University of Maryland
Sociology 441: Stratification 

Midterm exam study questions (Fall 2002)

(Revised October 15, 2002)



The objective of the essay questions (and thus your answers) is to pull together material from different topics in order to identify common themes and patterns. Your answers will be evaluated in terms of your ability to see these similar patterns across different topics. A second important criterion will be how specific your answers are. Broad generalizations are not sufficient. You should cite specific examples or data that support your arguments for general patterns.
  1. In many of the issues we have considered, education has been a central, if not the central factor in understanding inequality in America. Explain the role that education plays at the micro (individual) level in determining different outcomes and accounting for the effects of parental class origins and racial/ethnic differences. How (i.e., identify the specific mechanisms) does education act as the means of "social reproducation" of class from one generation to another? What aspects of education are the most important for understanding inequality? consider the roles of (and cite evidence concerning) years of schooling, quality of schools, and what is learned in school. How does education help explain the macro (national) trends in inequality?

  2. For causal analyses in sociology, the concept of  intervening variables is crucial for explaining why or how some cause has an effect on some consequences. Choose two causal relationships; identify the cause and consequence to be explained; describe at least two intervening processes that are plausible explanation of how that cause has an effect on that consequence. Review the evidence whether the intervening variables actually explain (or do not explain) the causal process.



  1. How have differences in occupational status/prestige been measured?
  2. Identify two sources of income other than earnings: one source which is more typical of low income families and one which is more typical of high income families.

  4. What is the relationship of higher incomes with self-reported happiness across individuals (i.e., comparing high and low income individuals)? across years (i.e., as average national income increases)? across countries (i.e., comparing rich and poor countries)?

  6. Both the parental status of the family in which people are born and the amount of education that people attain are determinants of people's eventual occupational success. Explain how sociologists evaluate which one is more important and describe the results of that evaluation.

  8. What is the "Wisconsin model" concerning the role of others' expectations in determining educational and occupational success? Explain both the causes and consequences of others' expectations.

  10. Compare and contrast the middle-class and working-class values of MacLeod's two adolscent groups. How does each set of values play a role in aiding or impeding the boys' chances of success?

  12. Why do children of affluent parents have a better chance of going to college? Identify two possible reasons and explain which one receives more support from research.

  14. Describe two differences in family structures and explain to what extent these family structure differences explain childrens' eventual occupational attainment.

  16. How do single parent families have an impact on children's outcomes? Identify three consequences of single parent families that are obstacles to their children's eventual status attainment.

  18. Explain why students in schools that spend more money and have smaller classes score higher on standardized academic tests and are more likely to go on to college.

  20. What are the two ways that college aspirations are influenced by going to a high school with more affluent fellow students?

  22. Give two specific examples of what is meant by "cultural capital" and explain how it is different from "social capital". How does each concept help explain why class is "reproduced" from one generation to the next?

  24. What are two class-related explanations for racial income gaps and what is the evidence that these class explanations account for the racial income differences? What is the alternative causal explanation for these income differences?

  26. How has the situtation changed over the last few decades in poor inner city neighborhoods that makes them more difficult places to grow up in?

  28. What are two explanations for how race accounts for the similarity of outcomes for MacLeod's black and white teenagers despite quite different attitudes towards work and school?

  30. What are two ways in which incarceration reduces career earnings?
  31. For each of the two models (in the attached diagrams):

  32. parent's - education - son's (pdf file).
  33. parent's - expectations - education (pdf file).
    A. How big is the parental social status effect relative to other effects?
    B. According to the model, how does parental social status affect the outcome? How much of the parental status effect isexplained by the intervening variable(s)?
    C. Cite one other intervening variable that might explain the remaining direct effect of parental status on the outcome.

    Income inequality

  34. What has been the trend in median family income in the four decades since 1950? in average workers' earnings?

  36. Describe one specific measure of family income inequality. What has been the trend in income inequality since World War II?

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Last updated October 15, 2002
comments to: Reeve Vanneman.