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Most of us are accustomed to thinking of global stratification as economic inequality. For example, we can compare China’s average worker’s wage to America’s average wage. Social inequality, however, is just as harmful as economic discrepancies. Prejudice and discrimination—whether against a certain race, ethnicity, religion, or the like—can create and aggravate conditions of economic equality, both within and between nations. Think about the inequity that existed for decades within the nation of South Africa. Apartheid, one of the most extreme cases of institutionalized and legal racism, created a social inequality that earned it the world’s condemnation. When looking at inequity between nations, think also about the disregard of the crisis in Darfur by most Western nations. Since few citizens of Western nations identified with the impoverished, non-white victims of the genocide, there has been little push to provide aid.

Gender inequity is another global concern. Consider the controversy surrounding female genital mutilation. Nations that practice this female circumcision procedure defend it as a longstanding cultural tradition in certain tribes and argue that the West shouldn’t interfere. Western nations, however, decry the practice and are working to stop it.

Inequalities based on sexual orientation and gender identity exist around the globe. According to Amnesty International, there are a number of crimes committed against individuals who do not conform to traditional gender roles or sexual orientations (however those are culturally defined). From culturally sanctioned rape to state-sanctioned executions, the abuses are serious. These legalized and culturally accepted forms of prejudice and discrimination exist everywhere—from the United States to Somalia to Tibet—restricting the freedom of individuals and often putting their lives at risk (Amnesty International 2012).

Global classification

A major concern when discussing global inequality is how to avoid an ethnocentric bias implying that less developed nations want to be like those who’ve attained post-industrial global power. Terms such as developing (non-industrialized) and developed (industrialized) imply that unindustrialized countries are somehow inferior, and must improve to participate successfully in the global economy, a label indicating that all aspects of the economy cross national borders. We must take care in how we delineate different countries. Over time, terminology has shifted to make way for a more inclusive view of the world.

Cold war terminology

Cold War terminology was developed during the Cold War era (1945–1980). Familiar and still used by many, it involves classifying countries into first world, second world, and third world nations based on respective economic development and standards of living. When this nomenclature was developed, capitalistic democracies such as the U.S. and Japan were considered part of the first world    . The poorest, most undeveloped countries were referred to as the third world    and included most of sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and Asia. The second world    was the in-between category: nations not as limited in development as the third world, but not as well off as the first world, having moderate economies and standard of living, such as China or Cuba. Later, sociologist Manual Castells (1998) added the term fourth world    to refer to stigmatized minority groups that were denied a political voice all over the globe (indigenous minority populations, prisoners, and the homeless, for example).

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Source:  OpenStax, Global sociology. OpenStax CNX. May 20, 2014 Download for free at https://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11658/1.2
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