University of Maryland
Sociology 441: Stratification 

The micro-macro distinction

Perhaps the single most important theme for you to undestand is the distinction between macro and micro causal relationships. This theme will be repeated throughout this course for almost every topic. This micro/macro emphasis is what distinguishes this course from most other stratification courses. While many other instructors may mention this distinction, only in this course does it become a major organizing principle.

We emphasize the micro/macro distinction because it is one of the greatest sources of confusion in thinking about causes of inequality. Even professional social scientists often blur the distinction between the individual and societal causes. What causes a person to be poor does not always explain what causes societal rates of poverty to change. What causes a married woman to enter the labor force does not always explain why U.S. rates of women's labor force participation are rising. Both of these causal questions are important to answer, but we always need to keep them distinct. In the first two thirds of the course, we concentrate more on the society-level (macro) causal questions; in the last third, on the individual-level (micro) questions. But we will always try to raise questions at both levels in order to evaluate what kind of evidence is appropriate for what kind of causal question.

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Last updated February 11, 2000
comments to: Reeve Vanneman.