This assignment is due Saturday @9:00 EST
Prompt: Reflect on your journey through this course. How have your views about social problems and/or their solutions changed?
Your answer must be written in the form of at least two (2) full paragraphs, and you must respond to the answers of at least two (2) of your classmates. You will be graded on how well you considered and answered the question with reference to what you have learned in the course so far. Your instructor will also consider whether your responses to other students were a substantial contribution to the discussion.
Social Problems: Continuity and Change
Social Problems: Continuity and Change
[ A u t h o r r e m ove d a t r e q u e s t o f o r i g i n a l p u b l i s h e r ]
U N I V E R S I T Y O F M I N N E S OTA L I B R A R I E S P U B L I S H I N G E D I T I O N , 2 0 1 5 . T H I S E D I T I O N A D A P T E D F R O M A W O R K O R I G I N A L LY P R O D U C E D I N 2 0 1 0 B Y A P U B L I S H E R W H O H A S R E Q U E S T E D T H AT I T N OT R E C E I V E AT T R I B U T I O N .
M I N N E A P O L I S , M N
Social Problems: Continuity and Change by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons
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Publisher Information ix
About the Author x
Chapter 1: Understanding Social Problems
1.1 What Is a Social Problem? 2
1.2 Sociological Perspectives on Social Problems 9
1.3 Continuity and Change in Social Problems 21
1.4 Doing Research on Social Problems 25
1.5 End-of-Chapter Material 30
Chapter 2: Poverty
2.1 The Measurement and Extent of Poverty 33
2.2 Who the Poor Are: Social Patterns of Poverty 37
2.3 Explaining Poverty 46
2.4 The Consequences of Poverty 57
2.5 Global Poverty 64
2.6 Reducing Poverty 78
2.7 End-of-Chapter Material 83
Chapter 3: Racial and Ethnic Inequality
3.3 Prejudice 87
3.4 Discrimination 98
3.5 Dimensions of Racial and Ethnic Inequality 109
3.6 Explaining Racial and Ethnic Inequality 115
3.7 Reducing Racial and Ethnic Inequality 120
3.8 End-of-Chapter Material 126
3.1 Racial and Ethnic Inequality: A Historical Prelude 128
3.2 The Meaning of Race and Ethnicity 131
Chapter 4: Gender Inequality
4.1 Understanding Sex and Gender 138
4.2 Feminism and Sexism 152
4.3 Dimensions of Gender Inequality 156
4.4 Violence against Women: Rape and Sexual Assault 171
4.5 The Benefits and Costs of Being Male 177
4.6 Reducing Gender Inequality 180
4.7 End-of-Chapter Material 183
Chapter 5: Sexual Orientation and Inequality
5.1 Understanding Sexual Orientation 187
5.2 Public Attitudes about Sexual Orientation 198
5.3 Inequality Based on Sexual Orientation 208
5.4 Improving the Lives of the LGBT Community 222
5.5 End-of-Chapter Material 224
Chapter 6: Aging and Ageism
6.5 Problems Facing Older Americans 227
6.6 Reducing Ageism and Helping Older Americans 242
6.7 End-of-Chapter Material 245
6.1 The Concept and Experience of Aging 247
6.2 Perspectives on Aging 250
6.3 Life Expectancy and the Graying of Society 253
6.4 Biological and Psychological Aspects of Aging 259
Chapter 7: Alcohol and Other Drugs
7.1 Drug Use in History 266
7.2 Drugs and Drug Use Today 272
7.3 Social Patterning of Drug Use 293
7.4 Explaining Drug Use 300
7.5 Drug Policy and the War on Illegal Drugs 307
7.6 Addressing the Drug Problem and Reducing Drug Use 316
7.7 End-of-Chapter Material 320
Chapter 8: Crime and Criminal Justice
8.1 The Problem of Crime 322
8.2 Types of Crime 328
8.3 Who Commits Crime? 337
8.4 Explaining Crime 343
8.5 The Criminal Justice System 354
8.6 Reducing Crime 363
8.7 End-of-Chapter Material 368
Chapter 9: Sexual Behavior
9.6 End-of-Chapter Material 371
9.1 An Overview of Heterosexuality 373
9.2 Teenage Sex and Pregnancy 382
9.3 Abortion 393
9.4 Prostitution 406
9.5 Pornography 417
Chapter 10: The Changing Family
10.1 Overview of the Family 426
10.2 Sociological Perspectives on the Family 434
10.3 Changes and Problems in American Families 439
10.4 Families in the Future 459
10.5 End-of-Chapter Material 462
Chapter 11: Schools and Education
11.1 An Overview of Education in the United States 466
11.2 Sociological Perspectives on Education 477
11.3 Issues and Problems in Elementary and Secondary Education 484
11.4 Issues and Problems in Higher Education 498
11.5 Improving Schools and Education 506
11.6 End-of-Chapter Material 511
Chapter 12: Work and the Economy
12.1 Overview of the Economy 514
12.2 Sociological Perspectives on Work and the Economy 523
