Concepts Test -- Finals
Study Guide

[Revised:  May 26, 2011]

1.       Identify and employ various research designs
and their appropriate application to the study of social life.

 scientific method

The scientific method is a systematic, organized series of steps that ensures maximum objectivity and consistency in researching a problem (Schaefer and Lamm, 1992:35).


A percentage is a proportion, or rate, based on 100. Use of percentages allows one to compare groups of different sizes. For example, if we are comparing contributors to a town's Baptist and Roman Catholic churches, the absolute numbers of contributors could be misleading if there were many more Baptists than Catholics living in the town. With percentages, we could obtain a more meaningful comparison, showing the proportion of persons in each group who contribute to their respective churches (Schaefer & Lamm, 1992: 36).


A hypothesis usually states how one aspect of human behavior influences or affects another. We call these aspects or factors variables. A variable is a measurable trait or characteristic that is subject to change under different conditions (e.g., income, gender, or religion).

independent vs. dependent variables

Variables may be independent or dependent. Independent variables in a hypothesis are those that influence or cause changes in another variable.  The dependent variables are those variables believed to be influenced by the independent variable (Schaefer & Lamm, 1992:38).  For example, in the statement, "The more education people have, the more likely they are to vote."  In this example education is the independent variable and voting is the dependent variable because increased voting depends on the level of education.


A theory is a set of ideas [generalizations] supported by facts. Theories try to make sense out of those facts. Social scientists seldom accept theories as laws. Often they are not considered totally true. Furthermore, the subjects they attempt to explain (i.e., people and social institutions) are variable.


A hypothesis is a speculative statement about the relationship between two or more variables. It is, in essence, an educated guess. It specifies what the researcher expects to find. To be considered meaningful, a hypothesis must be testable; that is, capable of being evaluated.


The simultaneous occurrence of two or more variables is known as a correlation. A correlation exists when a change in one variable coincides with a change in another variable. Correlations are an indication that causality may be present; they do not necessarily prove causation.


Large populations are too big to study in most cases. The researcher, therefore, needs to look at a small subset of the population. We call this subset a sample. The trick is to make sure that the characteristics of the sample closely parallel the characteristics of the larger population. In other words does the sample truly represent the larger population.


The mean is a measure of central tendency that is calculated by dividing the total number of all figures by the number of individual cases involved.  For example, to find the mean of the numbers 5, 19, and 27, we add them and divide by the number of values that is 3. The mean would then be 17.


The median is the midpoint or number that divides a series of values (which are ranked in ascending or descending order).  Eleven students who completed the first test had scores of 48, 57, 64, 68, 68, 70, 78, 84, 90, 92, and 95.  The median for this distribution of scores is70.


With surveys, the researcher asks questions of people either face-to-face in interviews or by using a questionnaire. The advantages are that data collection is more systematic (you ask the same questions of every person). And because it is systematic and generally more condensed, the researcher can question large numbers of people.  Some surveys, like the Census, question millions of people. Findings may be generalizable to larger populations. There are, however, numerous drawbacks to the survey.  When relying on a survey questionnaire, much information is lost. Facial expressions are not recorded. Environmental considerations are missed (e.g., what was the weather like when the survey was taken. Or, what was the characteristics of the location where the interview takes place). Furthermore, information can be lost because the interviewer failed to ask the right question.

case study

Case studies are in depth studies of a group or individual in real life situations. Its advantages are that the researcher can study individuals in-depth in their natural setting (e.g., at home, at work, playing, etc.). Case studies provided volumes of information such that at the end of the study the researcher has a thorough understanding of the individuals involved in the study. Drawbacks to the case study include the fact that social scientist cannot usually investigate many cases because of time constraints. Another problem with the case study is that the results are often not generalizable to the population at large.

participant observation

Participant observation is involvement by the researcher, either known or unknown, with the group under observation. An example of participant observation might be a researcher studying Appalachian culture by living with the people under investigation for a long time.  The researcher may sleep in the same house as the people being investigated.  He or she would engage in the same activities as the people being studied.  By using participant observation, the researcher is able to gather a broad body of information of the groups being studied including their needs and social characteristics.  A significant drawback to this style of research is that one cannot generalize the findings to larger populations.  It's also very time consuming.

secondary data analysis (existing data)

