Last week the New York Times released this table illustrating who benefited the most from the Bush tax cuts.  As you will see, people in the top 1% of income, making more than $545,845 a year benefited, by leaps and bounds, more than anyone else. And their share of the tax cut?  Almost a quarter went to the top 1%.


Also see our post on social class and the tax burden.

Via MontClair SocioBlog.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Business Management offers this great visual for understanding income in equality in the U.S.  Each light blue figure in this visual represents 50 years of work at minimum wage (making $15,080 a year); the medium blue figures represent 50 years of work at the average wage (making $40,690 a year); the dark blue figures represent 50 years as the President of the United States (making $400,000 a year).


Let’s take the most dramatic example, just for fun: Hewlett-Packard.


A minimum wage worker would have to work for 2,256 years to make what what the CEO of Hewlett-Packard makes in a year.

The average worker would have to work 836 years to match his yearly salary.

And Barack Obama would have to President for 85 years before he made what the CEO of Hewlett-Packard makes in one year.

See other posts on income inequality here, here, here, here, and here.

Via Chartporn.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

While I was doing my post-grad work in Economics (capitalizing that word feels like such a joke), and even well before then, the academics in the know never tired of mentioning that We, as a collective of thinkers and activists, had ceased to use the expression Third World. Instead, we talked about developing nations, or less/least developed countries, a move to which I wholly subscribed, because although I feel quite alone in this, I detest the phrase Third World.

But all of a sudden, everywhere I look, I see it springing up again. And I’m starting to wonder whether I only dreamt the popular rejection of the term years ago, or whether it’s enjoying some kind of rebirth. It certainly hasn’t been redefined: it’s a handy little moniker that encapsulates any brand of nastiness or degradation you might imagine, and it’s quite the punchline. Hate the state in which your office bathrooms are kept? Liken it to a Third World country. Annoyed that your hotel only offers three varieties of cream cheese at breakfast? Call it a Third World diet. It’s an exaggeration, see? So it’s funny! Lawl and stuff!

Implicit in these comparisons is the realization that the speakers not only have no idea about the reality of life in the so-called Third World, but further, don’t give a crap. They’re able to so flippantly refer to the poverty and lack of opportunity in some of these nations because they’re comfortable – not with the actual state of things, of which they have only a vague knowledge, or none – but with the fabled state of things. Starvation, disease and war existing on such a scale for such a length of time need not be treated with any reverence or respect, one, because it is completely removed from their lives and doesn’t affect them, and two, because some of the countries of the global South have, in the estimation of these speakers, become horror stories in themselves, and thus have transitioned into some kind of mythical status. Except, we’re not talking about centaurs and unicorns here. We’re talking about real, live, accessible people’s lives, of which, if someone can hit Enter on a keyboard, they can approach some basic understanding.

Further, the term Third World obscures all parts of a country’s culture apart from those which are to be pitied or improved. By no great coincidence, so does the mainstream media. Back in March, I highlighted the efforts of Chioma and Oluchi Ogwuegbu: two Nigerian sisters who had purposed to tell the story of the Africa behind all that media footage of distended bellies and power-hungry rebels. It’s not that a discussion of the problems of developing nations is not needed. It is. But when you commit to systematically representing a country solely as victims, you show only one part of who its people are, and not the greatest part. Third World also implies homogeneity across all the countries that are meant to comprise this class, one which simply does not exist economically, socially or politically. It suggests that regardless of level of economic and social development, comparative advantages or system of governance, they are all to be singularly treated always as less than.

And the final issue I have with this term is perhaps the most obvious: it suggests a hierarchy that in people’s minds is not neatly restricted to some ranking of progress in development indicators, and certainly not to the historical allegiance of nations during the Cold War, as its origins are claimed to be, but is attached to real people and by association, their ethnicities. It suggests that the US with its White majority is innately better than, say, India, and encourages not an examination of global inequality as a result of historical exploitation, but of the notion that these countries have less because they are objectively worth less. And that was its intent. When Frenchman Alfred Sauvy coined the term half a century ago, he was so inspired to do by the presence of the Third Estate in France, the commoners who, by virtue of their position, Sauvy thought destined to be in an eternal state of revolution against the higher classes of the First and Second Estates. “Like the third estate,” he famously wrote, “the Third World has nothing, and wants to be something.

Leaders at the Bandung Conference that followed in 1955 embraced the designation as an indication of a new bloc, but that designation, tenuous even then, means nothing now. And anyone from a developing country who wants to reclaim the expression can, I suppose, go ahead and do so. I choose not to. I, as a Black woman from the Caribbean, am third in no one’s pecking order. This is not sensitivity to a useful academic category or definition – although even those types of objections often have merit. This is the thorough rejection of a highly stigmatized, completely arbitrary categorization that serves no purpose other than to equate a certain geographical provenance and ethnic heritage with lack and degradation.

I do not accept it, and I would encourage allies of we who originate, live and work on human rights and development in the global South to also reject it.


Marsha blogs at The Mongoose Chronicles. About herself, she says:  Rogue economist escaped to the bright side. Writer, talker, dancer, songwriter, singer, walker, runner, roamer, cook. Fierce lover of family and friends. Lover and defender of my womanness, Africanness, my Caribbean heritage, my Barbados, my right to take up my space and protect our space.

If you would like to write a post for Sociological Images, please see our Guidelines for Guest Bloggers.