12.3 Problems in Work and the Economy 529
12.4 Improving Work and the Economy 551
12.5 End-of-Chapter Material 555
Chapter 13: Health and Health Care
13.5 Improving Health and Health Care 558
13.6 End-of-Chapter Material 563
13.1 Sociological Perspectives on Health and Health Care 565
13.2 Global Aspects of Health and Health Care 572
13.3 Problems of Health in the United States 578
13.4 Problems of Health Care in the United States 594
Chapter 14: Urban and Rural Problems
14.1 A Brief History of Urbanization 606
14.2 Sociological Perspectives on Urbanization 614
14.3 Problems of Urban Life 621
14.4 Problems of Rural Life 636
14.5 Improving Urban and Rural Life 641
14.6 End-of-Chapter Material 643
Chapter 15: Population and the Environment
15.1 Sociological Perspectives on Population and the Environment 645
15.2 Population 649
15.3 The Environment 670
15.4 Addressing Population Problems and Improving the Environment 690
15.5 End-of-Chapter Material 694
Chapter 16: War and Terrorism
16.1 Sociological Perspectives on War and Terrorism 699
16.2 War 705
16.3 Terrorism 728
16.4 Preventing War and Stopping Terrorism 736
16.5 End-of-Chapter Material 740
Please share your supplementary material! 742
Social Problems: Continuity and
Change is adapted from a work
produced and distributed under a
Creative Commons license (CC BY-
NC-SA) in 2010 by a publisher who
has requested that they and the original
author not receive attribution. This
adapted edition is produced by the University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing through the eLearning Support
This adaptation has reformatted the original text, and replaced some images and figures to make the resulting
whole more shareable. This adaptation has not significantly altered or updated the original 2010 text. This work
is made available under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.
About the Author
Social Problems: Continuity and Change is adapted from a work produced by a publisher who has requested
that they and the original author not receive attribution. This adapted edition is produced by the University of
Minnesota Libraries Publishing through the eLearning Support Initiative. Though the publisher has requested that
they and the original author not receive attribution, this adapted edition reproduces all original text and sections
of the book, except for publisher and author name attribution.
Unnamed Author is a former president of the Society for the Study of Social Problems and professor of sociology
at the University of Maine. He is the author of another Sociology: Understanding and Changing the Social
World, which won a Textbook Excellence Award from the Text and Academic Authors Association. He is also the
author of several other textbooks: (1) Criminology: A Sociological Understanding, fifth edition (Prentice Hall);
(2) Fundamentals of Criminal Justice, second edition (with George Bryjak; Jones and Bartlett); (3) Collective
Violence, second edition (with Lynne Snowden; Sloan Publishing); (4) Discovering Sociology: An Introduction
Using MicroCase ExplorIt, third edition (Wadsworth); and (5) Law and Society: An Introduction (Prentice
Hall). He has also authored more than thirty journal articles and book chapters in venues such as the American
Sociological Review; Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion; Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency;
Justice Quarterly; Mobilization; Review of Religious Research; Social Forces; Social Problems; Social Science
Quarterly; and Sociological Forum.
Unnamed Author also serves as a regional representative on the council of Alpha Kappa Delta, the international
sociology honor society, and spent seventeen years (fortunately, not all consecutive) as chair of his department.
He has received an Outstanding Faculty Award from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University
of Maine. A native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Unnamed Author has lived in Maine for the past thirty-three
years. He received his PhD in sociology from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and his BA in
sociology from Trinity College (Hartford, Connecticut), where he began to learn how to think like a sociologist
and also to appreciate the value of a sociological perspective for understanding and changing society. He sincerely
hopes that instructors and students enjoy reading this book in the format of their choice.
