11. Social Structure & Demographics
Terms in this set (55)
Macrosociology focuses on large groups and social structure,
focuses on small groups and the individual.
a system of people within a society organized by a
characteristic pattern of relationships
Functionalism or functional analysis
is the study of the structure and function of each part of society.
Early functionalists viewed society as a living organism. Like an organism, if society is to function
smoothly, its parts and systems must work together in harmony. When all the parts of society fulfill
their functions, society is in a normal state. If they do not fulfill their functions, society is in an
abnormal or pathologic state.
function to refer to the beneficial
consequences of people's actions.
According to these theorists, functions help keep society in
balance. In contrast, dysfunctions are harmful consequences of people's actions as they undermine a
social system's equilibrium.
If an action is intended to help some part of a system, it is a
manifest functions can also have unintended positive consequences on
other parts of society; these are called
latent functions. Latent functions may flow logically from
manifest functions, but are unstated or unrecognized. For example, annual meetings of medical
societies have the manifest function of educating a group of physicians, sharing research findings, and
setting goals for the next year.
Relating the theory of functionalism to health and illness, some theorists have identified illness as a
social phenomenon rather than a purely physical condition. In this model, a sick individual is unable
to be a productive member of society and therefore is deviant from society. Remember that deviance
does not necessarily imply judgment; it merely refers to an act or a behavior that goes against social
The manifestation of deviance in healthcare and medicine is that the individual who has fallen
ill is not only physically sick, but now adheres to the specifically patterned social role of being sick
that disrupts the normal social order of society.
refers to a form of influence over other people.
focuses on how power differentials are created and how
these differentials contribute to the maintenance of social order. Further, power differentials can lead
to the dominance of a particular group if it successfully outcompetes other groups for economic,
political, and social resources.
which is the study
of the ways individuals interact through a shared understanding of words, gestures, and other
symbols. The central idea of symbolic interactionism is that symbols—that is, things to which we
attach meaning—are the key to understanding how we view the world and communicate with one
another. These symbols include everything from how we codify concepts in language to hand gestures
and body language to the role of certain behaviors.
Social constructionism focuses on how individuals put together their social reality. Social constructs
arise from humans communicating and working together to agree on the significance of a concept or
Social constructionism can be applied to intangible concepts; how a society defines honor
and justice is dependent on the interactions and decisions of the individuals within that society.
Notably, because these concepts depend on the society itself, they are subject to change as social
norms and opinions develop over time. Social constructionism can also be applied to physical
objects, such as money. Paper money and coinage do not inherently have significant value; it is only
because we, as a society, imbue them with value that they can be used to trade for goods and services.
KEY CONCEPT 1
Symbolic interactionism reflects on how we use symbols to interact with each other. Social
constructionism reflects on how we, as a society, construct concepts and principles. While the
names of these theories sound like jargon, they're actually perfect descriptions.
are well-established social structures that dictate certain patterns of behavior or
relationships and are accepted as a fundamental part of culture. Social institutions regulate the
behavior of individuals in core areas of society
is influenced by a number of different factors including culture, value systems, beliefs,
practices, gender, age, race, ethnicity, and others. Family does not have a fixed definition across
cultures or through time; what is accepted as a family in the current day does not necessarily match
expectations from even a few generations ago.
Education systems aim to arm the population with information. This information may be in the form
of facts, figures, and mental processes, but the education system also emphasizes the social role of
education, creates statuses within society, and stimulates learners to add to their knowledge base.
Sociological investigations into education may focus on the ethics, morals, practices, political
influence, finances, and values of an education system. Sociologists also explore educational trends,
including grade inflation and deflation, adult education, online education, and accessibility of
is considered to be a pattern of social activities
organized around a set of beliefs and practices that seek to address the meaning of existence. As an
organization, religion persists over time and has a structure into which members are resocialized.
When studying religion from a sociological perspective, it is not important to agree with the belief
system. Rather, it is important to examine religion objectively within its social and cultural context.
government and economy
can be defined as systematic arrangements of political
and capital relationships, activities, and social structures that affect rule-making, representation of the
individual in society, rights and privileges, division of labor, and production of goods and services.
Notably, political and economic institutions impact all other institutions to some extent. That is, the
government may sanction or define specific family structures; may finance and regulate education;
may recognize some religions but not others; and may play a key role in funding and certifying
healthcare and medicine. The effects of the economy on institutions can also be viewed from the
individual level. For example, when the economy takes a downturn, large swaths of the population
may have trouble supporting their families and paying for health insurance.
