Social Change in the United States:
The System of Equality and Inequality
1. Introduction: A Theoretical Model of Change
In this chapter I analyze the development of the social systems of equality and inequality in America in terms of Parsonian action theory. I start with the assumption that every system of equality or inequality in communal, political, economic, and cultural realms—inasmuch as it is stable and has a binding, normative quality on the members of society—is rooted in the traditional relationships of equality or inequality among individuals and groups in society. It is also rooted in the traditional right of membership in society (rights of citizenship), the traditional everyday associations of individuals and groups, and the traditional beliefs in the natural equality or inequality of people.
In my first section on the systems of equality and inequality in America I give a description of the system of equality of relationships, associations, right, and beliefs among the settlers in New England. But I also show that from the beginning the South established a different traditional and normatively binding model, a model of inequality in economic, political, cultural, and communal terms. Thus, the United States is based on two conflicting traditions, one favoring equality (conceived in terms of equal opportunity), the other favoring inequality. The conflict between these two traditions has been a major factor hindering the establishment of a societal community that embraces society as a whole. It also explains why American society has often broken apart into different societal groups.
My second assumption is that the traditional system of equality of the New England colonies (and later, states) was counteracted by factors
I am grateful to Neil Johnson for translating the original German version of this chapter.
arising from societal growth: Economic growth leads to economic differentiation and inequality, political growth leads to the differentiation of access to political decision making, cultural growth leads to cultural diversity and the unequal evaluation of cultural ways of life, and associational growth leads to the differentiation of society into different social groups and minorities. A decisive factor in changing the traditional New England system of equality to a system of inequality has been the continuous process of the immigration of new ethnic, radical, religious, and national groups to the United States. This process resulted in a society of unequals amid a cultural system in which belief in the equality of opportunity remained, even though that belief changed from the notion of absolute equality to an ideology that legitimized the oppression of the unsuccessful minorities by the successful majority. The Southern model of inequality was sustained by the growing inequality in society, which reached a point at which the Southern culture began to dominate the national culture. The victory of the Northern states in the Civil War laid the foundations for the Northern idea of the equality of opportunity to successfully assert itself as society developed, but this idea is in constant conflict with the Southern culture, which is increasingly important because of the present-day movement to the sunbelt.
My third assumption is that "unintended" factors in a society can moderate inequality. Among these factors are economic abundance, opportunities for political participation in local affairs, uniform formal education, and social inclusion. The way these factors work in America is demonstrated in the third section.
My fourth assumption is that there are intentional actions in society that are motivated by the tension between the cultural idea of the equality of opportunity and the social reality of inequality. The logic of cultural discourse leads some to take the idea of equality to its logical extreme and to claim that every existing inequality is illegitimate and evil. However, inasmuch as other ideas, such as the idea of individualism, are involved in this discourse, there are limits to how far the idea of equality can be carried. In the United States the idea of equality becomes limited to the idea of equal opportunity.
In this context I discuss the Supreme Court's role in interpreting basic cultural ideas and its role in the change from racial segregation to desegregation. I examine how the discourse on cultural ideas has shaped the social system of equal/unequal relationships. Insofar as cultural discourse becomes involved in political decision making, it will be controversial and needs the support of dynamic forces, that is, social movements. Here the role of the civil rights movements is of primary interest. But policies aiming at the equality of opportunity also require economic resources, such as programs of affirmative action. Nothing
will change in everyday life, however, if people do not accept that change and are not prepared to associate communally with formerly excluded groups. Therefore, inclusion is also needed. School busing can be interpreted as forced inclusion. The level of communal association is the level where change is the slowest. But when it changes toward more equality the new system achieves the character of a normatively binding system. The day-to-day association of the younger generations in the educational system is a factor that can bring about a new belief in equality amid the tremendous cultural diversity that characterizes the present-day United States. The New England model of the association of homogeneous equals may be replaced by the association of heterogeneous equals.
2. The Principle of Equal Opportunity
The 1776 Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal and are vested with certain inalienable rights by the Creator, including the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In America this idea of human equality was never developed into the idea of socialism or communism. It has always been embraced together with the idea of freedom and individualism. The communist ideal "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs," as formulated by Marx, was never able to gain a foothold on American soil (Marx 1962:21).
The idea that everyone should receive equal rewards—income, power, prestige—regardless of his or her own individual performance is anathema to Americans. The primary American conviction is that people are the architects of their own fortunes. Equal distribution of society's riches without reference to individual performance is an idea that is irreconcilable with such a conviction. It deprives the individual of the right to take control over his or her own fate. The Declaration of Independence speaks not of the equal distribution of happiness but of the equal right to seek one's happiness (Ginsberg 1967; Eidelberg 1967; Murray 1964; Becker 1958). If the individual's happiness is something imparted by society or the state, then the individual has lost the right to personally seek that happiness and to achieve it in greater measure the more assiduously he or she seeks it.
Equal rights in this sense means that no one may be hindered from autonomously striving for happiness. Initially, this simply meant that no laws were permitted that excluded individuals or particular groups from the ability to make quest. This signified above all that no one should be denied access to the market as a result of privileges granted to others by the state. Accordingly, equality of opportunities came to be seen more in terms of the state refraining from intervention in economic
competition than in terms of the state involving itself by granting privileges to certain persons or groups. The quest for happiness was chiefly understood as a quest for wealth. As a rule, therefore, Americans spoke of three basic rights: to life, freedom, and property.
The meaning of equality in relationship to liberty is that everyone possesses the same rights to freedom, and each in turn can make either more or less extensive use of this right. Every individual is entitled to freedom of expression. All do not, however, participate in public discussion in the same way, and every opinion is not treated as being equally correct. The same is true of the freedom of communal association. No one may, de jure, be denied access at the outset from communities, which might be clubs or associations, religious communities, academic communities, or political constituencies. This does not, however, imply that everyone, de facto, really becomes a member of these communal groupings. The requirement is simply that membership should be attached to qualifications that anyone can gain. Everyone also has an equal right to engage in political activity even though not everyone actually takes part in the political decision-making process and not everyone carries the same amount of influence. Individual or groups simply may not be excluded from such processes a priori.
Similarly, the equality of the right to life does not mean categorically that no one may lose his or her life. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees that no one may be made to forfeit life, freedom, or property without due process of law. The "equal guarantee of life" accordingly signifies that the death penalty, for example, may not be imposed on individuals arbitrarily and without equal due process and also that it should be reserved for the most serious crimes. A further aspect of the equal right to life is that it includes everyone's right to the same police protection against crime and the guarantee that all will be treated equally in the procedure for drafting people into the armed forces. How safe, within this broad framework, the individual chooses to make his or her own life, whether to ensure a greater amount of protection against sickness or accident or be content with less, remains a matter for him or her to decide. Both life and freedom, then, are only guaranteed each individual to the same degree that everyone has the right to preserve his or her life and to strive for freedom. No a priori measures taken or laws passed by the state should create any inequalities with respect to the pursuit of these goals.