In the early 1980s the Reagan Administration engaged in an active campaign to demonize welfare and welfare recipients. Those who received public assistance were depicted as lazy free-loaders who burdened good, hard-working taxpayers. Race and gender played major parts in this framing of public assistance: the image of the “welfare queen” depicted those on welfare as lazy, promiscuous women who used their reproductive ability to have more children and thus get more welfare. This woman was implicitly African American, such as the woman in an anecdote Reagan told during his 1976 campaign (and repeated frequently) of a “welfare queen” on the South Side of Chicago who supposedly drove to the welfare office to get her check in an expensive Cadillac (whether he had actually encountered any such woman, as he claimed, was of course irrelevant).

The campaign was incredibly successful: once welfare recipients were depicted as lazy, promiscuous Black women sponging off of (White) taxpayers, public support for welfare programs declined. The negative attitude toward both welfare and its recipients lasted after Reagan left office; the debate about welfare reform in the mid-1990s echoed much of the discourse from the 1980s. Receiving public assistance was shameful; being a recipient was stigmatized.

Abby K. recently found an old Sesame Street segment called “I Am Somebody.” Jesse Jackson leads a group of children in an affirmation that they are “somebody,” and specifically includes the lines “I may be poor” and “I may be on welfare”:

(Originally found at the Sesame Street website.)

I realized just how effective the demonization of welfare has been when I was actually shocked to hear kids, in a show targeted at other kids, being led in a chant that said being poor or on welfare shouldn’t be shameful and did not reduce their worth as human beings. Can you imagine a TV show, even on PBS, putting something like this on the air today? Our public discourse at this point says that being on welfare is shameful, and that those receiving it in fact aren’t “somebody.” They are dependents, lazy loafers, and their kids are just additional burdens on the state; they don’t have the same rights to dignity and respect as other citizens, and they certainly shouldn’t expect to get it.

Of course, the totally confused looks on some of the kids’ faces are hysterical.


At FST, via Chartporn.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Ryan A. sent in this image of a letter (found at Letters of Note) sent to the Postmaster General in 1934, in which men ask for women to be fired so that men can have jobs:


Notice that work is depicted as an oppressive burden for women (“…in place of making slaves of them let them be ladies”). Men, on the other hand, are entitled to take employment from women if they are in need of it to avoid being “bums” (and apparently it’s ok to make slaves of them).

Now, don’t get me wrong: I actually have sympathy for the psychological distress these and other men must have felt at the time. When manhood is highly associated with the ability to support a family on your income alone, job loss and poverty is not just embarrassing, it is a threat to your very identity as a man. The plea for jobs to help young men “make a name for themselves” is partly a call to let them become responsible adult men in good social standing, rather than bums (a term loaded with moral judgment).

So I have sympathy for the men struggling with the feeling of failure that came with joblessness. But it’s still noteworthy that the letter indicates a sense of entitlement to women’s jobs (much like veterans returning from World War II felt toward women who had taken jobs outside the home). Women, presumably, had a husband to support them and it was his duty to not be a bum so that she wouldn’t need to take a job from another man.

Sandra H. sent us a link to a story about a field of empty container ships parked off the coast of Singapore:

Simon Parry reports that the field includes about 12 percent of the world’s container ships.  More than “the U.S. and British navies combined,” he writes.

The idle ships are another visual indication of the worldwide economic downturn, alongside the images of Detroit’s decline, unsold cars, abandoned homes, and empty malls.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

One way to study social problems is to take a social constructionist approach.  This approach suggests that the degree to which a social problem is perceived as problematic, as well as the kind of problem it is understood to be, is a function of social interaction.  For example, many Americans consider drunk driving to be a very bad thing and a serious threat.  Drunk driving is not only embarrassing, it is punishable by law, and a conviction could result in social opprobrium.  It wasn’t always that way, and it still isn’t all that stigmatized in some parts of the U.S. and, of course, elsewhere.

So, social problems aren’t immediately obvious, but need to be interpreted and presented to us.  And, of course, some people have more power to deliver a message to the public than others.

Artist Susannah Hertrich developed this graphic (via) designed to bring to consciousness the difference between the likelihood of harm from certain threats and public outrage:


I am unsure as to how she measured both “public outrage” and “actual hazard” but, giving her the benefit of the doubt and assuming that this information is based on some reasonable systematic measurement, the image nicely draws our attention to how some social problems can receive a disproportionate amount of outrage, contributing to their social construction as significant or insignificant social problems (or, alternatively, their social construction as public problems for which outrage is appropriate and useful, versus private problems that have no public policy dimensions).

So, for example, heat is seen as relatively harmless even though, as Eric Klinenberg shows in his book Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, it kills many, many people every year and is severely exacerbated by social policies both directly and indirectly related to weather.  But the people who die from heat, and those who love them, tend to be relatively powerless members of our society: usually the elderly poor.

Conversely, the threat of terrorism attracts a great deal of public outrage, but is not a significant threat to our individual well-being.  Still, certain members of our society with an ease of access to the media and authoritative roles in our society (mostly politicians and pundits) can raise our fears of terrorism to disproportionate levels.

Similarly, bird flu makes for a fun story (as all gruesome health scandals can) and gun crime feeds “mainstream” fears of the “underclasses” (often perceived as black and brown men).  Both make for good media stories.  Less so, perhaps, pedestrian accidents.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.