The institutions of healthcare and medicine are aimed at maintaining or improving the health status
of the individual, family, community, and society as a whole. Healthcare is an ever-changing field,
but some of the key goals in American healthcare over the past few decades include
Increased access to care
Decreased costs of healthcare
Prevention of disease before it occurs
Association of patients with a primary care physician or a patient-centered medical home
Increased education for the public with public health outreach
Decreased paternalism (doctor knows best mentality)
Reduced economic conflicts of interest for physicians
the physician has a responsibility to act in the patient's best interest
do no harm; the physician has a responsibility to avoid treatments or
interventions in which the potential for harm outweighs the potential for benefit
Respect for patient autonomy:
the physician has a responsibility to respect patients' decisions
and choices about their own healthcare. While there are exceptions to this rule (significant
psychiatric illness interfering with decision-making capacity, children, public health threats), patients do have the right to refuse life-saving therapies
the physician has a responsibility to treat similar patients with similar care, and to
distribute healthcare resources fairly
be defined as encompassing the entire lifestyle for a given group. It binds our nation-states, political
institutions, marketplaces, religions, and ideologies.
One can discern a lot about people by looking at their artifacts: material items that they make,
possess, and value. This examination drives the concept of material culture, in which sociologists
explore the meaning of objects of a given society.
Material culture includes the physical items one
associates with a given group, such as artwork, emblems, clothing, jewelry, foods, buildings, and
Symbolic culture, also called nonmaterial culture,
focuses on the ideas that represent a group of
people. These may be encoded in mottos, songs, or catchphrases, or may simply be themes that are
pervasive in the culture. Phrases like free enterprise and life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
are examples of American symbolic culture. Material culture is often the tangible embodiment of the
underlying ideas of symbolic culture.
KEY CONCEPT 2
Material culture is associated with artifacts (objects). Symbolic culture is associated with
Language is the most highly developed and complex symbol system used by most cultures. Language
consists of spoken, written, or signed symbols, which are regulated according to certain rules of
grammar and syntax. Language
enables us to share our ideas, thoughts, experiences, discoveries,
fears, plans, and desires with others. Written language extends our capacity to communicate across
both spatial and temporal boundaries.
are what a person deems important in life, which dictates one's ethical principals and
standards of behavior.
is something that an individual accepts to be truth. Every culture has
its own beliefs and value systems. This will be important to your practice of medicine because
patients tend to carry their beliefs into the healthcare system—and these beliefs may conflict with
yours. For example, as described in the chapter introduction, some Asian cultures believe that
healthcare decisions should be the responsibility of a patient's family, which avoids burdening the
patient (who is already ill) with having to make such a decision. This is in direct contrast to the
American belief that patient autonomy should be prized and that healthcare decisions should be made
by a patient whenever possible. These conflicts can prove challenging to healthcare professionals,
and there is not always one correct answer to such a dilemma. Such situations—when a cultural
difference impedes interaction with others—are called cultural barriers.
norms are societal rules that
define the boundaries of acceptable behavior. While norms are not laws, they do govern the behavior
of society and provide a sense of social control.
Norms are what provide us with a sense of what is
appropriate, what we should do, and what we should not do.
is a formalized ceremony that usually involves specific material objects, symbolism, and
additional mandates on acceptable behavior. Rituals tend to have a prescribed order of events or
Evolution both influences and is influenced by culture. In some ways, it makes sense that culture
would have been evolutionarily beneficial for early human populations.
Culture serves as a method of
passing down information from generation to generation; in prehistoric times, culture likely served as
a conduit for teaching future generations how to create tools, hunt, domesticate animals, and grow
Culture may also have effects on evolution.
There is evidence that some genetic traits may have been
favored because of cultural values and beliefs. For example, human beings—at least those who are
not lactose intolerant—are the only animals that are able to digest milk after adolescence; they are
also the only animals that ingest another animal's milk. This may have arisen out of Northern
European cultures, which relied heavily on cattle farming for subsistence. A mutation permitting
digestion of milk into adulthood presumably imparted a nutritional and survival advantage to certain
individuals, and would thus be retained within the population.
refer to the statistics of populations and are the mathematical applications of
Ageism is prejudice or discrimination on the basis of a person's age.
This can be seen at all ages.
For example, young professionals entering the workplace are often viewed as being inexperienced,
and their opinions and ideas may therefore be ignored or downplayed. Older individuals may be
perceived as frail, vulnerable, or less intelligent, and may thus be treated with less respect.
Gender corresponds to the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with a
Gender differences tend to emphasize the distinct roles and behaviors of men and
women in a given culture, which is influenced by cultural norms and values. Differences between
genders do not necessarily imply inequity, although it occurs in many cultures. Gender inequality,
however, is the intentional or unintentional empowerment of one gender to the detriment of the other.
is a social construct based on phenotypic differences between groups of people. These may be
either real or perceived differences. It is notable that race is not strictly defined by genetics, and
rather classifies individuals based on superficial traits such as skin color
construct, which sorts people by cultural factors, including language, nationality, religion, and other
factors. The distinction between race and ethnicity can be important because one can choose whether
or not to display ethnic identity, while racial identities are always on display.
describes a specific connection to one's ethnicity in which ethnic symbols and
identity remain important, even when ethnic identity does not play a significant role in everyday life.
For example, many Irish-Americans in the United States celebrate "Irishness" only one day per year:
St. Patrick's Day. In all other facets of life, these individuals' Irish-American ethnicity does not play
a significant role. Other examples include attending folk festivals, visiting specific cultural locales
for holidays, or participating in an ethnic pride rally.