As always in my books, I express my personal and professional debt to two sociologists, Norman Miller and
Forrest Dill. Norman Miller was my first sociology professor in college and led me in his special way into a
discipline and profession that became my life’s calling. Forrest Dill was my adviser in graduate school and helped
me in ways too numerous to mention. His untimely death shortly after I began my career robbed the discipline of
a fine sociologist and took away a good friend.
My professional life since graduate school has been at the University of Maine, where my colleagues over the
years have nurtured my career and provided a wonderful working environment. I trust they will see their concern
for social problems reflected in the pages that follow. Thanks to them all for being who they are.
I also thank everyone at for helping bring this text to fruition and for helping today’s students afford high-quality,
peer-reviewed textbooks at a time when college costs keep rising while the economy keeps faltering. Special
thanks go to Michael Boezi, Vanessa Gennarelli, and Denise Powell, who all worked tirelessly to make this book
the best it could be. My efforts also benefited greatly from the many sociologists who reviewed some or all of the
text. These reviewers were tough but fair, and I hope they are pleased with the result. As every author should say,
any faults that remain are not the reviewers’ responsibility. I am grateful to include their names here:
• Celesta Albonetti, University of Iowa
• Anne Barrett, Florida State University
• Sarah Becker, Louisiana State University
• Laurian Bowles, Western Illinois University
• Joyce Clapp, Guilford College
• Mary Fischer, University of Connecticut
• Otis Grant, Indiana University–South Bend
• Art Houser, Fort Scott Community College
• Michael Kimmel, SUNY at Stony Brook
• Matthew Lee, University of Akron
• William Lockhart, McLennan Community College
• Brea Perry, University of Kentucky
• Nancy Reeves, Rowan University
• Daniel Roddick, Rio Hondo College
• Debra Welkley, California State University–Sacramento
In addition to these reviewers, I would also like to thank Joel Barkan for his valuable comments that improved
Chapter 15 “Population and the Environment”’s discussion of environmental problems involving oceans and
Authors usually save the best for last in their acknowledgments, and that is the family members to whom they owe
so much. Barbara Tennent and our grown sons David and Joel have once again shared with me the joy and effort
of writing a textbook. I know they will share my gratitude when students read this text for free or at relatively low
cost. Our dog, Sadie, kept me company while I was writing the book but passed away suddenly during its final
stages. Her unique spirit and joy of life brought us much laughter and excitement (both the good kind and the bad
kind), and I hope that doggie heaven has survived her entry. The squirrels, rabbits, and birds there should watch
I have saved two family members for the very last, and they are my late parents, Morry and Sylvia Barkan. They
have been gone many years, but whatever I have achieved in my personal and professional life, I owe to them.
xii Social Problems: Continuity and Change
The founders of American sociology a century or more ago in cities like Atlanta and Chicago wanted to reduce
social inequality, to improve the lives of people of color, and more generally to find solutions to the most vexing
social problems of their times. A former president of the Society for the Study of Social Problems, A. Javier
Treviño, has used the term service sociology to characterize their vision of their new discipline. This book is
grounded in this vision by offering a sociological understanding of today’s social problems and of possible
solutions to these problems.
As this book’s subtitle, Continuity and Change, implies, social problems are persistent, but they have also
improved in the past and can be improved in the present and future, provided that our nation has the wisdom
and will to address them. It is easy to read a social problems textbook and come away feeling frustrated by the
enormity of the many social problems facing us today. This book certainly does not minimize the persistence of
social problems, but neither does it overlook the possibilities for change offered by social research and by the
activities of everyday citizens working to make a difference. Readers of this book will find many examples of
how social problems have been improved and of strategies that hold great potential for solving them today and in
Several pedagogical features help to convey the “continuity and change” theme of this text and the service
sociology vision in which it is grounded:
• Each chapter begins with a “Social Problems in the News” story related to the social problem
discussed in that chapter. These stories provide an interesting starting point for the chapter’s discussion
and show its relevance for real-life issues.
