believe they are superior to another group of people. As there is still racism there are a lot of white people who believe they deserve more than black people. There is still gender inequality which means there are still a lot of men out there they are above women. Although inequality is not fair as everyone did not get the same start, inequality is needed to keep a stable society.


  1. Dahrendorf, Ralf. Essays in the Theory of Society. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1968
  2. Dahrendorf. Ralf. Toward a Theory of Social Conflict. The Journal of Conflict Resolution. Vol. 2, No.2. 170-183. 1958
  3. Fatany, Samar. The Status of Women in Saudi Arabia. Arab News. 12 October 2004. 19 February 2019
  4. Habibis, Daphne. Walter Maggie. Social Inequality in Australia. Second ed. Oxford University Press Anz.
  5. Grusky, David. B. The Past, Present and Future of Social Inequality. 19 February 2019.
  6. Raffo, Carlo. Dyson, Alan. Gunter, Helen. Hall, Dave. Jones, Lisa. Kalambouka, Afroditi. Education and Poverty. A critical review of theory, policy and practice. 19 February 2019.
  7. Williams, Zoe. Whose Fault is Poverty? The Election Blame Game is on. The Guardian. 18 August 2014.
  8. Habitualization. The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology. 5th Ed. New York. Penguin Books, 2006
  9. Horizontal Mobility. Collins English Dictionary. Harper Collins Publishers 2012.   
Image of Dr. Oliver Johnson
This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Oliver Johnson

Cite this Essay

Functionalism and Conflict Theory as the Frameworks for Inequality. (2023, August 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 21, 2024, from
“Functionalism and Conflict Theory as the Frameworks for Inequality.” GradesFixer, 31 Aug. 2023,
Functionalism and Conflict Theory as the Frameworks for Inequality. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 21 Feb. 2024].
Functionalism and Conflict Theory as the Frameworks for Inequality [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Aug 31 [cited 2024 Feb 21]. Available from:
Keep in mind: This sample was shared by another student.
  • 450+ experts on 30 subjects ready to help
  • Custom essay delivered in as few as 3 hours
Write my essay

Still can’t find what you need?

Browse our vast selection of original essay samples, each expertly formatted and styled


Where do you want us to send this sample?

    By clicking “Continue”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy.


    Be careful. This essay is not unique

    This essay was donated by a student and is likely to have been used and submitted before

    Download this Sample

    Free samples may contain mistakes and not unique parts


    Sorry, we could not paraphrase this essay. Our professional writers can rewrite it and get you a unique paper.



    Please check your inbox.

    We can write you a custom essay that will follow your exact instructions and meet the deadlines. Let's fix your grades together!


    Get Your
    Personalized Essay in 3 Hours or Less!

    We can help you get a better grade and deliver your task on time!
    • Instructions Followed To The Letter
    • Deadlines Met At Every Stage
    • Unique And Plagiarism Free
    Order your paper now