Equality, therefore, is interpreted as equal opportunity with regard to life, freedom, property, and happiness but not as actual equality in the distribution of property, happiness, longevity, and freedom to do as one pleases (Laslett and Lipset 1974; Lipset 1974). The state is expected not to stand in the individual's way as he or she strives for these goods and
not to grant privileges to certain people at the expense of others. And the state is not expected to distribute goods equally. Such involvement by the state would be tantamount to the withdrawal of the right to individual striving for life, freedom, property, and happiness. State involvement would violate the principle of the equality of opportunity because an equal distribution of the goods of life among all people regardless of their effort and performance would rob the individual of the opportunity to perform better and hence acquire more of these goods that bring happiness. Individual effort and performance would be unequally rewarded. Those producing more effort and performance would be at a disadvantage relative to those producing less.
When considering this radically individualistic conception of the equality of opportunity, one must of course take into account the image of society that served as its basis. This was an image of society as a union of independent property owners who have no fundamental differences of opportunity among themselves when they compete with each other to expand their property (Berthoff 1971). No one was exceedingly rich or exceedingly poor. Differences in income and wealth were sufficiently limited that there were no conflicting classes of the privileged and the disadvantaged. Some were naturally more successful than others, but success or lack of it was purely a matter of individual fate and was never a collective experience of separately delimited estates, classes, or strata.
Those who were either unable or not permitted to take part in the competition to achieve success were cared for within the family: women, children, the aged, the sick, the infirm, and of course the slaves. The entire philosophy of the equality of opportunity applied solely to economically independent, male enfranchised citizens. Although the fact that slaves were excluded from civil rights was a thorn in the flesh of the new society—and was also the focus of both criticism and bad conscience on the part of liberals such as Jefferson and Madison—it nevertheless did not disturb the image of the equality of opportunity as it applied in general because slaves, like women, children, the aged, and the sick, were also under guardianship of a head of the family who would be able to hold his own amid the competition.
In this context a conception of the equality of opportunity was born in which the state was only involved in a negative sense. The state was not permitted to intervene by granting privileges in the competition between full citizens who, for all intents and purpose, were equal. Had it done so, then this would have created inequality between those who otherwise were equal. The equality of opportunity was ensured by way of the male full citizens' equal rights to participate in societal competition. Under such circumstances few could even conceive that the state should actively
intervene to assist those who had to compete with a more limited endowment of means and abilities.
To this day this "ultraliberal" philosophy of the equality of opportunity has remained an essential element of American thinking. It is at the core of the tough conservative opposition to measures taken by the state designed to actively establish the equality of opportunity. Although today's liberals propound such an activist state policy, particularly in the area of education policy, conservatives see in this the danger that individual freedom, self-responsibility, and initiative will be destroyed by state tutelage and surveillance. Conservatives take this position even though the conditions of the equality of opportunity have changed fundamentally from those that originally prevailed during the course of societal development.
In the course of these changes, there has also been a concomitant transformation in the way that Americans assess the state's role in establishing equality of opportunity. More and more Americans have come to see the state as having the task of actively creating equality of opportunity (Berthoff 1971). This is a basic liberal conviction today, and even conservatives do not fundamentally reject state intervention, although they would like to see it restricted to a low level. However, this transformation in the role of the state by no means signifies a complete turnaround in favor of the collective establishment of equality. In the prevailing public opinion even industrialization and the increased pluralism of racial, ethnic, and religious groups have not made success or failure into a uniform collective experience. As always, success and failure are interpreted as the fate of individuals. And whatever degree of acceptance state programs aimed at creating equality of opportunity now have, these programs are understood primarily as support for individuals, not as a means to even out the distribution of goods.
Although there is now agreement about the state taking an active role in establishing equality of opportunity, the role the state is expected to take is predominantly restricted to establishing a balance in the starting conditions for the race to achieve success. This state role applies in equal fashion whether the guarantee of equality concerned is in the communal, economic, political, or cultural spheres.
Communal equality means that anyone can associate communally with anyone else and can enter into social relations with anyone else on an equal basis. No exclusive communities exist to which only the few, perhaps by virtue of their birth, are admitted, and there is no hierarchy of estates with differing rights. When understood in terms of equality of opportunity, equality in this sphere means that no one should be refused admission de jure to communal associations. But it does not mean that everyone is also able de facto to take up communal relations everywhere
and with all others. That there is openness in social relations and in the membership of associational groupings does not mean that those without prior qualification may join. It does, however, imply that the criteria for qualification have to be defined such that no one is excluded through birth. Not everyone is able to become a member of the society of attorneys but everyone who was attained the necessary occupational qualification should be able to. More specifically, equality of social opportunity implies that equal opportunities are available to associate with others, to take up everyday social relations, to develop a style of life, and to meet in public places such as restaurants, shopping centers, sporting events, or the theater.
Economic equality means that all have a share in society's material wealth and no one is excluded from economic opportunity. Applying the notion of equality of opportunity, the key matter is to ensure that everyone is able to join the race for economic success and that no one is prohibited de jure from participating. Above all else, state guarantees of economic privileges are prohibited. What is not covered by this concept of economic equality of opportunity is the actual equal distribution of material goods. Anyone can take part in market competition but the success achieved need not be the same in each case. Specific aspects of economic equality of opportunity are equal rewards for equal achievement, equal opportunities to gain access to occupations and acquire occupational qualifications, and the provision of compensation for disadvantages via insurance and social welfare payments.
Political equality must be seen as equality in the selection and application of collective decisions. No one is excluded from the process and no one is granted privileges. When conceived of as equality of opportunity, the concern here is that the political process should be open to all who seek to put themselves in a position where they can exert political authority but not that the distribution of political decision-making competence should actually be equal. Specifically, political equality of opportunity encompasses equal opportunity to participate in the political decision-making process and to be given a hearing when political matters are under discussion, a body of law that is equal for all and is applied in the same way for all, and equal treatment for all by administrative bodies and the police.
Cultural equality should be interpreted as equality to participate in society's cultural discourses. In this context equality of opportunity means that all have the same chance to say their own piece in cultural discourse but not that every argument is equally valid. Some individual aspects inherent in the cultural equality of opportunity include the equal chance to intervene in intellectual discussions, to have access to educational institutions, to attain an education, and to carry out professional roles.
In all these dimensions of equality America has undergone a farreaching process of development. Initially, social equality in New England coexisted with major inequalities in the Southern states. Industrialization, discrimination against blacks and other minorities, and the immigration of different groups produced a society harboring substantial inequalities, one that was a contradiction to the idea of equality. Present-day liberalism is aimed at addressing the increasing rift between the idea of equality and the reality of inequality. The negative definition of the equality of opportunity, in which the state refrains from involvement in the process of free competition, is making for an approach in which the state is attributed an active role in creating equality of opportunity.