• Three types of boxes in each chapter provide examples of how social problems have been changed and
can be changed. In no particular order, a first box, “Applying Social Research,” discusses how the
findings from sociological and other social science research either have contributed to public policy
related to the chapter’s social problem or have the potential of doing so. A second box, “Lessons from
Other Societies,” discusses how another nation or nations have successfully addressed the social
problem of that chapter. A third box, “People Making a Difference,” discusses efforts by individuals,
nonprofit organizations or social change groups, or social movements relating to the chapter’s social
problem. Students will see many examples in this box of how ordinary people can indeed make a
• A fourth box in each chapter, “Children and Our Future,” examines how the social problem discussed
in that chapter particularly affects children, and it outlines the problem’s repercussions for their later
lives as adolescents and adults. This box reinforces for students the impact of social problems on
children and the importance of addressing these problems for their well-being as well as for the
• Each chapter ends with a “Using What You Know” feature that presents students with a scenario
involving the social problem from the chapter and that puts them in a decision-making role. This
feature helps connect the chapter’s theoretical discussion with potential real-life situations.
• Each chapter also ends with a “What You Can Do” feature that suggests several activities, strategies,
or other efforts that students might undertake to learn more about and/or to address the social problem
examined in the chapter. Like other aspects of the book, this feature helps counter “doom and gloom”
feelings that little can be done about social problems.
• Other pedagogical features in each chapter include Learning Objectives at the beginning of a major
section that highlight key topics to be learned; Key Takeaways at the end of a major section that
highlight important points that were discussed in the section; For Your Review questions, also at the
end of a major section, that have students think critically about that section’s discussion; and a
Summary that reviews the major points made in the chapter.
This is my second text with, I’m thrilled to be adding to their growing roster of high-quality, peer-reviewed
textbooks that are affordable in a variety of formats. If one important problem facing higher education today is
the expense of attending a college or university, it is gratifying to know that Flat World’s low-cost open model is
successfully addressing a significant component of this problem.
xiv Social Problems: Continuity and Change
Chapter 1: Understanding Social Problems
1.1 What Is a Social Problem?
1.2 Sociological Perspectives on Social Problems
1.3 Continuity and Change in Social Problems
1.4 Doing Research on Social Problems
1.5 End-of-Chapter Material
1.1 What Is a Social Problem?
1. Define “social problem.”
2. Explain the objective and subjective components of the definition of a social problem.
3. Understand the social constructionist view of social problems.
4. List the stages of the natural history of social problems.
A social problem is any condition or behavior that has negative consequences for large numbers of people and that
is generally recognized as a condition or behavior that needs to be addressed. This definition has both an objective
component and a subjective component.
The objective component is this: For any condition or behavior to be considered a social problem, it must have
negative consequences for large numbers of people, as each chapter of this book discusses. How do we know if a
social problem has negative consequences? Reasonable people can and do disagree on whether such consequences
exist and, if so, on their extent and seriousness, but ordinarily a body of data accumulates—from work by
academic researchers, government agencies, and other sources—that strongly points to extensive and serious
consequences. The reasons for these consequences are often hotly debated, and sometimes, as we shall see in
certain chapters in this book, sometimes the very existence of these consequences is disputed. A current example
is climate change: Although the overwhelming majority of climate scientists say that climate change (changes in
the earth’s climate due to the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere) is real and serious, fewer than two-
thirds of Americans (64 percent) in a 2011 poll said they “think that global warming is happening”(Leiserowitz,
et. al., 2011).
This type of dispute points to the subjective component of the definition of social problems: There must be a
perception that a condition or behavior needs to be addressed for it to be considered a social problem. This
component lies at the heart of the social constructionist view of social problems (Rubington & Weinberg, 2010).
In this view, many types of negative conditions and behaviors exist. Many of these are considered sufficiently
negative to acquire the status of a social problem; some do not receive this consideration and thus do not become
a social problem; and some become considered a social problem only if citizens, policymakers, or other parties
call attention to the condition or behavior.
Sometimes disputes occur over whether a particular condition or behavior has negative consequences and is thus a social problem. A
current example is climate change: although almost all climate scientists think climate change is real and serious, more than one-third
of the American public thinks that climate change is not happening.
Wikimedia Commons – public domain.