Existing data refers to government records (such as the Census), personal documents (such as letters or diaries), or mass communication (published books, the news, movies, FaceBook pages). In other words, secondary data are data that some one else has collected.  The advantages are that the data is generally easy to get. They already exist and can be found in most university libraries or online. Much existing data are standardized, thus making it easier to compare one set of data with another. Problems associated with using existing data are that the researcher must use the format provided. For example, a researcher studying poverty would be frustrated with the census before 1970 because there was no poverty rate information documented before 1965.

experimental method

The experiment offers a high degree of exactness because one can control everything in a laboratory setting. Variables can be precisely studied. The natural sciences and Psychology uses this approach most often. It is easier to define independent and dependent variables in experiments.  As a result, it is also easier to determine cause and effect. One disadvantage with the experiment in studying social phenomena is that the environment is contrived. People do not normally carry out their lives in a laboratory setting. Ethical issues may also arise when performing experiments on people. The Nazi death-camp experiments represent extreme instances of ethical violation. Even in ordinary, university-type experiments deception and misinformation are often employed. Many consider these ethical violations.

crude birth rate

The crude birth rate is the number of live births in a given year for every thousand people in a population.

crude death rate

The crude death rate is the number of deaths in a given year for every thousand people in a population.

infant mortality rate

The infant mortality rate is used to refer to the number of deaths among children under one year of age for every thousand live births in a given year.

poverty line

The poverty line is determined by the Social Security Administration and is based on the minimum amount of income needed to provide for the basic necessities of life.  The poverty line is computed by multiplying the cost of a basic nutritionally adequate diet by 3.

sex ratio

The sex ratio in a population refers to the number of men to women and might be calculated by the following:  (Men/Women)*100

metropolitan area

A metropolitan area is that of a core area containing a large population nucleus, together with adjacent communities having a high degree of economic and social integration with that core

2.       Demonstrate an understanding of the major
theoretical perspectives employed in the discipline.

sociological perspective

The sociological perspective is an approach to understanding behavior by placing behavior within its broader social context. (E.g., In applying the sociological perspective to the study of teenagers from wealthy families who are convicted of shoplifting, sociologists would be most likely to focus on the impact of the larger culture and the social world on teenager’s criminal behavior.)

sociological imagination

The sociological imagination involves understanding one's own situation in terms of conditions that are laid down in the past.  C. Wright Mills, an American sociologist, notes that all of our life chances are shaped by the intersections of our own personal biographies and history.  E.g., some one may engage their sociological imagination by looking at historical events that have occurred over the past fifty years and how they have affected their own life.

functionalist perspective

Understanding society from a functionalist perspective is to visualize society as a system of integrated parts where all the parts act together even though each part may be doing different things. Each part is necessary for the survival of the system. A primary purpose of all parts (institutions like the police, the mass media, education, religion, the family) is to encourage consensus and stability. Functionalists contend that social systems tend toward balance.  Functionalist theory is macro in nature in that it explores very large social relations such as relations between classes, institutions, or nation states.

conflict perspective

Conflict theorists see society less as a cohesive system and more as an arena of conflict, contradictions, and power struggles. Instead of people working together to further the goals of the "social system," people are seen achieving their will at the expense of others. Social change occurs as people seek shares of scarce resources, resources such as power, prestige, or wealth. Most social institutions serve the interests of the powerful. Change occurs as people, groups, and institutions confront contradictions in objective and subjective reality. For example, ideology suggests that everyone has an equal chance at economic advancement, but very few poor people rise very far within the class structure.  Violence sometimes results from inequality and as people compete for scarce resources.  Karl Marx was a conflict theorist who saw class conflict as the engine that drives human history.  Marx further argued that class conflict was at the core of human progress.  Conflict theory is also a macro theory with heavy emphasis on relationships between social classes or other large groups of people (e.g., racial and ethnic groups).

symbolic interactionist perspective

The scope of investigation for these sociologists is very small. Interaction is generally face-to-face and addresses “everyday” interactions between people. Interactionists are interested in the way individuals and small groups act toward, respond to, and influence one another in society. This perspective is not interested in macro-institutions like the economy and nation-states.  The interactionist perspective is decidedly micro in nature.  It explores small-scale social relationships like those between individuals or within small groups (e.g., families).

power elite

The power elite are a few very wealthy individuals who control the economy, production, and the political system.  C. Wright Mills in The Power Elite (1956) points to three social structures where power is centered. The first of these structures is the economy. Boards of directors of transnational corporations dictate policy to the capitalist world. The second seat of power lies in the political apparatus of the United States, which primarily consists of the President and his close advisors (who Mills calls the "men of higher immorality"). The third seat of power rests in the hands of the United States military (who Mills called "the warlords.")