3. The Idea of Equality and Societal Inequality in America
From the beginning the New England states had the strongest air of social equality, even if it only applied to religiously qualified, male full citizens. Especially in the early period in Massachusetts, a sharp line of distinction was drawn between those with and those without the right religious credentials. In time, however, the distinction was increasingly abandoned. In Connecticut and Rhode Island all adult males were taken into both the religious and the political communities. The full citizens in this society were farmers, merchants, lawyers, doctors, and preachers, all of whom were independent and possessed relatively ample means (Berthoff 1971). This society of equally ranking citizens with equal rights was fundamentally different from the European societies of the time, which were still divided into estates, classes, and strata, each with quite different rights and each with its own consciousness as a community that shared a collective fate. This social equality was one of the first characteristics Tocqueville noticed when he visited the New England states:
But all the immigrants who came to settle on the shores of New England belonged to the well-to-do classes at home. From the start, when they came together on American soil, they presented the unusual phenomenon of a society in which there were no great lords, no common people, and, one may almost say, no rich or poor. (Tocqueville [1835–40] 1966)
The members of this society were Puritans. The religious bond between them and the common awareness that they were living for the idea of a religiously ordered society strengthened their sense of social equality in quite a special way.
Later, at the time of the founding of the United States, Thomas Jefferson also regarded basic equality as an essential prerequisite for the proper functioning of the Constitution. He believed that the individual
enjoyment of equal rights was best preserved in a society of independent farmers. Initially, he took a dim view of the development of large-scale manufacturing because it creates a class of dependent wage-earning laborers unable to lay claim autonomously to their own rights. Later, however, he was forced to admit that, in the interests of its economic strength, the United States could not do without the development of industry.
The immigrants to the Southern colonies were different in character and came to America for different reasons than the Northern immigrants. Although some settlers had religious motives, even in Virginia, settlement was undertaken primarily for economic reasons. The introduction of slavery in 1620 and the development of large-scale plantation operations created a different society in the South. Equality only applied within a relatively small governing stratum of large plantation owners, who were attempting to imitate aristocratic conditions. A clear differentiation between a higher and a lower stratum soon crystallized in the South, making inequality both an omnipresent hallmark of the society and a collectively experienced phenomenon. Thus, social relations were fundamentally equal in the North but paternalistic and authoritarian in the South (Tocqueville [1835–40] 1966; Berthoff 1971; Dollard  1957; Graven 1949; Gray 1958; Morgan 1975; Ratner, Soltow, and Sylla 1979; McGill 1963).
The contrast between North and South in the structuring of social relations is visible to this day and can be observed in all spheres, whether between farm owners or industrialists and their employees, politicians and their electorate, or teachers and their pupils. This disparity, in combination with the differences of interest between industry in the North and plantations in the South, was the basis on which the Civil War was fought between 1861 and 1865. Even today it represents a fundamental antithesis, as has been evident in the wake of the desegregation policy pursued since the end of the 1950s by the Supreme Court and Congress. The conflict has been carried to such an extent that some Southern state governors, such as George Wallace of Alabama, have openly resisted Supreme Court decisions on desegregation (Wilson 1980)
Today in the South blacks remain socially excluded wherever there is a chance, even in opposition to the policies of federal government and the federal courts, and are treated, through informal channels at least, as second-class citizens. Immigrants from Latin America, especially from Mexico, whose numbers grow by the day, are treated in a similar fashion.
Social equality, then, is still primarily an ideal held in the Northern part of the country. Inequality is far more in evidence in the South, where the prevailing public opinion among those in privileged positions is to attempt to maintain that inequality. The democratic party had to
push through its entire civil rights policy, as well as all the welfare policies of the 1960s and 1970s, not so much against the Republican party as against the dogged resistance of their own representatives in the South, who voted against these policies as a matter of principle (Wilson 1980). Hence the disparity between North and South remains a constant danger to the cohesion of the community.
Developments in the North also brought fundamental changes to the original society of equal-ranking property owners. By the time the United States was founded differences existed between the farmers and the owners of capital, that is, merchants and the bankers. Nevertheless it is an exaggeration to derive, as Charles A. Beard attempted, the shape and content of the American Constitution from these differing interests that were not equal in all respects, and to see in the Constitution the dominance of the capitalists' interests (Beard  1968). This hypothesis is not backed up by fact and certainly finds no confirmation in the interests of the founders of the Constitution (Brown 1956; Wilson 1980).
Far-reaching changes occurred with the development of industrial capitalism and its corporations, and with the continuing revolutionary changes in technology, communications, and services. Another decisive factor producing major changes was the immigration of totally different racial, ethnic, and religious groups. The stream of immigrants reached its highest levels in the first decades of the twentieth century but ebbed after annual immigration quotas for specific groups were set in 1924. Since then the inflow of Latin American and Southeast Asian immigrants had increased dramatically especially in the South and West.
The present-day United States comprises a multitude of different racial, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic groups. This heterogeneity is the precise opposite of the original social homogeneity found in the New England colonies. In Manhattan today, the East Side and the West Side, indeed, the Upper and the Lower East Side, Harlem, Little Italy, and Chinatown are all different worlds. The Puerto Rican neighborhoods and those where more recent Southeast Asian and Latin American immigrants have settled might also be mentioned (although the latter are not represented in the numbers that they are in the South and West). Los Angeles now threatens to burst at the seams under the pressure of the wide variety of racial, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic strata among the immigrants (Glazer and Moynihan  1970; Gordon 1964; Mindel and Habenstein 1976; Turner 1984; Turner, Singleton, and Musick 1984).
Under conditions such as these, what is the meaning of social equality? It certainly no longer means that all live in similar circumstances and that anyone can associate with anyone else. Only in Latin America can such a crass distinction be found as that between Harlem and the neighboring
upper-class district of the Upper East Side. To all intents and purposes, the different groups live within their own neighborhoods as they would in a ghetto. Is there, then, still such a thing as communal association among equally ranking citizens? Certainly there is not. The closest approximation today in that everyone eats their hamburgers at McDonald's, Burger King, or Howard Johnson's. This, however, is not convivial dining but simply the result of the conversion of eating into mass consumption. Conviviality is still nurtured over dinner at French, Chinese, Italian, Greek, and German restaurants, but in such situations one is among one's own friends.