Sexual orientation involves a person's sexual feelings and may or may not be a significant contributor
to that person's sense of identity. It may or may not be evident in the person's appearance or
behavior. Disclosure of minority sexual orientations, sometimes called coming out of the closet, is a
major milestone in the absorption of sexuality into one's identity.
This has also been shown to have
therapeutic effects: coming out is associated with decreases in depressive and anxious symptoms that
can even be measured physiologically as cortisol levels drop during this time.
Human sexuality continues to be an important area of research for psychologists, sociologists, and
biologists alike, but evidence shows that sexuality is likely more fluid than previously believed.
Alfred Kinsey was a pioneer in this area, and—in addition to a number of other models and
publications—described sexuality on a zero to six scale, with zero representing exclusive
When ranked on this Kinsey scale, few
people actually fell into the categories of zero and six, with a significant proportion of the population
falling somewhere between the two.
Considering the number of immigrants, there are often barriers that affect interactions with social
structures and institutions. The complex organization of the United States healthcare system is starkly
different from those of most other nations, and this may present a barrier to understanding for
Language barriers may also make it difficult for immigrants to access healthcare or to
take control of their healthcare decisions; telephone translation services have been created to help
facilitate the conversation between clinician and patient. Finally, undocumented status presents a
major barrier for many immigrants to access healthcare for fear of reporting and deportation.
Fertility rate refers to the average number of children born to a woman
during her lifetime in a population. In many parts of the world, fertility rate is the primary driver of
population expansion; for example, in many parts of Africa, the average fertility rate is between four
and eight children per woman.
In the United States, fertility rates have trended
downward over time; however, the rate is still above two, indicating that fertility rates are still
contributing to population growth.
KEY CONCEPT 3
Fertility rate = children per woman per lifetime
Birth rate = children per 1000 people per year
Mortality rate = deaths per 1000 people per year
Migration rate = immigration rate minus emigration rate
Mortality rates refer to the number of deaths in a population per unit time. Usually, this is measured
in deaths per 1000 people per year.
With advancements in healthcare and access, the mortality rate in
the United States has dropped significantly over the past century. However, mortality rates are a
significant brake on population growth in many parts of the world
is a contributor to population growth
is defined as movement into a
new geographic space
is movement away from a geographic space.
KEY CONCEPT 4
The United States population is getting bigger, older (average age has increased), and more
diverse (through immigration, mobility, and intermarriage).
While demographic shift is a general term referring to changes in population makeup over time,
demographic transition is a specific example of demographic shift referring to changes in birth and
death rates in a country as it develops from a preindustrial to industrial economic system. This
transition has been seen in the United States since the Industrial Revolution. Demographic transition
can be divided into four stages:
Stage 1: preindustrial society; birth and death rates are both high
Stage 2: improvements in healthcare, nutrition, sanitation, and wages cause death rates to drop
Stage 3: improvements in contraception, women's rights, and a shift from an agricultural to an
industrial economy cause birth rates (births per 1000 individuals per year) to drop. Further,
with an industrializing society, children must go to school for many years to be productive in
society and may need to be supported by parents for a longer period of time than was formerly
the case; families thus have fewer children
Stage 4: an industrialized society; birth and death rates are both low
KEY CONCEPT 5
During demographic transition, mortality rate drops before birth rate. Therefore, the
population grows at first while mortality rate is dropping, and then plateaus as the birth rate
decreases as well
Social movements are organized either to promote or to resist social change. Social movements that
promote social change are termed proactive; those that resist social change are reactive.
social movements work to correct what they perceive as social injustices. Some examples of
proactive movements include the civil rights movement, women's rights movement, gay rights
movement, animal rights movement, and environmentalism movement. Some examples of reactive
movements include the white supremacist movement, counterculture movement, antiglobalization
movement, and anti-immigration movement.
Globalization is the process of integrating the global economy with free trade and the tapping of
foreign markets. Globalization leads to a decrease in the geographical constraints on social and
cultural exchanges and can lead to both positive and negative effects.
For example, the availability of
foods (especially produce) from around the world during the entire calendar year can only be
accomplished through trade with an extremely large number of world markets. However, significant
worldwide unemployment, rising prices, and increased pollution are negative effects of globalization.
Urbanization refers to dense areas of population creating a pull for migration. In other words, cities
are formed as individuals move into and establish residency in these new urban centers. Urbanization
is not a new phenomenon; ancient populations established cities in Jerusalem, Athens, Timbuktu, and
other locations. The economic opportunities offered in cities and creation of a large number of
"world cities" has fueled an increase in urbanization during the last few decades.
than half of the world's populations live in what are considered urban areas. Sociologists and other
professionals have found links between urban societies and health challenges related to water
sanitation, air quality, environmental hazards, violence and injuries, infectious diseases, unhealthy
diets, and physical inactivity.
Ghettoes are defined as
areas where specific racial, ethnic, or religious minorities are concentrated, usually due to social or
In the most extreme cases, slums may be formed. A slum, is an extremely densely populated area of a city with low-quality, often informal housing and