Power associated with these three social structures is telescoped by the linking of major institutions, which have become dominated by two or three hundred giant corporations (Mills, 1956:5). Power and control continually experience centralization. Other social institutions like the church, the family, and education are shaped by decisions of the executive, the economy, and the military.

culture of poverty

Oscar Lewis, author of La Vita (1965), coined the term "Culture of Poverty" (also see Edward C. Banfield, The Unheavenly City Revisited, 1974). The essence of Culture of Poverty theory holds that poor people share deviant cultural characteristics. The poor have lifestyles that differ from the rest of society and that these characteristics perpetuate their life of poverty. According to the Culture of Poverty thesis (in Eitzen and Baca-Zinn, 1994:173) "the poor are qualitatively different in values and that these cultural differences explain continued poverty."  They are more permissive parents, less verbal, more fatalistic, and less likely to defer gratification.  They are not interested in formal education either.

Eitzen and Baca-Zinn (1994:173) maintain that there is a strong implication embedded in the Culture of Poverty that defects in the lifestyle of the poor [cultural deprivation] perpetuate poverty. Such defects are passed from one generation to the next. Under these circumstances it is extremely difficult for people, once trapped by the Culture of Poverty, to escape poverty.

Characteristics that typify the Culture of Poverty exist across a variety of racial and ethnic groups. While these characteristics are certainly present in poverty populations, Culture of Poverty Theory leaves the impression that they typify all poor people. The Culture of Poverty theory avoids structural explanations for poverty which target social arrangements as the culprit.  The C or P blames those who are poor.

colonial theory

Colonial theory argues that race was used by the dominant group in society to oppress a racial minority. Racial distinctions are made based on the type of labor the oppressed group performs.


System-blame explanations for social problems are based on the assumption that social problems result from social conditions.  Using the system-blame approach, one might argue that social problems result from the inequitable distribution of power in society. Solutions to social problems involve changing the social conditions that cause harm to individuals. For example, proponents of the system-blame approach might advocate prison education programs to improve the literacy of those who have been incarcerated.

3.       Demonstrate an understanding of
how social class affects individual life chances.


Poverty in the United States "officially" refers to people who fall below the "official poverty line."  In general, however, poverty is a complex subject that depends on not only official definitions, but on the perspectives of people as well as the physical location of people.

One common perspective on poverty is to compare the percentage (or rate) of people in poverty from one group or another.  When one explores rates of poverty, one is often directed toward the high poverty rates of women with children (no husband present) or the high poverty rates experienced by people of color.

When one explores the actual numbers of poor people, one finds that the race of the majority of poor people is white. Whites have a lower proportion of people in poverty than other racial groups, but because there are so many more whites in U.S. society, their lower poverty rate still translates into larger numbers of poor people.

When one investigates poverty by age, one learns that children (under age 18) are most likely to be poor.  On the other hand, people who are 65 years old and older are least likely to be poor.  (At least this is the perspective based on the "official definition of poverty."  Many of the elderly live slightly above the poverty line so they are technically not poor, but they are still in need.)

feminization of poverty

Feminization of poverty refers to the trend whereby women are disproportionately represented among individuals living in poverty (Kendall, 1998:34-35) (also see Eitzen, 2000:181).


Meritocracy is a system of social inequality in which social standing corresponds to personal ability or effort.  Meritocracies are fluid in that people can move up or down in a stratification system.

new poor

The new poor are the poor who are displaced by new technologies or whose jobs have moved away to the suburbs, to other regions of the country, or out of the country.  The new poor have little hope of breaking out of poverty.

old poor

The old poor are the poor of an earlier generation, who had hopes of breaking out of poverty because unskilled and semiskilled jobs were plentiful.

severely poor

The severely poor (the poor-poor) are people whose cash incomes are at half the poverty line or less.

social classes

Social classes are categories of people who have similar access to resources and opportunities.  People in a given social class share a similar position in a stratification system.

social stratification

Social stratification is a system by which society ranks categories of people in a hierarchy.  It's the division of society into layers based on some socioeconomic criteria such as wealth or income.