Has the American melting pot given rise to a qualitatively new societal community with an identity of its own? Have the new immigrant groups conformed to the dominant values of the Anglo-Americans? Or does society consist of a multitude of relatively separate racial, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic groups living alongside one another? (See Bannister 1972.) The answer, at least in its general tendency, is the third alternative of the pluralism of coexisting but unequal groups. Together with blacks (Rainwater 1970; Pettigrew 1975; McCord, Howard, Friedberg, and Harwood 1969), the group that have most recently immigrated have always made up the lowest strata in an economic sense: first the Irish Catholics, then other Catholics from Southern or Eastern Europe (mainly Italians and Poles), that the Asians and Puerto Ricans, and finally the Mexicans an other Latin American groups.
The Germans and some of the Jews (not the relatively poor Jews of New York, living in their ghetto) represented exceptions to this hierarchy of immigration. Though economic success and by virtue of their education, they were able to assimilate themselves. The Jews, especially, have a disproportionately high representation among the most educated strata. In their case inclusion into the societal community was facilitated by the adoption of fundamental American values and most all by the success flowing from their keenness to succeed.
Among the other groups, the Irish Catholics were best able to find their way into the dominant Anglo-American societal community. To some extent this applies to another major Catholic group, the Italians, but so far not to the Hispanics (Navarro 1971). There is a vast difference between the Catholic Church in the North and its position in the South. In the North it has actually achieved a position of some respect within society, and well-regarded families such as the Kennedys serve as a representatives of Catholicism in the North. In the South, however, the state of the church corresponds to the underprivileged position of the Hispanic groups it represents.
Under these conditions social inequality is a collective experience. This experience, however, has discontinuities. There is a marked socioeconomic
stratification within ethnic and religious groups and it is more pronounced in proportion to the number of generations of immigrants that make up the group. Given the burgeoning growth of immigration from Latin America and the regional concentration of this immigration in the South and West, Hispanics are the most clearly delineated and homogeneous underprivileged section of society today (Wagenheim and Wagenheim 1973; Grebler, Moore, and Guzin 1970; Steiner 1970). They have not yet had time to send their second and third generations to schools and colleges. In a society where there is no large-scale collective welfare system to redress social imbalances and where competition for economic success means everything, the Hispanics and other groups like them inevitably constitute an army of the poor, frequently living below subsistence level. America today is a society of inequality. In this respect it is radically and diametrically opposed to its origins in New England (Myrdal 1994; Kahl  1967; Coleman 1966; Blau and Duncan 1967; Jencks et al. 1972; Collins 1979; Zeitlin  1977).
The difference between the highest and lowest income levels is greater in the United States than in other industrial nations. The lowest-income groups and lowest-paid occupations are predominantly made up of the particularly disadvantaged minorities, namely blacks, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and other Hispanic groups. Within the same occupation minorities earn less on average than their white colleagues (Kaufmann 1983; Reimers 1984). And despite the unified educational system, occupational qualifications differ widely by race. The most immediate reason for this is that there is a very unequal distribution in the quality of education given, with the disadvantaged minorities winding up with the lowest quality education. In addition, the social welfare net is relatively undeveloped. Anyone who falls ill, loses the ability to be gainfully employed, is otherwise unemployed, or leaves the work force owing to old age becomes among society's poorest. Here, too, the disadvantaged minorities are hardest hit.
In the field of politics the inequality that exists is no less striking. Political participation is more a matter of individual initiative and free association and less one of caring for needs via large organized parties. Accordingly, the variations in the degree of qualification to participate that stem from different levels of education and income are especially important. Political participation rests in the hands of the educated strata (Almond and Verba 1963; Verba and Nie 1972). Similarly, the discussion of political subjects in the mass media is clearly dominated by the educated Anglo-American strata. It is not infrequent, especially in the South, that formal equality before the law is undermined by informal inequalities in the assessment of legal cases and criminal acts and in the meting out of penalties. The same tension between formal equality and
informal inequality is evident in the way public authorities and the police treat minorities. Blacks, Puerto Ricans, and Hispanics who have dealings with the police are more likely to encounter mistrust and unfriendliness than their white counterparts (Mayhew 1968; Cicourel 1968; Cohen and Kluegel 1978; Terry 1967; Thornberry 1973, 1979).
In the cultural sphere inequality is apparent in the Angle-American domination of matters of religion, moral theory, the arts, and the academic world. The other racial and ethnic groups occupy an extremely marginal position here. Under such conditions there is no sign of a cultural melting pot. For a long period entry into institutions of higher education was extremely unequally distributed. There are also substantial differences in the quality of the education obtained. The low-level groups and strata show a disproportionately high rate of attendance at the poorer-quality high schools, colleges, and universities. The professions have long been dominated by Anglo-Americans, and to the extent that members of the disadvantaged minorities have actually gained entry into the professions they tend to occupy its lower echelons. One apparent exception to this trend is that Asian groups have recently been particularly successful in entering the professions. They have also achieved top performances in schools and universities well out of proportion to their numbers (Collins 1979).
In terms of communal association, a pronounced vertical differentiation of social prestige has developed in the United States as of the 1960s. The Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, other Hispanic minorities, and blacks form the lowest groups in the ranking. Above them are the Asians and Eastern Europeans, especially the Poles, then the Italians, the Anglo-Americans are paramount in the scale of prestige. There are sharply outlined social barriers between these groups. People marry within their own groups and only develop new acquaintances and friendships within the same confines. Clubs, associations, and religious communities are also largely ethnically homogeneous in their composition. And when it comes to their place of residence, different groups stick together in their own neighborhoods. For a Harlem black Manhattan's neighboring Upper East Side is further away in a communal sense than the moon. And in the South racial segregation prevailed in public places right into the 1960s. Although racial segregation is no longer official policy, racial and ethnic groups communally distribute themselves quite clearly among different public places: different residential neighborhoods, hotels, restaurants, theaters, and cinemas.
Great differences are apparent in the life-styles of racial and ethnic groups, from living conditions and eating habits to family circumstances. There is a huge discrepancy between the life-style of a well-off Anglo-American family and the grim living conditions of the lowest groups.
They belong to two different worlds. A social relationship between them on a common basis is inconceivable (Coleman and Rainwater 1979).
However, it would be pharisaical if a European were to take a moralizing tone in pointing out the gross contrast between the wealth enjoyed by a majority and the poverty faced by a minority and how this contradicts the great idea of equality in American society. No European country has ever had to cope with a comparable influx of heterogeneous immigrant groups. At present over a million people immigrate into the United States each year (Anderson 1983). And apart from this, the situation is further aggravated by the fact that the majority of immigrants come from the poorest countries and enter the lowest strata, thus contributing to the continuation of inequality.
4. In Search of Greater Equality
Even under the difficult conditions discussed above one should neither overlook the countervailing forces that work in favor of realizing social equality of opportunity nor underestimate the amount of effort that is made in this direction. The economic prosperity that prevailed for so long and the common striving for success have to be seen as countervailing forces. So, too, are the egalitarian ways of dealing with others in everyday communication and the uniformity of the educational system, at least on a formal basis.
