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Kuznets Curve

Kuznets Curve

Author: Zach Lamb

Recognize how technology impacts social inequality. 

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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Hello, welcome to Sociological Studies. Thank you for joining me.

In this lesson, we're going to discuss this graph on the board here called the Kuznets curve. The Kuznets curve is a graphical representation of the idea that as societies advance in technological level from low to high here, they become, at first, more inequal. Inequality increases, but then after a point, when they reach industrialism and advance to industrial modes of production, inequality starts to lessen.

I have this dotted line here as what may happen in the future. A consensus is emerging that we might be becoming more inequal with post-industrial society so it's an open question where we'll go in the end.

Remember Lenski's five types of society. At first, we had hunter-gatherer. Not H-E, sorry, H-G. Hunter-gatherer. And then had horticulturalism, gathering crops, planting them. And then agricultural, and then industrial, and even post-industrial.

So the industrial level of technological advancement, we start to see inequalities lessening. Life expectancies get longer. People start getting better wages for their jobs, et cetera.

So we have a lowering of social inequality, whereas hunter-gatherer societies, feudal societies, horticulture, agriculture societies, are more caste and tradition bound. So nobility had power over those who didn't, and so we see how all of this is just related to technological levels. So just like Lenski theorized the form of social organization in relationship to technology, Kuznets and this Kuznets curve theorized the level of inequality with respect to technological development.

Now there are some criticisms, of course. Look at the United States and Canada. Canada is much more equal of a society than the United States is, but yet we have approximately the exact same level of technological advancement. So obviously there are extraneous variables influencing the level of inequality within the country, such as culture, political and social policy. So we can't explain everything by technology, but it gives us a way to start to think about societal change, technological advancement, and levels of inequality.

So now we have computer technology and post-industrial society, and that has created an information processing class of people as opposed to manufacturing groups of people. And so not everybody has made the jump into this information processing world, and so we are seeing a creative class of super empowered individuals who are becoming much more powerful relative to the way people related in the past. So like I said, it's an open question where we might go in the future.

Thank you for joining me. I hope you enjoyed this explanation of Kuznets curve. It's fascinating to think about technology in relation to social inequality and what kind of technological development may or may not increase inequality. Have a great rest of your day.

Terms to Know
Kuznets Curve

A graphical representation of the idea that as societies advance in technological sophistication, they at first become more unequal before later reaching industrial society, which tends to lessen the inequality that had been built up.