The underclass refers to poor people who live in areas with high concentrations of poverty and few opportunities to improve their lives.  People in the underclass are perpetually poor.


Wealth is the total economic worth owned by a person or family.   Wealth is a combination of income and assets.  Income is the salary or wages from a job, plus earnings from investments or other sources.   Assets refer to property, stocks, bonds, or other possessions.


Wealthfare is government subsidies to the nonpoor.  Most government expenditures for human resource programs go to the nonpoor. This includes moneys spent on public education for children and Social Security and Medicare for the elderly. 

There are two hidden welfare systems that benefit the wealthy as well. Many wealthy individuals and corporations often pay lower taxes or no taxes at all. For example, the government allows homeowners to deduct from their taxes estate taxes and interest on mortgages. The money saved via tax breaks is four times larger than all funding for low income housing. Only about a quarter of Americans in the top income bracket receive these tax breaks (Eitzen, 2000:188). 

The second form of hidden welfare to the wealthy comes in the form of direct subsidies and credit assistance to corporations, banks, agribusiness, defense, etc.


Welfare is government monies or services provided to the poor.

4.       Demonstrate an understanding of social structure
and how it shapes and influences social interactions.

demographic transition theory

Modern demographic transition is a three-stage pattern of population change that occurs as societies industrialize and urbanize.  It is one of the most popular population theory is demographic transition (Weeks, 1996:77-80). It is a model that explains population dynamics of European / American industrial societies. It traditionally is presented in three phases.

a. Phase One:

High birth and high death rates characterize the first phase of Demographic Transition. Examples of nations that are in the first phase are Ethiopia, Angola, and Nigeria.

b. Phase Two:

High birth rates also characterize the second phase of demographic transition, but so do low death rates. Death rates decline because of better health conditions, improved medicine, better food, etc. Nations that are in the second phase include most of today's Third World countries. Rapid population growth characterizes this phase.

c. Phase Three:

Low birth rates, low death rates, and a stable population characterize the third phase. This phase includes most of Europe, Japan and The United States. Parents are encouraged to keep families small, in part, because children become an economic burden in advanced industrial societies.  People are less dependent on their children as a personal labor force.  Later in life, the state provides for social security.

structural explanations for poverty

Structural explanations for poverty explore the effect of social arrangements that create poverty.  Included in structural explanations would be things like institutional discrimination and the characteristics of the political economy that may encourage inequality.


Gender is the meaning society attaches to being female or male. Gender is a social identity.  It is defined culturally.

gender roles approach

The gender roles approach is the assertion that males and females differ because of socialization.

gender structure approach

The gender structure approach is the assertion that males and females differ because of factors external to them such as the organization of social institutions.

institutional discrimination (racism)

Institutional discrimination refers to social processes that, intentionally or not, protect the advantages of the dominant group while maintaining the unequal position of the subordinate group.  Institutional discrimination (racism) refers to discrimination that is entrenched in the established and customary social arrangements that exclude on the basis of race.   Institutional discrimination is insidious and, therefore, difficult to rectify. Institutional discrimination resides within the fabric of society. Harrington (1984) poetically called institutional discrimination "structures of misery." Eitzen and Baca-Zinn (1994:174) describe institutional discrimination as "the customary ways of doing things, prevailing attitudes and expectations, and accepted structural arrangements [that] works to the disadvantage [of the poor]." Institutional discrimination explains much inequality in gender (and race and ethnicity) found in the workplace.


Capitalism is an economic system based on private ownership of property, guided by the seeking of maximum profits.  Capitalism is one of two methods that industrial societies use to organize their economic activities.  Capitalism is based on the following assumptions.

1. private ownership of property

Individuals are encouraged to own not only private possessions, but the capital to buy more possessions (see Eitzen and Baca-Zinn, 1998:356-57).

2. pursuit of maximum profit

Individuals are encouraged to maximize their personal gains. Seeking personal gain is morally and socially appropriate. It's the position of Adam Smith that this has many beneficial consequences for Americans.

3. free competition

This is the element that keeps out profit seeking in check. In a competitive society, if one agent raises prices too high, then others will step in to sell goods more cheaply. Fraud is thus weeded out and the market is stabilized.

4. laissez-faire government

Laissez-faire government is a government that does not intervene in the economy.