Most of the inequalities in the economic wealth of the United States do not take the form of a rich minority and a poor majority (for example, the contrast between rich capitalists and poor workers). Rather they take the form of a well-off majority and a poor minority (Potter 1954). This reality is fundamentally at variance with the usual theories of class inequality. Within the ranks of the well-off majority the general prosperity functions as a great leveler, as expressed in equal participation in mass consumption. Striving for success is the commonly shared philosophy and the conversion of that success via consumption the commonly shared practice.
Most of the families in this majority category have a detached house in the suburbs, two cars, color TV, dishwasher, and freezer. The family members deck themselves out generously in the latest fashions, wear blue jeans, eat hamburgers at McDonald's, Burger King, and Howard Johnson's, watch "E.T." and "Dallas," and take vacations in places like Florida every year. A leveling in life-styles has occurred in the United States via mass consumption. Such a leveling has not been reached in Europe. A family in which both the husband and the wife work has sufficient income to be able to satisfy most conceivable middle-class wishes. To a fair extent both the university professor and the newspaper
vendor on the corner share this style of life, and in this respect they are much more equal than their European counterparts.
In everyday communication Americans do not stress the differences between higher and lower social echelons. Top-level professionals, once outside their occupational spheres, are treated as ordinary citizens. This can be seen in typical day-to-day interactions. Newspaper vendors, for example, do not take a reverent stance in their dealings with professors, particularly if they make more money than the professors. Within the occupational sphere differences of rank are not automatically reflected in forms of address. The sales assistant's approach to the sales manager is not one of subordination, just as the latter does not an authoritarian stance in relation to the assistant. This equality in everyday dealings is highlighted by the normal practice of keeping communications throughout all levels of ranks on first-name terms (Collins 1979). In the occasional awkward situation where the lower-ranking person feels the difference is too great, he or she tends not to address the other directly in order to avoid embarrassment. A student, for example, might avoid direct address rather than call the professor "Professor Smith."
The most important factor in social leveling, however, is the breadth of the educational system, which gives a vast majority of Americans the opportunity for twelve years of education before they complete high school and allows half of those graduating each year to attend college for a further two to four years. Accordingly, educational differences are less of a social barrier than they are in Europe. Nevertheless, the uniformity of the educational system cannot be taken altogether literally. There are likely to be greater differences of quality between high schools in Harlem and the Upper East Side than there are between the secondary modern (Hauptschule ) and the grammar school (Gymnasium ) in the same suburb of Cologne. In additional, the high dropout rate in the United States is a major problem. There are also huge differences in the quality of colleges and universities. An Anglo-American graduate of the Harvard Law School will not mix with his or her Mexican-American counterpart from a less highly regarded law school in Texas by dint of having the same formal qualification alone. Because informal vertical differentiation exists, the formal uniformity in the educational system cannot, in and of itself, level out social differences. The children belonging to the lower groups and strata also attend the poorer schools, colleges, and universities in most cases.
The decentralization of the political system in the United States, especially the autonomy of municipalities, counteracts the tendencies toward a political differentiation into a ruling elite and a mass of ruled subjects. By European standards there are more varied possibilities for participating in political life. Although this does not make political involvement
something that is shared by all groups, it does at least make it a matter where a far greater number of citizens are active, and where they develop a common awareness of being active citizens with equal rights (Dahl 1967).
Most important in establishing equality in the United State is the belief that the unequal distribution of opportunity is illegitimate. This belief has led, first and foremost, to an active state policy of establishing equality of opportunity, which has been driven forward by the liberals. Although the conservatives can put a damper on this policy, they cannot eliminate it (Burkey 1978; Slawson 1979). Today the vast majority of the population supports measures securing equality of opportunity in all areas when these measures are explicitly intended to improve an individual's qualifications in the competitive job market. The majority does not, however, offer such support for efforts to redistribute income in a way that bears no relation to individual performance (Wilson 1980).
American individualism, which blocks income redistribution that bears no relation to individual performance and which resists state-administered care in the place of individual responsibility, provides the explanation on the ideological level for the fact that it was not until 1935 that the first comprehensive and effective social legislation was introduced in the United States. In response to the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt took the lead with his New Deal (Leiby 1978). The Social Security Act of 1935 incorporated two programs. One was an insurance scheme to provide pensions and unemployment pay, under which the insured were required to pay contributions; the other was state support, not based on contribution payments, for the aged and the blind (later also for other invalids) and for needy families with dependent children (Piven and Cloward 1971). This social legislation was expanded on in 1964 and 1965 by Lyndon B. Johnson and the liberal majority in Congress. The intent of the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act was to bolster the fight against poverty. State assistance was granted to training programs aimed at improving levels of occupational qualification. The following programs were supported: training schemes for unemployed youth, English lessons for adults having no command of the language, neighborhood programs intended to give work experience to the young, corporate student programs enabling college students from needy families to take part-time work, and community action programs allowing residents of poor neighborhoods to participate in the planning and provision of services for their own benefit (Sundquist 1969; Plotnik and Skidmore 1975; Slawson 1979). The Medicare Act, another piece of major social legislation, was passed in 1965. It provided for health care among the aged and the poor, to be paid for from the federal budget. The growth in social welfare payments has made a marked impact on the
federal budget over the years. Between 1950 and 1976 expenditures in this sphere rose from $10.5 billion to $198.3 billion, their share of federal expenditures increased from 26.2 percent to 56 percent, and their share of the national product rose from 4 percent to 12.3 percent (Wilson 1980; U.S. Bureau of the Census 1978).
Despite this tremendous increase in social expenditures, there is no doubt that even today, the United States still lags well behind the European countries, which in this respect lead the world (Thurow 1969; Beeghley 1983). The prevailing public opinion continues to favor direct support designed to establish equality of opportunity, but opposes the collective redistribution of income. In an opinion poll carried out in 1976, although 94 percent believed on one should be allowed to starve for want of government aid, 89 percent believed there were too many welfare recipients who actually were able to work, and 64 percent expressed the view that the criteria for welfare payments were not strict enough (Wilson 1980).
A further indication of the American resistance to the collective establishment of social equality is given by the limited place socialism has had in the political arena. Any moves to initiate socialist parties have quickly run into the quicksand of American individualism. Insofar as socialist ideas have been formulated, they have never seriously demanded that there be a collective leveling of the distribution of goods. Rather they simply demand that the state give active support to those beginning the race for success with more limited chances and that true equality of opportunity be actively created (Lipset 1974; DeLeon 1978; Gilbert 1977).
