In response to overwhelming pressure from students emailing me and making comments on these blogs today, here are two requested sample essays that I have literally just finished writing. I only had a half hour window, so I rushed through these and don't have time to check or edit them, but hopefully they'll help give you an indication.
Outline and evaluate sociological explanations for age inequalities 
Most sociological explanations for age inequalities revolve around the role that such inequalities play in managing and controlling the labour market.
Functionalists such as Parsons have argued that differentiating between age groups is important in the acquiring of social roles (e.g. the expectations of a person by society – and vice versa – can be made clear through the age that person is). Functionalists believe that age inequalities are an inevitable part of modern societies and have a valuable function in ensuring that the best and most able workers get the best jobs and opportunities. Those that are too young are kept out of the labour market through laws restricting the employment of children, while those that are too old are kept out by policies such as mandatory retirement ages and pension plans. Henry expanded on this approach to the treatment of older people, using the concept of disengagement. According to Henry, it is necessary that old people are encouraged to ‘disengage’ from society (through withdrawing from the labour market and other prominent areas of society) in order to provide more opportunities for young people. This can be criticised for appearing to be a cold and heartless view, based on the assumption that old people are less efficient in work. However, a counter-argument would be that it is worse for society to have high levels of young employment among young people, when old people can be maintained through state pensions. Also, Henry argued that disengagement should be a gradual process, giving old people time to adapt and adjust.
Marxists agree that age inequalities serve the purpose of managing the supply of labour in capitalist societies, with the very young and very old often part of a reserve army of labour. Unlike Functionalists, Marxists would not see this as inevitable or positive; to a Marxist, it is another example of how the workers are controlled and exploited by the ruling classes. Townsend argues that capitalist societies feel the need to constantly renew the workforce, on the understanding that young people are more productive. Elderly people therefore experience a reduced status and lack of access to social resources. Kidd adds to this that, in capitalist societies, elderly people are seen as ‘undesirable’, as they are a drain on the economy – they can no longer be exploited for profit, have limited spending power and take from health and welfare services, but no longer able to work or generate wealth themselves. If the Marxists are correct, the growing number of elderly people in Western, capitalist societies will therefore present a huge challenge to capitalism in the years to come. However, some Marxists have also pointed out the benefit to capitalist societies of elderly people being dependant on welfare: When the proletariat are dependent on the ruling State, this legitimises the power of the State. Dependency also creates stability in capitalist societies: Elderly people, for example, usually vote conservatively.
The treatment of the young and elderly in – and by – the workplace has a wider impact on general social attitudes towards these groups and therefore their opportunities and restrictions. The Weberian view points out that the weak work and market situations of the very young and very old grants them a low status. Parkin’s concept of negatively privileged status groups (originally conceived to discuss ethnic inequalities) can be applied to elderly people, whose position in the labour market has been lost and they are permanently kept out by ambitious younger workers. The Weberian concept of the ‘Glass Ceiling’ can also be applied to older workers, who eventually become too old to promote, no matter how skilled they might be.
The idea that age can, should or does have an influence on the status and opportunities of people is disputed by many sociologists. Postmodernists argue that age is a meaningless concept. Everingham points out that it is now so individualised that it impossible to use age as a measure of a person. For example, many 80 years olds still behave as they did in their 30s, while others may better fulfil the traditional stereotype. Interpretivists argue that age is a social construct and the role of the elderly (or young) in a society is part of the social structure, but is not fixed or inevitable: Aries points out that little distinction was made between age groups in medieval times. Finally, many sociologists would argue that it is difficult to consider age inequality in isolation, as the extent to which age influences a person’s opportunities or life chances is dependent on a combination of other features of that person (e.g. ethnicity, gender, social class). To truly understand inequality, one has to understand how these variables interrelate alongside how each operates individually.
Outline the evidence that some ethnic minorities are disadvantaged in the contemporary UK 
The workplace tends to be where disadvantage is most clearly evidenced in any society and this does appear to be case for ethnic disadvantage in the UK. Ethnicity appears to be a decisive factor in the level of employment a person may be likely to achieve in the UK, with the 2000 Labour Force Survey clearly demonstrating that Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi men are substantially less likely to be in the highest two social class groupings than white, Chinese or Indian men (similar patterns are identified for women).
Health & Yi Cheung use the concept of an ‘ethnic penalty’ to explain workplace disadvantage for ethnic groups. The ethnic penalty is the additional disadvantage faced by ethnic minorities in gaining and maintaining employment. In the UK, the above data suggests that the ethnic penalty is not felt equally by all minority groups, but is more likely to be faced by Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers. Heath & Yi Cheung argued that the penalty is felt most severely by first-generation migrants and that the key cause of it is discrimination by employers.
Education is the area of society that can potentially help overcome workplace inequalities in the future. Equal education regardless of gender, ethnicity, class etc. should – in theory – ensure equal opportunities. In the contemporary UK, there is however evidence of ethnic inequality in education which mirrors the inequality experienced later in life as Chinese and Indian students consistently outperform Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi students (particularly boys) in school. Some sociologists have blamed this on cultural factors (e.g. the cultural importance placed on education) while others have blamed the culture of schools themselves (e.g. ethnocentric curriculums which offer no appeal to minorities). However, Briggs points out that the GCSE results (the most common way of measuring success in schools) conceal the fact that Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi students are improving at faster rates than other ethnicities.
The underperforming of some ethnic minorities in school and work has been blamed on a lack of positive role models. Sewell believed that this lack particularly affects young black males, who are drawn into an aggressive masculinity by the lack of father figures and the available selection of negative, violent black ‘role models’. This is supported by evidence of ethnic inequality in the media. Moore et al identified that black people are commonly stereotyped in negative ways in the media (e.g. as criminals, as threatening, as abnormal, as unimportant or as dependent). Van Dijk found evidence of unconscious racism in the media when reporting on minority ethnic groups (e.g. relying on white ‘experts’ to report on issues affecting minorities). He argued that this, combined with the negative language used in describing some minorities shows that the media tends to come from a ‘white perspective’.
Ethnic disadvantage is evident in many – if not all – areas of society, although there is a clear pattern that it is some – rather than all – minority groups that are affected. Whilst legislation and campaigning may inevitably see this improve, the under-representation of ethnic minorities in politics (only around 5% of MPs being from ethnic minority backgrounds, compared to over 10% of the UK population) perhaps indicates how far there is to go.
This website is designed for the use of Sociology students at Northampton College. Please note that views and opinions expressed on this site may not necessarily reflect the views of Northampton College itself. Resources on the site are created and published by the NC Sociology department and should not be redistributed or republished elsewhere without permission from the creators.