Capitalism contributes to the persistence of poverty because employers keep wages low to the point that many workers-wages are below the poverty line.  Further, it keeps wages low requires by ensuring a surplus of unemployed people. Finally, employers make investment decisions without regard for their employees.


Socialism is an economic system in which the means of production are owned by the people for their collective benefit. There are five principles of socialism (as presented by Eitzen and Baca-Zinn, 1998:358-59) follow:

1. true socialism must be democratic

Representatives of a socialist state must be answerable to the wishes of the public who is ultimately making the decisions and whose interests are ultimately being served.

2. it must be egalitarian

There must be equality of opportunity for all and decision-making should not be hierarchical. Equal opportunity for the self fulfillment of all; rather than hierarchy in decision making; and equality in sharing the benefits of society.

3. socialism is a community

Cooperation should characterize social relationships, not competition.

4. socialism is public ownership of the means of production

The people own basic industries, financial institutions, utilities, transportation, and communication

5. socialism is planning for a common purpose

Society should direct social activities to meet common goals. The society is organized to provide at the least possible individual and collective cost. The goal is serving the public, not making profit.

5.       Demonstrate an understanding of cross-cultural differences
and an understanding of the importance of cultural context.


Assimilation is the process by which minorities gradually adopt the cultural patterns of the majority population.

Assimilation is the process of being absorbed into the mainstream of the dominate culture.  The assimilation model demands that other groups conform to the dominant culture. New comers are to be socialized into the dominant culture that is already present. It isn't unusual for newly arriving immigrants to change their name to match those names in the dominant culture (e.g., a new immigrant from Eastern Europe might ask people to call him Joe).

Related to assimilation is the amalgamation model [melting-pot theory] that sees the dominant culture as a conglomeration of all groups in society. Each group actively desires to be a part of the dominant culture and makes an important contribution to the whole.

pluralism (multiculturalism)

Pluralism is a state in which people of all racial and ethnic categories have roughly equal social standing. In a pluralist society unique groups coexist side by side. The uniqueness of each group is considered a trait worth having in the dominant culture. Note our fascination with unique cultures.

Example: American Indians in Santa Fe selling art work.

The consequence of living in a pluralist society is recognition and tolerance of cultural and ethnic diversity.

racial formation

Racial formation is the sociohistorical process by which definitions of races are continually being created, shaped and transformed.


Segregation is the physical and social separation of categories of people.  It is often imposed on the minority group by the majority group.

environmental racism

Eitzen (2000:98) uses environmental racism and environmental classism to describe the greater likelihood that the poor and racial and ethnic minorities will encounter various kinds of pollution. They are more susceptible than are the nonpoor to excessive noise, foul air, or toxic chemicals such as lead poisoning.  They live closer to toxic dumps and toxic plants.


Nativism refers to hostility toward immigrants and efforts to restrict their rights.

affirmative action

Affirmative action refers to policies intended to improve the social standing of minorities who have been subjected to historical prejudice and discrimination.  The term Affirmative Action was first used by LBJ in an executive order in 1967 regarding employment with agencies in the federal government.  The order said

"The contractor will not discriminate against any employee or applicant because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  The contractor will take affirmative action to ensure that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 

Farley (2000:491) notes that subsequent orders call for contractors to correct deficiencies and thus increase the number of women and minorities.  The subsequent orders further called for a specific set of goals and a timetable that would serve as a measure of success in the efforts to hire more minorities.

It was under the Reagan and Bush administrations where affirmative action was portrayed as a "quota" system.


Discrimination refers to actions against a group of people.


Ethnicity refers to culturally distinctive characteristics based on items such as common language, religion, national origin, dietary practices, etc. In any case, culture is learned.


Genocide is the systematic killing of one category of people by another.  Genocide is a form of extermination.

majority group

A majority group is the dominant group in society.  The majority group has greater power, privilege, and prestige than other groups.

minority group

A minority group is a subordinate group in society.  A minority is a category of people who lack power, privilege, and prestige in social, political or economic spheres. Minorities must always be understood in relation to others in the social structure. A minority groups lacks power, prestige, and privilege in relation to others. They are unable to achieve their will. They lack resources to support their own interests effectively.


Prejudice refers to any rigid and irrational generalization about an entire category of people.  Prejudice, however, can refer to a positive or a negative attitude or belief directed toward certain people based on their membership in a particular group. The root word of prejudice is "pre-judge."


A race is a socially constructed category of people who share biologically transmitted traits that a society defines as important.