The same applies to the policies of the trade unions. Although the American labor unions have never fought to have the economic system remodeled along socialist lines, they are among the toughest in the world when it comes to asserting the interests of their own member. These interests, however, are not conceived of as the collective equalization of the distribution of income, but as obtaining the best possible wages for relatively limited groups of workers with homogeneous interests. Unions are very strongly differentiated according to different industries and job specializations, and their duties are to interests of the particular groups concerned and not to those of working people as a whole. Thus unions are no more than instruments workers use to more effectively promote their own positions in the competition for better wages, and the individual worker does not expect any more than this from his or her union. Far from producing an increasing equality in wage levels, trade-union policy actually gives rise to increasing differentiation. The unions improve the positions of particular groups of workers, not only in opposition to the corporations but also in the face of competition from other groups of workers (Lipset  1979).
5. The Road Toward Greater Equality
Since the 1950s the main thrust against social inequality in the United States has been in the area of civil rights policy. The civil rights movement has forced the pace of progress, using both Supreme Court decisions and civil rights legislation in Congress. Although various social groups and minorities have experienced oppression in the course of American history, the paradigmatic case, which so far has been the chief object of civil rights policy, is that of the blacks. Former slaves were not made citizens of the United States until the Fourteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution in 1868. And in 1870 the Fifteenth Amendment prohibited denial of the right to vote on the grounds of race, color, or previous status as a slave. Of course these amendments did not end racial segregation and discrimination in practice. Nevertheless, the Fourteenth Amendment in particular was play a key role in future Supreme Court civil rights decisions. Although it created a framework for the implementation of equal rights for all citizens, it was not until the 1950s that decisive steps were taken in this direction (Shapiro and Hobbs 1978; Pritchett 1979; Gunther and Dowling 1970; Berger 1967; Wilson 1980). The question at this time was what precisely should be subsumed under the Fourteenth Amendment's privileges and immunities and its provision for individual equality before the law.
For a long period the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment were given a very restrictive definition, which led to a number of Supreme Court decisions accepting what was known as jim crow legislation on racial segregation and discrimination. In the Slaughterhouse cases of 1873 (16 Wallace 1873), in which black rights were not the point at issue, the "privileges and immunities" clause was interpreted so narrowly as to be effectively nullified (Gunther and Dowling 1970). In the civil rights cases that came before it ten years later, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a Congressional law forbidding racial discrimination in public facilities, such as hotels and transport, on the grounds that the Fourteenth Amendment was only applicable to governmental bodies and not to privately run organizations (Gunther and Dowling 1970). In Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 the Supreme Court judged that segregated but equivalent public facilities—in this case separate railroad cars for blacks and whites—were in compliance with the Constitution. Three years later in Cumming v. Richmond Country Board of Education the Court held not only that segregated schools were compatible with the Constitution but also that it was permissible for a school district to only provide a high school for white children, ignoring the needs of black children. The Court reminded blacks of their ability to make use of private schools.
In 1909, following an antiblack riot, a small group of blacks and
whites together founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The association's publication, The crisis, which was edited by W.E.B. DuBois, drew attention to the oppression of blacks. The organization endeavored to work as a lobby in Congress but its primary efforts was to cause change by filling lawsuits. Its first successes were achieved in the mid-1930s. In Missouri ex re. Gaines v. canada, decide by the Supreme Court in 1983, Lloyd Gaines, who had graduated from all-black Lincoln University in Missouri in 1935, sought admission to law school. There was no law school for blacks in Missouri, so he applied for entry to the University of Missouri's white law school only to have the application rejected with the provision that the extra costs gaines would incur by attending a school located state were to be reimbursed to him. The federal Supreme Court compelled the University of Missouri to admit Gaines on the basis of the "separate but equal" ruling, which held that separate schools for blacks and whites were permissible but that they also had to be equally accessible. In a similar case ten years later the University of Oklahoma set up a special law department with three professors for a single black student as a result of the decision in Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma . Subsequently, in Sweatt v. Painter (1950) and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (1950) the Supreme Court prohibited this practices, arguing that such minidepartments did not guarantee equal academic standards.
During 1950s the liberal Warren Court ushered in a new phase of civil rights decisions. The case that proved decisive was Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (Kluger 1975). In that case Oliver Brown, a black, wanted to send his daughter to a white school in Topeka , Kansas. The school rejected his application, remarking that a black school in his district offered the same facilities. The lower court decision, based on the "separate but equal" doctrine, held that this rejection was legal. However, in a trail-blazing unanimous judgement on 17 May 1954 the Supreme Court decided otherwise. It declared that segregated schooling was unequal in and of itself because it gave black children a feeling of inferiority with regard to their status in the community, preying on their hearts and minds in a way that could not reversed at a later stage.
This ruling that the "separate but equal" doctrine that had applied since Plessy v. Ferguson was overruled. The segregation of schools was now unconstitutional. The judgement generated vehement opposition in the South , which persisted long after the event. On a number of occasions federal troops had to be on hand to enforce the admission of black students to white universities. Sometimes these federal troops were even opposed by state National Guards, as in Little Rock,Arkansas, in 1957. In 1964 only 2 percent of black schoolchildren in the eleven
former Confederate states attended mixed-race schools, and most of these students were Virginia and Texas. By 1970, however, the resistances had been broken. Racial segregation had ceased in 97 percent of the Southern states' 2,700 schools districts. Segregated schools still existed within these district but only 14 percent of black pupils attended purely black schools. Today were are more segregated schools in the North than in the South because segregation in the North occurs not de jure but de facto, stemming from the racial homogeneity of residential neighborhoods (Wilson 1980).
In the 1960s and 1970s desegregation led into integration, as federal courts more and more frequently made the requirements that the races should be mixed in the schools; simply allowing to have a free choice of school was no longer enough. The Supreme Court under Warren Burger continued this pattern of legal decisions. Educational authorities were required to strived for complete racial mixing. To fulfill this aim, children had to be bused from their home neighborhoods to other parts of the town or city (John and Hoyt 1975; Sheeham 1984). Many children were no longer able to attend the schools nearest to their homes. This system of busing met with vehement criticism from most of the parents affected. It remains highly controversial today, but on the instructions of the courts it is still practiced in the interest of creating a uniform school system. In the case of school busing one is able to see what the policy of creating equality of opportunity means when taken to its logical conclusion.
As late as the 1930s, the court ruled that racial segregation did not violate the principle of equality as formulated in the Fourteenth Amendment as long as the segregated facilities offered equal opportunities— although one has to say here that comparisons between facilities were made very generously, that is, they exaggerated the quality of existing black facilities. By the end of the 1930s the judicial authorities were concerned that every black should have open to him or her the same education or training that was open to whites. At the end of the 1940s the requirement was that the education given should be of equal quality. In the first half of the 1950s the court ruled that all racial segregation was detrimental to the quality of opportunity. And in the 1960s and 1970s the court held that active integration was a precondition for true equality of opportunity. Although the courts long permitted state and local governments to pursue a policy of obstructing equality of opportunity, today state and local governments are required to actively establish such equality.
