Degree Year


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Gender, Stratification, Inequality, Social


There is a current debate in social science literature, in Marxist theory, and in Feminist theory on the role of gender in affecting the form of inequality. Particular emphasis is placed on the controversy over whether or not women suffer universal exploitation and oppression. The debate over the role of gender in the stratification process is further complicated by a division in orientation: some consider gender inequality to be conditioned by relations of production or distribution that arise historically, and therefore are not universal (Engles 1968; Friedl 1978; Sacks 1974; Sanday 1974); while others trace it ultimately to fundamental biological differences, which are universal (Chodorow 1978; Collins 1971; Murphy and Murphy 1974; Tiger 1968.)

Research in both of these areas has tended to be either single case studies or controlled cross-cultural comparative studies. The findings have suggested that gender may be an important variable in all systems of stratification (MacCormack and Strathern 1980; Rosaldo and Lamphere 1974; Schlegel 1977; Tiger 1968). In spite of the growing support for the existence of gender as an important variable in all systems of stratification, there has been little large scale cross-cultural comparative research. A cross-sectional study incorporating data from numerous cultures would allow a more complete examination of the role of gender and stratification systems. In addition, the varying role of gender in cultures at different levels of development and with varying systems of stratification can be examined in this type of research.

By using George Murdock's 1967 Ethnographic Atlas, which contains information on 1170 societies, it is possible to conduct a large scale cross-cultural comparative study in which the relative degree of gender inequality is compared to levels of development across cultures. Levels of development can be determined by examining economic activities, the sexual differentiation in the division of labor, and by comparing rights of ownership and the use of resources to the control of the productions of goods for use. The latter analysis is useful when examining egalitarian societies based on kin relations.

It will be possible to examine more closely the relative degree of gender inequality to levels of development by looking at both egalitarian and stratified societies. Whereas some researchers accept the assumption that egalitarian societies produce solely for subsistence (Berreman 1981; Leacock 1978) this study focuses on the assumption that relations of production contribute to stratification or equality. As such, egalitarian societies may take on the role of stratification.

By relying on the extensive geographical, social and economic information contained in the Ethnographic Atlas, the research questions examine if there is a positive correlation between degrees of gender inequality and levels of development. If there are few correlations between gender inequality and levels of development it will be useful to examine if the degree of gender inequality is affected by variables independent of levels of development.

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Sociology Commons