Social Theories of Poverty

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Which sociological theory is best when studying poverty in America? Structural-functionalism, social-conflict, or symbolic-interaction? Explain why.

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Sociologists have used all three theories to explain poverty in America. The social-conflict theory seems to fit the situation in the United States, because it explains why there is little social mobility in this country. According to this theory, poverty arises out of a conflict between the elite classes and the classes with lower status and income (see the source below). The elite want to oppress the lower classes to make sure that they (the elite) maintain their power and income. It is not in the interest of the elite, this theory suggests, for the upper classes to work to make society more equitable. The oppression of the lower classes by the elite takes many forms, including the elite's control of access to higher education. This oppression makes it difficult for people born into the lower classes to move up in society. This theory explains why the poor stay poor and the elite also tend to maintain their status.

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