A cross-cultural comparative analysis of levels of social development and gender stratification

by Helen Elisabeth Wells

Institution: Oberlin College Masters Theses
Department: Sociology
Degree: MA
Year: 1986
Keywords: Gender Studies; Sociology; gender; stratification; inequality; social
Record ID: 1614615
Full text PDF: http://rave.ohiolink.edu/etdc/view?acc_num=obgrad1335884169


There is a current debate in social science literature, inMarxist theory, and in Feminist theory on the role of gender inaffecting the form of inequality. Particular emphasis is placedon the controversy over whether or not women suffer universalexploitation and oppression. The debate over the role of genderin the stratification process is further complicated by adivision in orientation: some consider gender inequality to beconditioned by relations of production or distribution that arisehistorically, and therefore are not universal (Engles 1968;Friedl 1978; Sacks 1974; Sanday 1974); while others trace itultimately to fundamental biological differences, which areuniversal (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 comparativestudies. The findings have suggested that gender may be animportant variable in all systems of stratification (MacCormackand Strathern 1980; Rosaldo and Lamphere 1974; Schlegel 1977;Tiger 1968). In spite of the growing support for theexistence of gender as an important variable in all systems ofstratification, there has been little large scale cross-culturalcomparative 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 relativedegree of gender inequality to levels of development by lookingat both egalitarian and stratified societies. Whereas someresearchers accept the assumption that egalitarian societiesproduce solely for subsistence (Berreman 1981; Leacock 1978)this study focuses on the assumption that relations of productioncontribute to stratification or equality. As such, egalitariansocieties may take on the role of stratification. By relying on the extensive geographical, social andeconomic information contained in the Ethnographic Atlas, theresearch questions examine if there is a positive correlationbetween degrees of gender inequality and levels of development.If there are few correlations between gender inequality andlevels of development it will be useful to examine if the degreeof gender inequality is…