Yet propagating civil rights in the interests of improving equality of opportunity is not a matter that has remained confined to the courts. In the 1960s and 1970s Congress adopted an active role in civil rights policies. Although the courts initially made their decisions in opposition
to a conservative majority opinion— as indeed they still do today on school busing question— a swing in public opinion in favor of the liberal position was needed before Congress could take action.
The civil rights movement, which formed in the mid- to late-1950s, made its own contribution to this turnaround in public opinion (Wilson 1980; Dye 1971; Geschwender 1971; Chafe 1981). The first major move was a one-year boycott of a bus company in Montgomery, Alabama. Martin Luther King, Jr., began to make a name for himself as the movement's leader during this time. in the 1960s sit-ins, demonstration, protest marches, and boycott were instituted against public bodies practicing racial discrimination. In Birmingham, Alabama, in April 1963 police used force in repelling and dispersing demonstrations. On 28 August 1963, 250,000 blacks and white participated in the civil rights marched on Washington, D.C. In June 1964 three civil rights supporters in Neshoba County, Mississippi, were murdered. Under King's leadership protest marches were staged in Selma, Alabama, in the period from January to March 1965, some of which were violently broken up by the police. In the "long hot summers" of 1966 and 1967 violent demonstration and rioting spread through many cities in the United States. On 4 April 1968 King was shot in Memphis, Tennessee.
The civil rights movement incorporated black leaders of various groups, such as Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, Whitney Young of the Urban League, and Martin Luther King, Jr., of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. They banned together with the liberal and modernate white groups. A more militant position was adopted by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the black Panther party. Black leaders did not initiate the violent riots during the 1964–68 period, but these actions probably contributed to a general swing in white public opinion in favor of integration, even if the chief concern of many whites was simply to reestablish peace and order by making concessions.
Between 1963 and 1976 support for black integration among whites increased markedly. In 1963 approximately 60 percent were in favor of integrated schools. By 1970 the figure had risen to 75 percent, and in 1972 it was 85 percent. In 1976, however, support fell to 80 percent. The falloff in support between 1972 and 1976 is presumably attributable to the controversial busing system. In 1963 approximately 50 percent of whites said they would not opposed to having black as a friend, 65 percent expressed this opinion in 1970, 70 percent in 1972, and 72 percent in 1976. In 1963 roughly 45 percent of whites expressed their opposition to the exclusion of blacks from white neighborhood, 50 percent did so in 1970, 55 percent in 12972, and 60 percent in 1976. Thirty-five percent of whites to laws prohibiting intermarriage between
blacks and whites in 1963, 50 percent in 1970, 60 percent 1972, and 70 percent in 1976. The last support for integration was obtained in answer to the question of whether blacks should press forward into spheres in which their presence was not wanted. Approximately 25 percent opposed such moves in 1963, 18 percent in 1970, 23 percent in 1972, and 26 percent in 1976 (Taylor, Sheatsly, and Greeley 1978).
It was in the context set by the civil rights movement and the changes in white public opinion that Congress enacted civil rights legislation (Gunther and Dowling 1970; Abernathy 1980). In 1957 Congress passed a law prohibiting actions that prevented anyone from participating in a federal election. In 1960 the U.S Attorney General was empowered to post observers to investigate cases in which black were prevented from exercising their rights to vote. The crucial breakthrough came with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, brought before Congress on the initiative of President Lyndon B. Johnson. The Civil Rights Act Prevented the used of literacy test to keep blacks away from the polling booths, a common practice in the South. It prohibited any and all discrimination on the ground of race, skin color, religion, or national origin in restaurants, hotels, snacks bars, filling station, movie theaters, sports stadiums arenas, and lodging houses with more than five rooms. Furthermore, the act prohibited any discrimination on the grounds of race, skin color, religion, national origin, or sex in connection with the recruitment, dismissal, and remuneration of employess in organization employing more than twenty-five persons. The federal Attorney General was instructed to file complaints in order to step up the pace of school desegregation, but there was no order to establish a system of school busing to bring about an improved racial balanced. Federal financial aide was denied to any organization practicing discrimination.
In 1965 Congress electoral examiners, who were to seek our discriminatory practices—on all, whether federal, state, or local—wherever fewer than 50 percent of those entitled to vote were actually on the electoral register. In 1968 discrimination in the purchase or renting of apartments or house was forbidden in all cases in which real estate brokers conducted these transactions.
The civil rights legislation brought considerable results. Black participation in politics rose substantially. For example , although in the eleven Southern states only 30 percent of blacks who had right to were actually entered in the electoral register in 1960, this figure rose to 58 percent by 1971. Political representatives in the South had to take their black voters into account. In 1957 for instance, none of the Southern Democrats voted in favor of the new legislation on electoral rights. Yet when an electoral rights act of Congress came up for extension in 1970, it was approved by thirty-four out of the possible eighty-nine Southern
Democratic votes. There was a great increase in the number of black popular representatives. The total number of black in Congress or State legislatures rose from 182 to 316 between 1970 and 1978. In city and county positions in the increase was from 715 and 2,595, in judicial and sheriff's post from 213 to 454, and in school boards from 362 to 1,138 (Wilson 1980).
Affirmative actions programs gave black and members of other minorities an increasing amount of governmental support in winning entry to colleges, universities, and other positions in both public and private sectors (Abernathy 1980). This program however, generated controversy over the question of whether minorities should be given preferential treatment and compensated for the discrimination of past years by being given enchanced opportunities in general competition. The following types of programs for improving the opportunities available to disadvantaged minorities are covered under affirmative action:
1. Programs that make efforts to recruit qualified or qualifiable members of disadvantaged minorities for public service positions.
2. Training programs designed to improve the occupational qualifications of disadvantaged minorities.
3. Programs that monitor all tests to ensure their cultural neutrality.
4. Programs that monitor the qualification required for different occupations, to avoid the disadvantages that result from discriminatory qualification rules.
5. Programs that pay special attention to members of minorities who can show in employment applications that they have the same qualifications as other applicants who are not so disadvantaged.
