SOS4100 – Causes and consequences of social inequalities

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Course content

This course provides a comprehensive presentation of key dimensions of social inequalities in contemporary societies in the early 21st century. We address core issues such as economic inequality, intergenerational social mobility, gender inequality in education and work, residential segregation and immigration and ethnic inequalities.

The aim of the course is three-fold:

  • First, we provide an understanding of how macro-level patterns of social inequalities in the Norwegian welfare state compare to other rich, developed countries.
  • Second, we present an overview of research on the factors that contribute to the emergence and persistence of inequalities in income, wealth, educational attainment, class and residential locations. In doing so, we focus on three core dimensions; social origins and social mobility, gender inequalities and ethnic and racial inequalities.
  • Third, we present the potential consequences of social inequalities along these dimensions, and discuss which policy interventions are effective in tackling various forms of social inequalities

The course will address these and related questions:

  • Why have socioeconomic inequalities in Western societies increased since the latter quarter of the 20th century?
  • Why, and to what extent do the parents you are born to affect your future life chances, and why does family background matter more in unequal societies?
  • How do inequalities, poverty and social mobility or immobility affect individuals and societies?
  • Why are so many immigrants unemployed, what obstacles do immigrants and children of immigrants face in the labor market, and how can we ensure equal access to employment and pay for different ethnic groups?
  • Why do men still earn higher wages than women despite the fact that women now complete more education than men in most developed countries?
  • How do specific policy measures reduce social inequalities at the different stages of individuals’ life courses?

Throughout, we focus on how societal institutions, such as the welfare state, educational system, and labor market regulations shape countries’ levels of inequality related to socioeconomic status, class, gender, and ethnicity.

Students will be required to read scientific studies covering a wide array of relevant topics and from different disciplines. The syllabus is at a relatively advanced level, but reading it does not require knowledge and understanding of advanced statistical methods beyond the MA level. The syllabus focuses on state-of-the-art literature reviews and recent high quality empirical studies, but also covers some foundational theoretical texts and non-academic reports. We emphasize how good empirical research designs can be used to answer important research questions, which will be useful for later work on your master thesis.

The course will provide you with knowledge and skills that are highly relevant for your employment opportunities, such as analytic skills and critical thinking, as well as insights into important topics such as socioeconomic inequalities according to family background, gender and ethnicity, employers’ hiring practices, welfare policy, the labor market, economic growth, human capital, and equality of opportunity.

Learning outcome


This course will provide you with:

  • An analytical perspective on the links between sociological theories on inequality and empirical research.
  • An overview of recent empirical studies of inequality related to social origins, gender, and ethnicity.
  • Knowledge about how and why macro-level patterns of inequality emerge, change and persist, and how they affect individuals and societies.
  • Knowledge about how evidence on the effectiveness of certain policies and institutional structures is generated and transformed into policy interventions.
  • A basic understanding of the methods researchers use to answer questions about social inequalities.


You will be able to:

  • Understand, explain, discuss and use core concepts, such as equality of opportunity, the gender pay gap, segregation, discrimination, social mechanisms, supply and demand, genetic heritability, social mobility, integration and assimilation, correlation and causation, etc.
  • Provide critical discussions on issues related to social inequalities, and draw on important empirical studies in doing so.
  • Make good decisions about choice of theoretical framework and analytical design, given the topic of your investigation.
  • Conduct research on topics related to social inequality and develop a master thesis topic associated with this course

General competences

This course will provide you with:

  • Improved analytical skills and critical thinking, as well as the ability to critically assess the quality of social scientific studies and make related ethical considerations
  • A familiarity with key debates that animate quantitative and qualitative research on inequality.
  • The ability to understand, discuss and argue about various aspects social inequalities.
  • A good understanding of the distinction between academic knowledge based on empirical evidence and perceptions based on opinions and personal observations.
  • Knowledge about how social scientific studies can be used in policy development and how policies may affect social inequalities.


Students who are admitted to study programmes at UiO must each semester register which courses and exams they wish to sign up for in Studentweb.

If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.

This course is not available for single course students.

This course is an elective course in the Master's programme in Sociology. Students enrolled to this programme must each semester register which courses and exams they wish to sign up for in Studentweb.

The course is also open for students from the follow master’s programmes:

Other students may also, on application, be admitted to the course as a guest student if this is cleared by their own study programme. Admission as a guest student will vary from semester to semester, as guest students will be allotted any vacant seats on the course.


  • The course will be organized as 12 seminars including lectures and discussions two-three times a week.
  • The lectures are given in English.


  • 6 hour school exam

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail.

You may use a dictionary, which has to be handed in at least 3 working days before the exam for control together with a form.

  • Please familiarize yourself with and follow the rules on dictionaries. You can find information and rules on the use of dictionaries during the exam here

No other support material is allowed. 

Digital examination

The written examination is conducted in the digital examination system Inspera. You will need to familiarize yourself with the digital examination arrangements in Inspera.

Read more about written examinations using Inspera.

Language of examination

You may write your examination paper in Norwegian, Swedish, Danish or English.

The exam questions will only be given in English.

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals

You can ask for an explanation for your grade in Studentweb. 

Resit an examination

If you are sick or have another valid reason for not attending the regular exam, we offer a postponed exam later in the same semester.

See also our information about resitting an exam.

Withdrawal from an examination

It is possible to take the exam up to 3 times. If you withdraw from the exam after the deadline or during the exam, this will be counted as an examination attempt.

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.


The course is subject to continuous evaluation. At regular intervals we also ask students to participate in a more comprehensive evaluation.

Facts about this course






Every spring

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