The history of attention given to rape and sexual assault in the United States before and after the 1970s provides
an example of this latter situation. These acts of sexual violence against women have probably occurred from the
beginning of humanity and certainly were very common in the United States before the 1970s. Although men were
sometimes arrested and prosecuted for rape and sexual assault, sexual violence was otherwise ignored by legal
policymakers and received little attention in college textbooks and the news media, and many people thought that
rape and sexual assault were just something that happened (Allison & Wrightsman, 1993). Thus although sexual
violence existed, it was not considered a social problem. When the contemporary women’s movement began in
the late 1970s, it soon focused on rape and sexual assault as serious crimes and as manifestations of women’s
inequality. Thanks to this focus, rape and sexual assault eventually entered the public consciousness, views of
these crimes began to change, and legal policymakers began to give them more attention. In short, sexual violence
against women became a social problem.
1.1 What Is a Social Problem? 3
Before the 1970s, rape and sexual assault certainly existed and were very common, but they were generally ignored and not
considered a social problem. When the contemporary women’s movement arose during the 1970s, it focused on sexual violence
against women and turned this behavior into a social problem.
Women’s e News – Placards at the Rally To Take Rape Seriously – CC BY 2.0.
The social constructionist view raises an interesting question: When is a social problem a social problem?
According to some sociologists who adopt this view, negative conditions and behaviors are not a social problem
unless they are recognized as such by policymakers, large numbers of lay citizens, or other segments of our
society; these sociologists would thus say that rape and sexual assault before the 1970s were not a social problem
because our society as a whole paid them little attention. Other sociologists say that negative conditions and
behaviors should be considered a social problem even if they receive little or no attention; these sociologists would
thus say that rape and sexual assault before the 1970s were a social problem.
This type of debate is probably akin to the age-old question: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear
it, is a sound made? As such, it is not easy to answer, but it does reinforce one of the key beliefs of the social
constructionist view: Perception matters at least as much as reality, and sometimes more so. In line with this belief,
social constructionism emphasizes that citizens, interest groups, policymakers, and other parties often compete
to influence popular perceptions of many types of conditions and behaviors. They try to influence news media
coverage and popular views of the nature and extent of any negative consequences that may be occurring, the
reasons underlying the condition or behavior in question, and possible solutions to the problem.
4 Social Problems: Continuity and Change
Sometimes a condition or behavior becomes a social problem even if there is little or no basis
for this perception. A historical example involves women in college. During the late 1800s,
medical authorities and other experts warned women not to go to college for two reasons: they
feared that the stress of college would disrupt women’s menstrual cycles, and they thought
that women would not do well on exams while they were menstruating.
CollegeDegrees360 – College Girls – CC BY-SA 2.0.
Social constructionism’s emphasis on perception has a provocative implication: Just as a condition or behavior
may not be considered a social problem even if there is strong basis for this perception, so may a condition or
behavior be considered a social problem even if there is little or no basis for this perception. The “issue” of women
in college provides a historical example of this latter possibility. In the late 1800s, leading physicians and medical
researchers in the United States wrote journal articles, textbooks, and newspaper columns in which they warned
women not to go to college. The reason? They feared that the stress of college would disrupt women’s menstrual
cycles, and they also feared that women would not do well in exams during “that time of the month” (Ehrenreich
& English, 2005)! We now know better, of course, but the sexist beliefs of these writers turned the idea of women
going to college into a social problem and helped to reinforce restrictions by colleges and universities on the
admission of women.
1.1 What Is a Social Problem? 5
In a related dynamic, various parties can distort certain aspects of a social problem that does exist: politicians
can give speeches, the news media can use scary headlines and heavy coverage to capture readers’ or viewers’
interest, businesses can use advertising and influence news coverage. News media coverage of violent crime
provides many examples of this dynamic (Robinson, 2011; Surette, 2011). The news media overdramatize violent
crime, which is far less common than property crime like burglary and larceny, by featuring so many stories about
it, and this coverage contributes to public fear of crime. Media stories about violent crime also tend to be more
common when the accused offender is black and the victim is white and when the offender is a juvenile. This type
of coverage is thought to heighten the public’s prejudice toward African Americans and to contribute to negative
views about teenagers.
The Natural History of a Social Problem
We have just discussed some of the difficulties in defining a social problem and the fact that various parties often
try to influence public perceptions of social problems. These issues aside, most social problems go through a
natural history consisting of several stages of their development (Spector & Kitsuse, 2001).
Stage 1: Emergence and Claims Making
A social problem emerges when a social entity (such as a social change group, the news media, or influential
politicians) begins to call attention to a condition or behavior that it perceives to be undesirable and in need o
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