In practice, the affirmative action program has frequently led to quotas being established a priori for certain minorities in determining admissions to colleges and universities and in recruitment for employment. It is a practice, however, that has met with increasing criticism and is not supported by public opinion. A Gallup opinion poll showed that 77 percent of whites are in favor of training programs to improve the opportunities available to blacks but that 82 percent reject preferential treatment for blacks of equal qualification when choosing candidates for promotion. In 1974, 96 percent of whites and 83 percent of blacks were against preferential treatment at the time of recruitment. In 1977, 83 percent of the respondents were opposed to preferential treatment for women and members of minority groups when granting entry to college or filling employment vacancies. A 1976 survey asked respondents whether they approved of the fact that some large organization were implementing affirmative action programs that sometimes gave members of disadvantages minorities preferential treatment. The results
showed that 51 percent disapproved and 35 percent approved of this policy, and among black respondents 58 percent approved and 24 percent disapproved (Lipset and Schneider 1977; Wilson 1980). These opinion survey results show quit clearly that although a large majority of Americans agree with programs to establish equality of opportunity, they strongly oppose giving the preferential treatment to disadvantaged minorities if this means violating the criterion of reward according to individual performance
Beyond basic minimum provisions for the sick, the weak, and the needy, Americans reject the notion that equality in the distribution of material goods irrespective of individual performance is desirable. However, most Americans believe that activist policy designed to bring about equality of opportunity is a fundamental task of society. The Supreme Court recognized this belief in its decisions in the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, handed down on 28 June 1978 (Shapiro and Hobbs 1978; Abernathy 1980; Sindler 1978). Allan Bakke, a thirty-eight-year-old engineer, applied for place at the University of California Medical School and Davis and was rejected. bakke then filed a complaint to the effect that the medical school's admissions procedure was unconstitutional and violated the principle of equality of opportunity as laid down in the Fourteenth Amendment. He argue that sixteen places at the school were reserved in advance for members of minorities, and that because of this some applicants had been accepted even though they were less qualified that Bakke. The California Supreme Court upheld Bakke's complaint and ordered that he admitted to study medicine at the University of California. The university then lodged an appeal. However, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed the California court's judgement by a five-to-four majority.
The majority group, which included Justice Powell, Stevens, Rehnquist, Stewart, and Burger, regarded the medical school's procedures primarily as a violation of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and its stipulation that no one way be denied access to an institution receiving federal financial support if that denial is based on race, skin color, or national origin. Although Justice Powell reached the same verdict, he did so on the grounds that a explicit quota system was in contravention of the Fourteenth Amendment and its requirement that protection by the law of the land should be equal. Justice Powell noticed, however, that a candidate's race could, per se, be one of the criteria taken into consideration.
The minority group, comprising Justice Brennan, Blackmun, Marshall, and White, argued that a quota system intended to provide redress for previous discrimination was permissible under the Constitution and under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Supreme Court's split decision on the Bakke case conveys the line of demarcation of present-day civil rights
policy: although equality of opportunity should be actively brought to realization by way of training programs and special consideration should be given to previously disadvantaged groups in an effort to redress earlier discrimination, a perfect collective distribution of goods by establishing quotas is not desirable. Many regard such quota systems as reverse discrimination against persons who belong to groups that have been privileged in the past (Glazer 1975; Grass 1977). Discrimination should not be eliminated by reverse discrimination, for this too is in contravention of the Constitution.
The policy of establishing equality of opportunity has been so forcefully pursued in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s that it has continually run up against conservative opposition and, in the case of the quota system, has overshot the frame of reference of American fundamental convictions. Nevertheless, these developments have not been equaled in any other Western industrial nation and college and university admission figures for members of disadvantaged groups increased tremendously during this period. A similar trend is apparent in income levels. In 1950 blacks received wages and salaries that were only 50 percent of white salaries on average, whereas in 1973 these average earnings had increased to 73 percent of those of whites. Earnings comparisons among the female population show a still more remarkable development: black women received only 40 percent as much as their white counterparts in 1950 but 97 percent in 1975. The problem today is no longer one encompassing the black population as a whole, but primarily one of particular black groups, especially youths from broken families. The nature of the problem is illustrated by the fact that in 1977 black graduates from four-year college courses earned 94 percent of the salaries of their white counterparts but that in the same year the rate of black youth unemployment was 38 percent (Wilson 1980).
During the 1970s, the women's movement refocused national discussions of equality in the United States on the situation of women (Kraditor 1965; Flexner 1968; Stazs 1978; Theodore 1971; Treiman and Hartmann 1981; McGlen and O'Connor 1983). No other industrial country has such an active, far-reaching, and historically rooted women's movement. Although elsewhere the women's movement has remained largely confined to intellectual strata, the American movement embraces far broader strata and groups of women, including housewives.
The American woman—the housewife in particular—is much more involved in public life than her European counterpart. This is an immediate result of the private and public spheres being less sharply delineated. The fact that it was not until 1920 that women received the right to vote, through the Nineteenth Amendment, is the exception rather than the rule in the comparison between women's involvement in public life in
Europe and the United States. By the mid-1970s the women's movement had made its cause the chief focus of attention in equal opportunity policy and had also managed to achieve a number of successes in the wake of the affirmative action program. A European immediately notices how American women occupy career positions that in Europe are still a man's domain in a way that is still taken much for granted. The proportion of women in academic, industrial, and public posts is much higher than it is in European industrial countries.
In this chapter I began with an outline of how the idea of equal opportunity became the dominant definition of equality in American society. This definition is rooted in the relative equality of the people who built the Northern colonies. However, the idea of equal opportunity was counteracted in the Southern colonies where the idea of the natural inequality between free people and slaves dominated.
This cultural conflict eventually resulted in the victory of the Northern idea of equal opportunity, but that idea was then interpreted in both liberal and conservative ways: the liberal way called for political programs to counteract tendencies toward unequal opportunity, the conservative way opposed such programs. The development of actual equality and inequality in society has been shaped by the effects of this ongoing discourse and by economic, political, and associational processes in society itself. Many processes work unintentionally toward increasing inequality: the traditional racial, ethnic, religious, national, and class-based separation of neighborhood communities, the accumulation of unequal rewards for unequal economic achievement, the accumulation of political power in the hands of racial, religious, national, and class-based groups, and the hierarchical differentiation of the cultures of these various groups, with the "WASP" culture in the dominant position. Additionally, there are the intentional activities of the better-off groups to maintain their position by establishing associational, political, economic, and cultural barriers against up-coming groups.
However, these tendencies toward increasing inequality are militated against by other tendencies toward greater equality of opportunity. Economic abundance, opportunities for political participation for aspiring political movements like the civil rights movement, the development of a growing middle class, mass consumption, and open communication work unintentionally toward greater equality. These tendencies are accompanied by intentional activities that aim at realizing greater equality of opportunity, namely, programs that increase the chances for disadvantaged groups to achieve in economic, political, associational, and cultural
terms. Affirmative action is designed to produce such effects. the idea of equal opportunity itself exerts pressures to move society toward greater equality of opportunity. This process takes place particularly in court decision making on civil rights.
We can say that United States society, more than any other, is subject to the permanent tension of processes that work against one another. Although some processes move society toward increasing inequality, countervailing processes move society toward greater equality. In certain aspects, both inequality and equality are growing at the same time.
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